You Shall Pursue

February 28, 2013

Social Justice, Ezekiel, and the Ugliness of Privilege

Filed under: D'var Torah — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 5:59 pm

My academic life recently seems to revolve around Ezekiel of dry bones, chariots, and bizarre behavior fame. He is a fascinating character, full of despair and often rank misogyny. As I read his book, I am struck by the parallels between his behavior and much of the behavior in the modern political scene. Ezekiel paints a stark picture of a ruling elite raging at the loss of his power and privelige. It is a world shift that his psyche is unable to handle, and he descends into bizarre behavior. We see something similar from conservatives today.

A quick summary for those of you who do not know the story. Ezekiel is born to a prominent Judaean priestly family shortly before the first exile. As an adult, he is exiled to Babylon with much of the other Judaean ruling elite. His book is full of vivid visions and bizarre role-plays, which he uses to exemplify the wretchedness of Judaea in exile. Then, in Chapter 16 of the book of Ezekiel, he gives a full account of why Israel is being punished in this way, describing his nation as a foundling that God married and raised to wealth and privilege. But Israel is ungrateful and “plays the harlot” with other nations, here a metaphor for Israel’s desperate attempts to form alliances with stronger neighboring powers. Because of this behavior, God turns against Israel and perpetrates a brutal gang rape against her, enlisting all of her former “lovers,” or all of her neighboring nations.

Through Ezekiel’s position as prophet to the nations, he is, in a way, able to “have it all,” casting himself both in the role of helpless, victimized Israelite and a vengeful God. In his violent depiction of Israel as gang rape victim, he is able to use the gender binary to re-establish a norm in a world that has been, for him, turned completely upside-down. Misogyny and violence act as a balm to soothe the wounds that he feels in being so utterly betrayed by God. To my mind, this is a text about confronting abuse at the hands of a being upon which one is simultaneously utterly dependent, and which is ultimately unable to protect. Ultimately, lack of omnipotence is less scary than utterly disturbing tendencies towards vengeance.

There is a sweet seductiveness in playacting at victim, in that when one operates from relative privilege, one is more likely to be taken seriously, and thus have one’s feelings respected and protected. Conversely, when those in marginalized classes (people of color, women, poor people) are victimized, their pain is often seen as somehow their fault.

I would like to draw a direct parallel between recent attacks on reproductive rights and the slow liberalization of American society. For the first time, we are entering a world in which white upper-middle class men simply do not have enough of a voting bloc to dictate the direction that our society moves. And since women and people of color tend to vote more liberal, this produces a world in which white men are, indeed, losing power. This is scary to those invested in maintaining the power dynamic of the past (as any loss of power is), but they are not victims. They are simply beginning the long slow treck toward being one voice among many rather than the ultimate voice of power. This is read as victimhood, and conservative pundits, much like Ezekiel, lash out at the pain of their loss of power through fantasies of brutal masculine domination. Their fantasy is both sadistic and masochistic; they are both victim and perpetrator, and thus they give themselves permission to live out the pleasure of every locus of pain without regard to the real life consequences of their playacting on other human bodies and souls.

February 20, 2013

The Queerness of Patrilineal Judaism

So I had an idea for an educational program about the varied ways that Jews from interfaith families don’t fit the normative narrative of what is Jewish, and may not want to. I think there is a real lack of conversation about how to confront the reality that there is a whole generation of Jews who were raised in interfaith families, and are now coming into their own Jewish identity, and have a real lack of institutional and communal support around forming that identity. Here are my thoughts (which will have to be WAY fleshed out):

  • Rabbinic Judaism has certain beings/people that fall between different categories. Sometimes they are one thing, sometimes they are another, sometimes both, and sometimes neither. I have most commonly seen this sort of multiplicity used to talk about categories that would now be called intersex/ genderqueer people.
  • As a child from an interfaith family, I am both Jew and not-Jew, and different groups read me in different ways at different times.
  • Different children from interfaith families have different reactions to their multiple heritages, from wanting to be read only as Jewish all the time, to wanting to be read as only not-Jewish all the time, and everything in between.
  • Any way that a child of an interfaith family wants to be read is valid. No, really. They are all valid. What they do with that identity in the broader Jewish world that may disagree with them is what gets complicated…
  • Zelig Krymko, one of the Limmud participants who I had a chance to reconnect with this weekend, pointed out that in an interdenominational world, we live on a spectrum that is horizontal, not vertical and we play on these axes, jumping between them, and often ending up at very similar places for very different reasons, or in very different places for similar reasons. How do we embrace and play on that spectrum when not all parts of it recognize our Judaism?
  • How can we use rabbinic Judaism’s comfort with “queer” categories (meaning categories that encompass and shift between different identity markers in different situations) to create a Judaism that is more comfortable with people who are not interested in strict dichotomies of identity formation?

Jewish friends from interfaith families, what am I missing? What do you wish the broader Jewish world knew about your Jewish identity?

