Thursday, March 30, 2006

TextWord, Abridgements and False Advertising

What do you, dear readers, know of the company called TextWord?

It is a company that claims to "cleanse" literature, allowing us all to remain pure and clutch at our "traditional values." In 'The TextWord Story' they explain, "TextWord Press emerged in response to a critical need expressed by private and parochial high school principals across America. "Give us an academically superior high school literature series that is free of material that conflicts with our values," they urged. [emph. mine] The result is our Implications of Literature series, a breakthrough in literature/language arts integration. The series features content chosen for time-tested literary quality, providing a classic and traditional values-oriented curriculum."

I had the unfortunate experience of being made to read the TextWord edition of Julius Caesar while at Templars. To their credit, Templars has resumed using Folger Classics, after that one regrettable lapse. However, their reason for switching back to Folgers is not the correct one- they're doing it because the TextWord edition made it "too easy" for the students; I would do it because you're simply not reading Shakespeare otherwise.

The method of editing these people employ is completely ridiculous. Every time the words "ye gods" or "thy gods" appear, they are suddenly taken out. What is this? Are you holier than the Torah? If the Torah discusses idols, idolworshippers, and other gods, why do you suddenly decide this conflicts with Jewish teenagers' "traditional values"? All mention of sex and sexuality is also excised. Most importantly, there can be no violence depicted. {Clarification: No self-mutilation, like Portia's wound, but apparently suicides and Brutus'/Julius' violent deaths are okay. The logic in this? I don't know.} This makes for an interesting reading of the play.

The following is an example of the idiotic re-bawdlerization (but worse!) or rather, Jewification of Shakespeare.

The words in print are those that are in the work itself, while the words in bold are those that disappeared, were replaced by ellipses, and simply vanished from Shakespeare.

Here's a "gods" example from Act 1, Scene 3.

    Are not you moved, when all the sway of earth
    Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero,
    I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds
    Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen
    The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,
    To be exalted with the threatening clouds:
    But never till to-night, never till now,
    Did I go through a tempest dropping fire.
    Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
    Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,
    Incenses them to send destruction.
Is this not ridiculous? The Romans and Greeks believed in many gods, removing all references to them is surely not remotely logical? Are you trying to rewrite history? Why? What does this have to do with "traditional values?"

Now a violence example:

    Kneel not, gentle Portia.

    I should not need, if you were gentle Brutus.
    Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus,
    Is it excepted I should know no secrets
    That appertain to you? Am I yourself
    But, as it were, in sort or limitation,
    To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
    And talk to you sometimes?
    Dwell I but in the suburbs
    Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
    Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife.

    You are my true and honourable wife,
    As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
    That visit my sad heart

    If this were true, then should I know this secret.
    I grant I am a woman; but withal
    A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
    I grant I am a woman; but withal
    A woman well-reputed, Cato's daughter.
    Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
    Being so father'd and so husbanded?
    Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose 'em:
    I have made strong proof of my constancy,
    Giving myself a voluntary wound
    Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience.
    And not my husband's secrets?

    O ye gods,
    Render me worthy of this noble wife!

    Knocking within

    Hark, hark! one knocks: Portia, go in awhile;
    And by and by thy bosom shall partake
    The secrets of my heart.
    All my engagements I will construe to thee,
That's from Act 2, Scene 1

I can understand (although I don't agree) with someone's decision to remove the insinuations of sex and relationships between a husband and wife. But why in the world would you remove the lines, "Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so father'd and so husbanded?" from the text? Obviously, sex is referring to gender in this passage. What is wrong with Portia asking Brutus whether he believes she is no stronger than her gender? The only reason I can come up with is that the editor indiscriminately removed all references to sex, which I find truly laughable.

Here's the real kicker to the whole situation, however- unless you know the company and have seen their website, you won't know the version you are buying is adapted/ abbreviated/ lacks certain passages. Nowhere on the back book jacket or online (unless it's the actual site itself) does it explain this.

The front cover doesn't say "Abbreviated/ Abridged" but simply "The TextWord Edition."

Even in TextWord's description of their own product, they do not mention this, but simply state the many pluses and advantages to having it.

The Amazon link doesn't say anything about this fact, and the woman who wrote the second review only discusses the special features- leaving out the fact that certain passages have vanished completely.

Barnes and Noble has the same description for the TextWord version as it does for every other Julius Caesar version.

