Sanctum

Fall 2011

Religion, Gender, and Sexuality

Sanctum Staff
Carly Silver EditoR-in-ChiEF Sara Lederman ManaGinG EditoR nana amoh, Shruti Kulkarni, and Leah Greenstein EditoRS dana Segal aRt EditoR augusta harris Copy EditoR Emily Lefton Goldstein Layout EditoR

Sanctum - Fall 2011
4 6 9 editorial note Carly Silver eldridge Street and the JewiSh EthoS Matt SChelke occupying religion: ProteSt through Prayer or Prayer through ProteSt? Sara lederMan 12 17 haSidS online aelfie Starr-tuff chriStmaS and eaSter in auguSt: unity through iConoClaSM laura kladky 27 30 34 the ecStaSy of faith aStrika WilhelM defending modeSty: CrouChing Muslimah, hidden dragon MaryaM aziz three themeS in the feminine perSonification of wiSdom in the Book of proverBS daniel MargulieS 40 taleS of a former Gabbanit: WoMen and leaderShiP in orthodox JudaiSM leah greenStein converSationS with a SaRdaR Mark hay 45 the princeSS and the pea: JeWiSh StereotyPeS in late tWentieth-Century SitCoMS Carly Silver 53 to Build and not to Break JoShua fattal

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Cover Photo CourteSy of

david Shankbone via WikiMedia CoMMonS; deSign by eMily lefton goldStein

editorial note
This fall, occupy Wall Street took new york City by storm. Men and women from every corner of the city marched to the Financial district’s Zuccotti park to protest the banks’ mismanagement of money and other issues. in doing so, they crossed boundaries related to class and financial statuses and ones of gender and sexual importance, as well, in order to unite for a common cause. The protest’s participants did not come from any one sector of american society, but represented a true microcosm of the country’s citizens. Whether rich or poor, men or women, black or white, gay or straight, Christians, Jews, Muslims, hindus, or buddhists, the protesters put aside their differences to consider a common problem plaguing the country. While the protesters demonstrated a disregard for traditional boundaries, they were, nonetheless, able to appreciate their religious differences.1 Christian pastors arrived to preach the word of God to those who cared to listen, while rabbis and cantors alike flocked to the site on the Jewish high holidays to provide services for the Jewish new year. Many different expressions of spirituality emerged—like the pro-peace altar featured on our cover—demonstrating that, while occupy Wall Street’s members came together in a single cause, individualities were also welcome. Even though people came together for a common purpose and left their biases at the door, some refused to set aside their notions of gender, religion, and sexuality. Reports of sexual assaults at Zuccotti park promoted the construction of a safe, “women-only tent.”2 all-female guards routinely patrolled around the tent, ensuring its occupants were shielded against potential harassers.3 Some protesters smeared members of different religious groups, shouting offensive phrases like, “Jews control Wall Street!”4 Even security guards posted at the park chimed in with offensive words, like one man’s homophobic slurs.5 Thus, even while some unite against negativity, others persist on perpetrating it. in this issue of Sanctum, our writers examine the conflict of gender, sexuality, and religion not only in relation to occupy Wall Street, but also in their own lives. These articles note that such problems are not limited to political and economic conflicts, but, rather, are universal and ubiquitous. Maryam aziz takes on Muslim women’s need for self-defense, while Leah Greenstein attempts to find a role of agency for women in orthodox Judaism and Mark hay discusses the concept of marital rape with a pakistani cleric. This issue explores how religion, gender, and sexuality are not monolithic terms, but ones constantly changing in today’s world. -Carly Silver Editor-in-Chief Questions? Comments? Want to get involved? Email Sanctum at columbia.sanctum@gmail.com 4

Sanctum — fall 2011
Endnotes 1. Liz Leslie, “Faiths Come together at occupy Wall Street,” muslim voices. 17 nov. 2011, Web, 28 nov. 2011 <http://muslimvoices.org/faiths-occupy-wall-street/>. 2. helen Freund and todd Venezia, “Women at occupy Wall Street protest put up Female-only tents to avoid Rape,” new york post, 5 nov. 2011, Web, 28 nov. 2011. <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/ local/manhattan/zuccotti_park_big_top_ilby4VfyiwdGt2i1>. 3. ibid. 4. andrea peyser, “occupy Wall Street’s anti-Semitism,” new york post, 24 oct. 2011, Web, 28 nov. 2011 <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/the_hate_in_zuccotti_KyGnaMM6eLbirV>. 5. “Security Guard at Zuccotti: ‘your Fly’s open, Faggot,’" truthdig, 17 nov. 2011, Web, 28 nov. 2011 <http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/brookfield_security_guard_your_flys_open_ faggot_20111117/>.

