Yes, we do bleed when you prick us

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As I’ve mentioned before, I am so disgusted, angry, and hurt at how a lot of people have been showing some very ugly true colors since the latest terrorist attacks on Eretz Yisrael in May.

The horrifying story screencapped above is far from the only such incident of this nature since the explosion in worldwide antisemitism since May. Many politicians, organizations, businesses, schools, sports teams, etc., who issued statements against antisemitism and in support of the Jewish people have been dogpiled on social media. People are absolutely ranting about how one-sided, bigoted, politicized, and uneducated they are.

Shamefully, there sometimes followed retractions and apologies.

Just as all these “intersectional” clowns are trying to recast feminism as a feel-good social justice free-for-all where everyone but actual women are centred in our own liberation movement, so too have Israel-bashers tried to force-link condemnation of antisemitism with Islamophobia and anti-Arabism. God forbid we get a voice all our own!

If you don’t feel the need to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes without also mentioning prejudice and crimes against gays and lesbians, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Haitians, and the disabled, there’s zero reason for you to “All lives matter” antisemitism.

One, nice Ashkenazocentrism. About 80% of Jewish Israelis are Mizrachi, from the Middle East or North Africa, and therefore NOT white-presenting like Ashkenazim! Have you ever seen an Ethiopian Jew?

Two, nice job blatantly lying about the history of Israel. The Jewish people are indigenous to the land, and were there thousands of years before any Arab tribes arrived. You’re living in a fantasy land if you truly believe everyone lived in Kumbaya harmony until 1948. There were a number of pogroms committed by Arabs, like in Hebron in 1929.

The antisemitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was also buddies with Hitler, and his thugs convinced the British to severely limit Jewish immigration when they most desperately needed to escape Europe.

Arabs in Israel gladly sold their marshy, desert, unused, uninhabited lands to olim (immigrants), who proceeded to transform them into modern cities and fertile farmland. More Arabs began moving in when the land became habitable and desirable.

Many Shoah survivors were met with anger and violence when they returned home. Their houses and belongings were stolen by former friends and neighbors after they were deported. Some people were even murdered. Hence, why most survivors immigrated to Israel, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., or Australia as soon as possible.

Every single war Israel has ever been involved in was started by the surrounding Arab nations. They even attacked and invaded the very day Israel declared her independence and the British Mandate finally ended! How dare you defend the firing of 4,500 rockets and say it doesn’t constitute a conflict!

All of these things, and many, many, MANY more, are well-known, easily-verified historical facts. They’re not hidden away in obscure folios only hardcore scholars know about.

And by the way, the “anti-Zionism” screed comes right from the USSR’s playbook. They knew damn well open antisemitism was no longer socially acceptable after the Shoah, and so reinvented it under the guise of just bashing our liberation and decolonization movement. In the Middle Ages, we were hated, persecuted, and murdered because we wouldn’t convert to Christianity, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries, we were hated because of our so-called race. (Judaism is actually an ethnoreligious group, or, as Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan called it, “an evolving religious civilization.”) Now that both religious- and racially-based hatred are out of favor, we’re hated because of our country.

Helpful tip: If you replace the word “Zionists” with “Jews” in what you’re saying or writing, and it sounds very obviously antisemitic, you know damn well you’re not just innocently criticizing specific policies of the Israeli government.

I never see these obsessed clowns even mentioning real human rights abuses in countries like Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Venezuela, China, Turkey, Russia, Libya, and Nigeria. Just the only democracy in the Middle East, the only Jewish-majority country that’s ever existed. And to make it even worse, they often use Holocaust inversion and soft Holocaust denial in their propaganda.

These people distort history, use doctored and decontextualized pictures and videos, and outright lie in their quest to pretend Israel is, as Bob Dylan sang in a song of the same name, a neighborhood bully for daring to defend herself against terrorism and repeated attempts at destruction.

Oh, and fringe tokens like Neturei Karta and JStreet do NOT represent the vast majority of the Jewish world.

Bottom line: I’m sick of non-Jews goysplaining what is and isn’t antisemitism, and the outright falsehoods, slanders, and threats. When you parrot Hamas talking points, you contribute to the international spike in hate crimes.

Get out of your damn woke bubble and talk to people who don’t share your groupthink!

IWSG—Life imitating art

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What would make you quit writing?

Death. I want to die with my boots on and write till the last possible moment, till Archangel Michael descends to Earth to carry my soul away. I also want to give it my all till the end instead of phoning it in if my health declines, the way Freddie Mercury still sang like a god even when he was dying.

I knew going in I probably wouldn’t come anywhere close to 50K for JuNoWriMo, and I was right. At least I didn’t set myself up for a crushing disappointment and denial of reality by pretending otherwise. But it wasn’t so much my overall slowed writing progress caused by lockdown this time as it was life imitating art.

I thought I’d begin my new alternative history on the first of the month, esp. since I’ve been wanting to do this for 17 years and finally pulled together a storyline and many details. But I just couldn’t do it immediately.

I finally began it on 9 June at 9:00 at night, since nine was Dante’s favorite number and it appears often in his work. Then it was really slow going for awhile until I overcame my initial doubts and cowardice. After all, who am I to not only write about one of the greatest writers in history, but in the first person? I’m not that chutzpahdik, am I?

