this one's for brooklyn

How Not To Be A Jerk To Other Jews

A Guide For All Of Us Jews, Especially All Of Us Observant Jews

This essay is in honor of the Crown Heights Eruv Situation, which everybody expects me to comment on, so here we go: What the heck is going on lately? Look, I know that my own poop stinks, and that I am too at fault of judging other people, and that who am I to tell anyone what to do anyway. But seriously, folks, it’s getting ridiculous. I have given myself a lot of tochecha over the years, and other people have rightly given it to me too, and therefore I think I am qualified to say: Stop being jerks. Just stop. Stop it.

And here’s how!

1. If someone is GLBTSomething, don’t harass their family.

Jeez Louise. Is there any circumstance whatsoever that merits harassing someone’s family? Is there any time that harassing someone’s family is allowed by Jewish Law, otherwise known as TORAH? It is very simple: Let them be. Leave them alone. Mind your own daled amos and maybe even be nice to them.

2. If someone holds by something you don’t hold by, say an eruv, assume that they called their own Rav and asked their own she’ela.

Believe it or not, even in a community of a specific sect, there are people living there who don’t practice Judaism with the closest adherence to the particular sect’s customs. They call their own authorities in Jewish law, just like you call yours. Say the Beis Din took a unilateral stand against the eruv; remember that you’re dealing with people who don’t hold by the Beis Din. It could be appropriate to consider discussing the issue with curiosity rather than hostility. Let them be. Leave them alone. Mind your own daled amos and maybe even be nice to them. 

3. If someone you don’t know says Good Shabbos to you, don’t look at him or her like he or she might mug you.

I promise you that the stranger who extends to you some sisterly love is not out to mug you. She can’t possibly mug you, because it’s Shabbos and she left her switchblade at home. It’s muksa. Wait. Is it muksa? You can slice a challah with a switchblade. And with that eruv, you never know what somebody might be carrying.

No, seriously. Just say Good Shabbos. Just say it. Shabbat Shalom. Gut Shabbos. Good Shabbos.

4. If there is a website that serves up local community news, consider that G-d reads comments just like G-d hears spoken words. You think G-d is not reading the Internet?

Being a troll and taking a figurative dump on other people is called “Being A Jerk.” A little self-censorship goes a long way. Internet comments actually matter. Mind your own daled amos and maybe even be nice.

5. Black Jews are Jews. They just are. You don’t need to ask them how they are Jewish.

There are two ways that Black people can be Jewish: Matrilinearly or via conversion. You can safely assume that if you meet a Black person who says he or she is Jewish, he or she is Jewish via one of the only two ways to become Jewish. Mind your own daled amos and maybe even be nice to them.

6. If you live in, or are visiting, a Jewish community who adheres to different customs than you do, consider being publicly deferential to that community’s customs instead of calling the entire community a bunch of backwards rednecks.

Being an individual certainly has its merits, but would it kill you to not wear your spandex biking gear in a Chareidi neighborhood? I mean, you do you, boo, but consider the possibility that the hairy legs sticking out of skin-tight spandex bike shorts that outline your crotch are best left for wearing in communities where such clothing is not considered abhorrent. There is something called dressing for the occasion, and it’s a social grace that is appropriate wherever you are in the entire world.

And if you are hell-bent on doing something that is not sanctioned by the community, such as erecting and using an eruv in a place where the Beis Din has halachic justifications for objecting to such and has forbidden it, perhaps you could acknowledge that you are doing your own thing and do your own thing with minimal fanfare.

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7. Treat your workplace and shul like it is your home.

Do you leave trash around your house? Do you smoke in your house, and leave your cigarette butts on the floor? Do you let the toilet overflow and not at least call the super? If you won’t do it for yourself, then please find it in your heart to do it for others. Not everybody wants to fear contracting a disease in the shul bathroom or come home from work smelling like cigarettes.

8. Don’t take it upon yourself to be a violent zealot.

Just don’t. You might think somebody is doing something wrong. It’s one thing to think it. It’s even one thing to say it. But to pick up a rock and throw it at somebody? To rip down something that you think shouldn’t be there that someone else worked really hard to build? Since when is that OK?

9. If someone comes forward to report abuse, don’t harass their family.

Like I said before: Jeez Louise. Is there any circumstance whatsoever that merits harassing someone’s family? Is there any time that harassing someone’s family is allowed by Jewish Law, otherwise known as TORAH? Yup, there are some morally deficient people who wrongfully report fictitious abuse just to ruin someone else’s life. But for the most part, most people who report abuse have gone through really horrifying ordeals and deserve to be treated compassionately. And say that someone really is morally deficient and really does wrongfully report fictitious abuse: It’s still not OK to harass their family!

10. Neither the government nor local institutions owe you anything. If you are ripping off either one, you’re being a jerk to other Jews.

We all — meaning everyone everywhere — are are skeptical of “the government”. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, you probably have good reason to doubt the efficiency and transparency of the government of your country. But theft is theft. Consider that the shrinking middle class is paying our taxes, and we don’t owe people who are working under-the-table food stamps. We don’t owe you that! You know where the government gets money to pay for your food stamps? They get it from my paycheck. Mine. I pay city taxes, state taxes, and federal taxes. The money that you spend that you steal from the government doesn’t come from a naturally occurring spring of money that the government draws from with old-fashioned buckets. It comes from people like me who pay taxes. And since the rich are ferreting their money away into offshore accounts and not paying taxes, and since you’re not paying taxes because you’re working under-the-table and not reporting your income, the money has to come from somewhere. I pay for your food stamps. Other Jews pay for your free tuition. We pay for your disability check. I don’t mind paying for those things because I believe in a social safety net, but if you are blatantly exploiting them, just stop.

And with all that said, I’d like to end with a poem:

Crown Heights has an eruv.

You might disapprove.

But threatening to tear it down

is a jerky, crappy move.

Image credit: Blackstar Live Concert @ Dour Festival photo by Kmeron/Flickr. Edited by me.