Jews don’t… or do they? A spam-inspired rambling

The other day I posted a rant about spam on G+ and ended it with the tongue-in-cheek comment that “I don’t eat spam, I’m Jewish”. Later I saw someone comment that he’s Jewish too but that’s not why he doesn’t eat spam – he loves bacon, but spam is just gross. Which illustrates the point that there’s really no such thing as “Jews don’t…” – not in the total sense of “no one Jewish does”. When we say things like “Jews don’t eat pork” or “Jews don’t drive on the Sabbath” or “Jews spell him G-d” it’s always an imprecise statement. It could be referring to most Jews, or to mainstream Judaism, or sometimes you’ll hear Jewish people say “we don’t…” and they’re really referring to whichever branch of Judaism they personally belong to. When I said “I don’t eat spam, I’m Jewish”, it may have sounded like I was implying “Jews don’t eat spam”, but I know very well that there are Jewish people who eat pig, I have friends who do, and there was a time when I used to do that myself. What I really meant was: I personally have chosen not to eat pig, and the reason in my case is because I’m Jewish and because this is part of how I choose to live out my Jewishness.

Being Jewish means there always will be fellow Jews looking at how you live and thinking you aren’t observant enough, and others looking at you and thinking you’re way over the top. I grew up in a kosher home – kosher according to my mum’s understanding, which was more kosher than some of my friends from school, but not kosher enough for one of my cousins, who wouldn’t eat our food when he came to visit. When I go home to Israel I fly El Al, which means the meals are kosher, but they offer a separate range for those passengers who don’t regard that as kosher enough. The same goes for Sabbath observance – different people do it on different levels, for example my mum will be viewed by some as breaking the Sabbath because she cooks, but on the other hand she is strict about not writing on Shabbat. So people may tell you that “Jews don’t cook on the Sabbath” but that’s only true of some Jews, not all of us.

Now, me being a Jewish follower of Jesus, I get to play this game not just as a Jew but also as a Messianic Jew – do Messianic Jews keep kosher? the answer is some do and some don’t, and those who do keep it to different degrees; do we observe Shabbat? some do, some don’t; do we fast on Yom Kippur? some do, some don’t. And of course some are very adamant that the customs they keep are really important and that this is how everyone should be living… but that’s just human nature, right?

And because I’m a follower of Jesus, I also get to play “do Christians do X”… and just like with “do Jews do X” and “do Messianic Jews do X”, the answer is always: some do, some don’t, and some are very adamant that their way is right and everyone else should do the same. And again, I’m perfectly capable of saying “I don’t do X because I’m a Christian” but that doesn’t mean all Christians agree with me, it simply means: I personally have come to believe that doing X wouldn’t be right for me as a Christian and I therefore don’t do it. But I’m conscious that my understanding is just that: my understanding, and even though I feel very sure about some things, I have had enough occasions in my life when I’ve felt very sure about something and then discovered I’d been wrong, so that I’m now aware of my fallibility.

So, do Christians celebrate Halloween? This one doesn’t. But I know some who do.

Do Jews eat pig? This one doesn’t. But I know some who do.

Do Messianic Jews fast on Yom Kippur? This one doesn’t. But I know some who do.

I guess part of why I’ve felt the need to ramble about this is that I really hate generalisations, I find them so unhelpful and sometimes seriously harmful. I’ve heard people make generalisations about my people which have made me cringe, and I cringe when I hear people make generalisations about other groups of people as well. I had this weird conversation once with someone online who talked about muslims with so much hate – hate not just for those who commit acts of terrorism, but hate for all muslims because, according to him, muslims believe that it’s right to kill people in the name of jihad. Now, sure, I’m well aware that there are muslims who believe that – I’m an Israeli, we’ve been on the receiving end of some of this stuff – but I’m also aware that there are muslims who hold to a different interpretation of jihad. I’m aware that there are muslims who don’t believe in killing people. But that guy just wouldn’t let me confuse him with the facts – his deep need to hate seemed to make him unable to accept that not all muslims fit his description.

I think we could do with learning to use the word “some” a lot more. There really isn’t a lot you can say about a group of people that will be true for all of them.

And by the way, it’s not just negative generalisations that bug me. I’ve had some reactions from people when they hear I’m Jewish that made me cringe because they were painting us as some rose-tinted ideal – apparently there’s this myth that Jews have a wonderful, warm family life. And we’re all highly intelligent. And, oh, of course we’re famously all really good with money, which leads me to the logical conclusion that my father must have been a Gentile in disguise.

here endeth today’s ramble.

2 thoughts on “Jews don’t… or do they? A spam-inspired rambling

  1. when one of my cousins was very little she wasn't eating properly – the doctor took her (very kosher!) mum aside and said 'you've got to tempt her palate – give her some bacon'…bacon became her 'special meat'!the other day I went to a fascinating talk about the Jews who escaped hitler's Germany and ended up in Kenya….if you can get hold of books by Stepahnie Zweig (NO relation to Stephan Zweig) called 'Nowhere in Africa' and 'Somewhere in Germany' you'll find out more….in the book about Africa she recounts the family eating 'special beef'…..ham!

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