February 17, 2013

Having it all, Doing it all

Filed under: Choosing Life, Rabbinical School — marleyweiner @ 6:29 am

The challenge of being in an environment that I truly love is I want to FIX everything. If I am indifferent or dispassionate, I am able to let the system alone and take it for what it is. This is not true of the things I am passionate about. I want everyone to love everything that I love as much as I love it. I love it, so if you don’t love it, there must be something I can do to make you see how great it is! (I never said my logic was SOUND, people) Since everything is flawed, there is always something that could change, that could make the system work better. And my greatest love is Judaism, and so my greatest frustrations lie in the flaws of the Jewish community.

I think part of the reason that I’ve gone a bit off the deep end in terms of wanting to take on everything so far this year is this feeling that if I know everything, I will be able to bring the best of everything to the table at all times, and that will mean that everything will be flawless and I will be able to create meaningful Jewish experiences that speak to everyone that I come in contact with. If I don’t know that it exists, how will I be able to incorporate it into my future rabbinate? And when it comes to learning, there is such a large gap between what most Jews know and the corpus of things to learn. And the things to learn are all fascinating! The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know, and the more desperately I try to cram new knowledge and new experience into my head.

And here’s where I have to acknowledge that life may be beating me up through the very systems that I am trying to reform. I can bring the best lesson plans in the world, but if I have a student who is having a terrible day, they may just not learn. I may prepare an amazing service, only to have nobody show up on account of impending bad weather. There is no such thing as doing the job so well that it works perfectly all the time.

But I need to balance that with the knowledge that there ARE so many barriers standing in the way of Jewish community and identity building for so many Jews. It’s a question of soft power; how do we provide the tools that people need to find Judaism and giving them ownership of that process without feeling responsible for every step of the way? I’m really not sure how to answer that question, and I have a feeling that I’m going to spend a LOT of time over the next five years figuring it out.

February 12, 2013

Limmuuuuuud!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 4:01 am

Quick note: I will be at Limmud NY this weekend. I will be attempting to blog the conference. Wish me luck; I will need it! (as I will be oh so very tired)

February 8, 2013

The Bible is a Real, True Myth

Filed under: Spirituality — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:27 pm

Whenever I try to explain to people the difference between Truth and Fact when it comes to Bible, I will send them here. In my world, Abraham and Moses and Hagar and Miriam are as real to me as my family, even though I recognize that they never truly existed. Their stories and personalities speak to me, and they teach me how to live my life. The multiplicity of those stories, and how they were interpreted by my predecessors in every age, teach me more about the history of my people and how I came to be here than any volume of history ever could. Because we love our ancestors, with a fierce and abiding love, and it is love that gives a window and an insight into the soul.

February 7, 2013

D’var Torah: Parshat Beshalach

Filed under: D'var Torah, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:25 pm

I delivered a version of this D’var Torah at Minyan Tikvah’s Shabbaton on January 25. I’ve been super busy, so I’m only finding time to post it now!

Today I want to talk to you about weird food. In this week’s parsha, the Children of Israel complain to Moses that they miss the flesh pots of Egypt and accuse him of bringing them to starve in the wilderness. God hears this, and tells Moses that he will rain down bread from heaven in order to test the Israelites. And then, the next day, something falls from the sky. It is white, flaky, like frost, sweet as cake, and has magical properties. The people, understandably confused, ask “Man hu?” “What is it?” and in this question, manna is named.

God lays out very specific rules for the manna. The people are to gather one omer per day, they are to eat every last bit during that day, and they are not to try to gather on the Sabbath. The Children of Israel, being the Children of Israel, go against every last one of these rules. And yet, the manna resists their attempts to mismanage it. When they gather more or less than an omer, “those who gathered a lot had no excess, and those who gathered a little bit had no lack.” When they try to hoard the food, it sprouts maggots and stinks so that even the strongest-stomached among them could not eat it. When they attempt to go out and gather on the seventh day, there is no manna to be found. And interestingly, though God says that he is sending the manna as a test, he does not punish the children of Israel for their behavior. So why, then, does God send manna?

This is a people who have been slaves for 400 years. They are not used to living on their own, managing their own lives, worshipping their own God. And God seems to know this. Rather than punishing the Children of Israel for disobeying, he creates a food that will force them to respect it, so that they can learn, slowly over time, what it means to follow God’s commandments. Before the people ever get to Mount Sinai to receive God’s full set of commandments, they have been practicing at the covenental relationship with the manna. God does not set the people up to fail. Rather, God gives them training wheels until they are ready to steer all by themselves.

For those you who don’t know me, I am in my first year of rabbinical school. And it is hard. Mostly because I wish I knew everything right now, and I feel woefully unprepared for this massive undertaking I seem to have gotten myself into. And how many of us have ever felt like that? Like we were playacting at our jobs, at our lives, at being a grownup? That at some point they are all going to realize that we don’t know what they think we know? It’s called “impostor syndrome” and it is real and it is scary.

But if the manna teaches us anything, it is that we are supposed to go by baby steps. God did not ask the people to join in covenant right away, and we should not expect ourselves to be perfectly pulled together at all times. There is room in the relationship between God and the Children of Israel for screwing up, and there is room for all of us to screw up. God will keep sending manna, and we will grow into the roles that we have chosen for ourselves, and we will flourish.

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