So tell me, isn't this false advertising? If the book is available from major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon, is unmarked (nowhere does it say Edited/ Bawdlerized/ Jewified/ Abridged) on it, then how can it be sold? Why is this less of an infringement on "traditional values" than the actual words of the text are? Isn't this misleading and wrong?

Now, it is possible that this is not done deliberately- that TextWord believes the changes are so insignificant to the book that this really is the same Julius Caesar. The thing is, if they state so clearly on their website that what they are doing is being done in order to mantain "traditional values" doesn't that mean they are fully aware that for some people, they have made major changes? And if so, why isn't that written anywhere? The words 'TextWord edition' on a book is not going to convey this meaning to unsuspecting customers looking for a helpful edition on Amazon. They'll just think it's the same thing as 'Puffin Classics' or 'Penguin Classics' or something- it would not occur to them that by the very fact that it's made by TextWord, this means it's been edited.

If something very significant like this, however, is not mentioned anywhere on or in the book...isn't that false advertising? And isn't this all rather ironic, considering the goal in mind?

I found a nice website apparently based in Jerusalem- something called the Schechter Institute (and no, I have no idea how religious this place is or isn't) and saw this interesting article about Jewish Business Ethics. It discusses the origins of false advertising. All his examples, however, focus on someone DOING something to mislead another person. In the case that I describe, where passivity is the problem (i.e. nowhere does it say the book has been modified in any way) is that still called false advertising? And if not, what's the correct term?

Anyway, here's an interesting Gemara from the aformentioned website.

    Our Sages have taught: one should not sell a sandal made from the leather of an animal that died of disease as if it was made from the leather of an animal that was slaughtered, because he is misleading the customer" (Hullin 94a).

I like that. I like that a lot.

Anyhow, what are your thoughts on TextWord? I suppose that in the end, if this is the only way certain students are ever going to read Shakespeare, then I approve (because at least they're reading) but I disagree with the ideas behind it/ prompting it. I also find the attempt to rewrite history ridiculous. Moreover, according to these people's specifications, no Jew could ever read Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, The Awakening or Tess of the D'Urbevilles (not that I mind that one) even if the books are aimed against the flagrant flaunting of sexuality as Gustave Flaubert's book was:

from the Trial of Madame Bovary:

    You are not the kind of men who condemn books on a few lines; you are the kind who judge the intention and the execution above all, and you will ask yourselves the question with which I opened my defense and with which I now close: Does the reading of such a book give a love of vice or does it inspire a horror of vice? Is not so terrible an expiation an inducement and an incitement to virtue?

So, thoughts?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Keren HaYeled: Project Lake Michigan

It has come to my attention that Keren HaYeled, apparently one of the of the oldest and largest orphanages in Israel, will be launching a U.S.-wide fundraising campaign by publicizing a record-breaking stunt two young men are attempting- kayaking across Lake Michigan, 100 miles in 16 hours.Whether or not they succeed, I think you will find this website interesting and informative.

I particularly like the idea that they are open to every Jewish child.

The site and mission statement is up and available at Project Lake Michigan.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


They Are All Gone Into the World of Light.

There is so much in this world that is beautiful, and persistent, that fights the darkness and struggles to live. There is so much to see and yet I have eyes for so little; I notice only the obstacles, the problems, those who try to thwart me and destroy me.

And then one day there is something that shocks and thrills me, or fills me with a deep, sudden sadness, something that cannot hold me by my rational mind but by my feelings, that keeps me spellbound and enchanted with all that is terrible and wonderful, and that fades away in the pure light of reason.

I am purified through this feeling; I am cleansed when I can understand another as deeply as I understand myself. It is books and movies that inspire such emotion within me, and that leave me feeling cleansed, so that I hug the book to myself and swear that I will never let it go.

But it is not the book I will not leave so much as myself, the part of myself that I have found in the reading of that book, the part of myself that I value most and which is the most secret. I am vulnerable in front of others, and I cannot expose myself to the gaze of people who would frighten and attack me. I exist within my own imagination, and it takes tremendous effort to express a true thought or feeling in front of others. We are always so, afraid of rejection or of misunderstanding, but most afraid that the part of ourselves which is the most precious should be laughed at and mocked, worse yet, dismissed.