photo courtesy david Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons
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Eldridge Street and the Jewish ethos
matt Schelke

Sanctum — fall 2011
The sanctuary is remarkably small. Closely-packed pews approach the bimah, the synagogue’s altar, and two richly-carved balconies are suspended from the right and left walls. Stained glass windows let in a gauzy, diaphanous light. The sanctuary feels more like an intimate scholar’s study than a temple devoted to the divine. it is certainly different than vast, cavernous cathedrals that draw the viewer’s eye up to the heavens. Eldridge Street keeps one’s gaze on earth—and on the members of the congregation. The worshippers’ pews form the center of the sanctuary, rather than an apse that points to a transcendental goal. unlike ceilings that soar skywards, the upper balconies are just large enough to accommodate their residents. The synagogue concentrates more on humanity than divinity. This focus on humanity, perhaps, is what keeps the building standing. Eldridge Street is located in what used to be Manhattan’s Lower East Side, once a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Like its neighbors, Eldridge Street is surrounded not by the Jewish institutions of the 1940s and ‘50s, but by Chinese markets and hispanic clothes shops. now, the Lower East Side is no longer mostly Jewish and Eldridge Street itself has been geographically reassigned to Chinatown. While the synagogue now hosts services in the basement instead of the main sanctuary, the temple’s orthodox congregation has remained intact from the synagogue’s founding in 1887 to today. This vision is a powerful reminder of the vitality of Jewish communities throughout history. For millennia, small groups of believers diligently carried the religion of Judaism through non-Jewish lands. The Levant of the Exodus was home to a mosaic of groups foreign to the israelites, like the hittites, the Canaanites, the amalekites, and, most famously, the Egyptians. Later in history, the Jewish diaspora found itself forming tightly-knit communities whilst Spaniards, Frenchmen, Germans, and austrians surrounded it. Similarly, Eldridge Street is an isolated enclave surrounded by foreign cultures. Scholars use the term “Judeo-Christian” to refer to a largely contiguous ideology that stretches from the israelite Exodus to the sermons of billy Sunday. however, comparing the respective Jewish and Christian places of worship reveals the deep differences between the “Judeo” of Eldridge Street and the “Christian” of Western Europe. For over a millennium, the model of the church has been modeled on that of the Gothic cathedral. Everything is vertiginous: flying buttresses, peaked arches, huge domes, tree-like columns. This spacious, soaring structure is the architecture of a highly personal—and highly mystic—experience. The core of Judaism is neither inner grace nor the manifestation of divinity, but community law, which is reflected at Eldridge Street. The central bimah is tiny and almost inconspicuous, compared to the waves of pews that wash through the space. The ark—the large, recessed cabinet that contains the torah scrolls—is the sanctuary’s crown jewel. The synagogue’s structure places emphasis on the congregation itself and the torah, on the community and its law. here, religious symbols and icons, 7

photo courtesy of Viktor Korchenov via Wikimeia Commons
it is easy to miss the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Chinatown has moved to its very door, and bargain basements and noodle shops are poor preparation for the synagogue’s ornate, Moorish Revival façade. Columns flank round rose windows and arches march up past the brick and sheet metal structures adjacent to the synagogue. on the roof, delicately placed cupolas are incongruous to the massive front wall. Though the façade is impressive against its surroundings, the synagogue’s interior sanctuary remains sheltered from the traffic outside. 6

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often devotional objects in other faiths, are purely decorative. Jewish stars embellish railings, biblical aphorisms lie hidden in corners, and flame imagery dots the walls. The synagogue’s core, though, focuses on its worshippers. discussion of the torah implies that the early israelites’ shared faith and shared law ensured their survival. indeed, the main focus of the pentateuch is the interplay between religious commandments preserving israelite unity and the political victories that kept the ancient Jewish kingdoms intact. perhaps these same elements, transposed to downtown new york City, fortified the survival of Eldridge Street through a century of demographic changes. The “Jewish ethos” is, at heart, that of a Jewish community. The forces of the Jewish experience are not theological ones of guiding grace nor innerlight, but the traditional necessity of law and the interaction with surrounding, non-Jewish groups. While many Jews do find their faith to be highly spiritual, Judaism’s richness and importance results from its communities’ traditions and adaptations. although today’s religious debates focus on creation narratives and prophetic scripture, the Eldridge Street Synagogue demonstrates that there is far more to Judaism than Genesis and isaiah. Judaism resides in the concrete, daily life of its adherents, not in cosmic visions. it seeps into behavior, social relations, and personal identity. one can look for the Jewish experience by poring over the pentateuch or searching the biblical commentary of the talmud, but the Eldridge Street Synagogue captures its essence within a single building.

