Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Recently, I found myself at a family simchah (celebration), seated next to some pious and scholarly friends and relatives. While I don't particularly enjoy the scholarly kind of discourse this usually entails, it's certainly better than the stupid and inane discussions of Hasidic politics and which Rebbe now hates whose brother and who exactly is going to which Hell that usually passes for pleasant chit-chat at these events, and I have much more to contribute, too. So the discussion is going along swimmingly -- Talmudic quotes, halachic nitpickings, comments on the food -- until the attention turns to the poor guy sitting at the other table in jeans and brown shirt, small kippah perched atop a head-full of unruly hair, the neat store-bought folds clearly identifying the kippah as new and the wearer as an 'outsider'.

"Who's he?" someone asks.

"Oh, he's Yankel's brother," someone else says, "the one who went to live with his father after the split. Remember?"

There's an audible gasp and from the audience around the table with eyes opened wide in pained surprise, as if an invisible boot just collectively kicked everyone in the gonads.

"Him??? Wow. Look at him. He's a regular goy now!"

This is followed by much clucking of tongues and shaking of heads. An unbelievable sight, he is. He could've grown up such a nice Chassidish young man, just like his brother. Instead, he doesn't look like us at all!

We didn't get much time to digest this tragedy when the most pious at the table quickly turned the discussion back to practical matters. First, there's the matter with the wine. He surely doesn't keep Shabbos even in public, and thus can turn the wine into yayin nesech -- unkosher wine, just by touching it. There's some discussion on that, and I start feeling uncomfortable. Next, the discussion veers to more weighty matters: are we allowed -- nay, are we commanded -- to kill him, as we do a heretic? Again, there's some discussion pro and con -- while I can't help thinking, Jeezus christ on a stick! here we go again! Are these people listening to themselves? Are they totally unaware that they sound exactly like the despised Muslim Jihadis? I need to say something. But what?

At last, the most learned of the group pronounces the verdict: we're not allowed to kill him, but we're also not allowed to save him from mortal danger -- a concept known as lo ma'alin v'lo moridin. After this exhausting scholarly dialogue, the conversation turns back to the mundane. Needless to say, I'm totally exasperated at this point. "What a pity," the fatwa originator is now saying, "he could've grown up such a nice young man, instead of the worthless, brainwashed secular soul he is now."

I see my chance. "You realize" I cheerfully intone, "that he thinks exactly the same of you?" That elicited a smug chuckle, exactly as expected. Seeing me as an ally, he couldn't help interpreting my words the opposite from how I intended it. Everyone around the table was quick to agree. Sure, he thinks the same of us. He thinks WE are brainwashed. Ha ha, how incredibly silly of him -- he can't see the truth in front of his very eyes! I give some time for this self-congratulatory groupthink to sink in. Finally, the gabble subsided.

"You know the difference between him and us, though," I lean in conspiratorially. Of course everyone knows the difference. He's wrong, and we're right! He wants to eat pig and have lots of degenerate sex, while we're holy and pious! He's silly, we're smart!

"Well, he wouldn't even dream of killing you, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have second thoughts about saving you if he sees you in mortal danger!"

Silence. Some uncomfortable shifting in the seats. "Huh???"

"As I said. Doesn't that mean he's actually right about the brainwashing, while you are all wrong?"

More uncomfortable silence. "Uh, uhm, err, well, see, I certainly would save him in THIS day and age. Those things are not applicable today."

"Thank God! You sounded pretty self-righteously serious when you discussed this just five minutes ago."

And we all went back to eating the food. To the Jihadi's credit though, I'm pretty sure he finally thought about it. Twice.