Thursday, June 2, 2022

Is that the Second Coming or the First?

     All religions are nonsense given a somber patina by the span of centuries and the endorsement of millions. I get that. All have some useful moral precepts they pretend to endorse — treat people kindly, don't kill folks, etc. — that are perfectly fine unadorned and on their own. But believers feel obligated to dress up their basic morality with the most rococo impossibilities and time-killing ritual imaginable. Angels. Prayer. Heaven. Miracles. That kind of thing.
     And I understand that any hope or suspicion that my own team might be slightly less ridiculous than the norm is mere self-love and chauvinism. Jews believe their own forms of silly, tedious spoodle: the obsessive waste of keeping kosher. The years spent learning an arcane language like Hebrew. Debating the Talmud. 
     But at least those are the familiar, acceptable tranches of gibberish.  There is something extra disturbing when a faith conjures up something new and ridiculous.
      Not that the tendency of Lubavitch-Chabad Hasidic Jews to announce that their late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the messiah is anything new. Ever since he died in 1994, and his flock eagerly awaited his resurrection (which, spoiler alert, did not happen, yet) the sense that he has come to usher in a new age is embraced by many — Joseph Newfield claims most — Chabad Hasidim.  
     Non-fanatical Jews are either ignorant of this, or embarrassed and try to pretend it doesn't exist. Even the Lubavitch often downplay the Schneerson-as-savior bit. They generally like to present a benign, earnest face to the world, as joyous cheerleaders of Judaism, hoping to move the world toward salvation with each tiny act of religious obligation, whether pressing weak tea Jews to wear tefillin and pray, an imposition I have written about, or encourage Jewish women to light Sabbath candles, or distributing matzo at Passover.  To be honest, I find them inoffensive and admire their ability to conceal the contempt they must feel for supposed Jews who don't do any of the obligations they consider essential for living a good life. To add to those 613 commandments of Judaism a 614th, to believe that a cleric dead more than a quarter of a century is the second coming of Christ is a step too far, and off-brand for them, so they suppress it.
     Which might be why true believers are now opting for a more in-your-face approach. The world is becoming less restrained, more vigorous about imposing one's private fantasies on others. Why should Jews be any different? I saw these mini-posters slapped on Walk signs on the East Side of Manhattan during my recent visit. As with all expressions of zealotry, you have to wonder what impact the fervid perpetrators hope to have. Do they really expect any Jew not already on their bus to see these little posters and think, "He is? Oh good! About time." Perhaps it's more an expression of power: we're here, we actually believe this enough to march around Manhattan with stepladders and posters and paste. Deal with it. 
      Or not. I truly don't mind that people embrace an enormous spectrum of spiritual hoo-ha. It makes them feel better. Life is a long time, laden with boredom and tragedy, and it helps to have a pretty story to glance at when the world gets ugly. It's a shame they can't believe it quietly, and must try to wangle their ridiculous notions in the faces of those simply trying to get down the street unmolested. But such is the world. Yes, claiming this guy is the savior — if he is, then why aren't we saved, huh? What's the hold-up? — is part of the ugliness, not part of the relief that faith can offer. But then, that's me. And the world isn't all about me. As the years go by, I'm more and more certain of that. It's a shame religions couldn't push that concept more. That's a good word worth spreading around. 


  1. But the "humanists" are even more restrictive and exclusive and much less interesting and appealing than religious fanatics.


    1. Hmmm... Personally, I don't find the Evangelical and conservative Catholic political movement to enforce their religious agenda on a secular nation either interesting or appealing.

      Neil writes: "To be honest, I find them inoffensive and admire their ability to conceal the contempt they must feel..." While I know little of this Jewish sect, the same cannot be said of the Christian politicians who have established a Supreme Court majority and Republican cult which are both content to be offensive and do little to conceal their contempt for a pluralistic society.

  2. Occasionally, I see a few young Lubavitchers at the rogers park Metra station 7 they always do the same thing: They ask me, "Are you Jewish?" & I always answer "Only Nazis ask that question".
    Those meshuganah Chasids don't seem to understand what idiots they are!

    1. Mazel tov for being so nice to them. They are an embarrassment to the rest of the tribe, and make the Jews look like idiots to the goyim, many of whom are already ignorant enough to believe that most (if not all) Jews are one and the same as the Lubavitcher cult (And, yes, cult is the word).

      And kudos for the "Only Nazis ask that question!" comeback...a real zinger...and worthy of any Borscht Belt comic. My snappy reply is more succinct...only three words. One of them is "go"...and another is "yourselves."

    2. Once I said "None of your fucking business".

  3. This is intriguing to me. One thinks of religions being established in the murky, pre-Enlightenment world of previous millennia. While one may wonder how many beliefs took hold and were successfully promulgated around the whole world, we have little understanding of the mindset that may have been prevalent so many centuries ago. "There is something extra disturbing when a faith conjures up something new and ridiculous." Indeed, this is one of the things I've often thought about Mormonism. Not new, clearly, but that religion established itself in a much more modern world. It seems amazing to me.

    Since I'm not Jewish, I couldn't help noticing the echoes of Christianity, though Neil writes of the Lubavitch. Gotta say, I didn't expect to be reading a long essay from the Harvard Divinity Bulletin today, but there ya go... That writer discusses his impulse to "read the book that was strictly forbidden to Orthodox Jews: the New Testament." After noting some similarity to the early Christians, he says: "This parallel to Christianity made me exceedingly uncomfortable." Though I approach the matter from a very different perspective, I can still certainly understand why he feels that way.

    The paragraph about how his father, a Harvard Medical School graduate, insisted on a yeshiva education for his children in which "we did not learn even basic English, math, and science. Instead, we studied the Bible, the Talmud, and Jewish law, all day, every day." is kinda chilling. Though, in that regard, it's very different from Catholic schools, which somehow manage to combine their religious indoctrination with excellent overall curricula.

    One quibble: "to believe that a cleric dead more than a quarter of a century is the second coming of Christ is a step too far..." Doesn't that imply that they believe in Christ?


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