occupying Religion: protest through prayer or prayer through protest?
Sara lederman

occupy Wall Street

photo courtesy of david Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons
“Man is a messenger who forgot the message.” -Rabbi abraham Joshua heschel Meandering down Wall Street just as the sun began to set, i passed some impressive landmarks: a vacant tiffany’s store, the looming shape of trinity Church, and, finally, the Merrill Lynch bull. he was trapped in a makeshift bullpen with railings and policemen carefully guarding him. With a furrowed brow and mean glare, the muscular golden bull on Wall Street flaunted his permanent brawn. My stomach grumbled and did a mini-somersault: i knew it was going to be a rough fast. Stumbling down the street, without a clue where i was, i turned towards large, abstract red scaffolding marking Zuccotti park. Enveloped by the sleek architectural aesthetic of corporate Wall Street, the park housed a dark mob of people and piles of tattered blankets and plastic tarps. you could just barely make out the outlines of limbs and side profiles of faces huddled under pieces of sleeping bags and cardboard scraps. Fractions of sentences burst from the pods of protesters; moments of noise 9

Jewish boy on the Lower East Side, 1911

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photo courtesy of bain news Service via Wikimedia Commons

Sanctum — fall 2011
emerged from the pulsing drum circle. Shadows of people hula-hooped and juggled, while a small, somber girl painted shapes on the face of a nearby boulder. a part of me wanted to burst out “aquarius” from the musical hair, celebrating my generation’s spiritual liberation. another part of me wanted to curl up in my innocent, Midwestern ball, hide in a nearby burger King toilet stall, and cry. i was both overwhelmed and deeply confused by the intensity of the anger and the brightness of hope emanating from the people around me. however, i did not come to Zuccotti park to protest with occupy Wall Street. i came to pray. out of the scene emerged two figures draped in white robes. They announced that Kol nidre —the evening service designed to welcome in the Jewish day of atonement, yom Kippur—would begin in ten minutes. i followed the white robes to a smaller square where a crowd of seated people waited. Snippets of conversation floated around me: “oy, it’s been so long since i last saw you!” “This is just so great!”cried another voice. My personal favorite was, “how’s your mother?” young daughters reclined in their fathers’ laps, while elderly couples limped around, pressing down on seated strangers’ shoulders for support. Camp friends embraced and young professionals in suits crouched down reading the machzor—a special high holidays prayer book—on their ipads. The ceremony began with a niggun—a wordless tune usually employed to create a certain spirit. This song was one of community. in the middle of the crowd—and as police, press, and bankers circulated around the periphery of our space— stood a group of huddled clergy, clutching prayer books in one hand and protest pamphlets in the other. These individuals represented different types of Judaism, all united for a night under one banner. i spied curiosities like tie-dyed tallitot—Jewish prayer shawls—as well as some long beards, which were both of the hippy and orthodox varieties, at this eclectic protestservice. it was then that i looked up from the pavement and noticed the skyscrapers looming over our outdoor sanctuary. These buildings’ layers and rows of glass windows packed us in from every side, leaving only a sliver of the night sky visible. Through some of the windows, i detected vague shadows of men peering into our outdoor sanctuary from inside their office buildings. Many of them were leaning against the panes, pressing their foreheads against their forearms, shaking their heads with judgment. others stood straight, hands tucked safely in their pockets. They hovered over us in the towers. God, apparently, wasn’t the only “big Man in the Sky” judging us. i suddenly felt claustrophobic. here, judgment didn’t just come from above. at that moment, seeing myself framed by the gaze of the police, the press, and the bankers, i realized that i was a part of an experiment. While i watched, i was also being watched. While i prayed for fair judgment, i was also being judged. This “double watching” 10