At the end of Canto I of Inferno, Dante is really hopped-up about going on the otherworldly journey promised, particularly since it means he gets to hang out with his idol. But then, at the start of Canto II, he’s seized by a fit of cowardice and second thoughts:

“Then I began: ‘O poet come to guide me,
tell me if you think my worth sufficient
before you trust me to this arduous road….

But why am I to go? Who allows me to?
I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul;
neither I nor anyone would think me worthy;

and so, if I should undertake the journey,
I fear it might turn out an act of folly—
you are wise, you see more than my words express.'”

I think it’s a good portent that I did have some second thoughts, hesitation, and cowardice. Writers should have a healthy dose of pride and chutzpah, but it should be combined with humility and caution. If you’re going to write about real people from history, particularly in the first-person, you need to be 100% motivated by love and respect. It’ll be obvious in the finished product if you only chose that person to mindlessly follow a trend or because you thought s/he sounded cool.

I’ll be discussing this in much greater detail in a future post, but suffice it to say for now, I’m absolutely horrified at this turn of events, and how many writers happily cheered on Ms. Powers’s firing. Since May, a lot of people have been showing some very ugly true colors in their support of antisemitism repackaged under the guise of being woke.

I won’t name and shame, but a writer I considered a virtual friend for quite a few years soft-blocked me on Instagram because I shared so many stories calling out antisemitism and supporting Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorism.

Pardon my French, but if you feel the same way as the “I’m not antisemitic, but…” crowd, Allez vous faire foutre! You are not my friend or ally, and your rhetoric has helped to fuel the recent spike in hate crimes all over the world. Yet again I’m deeply disappointed in the popular face of the writing community nowadays.

I’ve set a lowball goal of 15K for Camp NaNo, and so far am on track to achieve it. As I’ve been doing since 2017, I also count blog posts as creative nonfiction towards my wordcount.

Are you doing Camp NaNo? Have you ever had an “I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul” moment in your own writing or life?

The Jazz Singer at 90, Part IV (Jewish subjects on film before 1927)

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Cohen’s Advertising Scheme (1904)

The Jazz Singer marked the first time many American Gentiles were exposed to Judaism. Sure, it promotes assimilation over religiosity, and the characters are a bit stereotypical, but by 1927 standards, this was a huge step forward.

Many prior Jewish characters typified all the worst, ugliest, most anti-Semitic stereotypes. Legendary director Edwin S. Porter’s Cohen series was a prime example of the “scheming merchant” stereotype.

Cohen’s Fire Sale (1907)

In Cohen’s Advertising Scheme, a grotesquely stereotyped shopkeeper tricks a passerby into buying a coat on which he’s hung a large sign advertising the store.

In Cohen’s Fire Sale (1907), Cohen is once again grotesquely made up like an ugly anti-Semitic stereotype. When a shipment of hats is accidentally picked up by rubbish collectors, Cohen chases their wagon through the streets of New York in hot pursuit.

After the hats fail to sell, Cohen reviews his insurance policy, sets a fire, and holds a fire sale. The film ends as Cohen reads the insurance policy and gives his wife a ring.

In Cohen Saves the Flag (1913), directed by the legendary Mack Sennett, popular comedian Ford Sterling plays Union Sgt. Cohen. He and Lt. Goldberg are bitter rivals for Rebecca (Mabel Normand). Yet again, Cohen is made up as a grotesque, ugly, anti-Semitic stereotype.

However, Cohen turns the tide of battle when he throws back an enemy grenade and raises a fallen flag. The film also contains impressive battle scenes, and a positive portrayal of a Jewish woman.

Goldberg tries to get Cohen shot by firing squad, but Rebecca rides to the rescue and conveys the truth about his battlefield heroics. Cohen is now hailed as as hero, and gets revenge on Goldberg.

Another early depiction of Jewish life was D.W. Griffith’s A Child of the Ghetto (1910), set on the Lower East Side’s Rivington Street. After Ruth’s mother dies, she supports herself as a seamstress. Then the son of the factory owner steals some money, and she’s accused of the crime.

Ruth flees the city and hides in the countryside, where a young farmer takes her in, and they fall in love. At the time, few other films dealing with Jewish subjects suggested moving from the city to the country might improve people’s lives and offer a better future.

Griffith’s Romance of a Jewess (1908) is also set on the Lower East Side. Professional actors commingle with real street vendors and locals. Again, the protagonist is named Ruth, and played by Florence Lawrence, “The Biograph Girl.” She was also known as the first American moviestar, and was very popular before people even knew her name.

The story involves not only romance, but the conflicts between different generations, representing the Old and New World.

Old Isaacs, the Pawnbroker (1908) was one of Griffith’s very first films. Though it does contain more stereotypically-made up characters, it features a pawnbroker as a humanitarian hero. A little girl goes to the Amalgamated Association of Charities to get help for her sick mother, but all the red tape makes it impossible.

She then goes to a pawnbroker to beg for help. First she offers shoes, which his assistant rejects. When she returns with her doll, the manager’s heart melts, and he stops the goons trying to evict the family. He also pays their rent, gives them food and medicine, and buys the girl a new doll.

Hungry Hearts (1922) is based on Anzia Yezierska’s stories about Lower East Side Jewish women’s lives. She was the first writer who brought such stories to a mainstream audience.

This film tells the story of the immigrant Levins. Janitor Sara falls in love with landlord Rosenblatt’s nephew David, who teaches her to write and read. David dreams of opening his own law office and getting out of his uncle’s clutches, but his uncle breaks them up and raises the Levins’ rent.