I'm scared. We all are. Are we ever ourselves in the company of others? How much can we reveal? How much before the other person laughs, a cruel form of torture that we cannot take? How much before he grows acutely uncomfortable, and makes up excuses to avoid you? How much can you say, and why is it that we keep the purest part of ourselves hidden?

I think it is because, if we brought it into contact with the world, it would be broken.

Who would understand your tears if you cried for someone who didn't exist? Who would understand that you cried for all the people who did and were embodied by that one character? There is always one person, special, kindred to your heart and soul. This person understands you, but he may not like to understand you. There is no choice, however.

The most intimate relationship we can form is when we expose this vulnerable part of ourselves to another, remove all masks or pretences, forget to consider what the other will think but simply continue as you truly are. It is the most frightening thing we ever do. We allow another to see us, to observe our nakedness, not of physical bodies but of our minds, hearts, souls. We do not need to speak to make ourselves heard. It this action that is so eloquent, and it is because it is so rare that it is always suspect, for people will give themselves over to base, vulgar ideas to avoid understanding.

How many people have we met that know us in this true sense? We are lucky if there is even one. One to see us as both our better self and the worst demon, the human being in his entirety. One to view us without shame. And one to whom we can be revealed.

And beyond people, who is it but God?

What is God? Who is He? This is the question the youngest child asks, though it may not be formed on his lips. How do you explain? What do you teach? How to comprehend? As a child, God was my father. He watched me and cared for me and I thanked Him each night. He was the heavens in all their vastness, the stars that glimmered down at me. He sent me the snow that glittered at my feet, and looked down on me all the time. He was my guardian.

As I grew older, God became more than a father. He was a King, mighty in judgment, someone I feared and served. He was my liege-lord and I the commanded, the Gandalf to my Frodo, but more than that, somehow. God became nobility and glory and I His vassal, but there was no duty that made me feel more proud.

And then I became angry with God. Angry because people I knew died or passed away. Angry because of Templars and the teachers I saw there. Angry because I encountered superficiality and hypocrisy and stupidity, and He did nothing to stop it. And what did I do? I screamed. I shouted at God,for he was my God and I was his, so there were and could be no barriers between us. He knew my thoughts and my every emotion, and my screams were a prayer, a way of protesting and speaking. I am allowed to be angry with God, because anger is only a continuation and a part of love.

I was so angry when my Grandpa died. It was close to my birthday, and I was horrible to everyone that day. I was angry because he couldn't be there. But I felt I could express my anger- I didn't need to bottle it up or repress it, because I felt that God listened to me, and that he was sad for me. I felt a tear drop from his eye and roll before my feet. There was a strange and awful knowledge that God carried, and that burden was far greater for Him than ever it was for me. If my Grandpa could have been with me, God would have given him to me. But it was not the time for my Grandpa to be mine.

Everything- all my thoughts and words, my stories, my feelings, my anger and hatred, my love and my life- has been given to God, shouted at him, stormed from the tallest turrets. I have been defiant and defied God at times, I have railed against him, I have accused him, but I have also loved him. And it is because of that, because of my personal "romance with the Creator" as Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, that I go on.

All my faults and all my strengths are revealed to God. He sees me as a person and as I could be, with my potential and ability shining through. He sees me as I am when I read books and feel a curious ache, a phantom pain that settles upon me, and when I shirk my responsibilities, am lazy or idle or cruel. He knows me intimately. I am his Creation.

If I see beauty in God, it is reflected in me, if I see the darkness within Him, then that is mine as well. For am I not the image of God? He stands mightier than I am, but he has many different personas- father, lover, creator, master, king- who could name them all? In my anger, he is my master, when I am loving, he is my father. But above all He is mine, intimately mine.

And so that is why I don't need the warnings and gates and chains to surround me. At least, I do not need them yet- I cannot be so cocky as to claim I will never need them. My parents raised me to know God, and to feel accepted by Him no matter how I am. I feel shame and guilt and responsibility for my actions, but God is a Judge, and it is not feelings that touch him. He cannot hate me for my actions, but he can judge me for them- and I know the verdict and sentence before they are ever pronounced.

I do not know how many of you will understand this. I do not know how many will think this nothing more than the pretty but naive wonderings of a little girl. In truth, it does not matter. There are moments where we are all transcendent- either through superb joy or pain. You have all experienced the wonder and awe that dawns on you then, the way you look at the world with new eyes, the unhappiness you feel on behalf of another. This is what I speak of.