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echoed in my mind while i prayed in public. While i was not protesting, i was still making a statement by making this public space a spiritually Jewish one. Was i somehow transforming a religious experience, like the high holidays, into a mere spectacle? how did my spiritual experience of the protest differ from that of those pounding in the drum circle just feet away? at the climax of self-questioning, a clergyman stood up. Like other rabbis, he could have talked about sin and guilt, common motifs during yom Kippur. it would have been easy to use this moment as a call to arms to shame the bankers on Wall Street. While the service leaders did, inevitably, touch on this issue, their focus was a bit less aggressive. Their speech was about us understanding the repercussions of our actions, reflecting on our morals and how we protect them. The message urged us to look within ourselves and our communities and to strive for a higher moral standard. of course, it would not have been complete without the requisite jab at Wall Street. because no microphones were permitted on the premises of the protest, the rabbis used a “human microphone.” The mechanics supporting this technique were very simple: the leader spoke in short phrases and the crowd repeated his words. however, its effects were remarkable: not only was the speaker professing his or her spiritual and moral musings, but, as the audience chanted back, its members, too, took ownership of the spoken words. Soon a rabbi’s “we, as Jews, cannot tolerate injustice” transformed into a crowd of 500 chanting “we, as Jews, cannot tolerate injustice.” it took on an entirely new meaning as religion became instantly more real for me. in the past, i had dozed off all too often in synagogue during yet another rabbi’s sermons. but, as i repeated the leader’s words back to those behind me, i began to internalize their meanings. What did it mean to actively own our words, especially in a Jewish context, in which tikkun olam, social action, plays such an integral role in religious life? in my experience, a sermon’s words often become disconnected from their meanings, especially when it feels like i recite the same words over and over again. When i participated in the religious human microphone in Zuccotti park, it seemed that there was no other way to pray. i became a critical part of the sound ripple, an active Jewish listener in a space where doubts and criticisms were finally celebrated. as the leadership talked about the Golden Calf, my mind leapt to the image of the metallic Merrill Lynch bull. This statue pronounced the ominous motifs of false idolatry and loyalty to materiality rather than humanity. The rabbi then spoke about the importance of making commitments, launching into a conversation about the moral aims of occupy Wall Street as opposed to its pragmatic objectives. his rhetoric was not one of adamant condemnation, but rather of introspection and contemplation. it breathed a new life into yom Kippur. The protest injected a refreshing fervor and zeal into my previously comatose practice of religion. in exchange, my organic affiliation with Judaism made “protest” relevant and accessible. 11

Sanctum — fall 2011

hasids online
aelfie Starr-tuff

Crown heights, brooklyn

photo courtesy of tiger brown for Sterling place via Wikimedia Commons
My first entrée into hasidic cyberspace occurred in the summer of 2010 at a bar in Crown heights, brooklyn. Looking to escape a friend whose inebriation had passed over into belligerence, i took the only empty seat outside at a table of chain-smoking young men. The chubby, more talkative one—whom i will refer to as Moisher—took me aback. Through the smoke, i could discern the not-so-subtle hints of hasidism, an ultra-orthodox movement within Judaism. Strings from his prayer shawl dangled in front of him, and he self-consciously adjusted his large black hat as he stood, passionately denouncing Jewish “propaganda” and “oppression.” The sight was perplexing, but, as the night progressed, the men revealed that they had earlier attended Footsteps, a support group for “those seeking to enter or explore the world beyond the insular ultra-religious [Jewish] communities in which they were raised” (Footsteps). Each individual was in various stages of the often difficult process of leaving the hasidic community. perhaps more surprisingly, they were all also bloggers. 12