Mrs. Levin goes crazy from the stress, and damages the walls. When Rosenblatt takes them to court, David defends them. He and Sara reunite, and the Levins move to suburbia.

From Germany came a Golem trilogy, of which only the last installment, The Golem, is known to survive in full. These films are devoid of stereotypes like hook noses, money-grubbing, and nefarious scheming.

The Jazz Singer is no Left Luggage or Ushpizin, but it was a positive step forwards. Progress never comes overnight, all at once. It has to start somewhere.

One of the worst books I’ve ever read

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I wrote this in the Spring of 2002 for my old Angelfire site, about Evelyn Kaye’s thankfully out of print The Hole in the Sheet. This was at a time when I was starting to finally realize my dream of becoming more observant, and becoming very attracted to Orthodoxy. When I met actual Orthodox people, I quickly realized I’d believed ignorant stereotypes and misinformation. Obviously, I can’t speak to certain factions in the Hareidi (ultra-Orthodox) community, where things are much different. I had many, many, many posts on my old website about how appalled I was at a number of things the modern-day Hareidim do, say, and believe, like how they Photoshop women out of pictures in newspapers, rewrite history to bash other denominations, and teach anti-scientific nonsense in schools. For the sake of relative brevity, I’ve taken out some of what was in the original essay.

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I recently read this horrible hate- and lie-filled invective against the entire Orthodox and Hassidic world, under the nasty pretence of “telling it like it is.” This woman obviously had a very bad experience, or came to have a different value system which led her to completely reject how she was raised, and I won’t deny her that basic reality, but she projects that bad experience/radical value change onto everyone in the Orthodox and Hassidic world, can’t stop spouting off lies and inaccuracies, putting words in people’s mouths, saying untrue, insulting, and disrespective things about traditions, basic Jewish customs like Kashrut, and most of all people who’ve chosen to be observant.

What makes it particularly repugnant is that the title is The Hole in the Sheet, a very old urban legend which started when people saw the tallit katan hanging in the wash. That’s a pretty big hole to be having sex through! Sure a handful of extremely fringe individuals may be having sex through a hole in a sheet, but like 99.9% of the Orthodox/Hassidic world have sex like normal people. She admits she’s never actually seen such a sheet, but has no doubt it exists. What blatant bullshit. Our own worst enemies are ourselves.

This book is so bad it’s hard to know where exactly to start. Even the chapter titles are insulting and derogatory, like “Childhood: The Perfect Time to Be Orthodox Because You Are Helpless and Everything Is Clear,” “Why Orthodox Judaism Doesn’t Like Women,” and “Why the Modern World Is Better for Women.” This woman clearly has an axe to grind, and an ideology to push. She takes isolated incidents out of context and projects them onto everyone, doesn’t explain why things are done, puts words into people’s mouths, won’t accept how many women in the Orthodox and Hassidic world really are happy, that people do choose out of their own free will to become observant, and has totally not looked at the traditional sources. If she had, she’d come to know that in the Talmud, halacha, and other traditional sources of Jewish law, women are treated a lot more fairly and better than they were in practically every other society at that time in history.

It’s really insulting my intelligence how she honestly believes so many women say taharat hamishpacha revitalises their marriages and makes them feel like brides again because it’s what they’ve been told to say by their rabbis. So then they really don’t feel these things and are all brainwashed liars. I’m not even married yet and I saw something special and beautiful about this custom when I first found out about it! It teaches your spouse not to see you as just a sexual object he can boink whenever an urge strikes him. If you really truly believe no Orthodox woman is happy, you’re past help. And, oh yeah, it’s translated as “ritually impure,” not “unclean,” and anyone who knows anything about taharat hamishpacha knows that.

This woman also thinks the Orthodox love embarrassing people who don’t know as much about Judaism as they do. She also thinks “[t]he mark of a truly devout Hasidic or Orthodox Jew, as well as many other Jews, is an unquestioned hatred of non-Jews.” What complete lies! None of the Orthodox people I’ve ever known believed any stereotypes about non-Jews, like they’re all drunk, anti-Semites, junkies, untrustworthy, have horrible family lives, etc.

Her comment about how they also avoid any contact with African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics is also completely off the mark. Guess what! There are many African-American Jews and Jews of colour! She also relates a story about how a friend of hers saw a Hassidic woman late at night, lost, and asked if he could help her. How would he know “she didn’t dare speak to me as a man, and a non-Jew too”! He wasn’t inside her mind! After giving her the directions back to Brooklyn, this hate-filled woman continues the anecdote: “‘I felt so sorry for her,’ he said. ‘She had no idea how to cope with what had happened to her because she didn’t dare to break the rules. And yet she didn’t know what to do or where she was.’

“I wonder what she told her husband when she came home.”

Excuse me, anyone would be scared and nervous when lost and alone in a strange place late at night! How dare they arrogantly assume these things about a total stranger?!

This woman really has a fetish about unnecessary capitalisation, and the word “naughty.” Please give me direct quotes where the rabbis actually called bare skin, exposed hair on a married woman, mixed dancing, chametz during Pesach, etc., “naughty.” She completely insults the entire Talmud on more than one occasion, and doesn’t take into account how some of the rabbis were very minor, how some were fairer to women than others, how not every view is meant to be followed, how one shouldn’t accept any one view as the absolute truth, and the era in which it was written, when of course many people had primitive and outdated views of medicine. You know, unfairly judging a past attitude about medicine with all the hindsight and modern knowledge which have accumulated since and then expecting it to be held to the same standard of today’s world. She obviously isn’t reading the same sources I’m reading, and has badly misinterpreted what little she has read.