I love McMurphy, and Alan, and Vicky Austin. I love my family and my Mermaid friend. And I love God.

Even when I don't understand the reason why. Because I don't feel helpless. I feel like I can talk to God, scream, shout, write or laugh. And that God watches me and sees what I do. That he cares about people, and about me. Perhaps this is a gift that has been given me. I know some who would consider it the height of selfishness. Either way, I am ecstatic, bathed in golden light, my hair shining in the sun.

I like the idea of a little girl walking along the seashore, the wind in her hair and her hand outstetched. She is walking with someone, someone very special who holds her hand. And as her beaming eyes look upward, she smiles- because she is walking with God.

And maybe that little girl will drown, or be hurt, or in some way be made to feel pain. And she will ask why, and she will wonder and stand confused and bewildered. And she will not have the answers. But she will have the ability to ask these questions- of God.

Someone once directed me to Rilke, specifically to Letters to a Young Poet. There is a quote there, a very beautiful and profound quote. This is the quote.

"Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

The person who told this to me no longer believed in a personal God. But I do. And I hope to live the questions, and through my life, to live the answer.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Purim in Chicago

Pipe-cleaners (above)

There's something really nice about the Chicago community.

What's nice about Chicago? The people are warm and welcoming. People say hello to you in the street, and they stop you as you are delivering baskets of shalach manos in order to give you shalach manos. People smile when you come to the door. Everything is an exchange; it's almost unheard of to go to the door and leave without a package or a coin. Usually quarters for the messenger.

In Chicago, we have a tradition. People send each other shalach manos through "The Yeshiva." What's the yeshiva? It's the HTC (Hebrew Theological College). You sign up early, highlight the names of the people you want to send shalach manos to, sometimes initiate reciprocity (if someone sends to you through the yeshivah, you will automatically send back to them- and be charged for it.) It's a wonderful service for those people who are elderly and can't run about delivering shalach manos, or busy people, or those who have too many people to send to.

But it's a mixed bag. On the one hand, all the children always look forward to getting "The Yeshiva's" package. Why? Because it's easily the biggest one. There's a large basket, always made of cardboard, blue and white with purim designs (gragger, megillah, etc) and inside are the packaged contents. There's always a cute song and a theme as well (the foods are connected in some way.) Oh yes, there's also a dvar Torah. And this entire package is covered in very strong thick plastic. Tied around this, securing it, is a pipe-cleaner. The pipe-cleaner is one of any number of colors. This pipe-cleaner and the sticker on the envelope tell you how popular you are.

Colors range from yellow, brown and blue to...well, I'm not sure to what. I still don't know what the most popular color is. The basket you receive is larger based on the number of people who are sending to you.

What's inside the basket? This year they were pretty clever. The theme included sliced salami, honey mustard, pickles (or pickle-shaped cookies) and "Guzzle sauce" which is apparently "like ketchup" but tangier. Aside from this, the package included Zelda's Hot Chocolate with marshmellows, chocolate-covered wafers, Schick's hamantashin, Lasagna chips, Illinois Nut red-hot hard candy (in balls), Manhattan mint cremes and more.

So what's the down side to all this? Personalization. It's nice to see people who put the hard effort into personalizing and creating their own baskets. It's also nice to receive a small basket that's specially made for you as opposed to a large basket for the whole family. People can be very creative with their shalach manos (and I don't just mean purchasing fancy things or "theming" the contents by color.) I'm talking about down-to-earth, arts-and-crafts, homemade clever ideas. One of our friends once gave us Shalach manos in the Kodak package you get when you pick up your pictures from the store. Inside was one "roll" (though not of film) and other entertaining things. And I'll never forget my father's friend, who gave us chili...inside of warm, hot bread baked as a crusty and delicious container.

Also, as far as we children are concerned, it looks like you have more if you see lots of small packages filled with shiny paper, cellophane and glitter as opposed to one large package that dominates the floor, or table, or wherever you place your bags.

