Saturday, July 17, 2010

How American Jews speak

More precisely, what Yiddish words do they use, and what Hebrew words, in common conversation.

I find this topic fascinating.

I am taking Hebrew classes, and in my class are several people who are in the process of converting. 
They want to be Jewish.

What makes a person Jewish?  I myself am 100 percent Jewish, but almost completely Jewishly illiterate.  These conversion students know more about the Jewish religion than I do, and I come from an observant family.  So how come I am a Jew, and these converts have to go to a mikvah (ritual bath) and immerse themselves to become what I was, with no effort,  just by virtue of being born?

Somehow we never talked about most religious topics, including the Almighty.  We had our own religion, which I am sure most people do.  We ate kosher food.  But my cousin and I were packed off to the movies every Saturday afternoon, although this is forbidden.  I have a feeling the adults wanted to get rid of us for a while so they could have some peace.  So they were religious when convenient.

When I was coming up, most observant men did not cover their heads except in the synagogue.  Now the overwhelming majority of them do.  The synagogue I attend is observant--women are not allowed to read the Torah--but there is mixed seating, so it is not accepted as Orthodox.  Some synagogues have doubled down on separate seating by building a wall between the men and the women.  My brother and his wife, very observant Jews, left the synagogue where they were married when a wall was built separating the sexes.  That was a bridge too far for them.

Senator Joe Lieberman is an observant Jew, but does not wear a kippah.  I notice also that he walks to the Senate if he has to attend a session.  I'm pretty sure that Senate attendance is considered work and that the rabbis of old would frown upon his presence, especially if money is being discussed.  Money is not be be discussed on the Sabbath and one is expected to rest, not work.

Sages have devoted volumes to what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath.  Card playing, nix.  Chess okay.  Writing, turning on electric lights, preparing meals--all are forbidden.   Being observant can take up a lot of your time, which I am sure is one reason the Jewish religion has survived.  People adhere more closely to a religion that asks a lot of them. 


Anonymous said...

Converts never will be real Jews.
I know, this is not a conventional view, especially in America and probably Israel (which has its own can of worms).
But that's how it is. Judaism is not genetic, it's a set of religious rituals.
Being Jewish, however, is the same as being Italian: it's in my genes rather than in my beliefs.

I have a question different from yours: why so many people have this natural need to be told what to do with minute details of their life: when to play chess, when to eat dairy and what's an appropriate way to have sex?

Why so many people are basically slaves?

miriam said...

why [do]so many people have this natural need to be told what to do with minute details of their life?

I don't know, but perhaps they need to be part of something they feel is bigger than themselves.

What I do know is that the stricter religious groups are not losing adherents; the "liberal" religions are.

airforcewife said...

I have a very good friend who is the wife of an Evangelical Christian pastor. She is just wonderfully kind and loving, and very pro-Israel.

We got into the Harry Potter discussion one day - my kids devoured those books and went on to become voracious readers, and a lot of her parishioners were scared silly of the witchcraft portrayal - and she put it this way:

Life is lived on the edge of a cliff. Because we are afraid of falling off, we all build walls to keep us from going over the edge. And everyone has a different comfort level over how close to the edge they allow their walls to be built.

I think that's a really good explanation for strict observance religion. I think it also explains a lot about the resurgence in the more conservative religions right now. The edge seems pretty close in today's world.

Anonymous said...

By "liberal religion" you probably mean "liberal ideology"?
Because there is no such thing as "liberal religion".

Belonging to a gang is "being part of something bigger than themselves". Or to a street-lynching mob. Or to a mega-church in the South (I shudder even looking at the pictures; my instinct immediately screams - run and hide!) Or to an army: no need to think for themselves, everything is taken care of.

As I said, it's a mentality of slaves.

pure_tones said...

I'm half-Jewish on my mother's side, but I feel I'll have to "convert" at some point if I want to marry a Jewish girl. I've been an atheist since I was about 5, refused to go to synagogue, never had a Bar Mitzvah cos it would be taking money off my religion for something I didn't believe in, and it is only as I grow older I feel I deprived myself of a cultural heritage. I am also RIDICULOUSLY non-Jewish looking, since my mother's family were all silver jews and my dad comes from Irish Catholics, and that is a part.

The decline of liberal Judaism and the church of England, etc., is that the closer you get to the modern mode of thought, the more problematic it is. Religious teachings start to come up against a priori moral truths like everyone is equal and we should love them, so what about homosexuals etc.? The closer religion gets to accepting Darwinism, saying that other religions can get into heaven too, and other modern ideas, the less necessary it seems.

miriam said...

Pure tones: Thanks for dropping by and leaving you thoughtful comments.

I've never heard of "silver Jews." What on earth are they?

pure_tones said...

Blond-haired Jews ...

miriam said...

Then I must have been one as a child. I was unfamiliar with the term.

Thank you for enlightening me!