This one’s a doozy. Bear with me. Also, if you have a bit of context, you’ll know this ones strike quite close to home. TL;DR at the end.
Here’s how the spiel goes: Judaism is amazing. It’s enlightened. It’s changed the world for the better. Judeo Christian values are da shit. Before they came around, everyone was running around like a bunch of heathens. The Romans? Barbarians. Look at those radical Muslims today, gosh. If only everyone would just follow the Torah, the world would prematurely ejaculate itself into nirvana.
Here’s the thing. Alongside all the genuinely good stuff in Judaism and the Torah, is a shit ton of insanity. Here’s just a small sampling:
• There are dozens of actions in Judaism, many of which are private acts (like illicit sexual relations, being gay, or gathering sticks on the wrong day) not just social offenses (like murder), that will get you killed.
• The available methods of execution include: stoning, beheading, strangulation (not hanging, but two people pulling at a rope around your neck), or molten lead being poured down your throat. If they weren’t sure if you’d committed a murder, they had a convenient way of letting you starve to death without getting their hands dirty.
• Although lots of things really tick God off, rape is not one of them. Rapists need to pay a monetary fine and must marry their victim (if she’s down).
• If you shave your beard with a razor, you get flogged 39 times in the town square. Lot’s of other random things can get you similar treatment.
• A woman cannot get divorced from her husband, thus creating situations where she is forced to be single for the rest of her life.
• Non-Jews rank way lower on the totem pole of importance. If they are idol worshipers, you can basically kill them if you can get away with it. And even if they are not, you’re not allowed to break Shabbat to save their lives.
• The preferred method of government in Judaism is monarchy, notwithstanding the long list evil kings the Torah itself lists.
• Kind David, All-Time Champion Hero of Jewish Leadership™, randomly executed prisoners of war, went to war for economic reasons, and mutilated war horses while they were still alive.
• Over the holidays, so many animals would get slaughtered in the temple that you’d be wading through blood up to your ankles. A lot of these animals would get eaten, but a fair amount would get burnt to a crisp as “A fragrant offering” for God’s nose holes.
And the list goes on.
The Apologetic Answers
Here are the two main ways Kiruv/Orthodoxy explains these and other issues away, and why they are bullshit:
Approach #1: “Hey, look around. Do you see us stoning gays? Everything’s cool. Look how happy we are. Would you like another shot?”
Why it’s bullshit: the reason any of the aforementioned practices are not actually done, is because of the intervention of modern secular government and western thought. It’s actually what Orthodox Jews refer to as “the terrible times we’ve fallen upon” when they lament the good old days when King David reigned supreme.
Every time you, or the Jews around you, pray for the messiah to come, they’re really hoping that some dude shows up on his white donkey and they can start keeping all the Mitzvos once again. Not just the fun, westernly acceptable ones of today, but also the one’s we’ve “lost”, like animal sacrifice or capital punishment.
In other words: “I hope Mashiach gets us out of this mess and into a situation where we can stone gays once again, not just flog them in the town square like those primitive Muslims.” To which I say, how dare you fight radical Islam while praying for Mashiach in the same breath?
Approach #2: “Let me provide you with a detailed mystical reason behind that specific issue you raised. Let me deconstruct it. Let me explain to you why it was so rare, and why it’s actually not what it seems to be.”
Why it’s bullshit: you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. Your abusive boyfriend may have a good explanation for every time he punches you. But over time, you realize the excuses don’t matter.
Similarly, your Rabbi might explain in detail just how rare it was for the courts to actually kill someone, how many criteria needed to be met. Bottom line? The Torah spends way more time detailing who should be killed for what, than telling you to love thy neighbor. And useful stuff like meditation? There simply wasn’t room for God to put it in. You be the judge of the priority.
If entire volumes have been written explaining these, and other issues, away, you know you have a problem. If Kiruv training programs spend years and millions of dollars teaching people how to “deal with these issues”, what you have is basically a massive cover-up enterprise.
Your ignorance is not an excuse.
I’m looking at you, Orthodox women who “never studied that in seminary” or “let my husband be the spiritual leader of the home”. I’m also looking at you, conservative Jew who thinks Judaism is wonderful but knows very little about what it entails.
Did any of the items listed above surprise you? Had you not heard of them before? How can you make massive life choices, for yourself and others, without knowing the facts?
If you grapple with these issues, I respect you. If you are aware of them but struggle to reconcile them with your western views, well, at least it’s on your mind. But if you’ve never even heard of them, I have very little respect for the “informed choices” you’ve supposedly made.
My point in a nutshell:
Judaism has lots of nice things in it. But it also is full of primitive ideas that are offensive to our western sensibilities, which it instructs you to live by.
My personal view is that it was created by humans at a specific point in time, and it was therefore a more forward thinking way for primitive people to live their lives. It was great then, but it’s outdated now.
If you’re progressive, you can just pick and choose the practices you want (Shabbat and holidays, anyone?), but at least be aware of what you’re consciously leaving behind. And really, it’s a very personal thing, and you shouldn’t care that much if Judaism stays around, or if Jewish pride is on the decline. Hey, it works for you; it’s not working for anyone else. Let it rest. Stop funneling millions of dollars into birthright and lamenting growing intermarriage rates.
But, if you think it’s the word of God though, every part of it is true and must be kept. And so, to the western person you are a primitive barbarian. That’s ok, you’re just following orders. Absolute truth is absolute truth. I have respect for Rabbis like Yaakov Weinberg who said “If the Torah told us women were second class citizens, that’s how we’d treat them”. He’s being honest.
What pisses me off is the apologetic kiruv movement. The part that whitewashes everything, hides as much as possible until “you’re ready to hear it”, explains everything away with smiles and schnapps.
You think it’s truth? It’s God’s word? So give people the lowdown on their first meeting. (It worked for Neo, and you know how much you love The Matrix) Watch their delicate western sensibilities recoil in shock and they run screaming from the room.
You know you’ll never win the intellectual battle, so you play to people’s emotions.
Don’t you dare bring emotions into this.
Don’t you dare compare yourself to other religions and beliefs, and how “illogical” or “barbaric” they are compared to you.
Don’t you dare tug at people’s heartstrings about how “beautiful” Judaism is.
Judaism is beautiful and it’s also ugly. You’d don’t follow it for either reason, you follow it because it’s “Truth”. Showing people just one side of the coin is the ultimate act of deceit which has ruined many people’s lives.
Cut it out.