While we're on the subject, "more matter with less art." (Quote from Hamlet) I couldn't care less whether you're giving me a really decorative, elaborate package or a paper plate so long as the contents are good- i.e., whatever it is you are actually giving me. The motto of our shalach manos is (or aims to be) substance. How pretty it is? Not important. That's bonus points, but it's not the main point. Speaking of which, last year, our neighbors gave our family a beautiful shalach manos with only two foods- a bottle of wine and a delicious coffee cake. We appreciated it very much (it was wrapped beautifully, too, in pink cellophane. I'd rather have that any year than the most elaborate, decorated box or container that contains a small piece of chocolate. Those shalach manos remind me of the "Black Hole" gifts featured in the back of Consumer Reports.

Purim in Chicago is filled with glee and fun. It can be slightly competitive, but never too much. Children run amok and exclaim with delight; I have seen many "repackagings." Repackaging is when you frantically scramble for the snacks you have gotten, reassemble them, throw them into an unmarked bag, tack on a note and give it to someone waiting at the door (hoping he doesn't notice.)

The competition when it comes to the bags and packages is only slight; the packages do not include vintages or antiques- the idea is that Purim is fun, not another way to show off.

(P.S. Does anyone have a copy of the Likutei Tipshim? Anyone? I adore that. And unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to get one.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nobody Left to Hate

I've been thinking about a comment I read on someone else's blog, a comment that really disturbs me. I've been weighing the pros and cons of discussing this specific comment on my blog, and have decided that it is worth it for me to mention it.

This is what the comment said:

    The very worst people in America are the ones who are most attracted to Hollywood, the writers, directors, actors, the ruthlessly ambitious, the most narcissistic, the most contemptuous of religion, the self-absorbed, the biggest know-it-alls, the least susceptible to any appeal to reason or decency.
    Email me if you need the source.

The reason I am so disturbed by this comment is not necessarily because of the statement (although I do disagree) but by the gross generalization, and moreover, by the hatred I see in this person's words. The vitriolic, angry, venomous response of someone who does not only disagree with the values of the aforementioned "writers, directors, actors" but who blames them all, and categorizes them as "the very worst people in America."

The very worst people in America?!

I confess I am shocked.

There are people in America who burn down synagogues. Who create white supremacist websites, or act in a racist fashion, who are anti-semitic and anti-Zionistic. There are terrorists in America, people ranging from the Unabomber to undercover groups we the public know little about. There are people who deny the Holocaust in America. There are people who beat up homosexuals in America. There are abusive husbands in America. There are murderers in America.

And yet, it is the "writers, directors, actors" who are the worst people in America. And why? Because they are "contemptuous of religion." Because they want to make "gobs of money." Because they are "self-absorbed."

Are these reasons to categorize them as the worst people in America?

Look at these people. Look at what they do. They are involved in movies that change people's lives, movies that make people think; they support various causes and they use their fame to start and become involved in charities.

Can we criticize them? Certainly we can! Can we find fault with them? Definitely! Can we come up with myriads of ways that what they are doing is wrong/ suggest ulterior motives for their actions, like claiming that they act or direct simply for the money and not for the cause? Of course. But does this accomplish anything? And moreover, are we in their position? Who are we to judge?

I am sure there will be those of you who will say, "Chana, you know that's not what the commenter meant. S/he used the word 'worst' in order to denounce them; it was a strong form of the word, but s/he didn't really mean these people are the worst people in America."

And all I will ask you is- if s/he didn't mean it, why did s/he write it?

Words are important.

Words can kill.

The phrasing of a sentence, the tone of a statement, the delivery of a remark- everything revolves around words. Our voice is our most powerful instrument. The way we speak, the words that come to mind, the language we use- all of this reflects not only upon us, but upon our message. And it's easy to say "that wasn't what I meant." But if you didn't mean it, why did you say it? Why did you write it?

In my opinion, the way we write reflects on us. The way we speak reflects on us. And our words reflect upon ourselves as people. And what these words seem to say- what this comment seems to say- is that the writer is dismissive of these people. The commenter believes these people are worthless, of if they have worth, it is only because they object to the truth, and hence are an obstacle in the commenter's drive to enforce his/her own views.

This post is not meant to denounce the commenter. I don't want this to be turned into a bashing-this-person lovefest. I do, however, want to draw a lesson from this.

I've picked what I view as an extreme example- somebody making a large generalization, and reacting to a body of people with what I think most would agree is undeserved anger and hatred.

But we all do this. I have done it. I've been caught up in the moment and I've been angry, and when my opponent or fellow classmate persists in disagreeing with me, I'm upset. But I'm not upset with myself, rather, I'm upset with that classmate. Inwardly I'll call the person lots of names, and maybe I'll pat myself on the back because I know I'm so much smarter than that person. Or maybe because I know I'm right.

