Monday, June 22, 2009

Suppose they are conniving נניח שהם אמנם מתחכמים

Of course our initial response to Ashdod Chief Rabbi Yosef Sheinin’s assertion עברית that “[Russian immigrants] will do everything possibly to deceive. They are to be assumed to be cheaters" is horror and revulsion. At the very least, Sheinin should hire a spokesperson more skilled in diplomacy than he himself is. But let’s examine the issue disregarding for the moment Sheinin’s offensive words.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Sheinin is right: Russian immigrants are lying in order to be accepted into Sheinin’s club. Can we blame them? They’re being set up for failure. First we lure them here on the premise of meeting an irrelevant criterion (one Jewish grandparent) and for our own paranoid ends (adding to the non-Arab population), then when they arrive, we tell them, “Oh yeah, we forgot to inform you that a primary civil right will be denied you”. Who among us wouldn’t at least consider trying to get around a hulking bureaucracy rather than jumping through its Kafkaesque hoops? And let’s not forget that we’re only talking here about the negligible numbers of “obedient” immigrants* who have sought conversion.

The more I turn over this intractable problem in my mind, the harder I hit the wall: There is simply no way that we Jews will arrive at a consensus on who is a Jew, and corollarily, who is a rabbi. Would that there could be a worldwide (interplanetary? Intergalactic?) Jews Database, but not even the Cyber Age would solve this one: We’d still need someone behind it all ― someone we all trust and whose rulings we agree to abide by ― to honcho the whole thing, to approve or reject those logging in to register, to send out the confirmation e-mails with your Jewser Name and Password.

The answer to me appears to run counter to the calls for unity: A Jewish nation that continually subdivides according to groupings and followings of individuals ordained as rabbis, whose conversions and marriages certain Jews accept and others do not. The key, of course, is for governments to stay out of the religion business, i.e., the government must assiduously avoid backing any one or more particular group(s) of Jews, or their institutions or rabbis. Each Jew decides for herself which kashrut seal to accept and which other Jews are kosher enough for her children to marry.

Besides, the system is warped from the git-go: Is the Gerer Rebbe’s grandchild required to show up at the local rabbinate bureau waving her mom’s ketuba at the clerk in order to be granted a marriage license?

*”Immigrants” having now become Israeli shorthand for “Russian speakers”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Big Sister's Pretty Dress השמלה היפה של האחות הגדולה

In the past few years, I’ve become less timid about challenging gender stereotyping, perhaps as my kids have aged beyond the stages when parents are heard to say, “He’s all boy!” or “She’s a girly-girl!” (I can hardly stand even to write those statements. If I could I’d wave my wand and banish them forever).

Recently I challenged a case of gender stereotyping, and a father of two preschoolers accused my point of being “trivial” (hadn’t heard that one before, even from the detractors). Many claim that they are not guilty of feeding their kids any “sexist messages”. OK, all you skeptics about the existence of gender stereotyping and sexist messages, consider this recent, real-life, unplugged example:

In our community, when a baby is born, someone makes a clever, handmade congratulatory sign and posts it on the bulletin board. The sign is usually a gentle spoof on the parents and siblings. The sign for the newest baby, born this week, featured:
1. The dad wearing his political party’s t-shirt
2. The mom wearing a t-shirt “emblazoned” with the name of her job
3. Sister wearing a dress labeled ― are you ready? ― “Pretty Dress”

I challenge anyone to tell me that if Sister were Brother, his clothing would’ve been labeled “Great Outfit”. If anything, it surely would’ve been labeled “Big Brother”, which one would think would’ve been the obvious choice for either gender. Indeed, why not “Big Sister”? Is her appearance the only thing we can think of to say about this child?

Everyone in the community will see this sign. Kids who can’t read will ask their parents what’s written on it. I have no quarrel with it per se: It's tasteful, effort was clearly invested in it, and it will without a doubt be a family memento. But if anyone thinks that our kids aren’t getting messages that reinforce gender stereotyping, I offer this example, for which I didn’t have to go searching: It positively jumped out at me. Would anyone dare argue that my point is trivial?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Here's where my tolerance ends עצור! גבול סובלנותי לפניך

For some strange reason, Gideon Levy suddenly decided to champion the cause of the poor, maligned ultra-Orthodox עברית who want to move into the secular stronghold of Ramat Aviv. As another columnist already responded*, we non-Orthdox don’t go into “their” neighborhoods and attempt to familiarize their young people with humanism, so the Ramat Avivians’ indignation is justified.

I also have a problem with Levy’s terming the Ramat Avivians’ justified indignation “anti-Semitism”, a deliberately inciteful use of a loaded term. Because I hate Jews coercing other Jews into giving up their freedom so that we all live in a Torah-pure environment, that makes me anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. I think it makes me anti-coercion. Requiring that I tolerate the intolerant is taking PC-ness too far, or to quote Tevye, “If I bend that far, I’ll break”. I cannot condone intolerance in the name of tolerance.

Besides, it’s hard for me to believe that Levy doesn’t realize that the ultra-Orthodox are in the same camp as his “beloved” settlers, the only difference being each group’s respective priorities: The former prioritize bringing about the redemption by adhering to the commandments and trying to get as many of us as possible to join them; while the latter prioritize bringing about the redemption by settling the Greater Land of Israel. But make no mistake about it: Both see the redemption as embodying a theocracy no less terrifying than that of, say, Iran. And, just because the ultra-Orthodox are infiltrating Ramat Aviv and not some hilltop in Samaria doesn’t mean their goals aren’t the same as the settlers’.

As Levy wrote yesterday, sipping espresso on Sheinkin עברית is not mutually exclusive to being a productive ― and yes, patriotic ― citizen, any more than does sipping espresso on the Champs d’Elysee or Fifth Avenue. Yet, sipping espresso on Sheinkin is antithetical to living in fill-in-the-blank-with-the-name-of-your-favorite-settlement. What Levy fails to acknowledge is that sipping espresso on Sheinkin is also antithetical to the ultra-Orthodox world, even though the latter doesn’t confine itself to a specific locale, as do the settlers. They’re one and the same, Levy; you can’t evade this truth.

*I searched for the response, but couldn't find it. All I recall is that it was written by someone named Carl.