This woman also does a big disservice to her cause by not presenting the other side in a positive light. To her, all Orthodox women are oppressed and only parroting what men have told them to say, and she doesn’t even take into consideration the many observant women who are very happy living that life. Who are you to tell them their personal belief is wrong? You don’t like Orthodoxy? Fine. But don’t expect them to just up and throw their entire belief system through the window because it offends your ultramodernist sensibilities.

She cites isolated incidents such as an Orthodox rabbi bursting into a Reform shul on Simchat Torah and trying to break up the party because he felt it was a sin for men and women to dance together, or an Orthodox rabbi taking over a Reform bar mitzvah in Poland because the rabbi was a woman. Those are isolated incidents and don’t represent how the majority of Orthodox Jews live their lives.

And yet she’s doing exactly the same thing. You don’t like a fringe lunatic trying to hijack a happy holiday service, yet you seem to be saying you want the Reform to become the norm in the Jewish world, with no regard for more traditional customs. There are different branches of Judaism for a reason. It’s insane to want one of them to stop observing the way they’ve done for centuries. What an arrogant hypocrite, presuming to tell people to abandon their values they’ve lived by their whole lives because she thinks they’re foolish and outdated. There’s something called choice, and free will.

This woman doesn’t just personally disagree with certain aspects of Judaism, she outright attacks them and insults them with such venom it’s unbelievable. The way she talks about the b’rit makes it seem like the mohel is actually chopping off a chunk of flesh instead of just removing the foreskin. If you honestly believe the b’rit is barbaric, child abuse, mutilation, and traumatic, you haven’t compared it with female circumcision or some of the male circumcision rites in the Pacific, such as inserting a tube into the urethra and then slicing the organ in half (but not cutting it off!).

The Orthodox are far from the only Jews who practise circumcision. And there’s a doctor standing by in case anything goes wrong. Many mohelim are trained in medical care, and even the most UO of rabbis would never permit a baby to be circumcised if he felt there were a danger, such as prematurity or a serious medical condition. The b’rit can be delayed until the baby’s healthy enough.

This woman of course wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater and objects to it on the grounds that she thinks it hurts the baby. One little prick at eight days and then it’s over. And of course she doesn’t believe in all the great medical benefits to be had from circumcision. To call the b’rit foolish and barbaric is spitting in the face of those many people who had it done to their sons during the Shoah, Inquisition, Greek and Roman rule, and other periods of extreme persecution.

This woman must have done some serious drugs to be saying all these off-base things, such as “The basic duty of the Orthodox parent is to create a permanent sense of guilt in their children.” I think you need to look at yourself and why you feel guilty if you find money in your pocket on Shabbat or feel paranoid about people watching you taking the bus on Shabbat. Your feeling guilty has nothing to do with your parents who only told you the rules.

“Maximum insecurity and discomfort for young children” my ass. You belong in a therapist’s office discussing these issues, because the great majority of people in the Orthodox community are not experiencing these feelings! Comparing Orthodoxy to a cult is mind-revolting. It’s like she doesn’t accept that this is how some people choose to live their lives. What does she expect, they’ll just up and abandon traditions because she says so?

Of course a boy in her youth group objected to mixed dancing and eventually had it voted out of their activities! You have to expect that many people in the Orthodox world believe these things, and to want them to change to conform to the modern world is the height of insensitivity and utter hypocrisy. And only a handful of very fringe individuals still buy into the shtetl superstitions about Lilith harming newborn babies, the evil eye, etc.

I’ve known a lot of Orthodox women, and I seriously doubt their families felt shame or rage at how they weren’t married at age 17 and pregnant at high school graduation. Nowadays even Hassidic women work outside of the home, though they might not be in jobs to your liking, such as working in a local shop instead of being a big-time executive. And there are Orthodox women in “serious” jobs nowadays who are still able to be observant and work independently.

Do you honestly think no Orthodox or Hassidic mother talks to her daughters about puberty and that these girls are totally in the dark when it starts happening? I was raised in what this woman would call a “modern” home, and I didn’t know what was happening to me for a few days because I hadn’t gotten any information on it other than what I’d read in books, from which I had idiotically assumed it didn’t last that long, much less a whole week! I was ashamed and secretive of being niddah till I found out about taharat hamishpacha at 18, and now I view it as something beautiful and spiritual. Of course she’d probably drop dead of shock if she found that out!

This woman is also somehow offended by “the opening blessing of part of the synagogue service,” since according to her it isn’t “about a more sympathetic, modest and quiet God, who appreciated the simpler less adulatory aspects of prayer.” God is indescribable, and however you want to address him/her is fine by me, but getting offended over how a prayer is worded because it doesn’t jive with your modernistic interpretation of him/her is really out there. This woman also goes on to say that her mother told her she had to keep going to shul even though she didn’t believe it in because who knows why anyone is going? From this she jumps to the wild conclusion that most people aren’t going to shul out of genuine belief or spirituality. You’re not inside their minds!

This woman has totally NOT read the traditional sources on marriage and divorce. If she had, then she’d see that the halacha is very fair to women and that the ketubah is insurance against a bad husband. There are long lists of when divorce should be done, such as a husband forcing a wife to hold to a vow longer than a certain period of time, and if he refuses to release her from the vow to not wear shoes, for example, for over a week, then he must divorce her and pay her her ketubah.