And when somebody calls me on this behavior, I'll become defensive, and ask questions like, "What are you talking about?" or say that I was fully justified in answering/ acting as I did, because after all, I was right. Most times, however, the fact that I'm becoming defensive is based upon my own feelings of guilt. Because I know- somewhere, within me, even though I don't want to admit it- that this person is right. That I have been unkind. But I won't admit it because I have a lot of pride, and I don't want to have to say that my behavior was wrong.

And the hardest thing of all is to realize that you are right (especially if this is about something unquestionable, i.e. the correct answer to a math problem), firmly believe that you are right, and still act in a kind fashion towards the person who is confronting you/ refusing to listen to you/ doesn't care for your opinion. Because you are frustrated.

I should clarify now that there is a difference between someone who simply does agree with you, and someone who verbally abuses you. There are times when one is fully justified in feeling angry towards another person and even hating another person. This is when one has been provoked by verbal, emotional, sexual or any other form of abuse. When someone else belittles you, bullies you, puts you down and mocks you- you must defend yourself. And if you cannot succeed in changing the situation, there are times when you must remove yourself from that situation. This is not cowardly and this is not an escape. It is self-defense.

But that is not the same as feeling anger and hatred toward somebody because they don't agree with your point of view. That is a human reaction, but it is also a reaction that I believe we- or I- can learn to control, or at the very least, restrain. I can refrain from acting upon this, and as I grow, I can try to learn to listen.

It's difficult for me to listen. Or rather, it's difficult for me to listen when someone is dashing all my ideas to the ground, disagreeing with me in a loud and articulate fashion, or telling me that my opinion/ my ideas are wrong. There are times that I've mastered the impulse to respond angrily, and I'm proud of that. There are also times that I've sulked and grumbled and gone home and mulled over the conversation, and felt slightly ashamed of myself. But I didn't know how to fix it, and I still don't entirely know.

There is, however, an idea that is central to Jewish law and to the Torah, an idea that is prevalent in many cultures and could even be perceived as an innate moral value/feeling- or perhaps in a scientific manner, as the best bargain or tradeoff one could make:

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.' Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand.12 When he went before Hillel, he said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour:13 that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.'

Shabbat 31a

    and also:

      יז לֹא-תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ; הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ, וְלֹא-תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא.
      17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.

      יח לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה.
      18 Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

      Leviticus 19: 17-18

    I have formerly mentioned that there are certain situations where one has been hurt (in the Torah we see it by the go'el hadam, rape, incest, and nowadays physical/verbal/emotional abuse) where this ideal/ law would not apply. But I do not refer to those situations.

    The Torah states this law in the positive: "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

    Hillel states it in the negative: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor."

    There are many commentaries and sources that deal with these verses, and each explains them differently. I will not deal with them in their complexity, so feel free to look at some other explanations here.

    I would like to suggest that the Torah states the ideal, while Hillel deals with the practicality. The ideal is for Jews to actually feel a sensation of love towards other Jews, but if one cannot fulfill this, then at the very least there should be an absence of hate, and if that is impossible, then at least one should not act upon that hatred, namely not to "do" what is hateful to you to your neighbor.

    And yet so many Jews hate other Jews.

    Oh, perhaps they wouldn't call it hatred- many people hide their anger and hatred behind shields of observance, claiming that they must give "rebuke," or that certain people are past all forgiveness, even considered "open sinners" who lead others astray and therefore must be stopped through any means possible; others simply state that certain people in and of Judaism are misguided, but it is their tone of voice when they say this word that makes it into an epithet rather than an observation.

    I would not call this hatred "si'nas chinam," because oftentimes it does not feel like chinam. Oftentimes people hate their fellow Jews because they believe they should and ought to hate them. Maybe it is because they feel these Jews are leading others astray, or perhaps it is because they are projecting their own faults and blemishes upon them. This is not hatred based on nothing; this is hatred based on incorrect analysis and understanding of the law.