hasidism is one of the most visible, yet mysterious, forms of Judaism alive today. Culturally rooted in the countrysides of Eastern Europe, it grew as a reaction to the overly legislative nature of rabbinic Judaism and the adherents of the talmud, a biblical commentary. it seems to have emphasized a more personal connection with God. hasidism took hold in the small towns, or shtetls, of eighteenthcentury Eastern Europe but has since come to flourish in brooklyn. donning black hats and suits, with side curls called payot, and averted eyes, hasidim are readily recognizable, but mostly ignored, in today’s society. The morning after my discussion with the ex-hasids, i found myself scouring each writer’s blog, plowing through excruciatingly personal accounts of assimilation into secular society. Each exhasid wrote with differing levels of resentment, regret, and command of the English language. as one link led to another, i gleefully stumbled into a thriving community of hasidic commentary. on the blog “destined for Failure,” the author, Ravina, notes the difficulty in maintaining a community that is as anti-modern as hasidism. The hasidim often strive to conserve eighteenth-century customs, even as modern innovations, like the rising accessibility of the internet, pop up everywhere. She believes that the community’s leaders “try to ban the latest technology” from their constituents, but secular culture, like the internet, is so ubiquitous that the endeavor is difficult (destined for Failure). Ravina claims that the hasidic movement is, indeed, “destined for failure” unless it accepts some inevitable changes from the outside and does not remain as insular as it is today. She states that, with the advent of the internet, a community cannot remain “sheltered and separated from the mainstream/secular world” (destined for Failure). according to Ravina, if hasidic leaders continue to try to curb the internet and other popular innovations, “more and more” people will leave the hasidic movement (destined for Failure). That statement is debatable, considering the steady influx of Jews into ultra-orthodox Judaism. What is clear, however, is that the internet provides a safe space for hasidim and ex-hasidim alike to question and reflect on their culture. of all the ex-hasidic bloggers, perhaps the most prominent is the hasidic Rebel. i arranged to meet the hasidic Rebel, whose real name is Shulem deen, on the evening of Rosh hashanah in 2010 at a small café off of the G train in brooklyn. he was waiting outside, chatting with a teenaged hasidic boy from the neighborhood. i wanted to understand what it meant to be part of a community of people whose members are defined as those that departed another community. how did the hasidic Rebel found such a comfortable home on the seemingly-lawless internet considering his previous experience in the physically restrictive world of ultra-orthodox Judaism? i wanted to better understand the relation between identity, community, and the utility of the internet in this world of questioning hasids. 13

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Shulem had short hair and was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers.. he looked tired, perhaps from years of shepherding confused youth, handling his burgeoning internet fame, or retelling his sad, yet inspiring, story. he had a wife and children that he had left behind in the orthodox community in Monsey, new york. Shulem openly discussed the despair he felt upon witnessing his children raised ultra-orthodox and the emotional distance that this ideological divide engendered between him and his wife. he loved his wife and relived with me the moments of their fundamental differences. Though he would have liked to leave the community with her to start anew in another neighborhood, her faith and devotion was unwavering and his discontent was unbearable. to an extent, i could understand Shulem’s dilemma. as a child, i spent a summer at a hasidic camp in the Catskills. My family was sent a camp packing list, which included modest, long-sleeve shirts that covered the elbows and skirts that hit below the knee. While i found the dress code curious, i was too young to either object or understand these requirements. needless to say, i did not get a tan that summer. i did, however, assimilate quickly to hasidic culture and dreaded going back to my secular home. upon my return, i did my best to adapt ultra-orthodox practices in my effectively atheist household. i maintained the modest dress code and refused to talk to my father, who was a goy, or nonJew. i met with my new hasidic “family” every Friday night to sing and dance. This new community supplied the sort of regularity and meaning that meant more to me as an elementary school student than hurting my father’s feelings or alienating everyone around me. When this phase passed and i returned to a secular lifestyle, my parents were relieved, but the memory still persisted. Meeting those men at the bar in Crown heights brought me back to that transitional time. They were trying to leave hasidism, while i had tried to stay. The close interplay of community and identity came to mind along with how easily my neighbors at camp shaped my own senses of self and purpose. i assumed that, having come from such a cohesive environment, these hasids would naturally form a strong ex-hasidic community in lieu of their loss. as i learned in numerous interviews conducted over a year, a strong ex-hasidic community does not physically exist. one, however, emerged on the internet. in 2010, the hasidic Rebel, aware of the cyberspace diaspora of dissenters in need of an internet homeland, founded unpious.com. unpious is described as “an online journal for those whose roots are in the Chasidic world, but have left it in body or spirit” (Ghert-Zand). From that sentiment, unpious.com was born: it is a supportive internet community that does not linger on the sadness and loss of tradition, but rather creatively transforms the experience into a lively conversation. For many ex-hasids, the internet can serve as a place of comfort