There are also very bad consequences for a man who refuses to do this; he may even be whipped in public until he relents and divorces her. A woman may also divorce a husband if he smells bad or doesn’t provide her with enough sex, according to his profession, such as how a sailor must sleep with his wife at least once every six months.

She also keeps speaking about arranged marriages like they’re so horrible. It’s an arranged meeting, not an arranged marriage. If it were the latter, they would never have met most likely before the wedding, and there would be no door out. The girl is permitted to reject the guy if she doesn’t like him. She isn’t forced to marry the first guy she meets, and they go out on several arranged dates before they decide. How again are people who have a traditional ketubah hurting you?

Then she gets into how she believes Orthodox couples don’t know anything about sex, and that they think of improving the baby-to-be instead of satisfying the other person. In theory, yes, and certainly a handful of fringe lunatics do do that, but I’m pretty sure the great majority of Orthodox and Hassidic couples are having sex for pleasure and not just procreation. Actual practice is not always what’s written down in theory.

This woman does nothing but insult the laws of Kashrut. She again wishes to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Once you’ve abandoned Kashrut, Shabbat, and the b’rit, what are the important traditions keeping you within the fold of Judaism? What’s left, seriously, if you think observing Shabbat and holidays is foolish, the b’rit is barbaric, and keeping kosher, much less during Pesach, is crazy?

She really thinks only the Orthodox keep kosher. And why the hell would she ask for a glass of milk with her pastrami sandwich in a kosher restaurant? That is as much a deliberate and blatant act of utter provocation and disrespect as sitting in the men’s section at an Orthodox shul. She really shows her true hedonistic colours with lines such as these:

“Adhering to laws like these demands an obsessive passion for illogicality. Why, if you live in a place like Maine with shellfish and seafood of every description, should you not take advantage of what’s available?….Why can’t you have a glass of milk with a meat meal? What is so terrible about this mixture?….And what is so unacceptable about pork? That brings up emotional and psychological responses, none of them rooted in any particular logic.”

Oh, I don’t know, maybe faith is important to you and you have enough self-control to withstand temptation. When you’ve been doing something like Kashrut or Shabbat for a long time, it’s like second nature, and doesn’t feel like a burden to you.

This woman isn’t alone in her hatred of “Ayshet Chayil,” but she is totally off-base in her attack on it. It’s a sweet way to honour your wife and tell her how much she means to you. I don’t find it insulting at all. And it was originally intended as an ode to the Shechina, the feminine attribute of God, not some overworked housewife.

How is it offensive for a man to love and cherish his wife and express these feelings in song? And the things in the song aren’t even that concerned with household tasks, so there goes her baseless argument about how it’s all about an overworked housewife!

She also goes off on another insulting offensive tangent when it comes to outright attacking those who kasher the house for Pesach. Once again she thinks only the Orthodox do this. What is so damn offensive about a thorough cleaning of the house once a year? You want to live in a mess? And sure it’s a hell of a lot of work, but it’s one of those things you’re glad you got out of the way. No one wants to do it, but it’s one of those things you have to do, like taking out the trash once a week, going to a proctologist, or doing a term paper.

Please tell me you’re not that simplistic and don’t really think it’s as simple as throwing out, hiding, or selling your food for Pesach and only replacing them with new ones exactly the same, only with labels saying they’re kasher l’Pesach. If you start to relax rules about Kashrut, what’s next? I don’t feel I’m being manipulated by rabbis by choosing to keep kosher.

It is the height of arrogance to say “the modern world is better for women.” Modern and better by whose definitions? Plenty of Modern Orthodox women fully live in the modern world, and there are even MO feminists! Her beloved choices for women apparently only apply to choices about “living in the modern world” instead of choosing to live a more traditional lifestyle. Becoming observant or Orthodox is also a perfectly valid choice an educated woman can make, even when she knows there are other options available to her.

The way she talks about women who’ve chosen to live the frum life is truly insulting. Instead of talking about how they might’ve seen something truly beautiful, meaningful, and special in a traditional lifestyle, she’ll spout off such disrespectful platitudes as “Somewhere along the way, she became convinced she had to become extremely Orthodox” or “But we’re dealing with someone caught inside the total craziness of Orthodox teachings. She has given up her mind in exchange for the fairy stories about Judaism and its teachings. She has allowed herself to become as helpless as any peasant woman living in the backwoods of central Africa. And she believes that this is good for her.”

These frum women have made choices about how they wish to live their lives, but since they’re not choosing what you’d have them choose, they’re crazy! What is so hard to grasp about the concept of choice and free will, and that this is how some people happily live their lives?! There is so much joy and love in the great majority of Orthodox and Hassidic families. These women don’t feel oppressed.

I find it completely off-base and insulting how this hateful, diatribe-ridden woman insists on calling those who are Shomer Shabbat foolish, outdated, and crazy, and that it’s stupid to have long, detailed rabbinical arguments about what exactly constitutes work. And btw, turning on a light isn’t forbidden due to being classified as work; it’s because the modern interpretation forbade it due to being seen as striking a fire, which is forbidden on the Sabbath.