    There's a brilliant book by Stanford professor and psychologist Elliot Aronson called Nobody Left to Hate. The idea behind the book is to deal with the aftermath of Columbine, not merely through proposing "quick-fix" solutions but through thinking about the long-term causes of the problem, and attempting to fix those as well. Aronson gives an example at the beginning of his book to demonstrate the way in which one should fix a problem. This is a quote from the review:

    "Aronson invites us to consider the steps that British epidemiologists took in the mid 19th century when confronted with a cholera epidemic. Upon determining that the cases clustered around a particular contaminated well, they first removed the pump-handle, so that no more water could be drawn from it. They did not stop with this measure, however; they then addressed the root cause of the epidemic, that is, the contamination itself, which arose from the proximity of latrines to the water supply. In analogous fashion, Aronson acknowledges the need to curb media violence, enact more stringent gun-control measures, and in some schools perhaps even resort to the use of metal detectors (although, in the latter case he is quick to note that doing so increases rather than decreases the oppressiveness of the learning environment). But he insists that we must address the root causes as well and transform our schools in a more fundamental fashion. That is, we must take steps to curb taunting and ostracism, to develop empathetic skills and values in students, and to create learning environments that actively encourage cooperation and tolerance. "

    This approach is one to be valued and encouraged. Not only is there a "quick-fix" solution, but one takes into account the long-ranging factors, terms and causes of a problem. Blame is only used as an avenue towards constructive criticism and not as a way to escape from the effects of a problem or situation.

    From Chapter 1 of his book:

      The need to blame is fully understandable. But if we truly want to address the problem, if we truly want to prevent future tragedies of this kind, then it is vital to make a clear distinction between two kinds of blaming: 1) The blaming that is aimed at finding the cause of the disaster so that we might come up with a workable intervention; 2) The blaming that is mere condemnation. Condemnation is a great indoor sport. It somehow makes us feel less helpless if we can unmask a culprit who we can then proceed to vilify. If we decide that the culprit is a school administration that was asleep at the switch, then we can demand that the school principal be fired. But firing a principal will not solve the problem. If we decide the culprit was lax parenting, then perhaps we can humiliate or sue the parents of the killers. But humiliating and suing the killers' parents will not solve the problem either. This kind of blaming is a simple knee-jerk response. It won't do us much good in the long run.

    Aronson is discussing Columbine, but his strategies can impact and affect our lives and situations as well. Most times, people assign blame as "mere condemnation." The comment that I addressed in this post, namely that referring to the "worst" people in America, simply assigns blame in a condemnatory fashion. The commenter does not discuss a plan in which to reform the aforementioned people, does not demonstrate ways in which we could attempt to fix [what the commenter views as] the problem. The comment is made in anger, lashing out at Hollywood and its morals/ values without considering the grand scheme of things, the good that Hollywood has done for us and the world, and the fact that there are far worse people in the world.

    What intrigues me most about Aronson's book, however, is his concept. It's extremely radical, and yet it is the same concept that exists within Judaism. As he put it,

      ...this book is about creating an atmosphere in which there is nobody left to hate. It is intended to provide parents and teachers with the tools to make schools more humane and more compassionate places, without sacrificing the basic academic material students are supposed to learn. There is nothing mutually exclusive about learning biology, literature, and calculus while also learning important human values. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that the one will enhance the other.

    This is an incredibly radical concept. The idea that there could be a world where there would be "nobody left to hate."

    I do not believe that practically speaking, we will ever achieve a world where we all agree. I do not even think we will achieve a world where we will all listen to one another. And I do not really think that hatred can be eradicated from our world, at least not so long as existence continues in the form and manner that it always has.

    But I think this concept is worth thinking about. The concept of this book is that we could work to create- even within our small, limited or confined space, within our home or workplace or school- a place where there would be "nobody left to hate."

    Where people would be more "humane and more compassionate."

    I don't want to apply this concept to the entire world. But I would like to try to apply it to the Jewish community.

    I think that we can disagree with one another, even think that there are some people who are completely mad out there, and still not hate one another. Or at least, not hate one another because one person is Reform and one person is Orthodox. Because one person is homosexual and the other is a Hollywood actor. Because one person is an Atheist and the other Reconstructionist. Instead of trying to come up with labels to divide us all and separate us, instead of trying to compile and create lists of our differences, we should be focusing on the thing that unites us all.

    We are all of us Jews.

    And in the broader sense and scheme of things, we are all human.

