Everything I Love About Being Jewish

Jews are into fighting. I don’t know who first said — but, dammit, they’re right — that we think everyone who’s less religious than we are is a heretic, and anyone who’s more observant is a zealot. A few months ago, I wrote a post about my rabbi being a sex offender, and it got a lot of hits. A few weeks later I wrote this piece, an unbelievable story about one of my favorite musicians and something that happened to him that might have been a miracle, and it did…okay.* (I had an ego-clouded vision of the musician post going viral and him selling a million albums, but, uh, well, not yet.) Then last week I wrote about a bunch of stupid Orthodox men who refuse to let their ex-wives get remarried — an issue that, yes, frum Jews need to talk about and get up in arms about, but one that isn’t, you know, happy — and it got even more hits than my rabbi did.

So I’ve made a decision! That’s it, Hevrians — let’s ante up, show our hands, no more hiding. Let’s put our love on the table, dammit. Here’s a list of things I love about Yiddishkeit. I think we need to talk about these things. In a world where no one has a problem saying what they think of the length of your skirt or the style of your hair, but people never just say how awesome it is that we’re alive and how G-d created an entire universe and came up with things as crazy and wonderful as porcupines, this feels kind of necessary. It’s not a complete list, but it never should be. If I left something off, or if you love something even more than me, rip your heart out and post it up in the comments.

Here we go.

1. Tying Your Shoes Is a Spiritual Thing.

Slip them on, first right, then left; then tie them, first left, then right. (I think I got that right. [Edit: I got it wrong. Fixed now, but see below for the correction.] It’s different if you’re left-handed, which I am: put them on left then right; then tie them right then left, the same way you’d put on tefilin.) The point of this not being that we are super anal creatures, but that even something as basic and ordinary as tying your shoes can be a spiritual experience.

2. Everything Is Awesome

G-d is in charge of the world, and everything that happens in it, right? But G-d gave us free will, and so within the providence of every gust of wind and every flower and every earthquake, we can choose what we do in this world and how we interact with it. It hurts my brain to think about this too hard, but it kind of feels like being given my first Lego set. Here are the pieces you can use. Now build anything you want out of them.

3. Anyone Can Disagree (But Get Ready to Get Schooled)

When I had a question about praying or keeping kosher or whether you could do something on Shabbos, my rabbi — I’ve probably said this before — wouldn’t just tell me the answer. He sent me to a book to look up the answers for myself. And there was rarely just one answer to these questions: if there were, the Talmud, instead of being 3000 pages, would be a 10-page list. I started out saying that Jews like to fight. And G-d loves our debates. G-d is open to being overruled. There’s a phrase, machlokes l’shem shamayim, that basically refers to the process of holy arguing. But you can’t just show up to a gunfight without a gun. Before you get all punk and challenge the status quo, you’ve got to school yourself in the status quo.

4. Golems, Unicorns, Werewolves, and Other Secret Monsters

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” There’s a really painful question in Christianity about, what if there’s life on other planets? — because there’s only one way to be saved in Christian philosophy, and that’s through their savior. Jewish thought acknowledges that the universe is bigger than anything we’ll ever see. Jewish thought doesn’t say everyone should be like we are — it just says, this is what’s been working for the Jews; this is our way of talking to G-d. And that, yes, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

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4 1/2. But There Really ARE Unicorns and Werewolves

There might be werewolves! And, oh, everything in this book.

5. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Yes, this one demands another song. One of my teachers once told me, nine hundred years ago, in the time of the great scholar Rashi, only one person knew all the Torah secrets that Rashi knew — and that was Rashi. Today, my seven-year-old daughter is learning Rashi. We know more than we’ve ever known before. We are, like, mountains of knowledge.

6. Sex is a Commandment

Um, I don’t really know how to expound on this. Or maybe I do, but Elad would say it isn’t appropriate for the site.

7. Blessing the Moon

We say blessings on everything, when we remember. Before everything we eat. After we eat. When we smell things — there are four separate blessings for scents. But by far the most amazing feeling is running out of the synagogue on a Saturday night and standing in the street and blessing the moon. There it is in the sky, poking out from behind a wisp of clouds, it’s like a whole other planet, you know? You can see the biggest craters and just imagine jumping across them. And it’s just one more miracle.

8. Obsessive-Compulsive Reflection

The wonderful Jennifer Traig wrote a book about when she turned twelve, and both:

a) decided to become Orthodox, and
b) got diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Though it’s probably a lot more fun to read about than to have lived (the chapter when she reads about separating meat and milk, and then decides to have separate milchik and fleishik toilets, is a modern Jewish classic), Judaism’s emphasis on being mindful about everything, from the moon to your shoes, is one way of saying Take your time, G-ddamnit! That projected heresy is literal: G-d created the world in six days, but there’s a whole lot of stuff in it. Slow down. Go easy. Appreciate the awesomeness that was created for us. That’s what we’re here for.

* — okay, let me clarify that: I am so freaking eternally grateful that anyone reads my posts at all in the first place, let alone shares them with their friends or their in-laws or their Facebook buddies, and with the sheer amount of dirt on beautiful and rich people available at your fingertips, I’m honored that you’re clicking on a dorky little inspiring article in the first place. But, within that gratefulness, I’d still rather you were reading about the happy stuff than the angry stuff.