These rules and regulations do not exist to make your life miserable or to cause feelings of guilt, but to make every aspect of your life holy and closer to God. When you don’t use electricity, drive in a car, spend money, etc., on Shabbat, you’re making the day special and different. You don’t agree with it? Fine. But don’t attempt to tell other people they’re wrong and crazy for holding Shabbat apart from all other days as a day of perfect rest. [I should probably take my own decade-old advice, since I’ve fallen embarrassingly far from the Shomeret Shabbat state I was once so proud of!]

This woman provides a direct (and yet again extremely insulting!) quote from herself, saying the Orthodox aren’t happy and secure, and that it’s just “a myth and a smokescreen they like to erect” and that a woman “may say what she is told to say, but she has long ago given up her own identity and her own individuality and her own ability to understand what she wants. She’s simply a robot repeating what she has been told. And she’s bringing up a generation of children in total ignorance of the real world.” Excuse me, but I am a feminist, and I see something beautiful in being more traditionally observant and in dressing modestly! I feel these things out of my heart, not because any rabbi told me to feel this way!

It’s really suspect how this woman consistently puts the names of holidays and certain Hebrew terms in quotes, and refers to holidays by decidedly non-Jewish names. When was the last time you heard a Jew refer to Shavuot as the Feast of Weeks, or Sukkot as the Festival of Tabernacles? She also describes her mother’s funeral in the epilogue, and keeps referring to the minister presiding over the affair. What is a minister doing officiating at an Orthodox Jewish funeral?! Did you mean to say “rabbi”?!

She refers to how she still sees “the undertones of craziness.” Obviously these things aren’t crazy to the people observing them, like a woman wearing a sheitel and long sleeves and skirts. And what’s it to you if a woman chooses to pray in the hall instead of in the shul? God will hear your prayers no matter where you daven or in what language you speak.

Well, this woman also admits to being intermarried and having broken all the rules after she left Orthodoxy. I just think it’s sad she could have such a bad personal experience and then proceed to throw away Kashrut, Shabbat, holidays, the importance of intramarrying, family purity, dressing modestly, etc. Once you get rid of such major things, what’s left to keep you Jewish? Is there not something very comforting about living your life according to the Jewish year and being naturally attuned to each and every holiday? Why would you want to get rid of that love, warmth, and sense of security and meaning in your life?

Here’s another fun quote which totally denigrates women who are both modern and traditional at the same time. “Some modern women like to say they can balance their careers, their professions, their involvement in the world of today with the demands of their religion. I admire them. But I think it’s the road to feminist schizophrenia.” What a load of horse bollocks. There are plenty of fully observant women out there in “real” jobs who manage to be Shomer Shabbat, sometimes shomer negiyah, dressing modestly, etc.

This is yet another quote which proves she’s not dealing with a full deck. “The Scrolls of the Law, which are read during synagogue services, contain only the Torah.” Hello! Those scrolls are the Torah! She also refers to the Hebrew Bible as the T’nack. I have never seen it spelt this way ever. It’s always been either Tanach or Tanakh. Then she goes on to say “From a woman’s perspective, Orthodox Judaism is based on the same laws of exclusion and discrimination which the Hasidim follow.” They simply dictate certain roles for the sexes, and the halacha is really a hell of a lot fairer to women than you give it credit for. Like Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Go on and eat your pork and shellfish, drive on Shabbat, turn the lights on and off, refuse to observe taharat hamishpacha, don’t dress modestly, and continue to deliberately dismiss and trivialise those for whom keeping kosher, including during Pesach, is a vitally important part of their lives. If choice is so important to you, then why can’t you accept that some people are bound to choose to live a more traditional life than you personally would like to?

The Canterbury Tales review

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Another book review from my old Angelfire site, probably written sometime in 2004. Yes, I am quite well aware that people in Medieval England had quite different religious views than the average modern person. That doesn’t mean I can’t be deeply offended by blatant anti-Semitism and Islamophobia instead of just shrugging and saying “That was just how things were then.” It’s just like with the repugnant Birth of a Nation; of course many Americans held less than enlightened views on race relations in those days. That didn’t mean most of them expressed it through applauding the Klan and depicting African-Americans as lazy porch monkeys who rape white women and eat fried chicken and go barefoot in the Senate. You have a really thick skin if you can just accept all cringe-worthy depictions of women, African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, Native Americans, etc., in old books and movies without flinching. It’s not at all about being “too PC,” it’s about being honestly shocked and offended.

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Like The Decameron, this Medieval masterpiece too was intended to have a hundred stories, only unlike Boccaccio’s work, Chaucer only completed a bit over twenty stories, to have been told by thirty-one pilgrims going to the shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury, England, one story on the way there and another on the way back, told by each pilgrim, including himself and the innkeeper.

The innkeeper suggested they tell stories to pass the time, and whomever told the best story would get a dinner when they returned to his inn. Sadly, things don’t get that far, and we don’t get to find out who won the dinner. Think of the modern-day possibilities, of someone writing the second half of this book, with the stories told on the way back and finally letting us in on who told the best story!

Off they go. After drawing straws to see who’ll start them off, the Knight begins with a lovely story about cousins in ancient Greece, who fall in love with the same woman while they’re in gaol, then fight over her once they’ve gotten out of gaol (one by pardon, the other by breaking out) until tragedy results, but in the end ultimately happiness. The people who tell the rest of the tales are from all walks of life—Pardoner (we read his tale along with the Prologue in my tenth grade English class), priests, friar, monk, cook, miller, reeve, lawyer, prioress, squire, you name it.