    And there is a way, yes there is a way, that we could love each other even if we disagree. That you could be an atheist and think everything I do is foolish and outdated, or an agnostic and consider believing in God backward, you could be a fervent religious adherent, or you could feel reverence toward the beauty of our world but see it in ways different than I do. The name-calling, labels, distinctions and differences do not help us. We are all the same where it truly matters.

    We are all Jews.

    And since we share that common identity, since we share that fact, there must be a way to disagree with somebody's ideas without devaluing the person. Certainly, you might say that the person's ideas define the person. But I think that in a rational, well-mannered discussion or conversation, we should be able to distinguish between what somebody writes and the person himself. We should be able to say, "I disagree with your philosophy/ belief system/ values, but that does not mean I think you are worthless."

    We challenge the ideas without challenging the worth of the person.

    Have I always done this? No, I have not. And as I've said, I think there are certain situations that are exceptions to this rule- places where a person's actions define them insomuch as I can understand hatred of them. But I am speaking of smaller matters, like the way we converse. The way we use our words, both on the blogosphere and at home. The difference between being correct and generalizing.

    And I am also speaking about compassion.

    If we truly felt compassion and love for human beings, if we could mentally put ourselves in their shoes, there would be no way we could or would ever allow words that blame them, that categorize them as the "worst" people in America, to come out of our mouths. We couldn't say those words, because we would choke on them.

    Because we wouldn't be calling someone else- somebody detached from us and therefore unimportant- names. We wouldn't be calling outsiders, people who are different from us, unlike us, names. We would be calling ourselves names. We would be labelling ourselves, categorizing ourselves as the "worst people in America."

    We are supposed to judge people favorably. It is the hardest thing in the world to do. When I am frustrated, I have difficulty viewing people in a good light. I have difficulty excusing their actions, and I find that I am quick to categorize them as being a certain type of person. And then, one day, I see them perform some action/ do something amazing that makes me rethink my judgement of them, and realize that they are not necessarily who I thought they were.

    I want us to try. I want us- all of, at the very least those of us in the Jewish community- to try this. To try to love other people with a form of unconditional love in addition to conditional love. Love them unconditionally simply because they are Jews, love them despite the fact that they irritate you, they seem to be practicing the wrong philosophy, they don't agree with your ideas, they think you're foolish or any other seemingly petty reasons.

    Take the case of a murderer or idol-worshiper.

    He is not simply condemned to death. No! There is a trial, and there are many situations where he is set free. Even more remarkable and more interesting, it's almost as though we really want him to live. Look what happens:


      Sanhedrin 42b

    But not only is a man deliberately stationed outside the door to instantly ride back and tell the court they must judge him again because he may yet save his life, the community is involved in this man's death as well.

      A MAN WAS STATIONED. R. Huna said: It is obvious to me that the stone with which one is stoned, the gallows on which one is hanged, the sword with which one is decapitated, and the cloth with which one is strangled, are all provided by the Community. And why so? Because we could not tell a man to go and fetch his own property to kill himself. But, asked R. Huna, who provides the flag for signalling and the horse on which one rides to stop them?18 Seeing that they are for his protection, must they be provided by him, or rather, since the court is bound to endeavour to save him, by them? Again, what of R. Hiyya b. Ashi's dictum in R. Hisda's name; When one is led out to execution, he is given a goblet of wine containing a grain of frankincense, in order to benumb his senses, for it is written, Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul.19 And it has also been taught; The noble women in Jerusalem used to donate and bring it. If these did not donate it, who provided it? As for that, it is certainly logical that it should be provided out of the public [funds]: Since it is written. 'Give', [the implication is] of what is theirs.

      Sanhedrin 43a

    I think the ideas expressed in this section are amazing.

    Because you would think nobody would care about the death of someone who broke the law. You might think we would consider him a sinner, deserving of death. You might think we would hate him, yell "Good riddance," once he dies.

    But no. Look at how we treat him.

    1. The Community provides the instruments of death, "Because we could not tell a man to go and fetch his own property to kill himself. "

    2. And because we do not want him to suffer so much, "he is given a goblet of wine containing a grain of frankincense, in order to benumb his senses, for it is written, Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul.19 "

    This is the man we might consider most deserving of our hatred- a sinner, an idol-worshipper or murderer who is to be executed! and yet look at the law.

    It would be a beautiful thing indeed if Jews would love other Jews- if we had a community where we cared about the death of the sinners as well.

    If we could ever reach the time where there was "nobody left to hate."