Many of the tales are very raunchy, as raunchy as some of the stuff in The Decameron, in particular the stories told by the miller and the reeve. They even have the c word in them, and other Anglo-Saxon profanities. The Reeve’s Tale is rather similar to one in The Decameron, about two young men who spend the night at the house of a couple with an older unmarried daughter and a baby boy in a cradle. During the night, one of the men, Alan, gets up and sleeps with the daughter, and the second man, John, has to get up to urinate, but finds the cradle in his way.

He pushes it over, and when the wife gets up and feels the cradle gone from its usual spot, she gets into the guests’ bed, thinking she almost made a horrible, foolish mistake. John proceeds to sleep with her. Then Alan gets up and gets into his host’s bed, thinking it’s his bed because the cradle isn’t there, and brags to him about how he slept with his daughter.

The host, Simon (Simkin), is furious, and the wife wakes up and screams for her husband, saying there’s someone on top of her. In the ensuing commotion, poor old Simkin (who deserved it anyway, the way he tried to steal flour from them earlier) gets banged over the head and the men flee from the house, getting back their stolen flour, which has since been baked into beautiful cakes.

In Boccaccio’s story, the wife realises what’s happened and lies to her husband that he too shouts out strange and impossible things when he’s dreaming, and the guest whom she accidentally slept with agrees, telling his friend to stop sleeptalking and to come back to bed, adding he told him he’d get into trouble one of these days over this problem. He begins shouting out nonsense to make the host believe he really was dreaming, and he laughs hysterically. Everyone is reconciled and happy.

The Prioress’s Tale is pure anti-Semitic tripe and libel, the stuff that was commonplace in the Middle Ages. Some young boy who loves to sing Catholic songs he wasn’t scheduled to learn yet is walking through the ghetto singing when Satan convinces the downtrodden people forced into this hellhole (described by the Prioress as deserved, since we’re so “satanic” and undeserving to live among other people in a free environment) to murder him, since he’s goading them with this song.

One Jewish man hides in the bushes, murders him (the old blood libels), throws him into a privy, and shortly thereafter he’s found with his throat slit, yet still singing that stupid song. Of course this gives the excuse for a murder-spree and pogrom, and the boy is revered as a saint and hero. Mention is also given to Hugh of Lincoln, another young boy of the era whose disappearance and murder was blamed on the area Jews.

Like this awful nun would’ve ever had any contact with Jews anyway, seeing as how they were all driven out of England in 1290. It’s scary that the blood libels survived into the twentieth century, with people who actually believed this anti-Semitic bullshit was true instead of manufactured lies used as excuses to have pogroms at Eastertime, or just to be mean and hateful.

The Sergeant-at-Law (i.e., lawyer)’s Tale is also very Christocentric. Young pretty Princess Constance is sighted by a group of Syrian Muslims, who fight among themselves over who shall have her. The guy who’s chosen says her father will never let her marry a Muslim (the insulting, dated, and offensive word “heathen” is used throughout), so he, the sultan, and all their friends and subjects convert to Christianity. Yeah, right.

The sultan’s mother is understandably furious over this abandonment of their ancestral religion, and has everyone at the wedding banquet except Constance murdered. Constance gets on a ship going towards the British Isles, and is taken in by a nice governer and his wife Hermengyld, and, wouldn’t you know it, Hermengyld is so taken with her devoted servant she too abandons Islam, and so does an old Briton they come across some time later!

A jealous knight murders Hermengyld and places the bloody knife beside Constance in their bed, and everyone feels she’s wrongly accused. At the trial, she prays for a miracle to happen to prove she isn’t guilty, and the knight is struck down by an otherworldly blow. And, surprise, surprise, the king and many of his subjects are so wowed by this that they too become Christians! What Medieval fantasy, people abandoning their own religions in favour of one that won’t leave them alone until they become members. Would these people have been very happy at a story where a young prince and all his subjects converted to Islam or Judaism en masse to win a beautiful princess, abandoning Christianity, the religion they’d lovingly been raised with?

Constance has some more misfortunes after that (but with a happy ending), and thankfully there aren’t anymore magickal wishful thinking fantasy conversions that only the Medieval mind could’ve imagined were realistic and true.

The Oxford Scholar’s Tale is also very similar to another Decameron story, the final story in that book. A Marquis is pressured to take a wife, and finally he gives in and decides to marry a poor girl named Griselda (the name is the same in both stories). He loves her very much, and his subjects are soon won over to the wonderful woman he’s married. But Walter wants to test her.

First he sends away their beloved daughter, saying the people are unhappy because they had a girl, and then a number of years later sends away their son, claiming the people are unhappy over the prospect of one day being ruled by a poor woman’s son. He says both have been killed. Finally he sends her away too, in nothing more than her shift, to her family, who always thought he’d do that one day.

To see if she’s borne these ordeals patiently, Walter soon brings her back, claiming he’s going to marry another woman, a 12-year-old girl. (He already presented her with a fake Papal bull of divorce when he drove her away.) And, wonder of wonders, it turns out that the girl is none other than their daughter. He also brings back their son, and holds her as his most dear wife, since she’s patiently borne these indignities.

Of course, to the modern mind, both of these stories are hard to believe, that any woman (or man, for that matter) in her right mind would agree to reconcile with a man who treated her so terribly and then years later just said he only ever did any of it to see how virtuous and patient she truly was.

The Wife of Bath rocks. She’s an intelligent liberated woman, married five times so far, loves sex, says that if women were writing the history, philosophy, and theology books, men would be the ones castigated and called evil, isn’t afraid to take lovers and to slap her husbands around when they get out of line, and has a very raunchy tongue. Like Alison in the Miller’s Tale, she demands, finds, and takes her own pleasure if her husband isn’t willing or able to properly give it to her, and always has a witty and clever way to get out of being accused of adultery or misbehaving.

The Merchant’s Tale ends in a similar way to another of Boccaccio’s stories. In Chaucer’s tale, an old knight named January finally decides he’d better get married, and picks a very young woman named May. January’s got a squire named Damian, who’s passionately in love with May. Eventually they work out a plan to get together, after January goes blind.

While out in the garden one day, Damian hides in a pear tree, where May is to climb up and meet him. Pluto and his wife Proserpina are watching, and Pluto is so mad that January is about to be cuckolded that he says he’ll give him his sight back to catch them in the act. Proserpina shoots back, saying she’ll give May the perfect response to deflect January’s suspicions.

So they’re up in the tree having sex when January looks up mortified, unable to believe his eyes. May tells him she’s trying to help him get his sight back and it’s not what he thinks, and that naturally he won’t be able to judge things correctly after having just gotten his sight back. He buys it, blissfully unaware he’s just been lied to.

In Boccaccio’s tale, Lidia, the wife of Nicostrato, is in love with Nicostrato’s favourite servant Pirro. Pirro gives her three tasks to do to see if her love is true, all of which she does. Finally, when Lidia is sick and lying under a pear tree, she orders Pirro up into the tree to get her some pears, and once up there he claims to see Nicostrato banging Lidia rotten.

Nicostrato goes up to see what’s going on, and Pirro and Lidia start to have sex. He’s furious, accusing his wife and most trusted servant of betraying him, and both deny this wholeheartedly; Lidia points out that if she really wanted to be unfaithful, she’d never be so foolish as to do it right in front of him. In consequence the tree is chopped down, so it won’t cast doubt on the honour of any other woman.

Most of the tales told reflect the social origins of the storytellers; some are even told in response to a tale that made their profession look bad. The miller tells his raunchy tale about an old carpenter who’s cuckolded by his much-younger wife, and the reeve, who’s also a carpenter, is so mad he in turns tells the story about the sleazy miller Simkin. Later on, the friar tells a story about a corrupt summoner, and this prompts the summoner to tell a tale about a sleazy friar who gets a rather vulgar comeuppance.

The Franklin’s Tale too is similar to a story in The Decameron; in Chaucer’s version, the lovely young wife Dorigen, while pining for her husband off on a voyage, is confronted with the squire Aurelius, who’s passionately in love with her. She tells him she’ll be his if he can clear the coast of Brittany of all its rocks, so one can sail along unimpeded. She thinks it’s an impossible task, so she doesn’t think anything will ever come of it.

In Boccaccio’s version, Dianora too is bothered by a suitor, and she tells him she’ll be his if he can make her a garden that’s just as beautiful in January as in May. Both men do these impossible tasks by the aide of magicians, and when they confess to their respective husbands, they’re told they must honour their word and sleep with them. Both suitors are so moved by this generosity that they release the women from this promise, and both magicians are in turn so moved they release the men from paying for their services.

As has been mentioned, these stories do take more than just a bit from Boccaccio instead of being all stories independently thought up. The Decameron rocks, but did you have to take so much from it? It also would’ve been nice, in my version, to have had the Middle English and the translation on opposing pages. There are some jarring differences, but Middle English isn’t that hard to read, esp. in comparison to Old English. I’ve read the Our Father and a bit of Beowolf in Old English (in a history and English class, respectively), and we could barely read any of it, so different are Modern and Old English.

There’s also a lot of Christocentrism, not to mention the anti-Semitic Prioress’s Tale (as well as an anti-Semitic jab made at the beginning of the Pardoner’s Tale); Christianity is obviously important in many of Boccaccio’s tales too, but it’s expressed through holy (but more often than not sleazy and corrupt) clergy, monks, friars, and nuns, not through constantly talking about Jesus, his blood, and trying to convert people who aren’t interested.

The few Jews in Boccaccio’s tales (Abraham, who converts to Christianity, and Melchisedek, who protects his money from a trap laid by Saladin) are treated more respectfully, as well as the Muslims in his stories. Saladin may be trying to steal Melchisedek’s money in the first story he appears in, but in the second story, told during the tenth and final day, he’s one of the two heroes, and is treated very respectfully, like a virtuous ruler, friend, and human being instead of some “heathen” who needs to be converted or killed asap.

My version also only gave a synopsis of the second of the two tales Chaucer himself tells, the Tale of Melibeus, and the final story, the Parson’s Tale, claiming that they’re very long, told in prose instead of poetry, and wouldn’t be of interest to the general reader. Maybe so, but can’t you at least provide them so the general reader can make up his or her own mind on the matter?

And let’s keep in mind here that this is only about half (at most) of what Chaucer envisioned; the book remains unfinished, so we’re denied all the rest of the tales that were supposed to be told, as well as the most important part, the ending and finding out who told the best tale!

But all in all, these are great stories (except the one told by the nasty Prioress) that have stood the test of time for a reason. And it was the first major work of literature written in the English language, the same way Dante chose to write in Italian instead of Latin to express his universal thoughts and ideas, to bring them to the common people instead of just the educated few.