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and of alienation. on unpious.com, the hasidic Rebel blogged that he was “kinda [sic] sick [that newspaper articles] focus on the difficulties and challenges one faces in taking such a step” out of the hasidic community (deen). Much of the ex-hasidic identity on the web consists of negative portrayals from former or questioning practitioners. The Whistleblower, a young ex-hasid, described his condition as one comparable to enslavement. he writes, “about three months ago, i learned about slavery for the first time… as i was thinking about slavery and how cruel it was, it suddenly hit me ‘i’m a modern day slave’; a white, Jewish slave” (Chassidic Whistleblower). When i was back in the Crown heights bar, chatting with the ex-hasids, Moishe told me, “i’m a Lubavitcher. you know what that is? The ones who come up to you on the street? you know them? That’s me. That was me.” he offered me another cigarette and continued, “i’m wearing the clothes because i may see people i know here. i don’t want to upset my parents. They don’t know yet.” The mixture of past and present tenses in his speech struck me as profound: while he had unquestionably departed the life of his upbringing, he still was traveling along, having not yet fully arrived in a completely separate life. indeed, are not all of us in some ways amalgams and mixtures of where we have been and where we are going? always between and betwixt? yaakov, another man at their table and a member of Footsteps, leaned in and jokingly added with a thick yiddish accent, “Really, he’s wearing those clothes because he doesn’t have any other clothes.” Moishe begrudgingly agreed. in order to create a new identity for himself, Moishe will not only have to purchase new clothes but also totally sever his identity from the Lubavitchers, a sect of hasidic Judaism. Though leaving one’s community is undoubtedly difficult, it can also be liberating. The blogger hasidic Feminist, who recently revealed herself as deborah Feldman, commented on hasidic Rebel’s post. indeed, the “media is inclined to portray it as a sob story, but they are validated by the fact that it iS traumatic and bewildering to find [yourself ] cut out and cut off from the only world you’ve ever known.” adds the blogger, “That said, there are no words to describe the joy and wonder that is a Chasid discovering the new world. all those first times; who else gets to experience what most people experience as children and take for granted, in their fully conscious adulthood?”

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bibliography deen, Shulem. “bbC on Chasidim Who Leave.” unpious.com. 29 Jan. 2010. Web. 06 nov. 2011. <http://www.unpious.com/2010/01/bbc-on-chasidim-who-leave/>. “Footsteps names Lani Santo Executive director.” Footsteps. 15 July 2010. Web. 06 nov. 2011. <http://www.footstepsorg.org/lspress.php>. Ghert-Zand, Renee. “a Video Message to the ultra-orthodox: ‘it Gets besser.’” The Schmooze. The Jewish daily Forward, 12 July 2011. Web. 15 nov. 2011. <http://blogs.forward.com/the-shmooze/139753/>. “Modern day Slavery.” Chassidic Whistleblower. 26 May 2011. Web. 06 nov. 2011. <http://chassidic.blogspot.com/2011/05/modern-day-slavery.html>. “Why are They destined for Failure?” destined for Failure. 14 dec. 2008. Web. 06 nov. 2011. <http://mikvahneias.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-are-they-destined-for-failure.html>.

Christmas and Easter in august: unity through iconoclasm
laura kladky

photo courtesy of Cuzco Schooln at the brooklyn Museu via Wikimedia Commons
posterity recognizes William Faulkner as one of the great american novelists on the basis of his stylistic innovations. a modernist borrowing from the Symbolist Movement, Faulkner substitutes traditional narrative form for the interior juxtaposition of ideas, a structure that often proves problematic for the reader. light in august is one such “problem novel,” whose problem of unity has challenged critics since its 1932 publication.1 When examined in the context of texts like James Joyce’s ulysses and t.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” though, it becomes visible that light in august’s unity rests not upon the surface of the text, but in the relation of the exterior to the layers beneath it.2 Eliot coined the term “mythical method” to describe the new modern novel built upon the foundation of an ancient myth, reshaping the elements of modernity to fit upon the frames of history.3 While his term implies intentionality, Faulkner insists his goal is simply to depict people; as an author, he has used symbols but is “not conscious of it [... he] put it there, but he didn’t know it was there until somebody told him about it” (Railton). Faulkner does write from myths, though, from his own Christian background, inextricable from the life of “any southern country boy” that form a “storeroom of recollections, of traditions, of experience, of observation, that he uses in his trade, just as the 17

photo courtesy of diluvi-anna i adria via Wikimedia Commons
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carpenter has a storeroom of planks that he uses when he wants to build a fence or a house” (Railton). With these symbols, Faulkner constructs his text in a non-instrumental version of the mythical method. in light in august, Faulkner’s foundation amounts to a double frame of ‘myth within a myth’.4 Within the stories of Christmas and Lena rest a second pairs of myths, a juxtaposition that throws their Cavalry and nativity myths into doubt. both characters transgress the respective boundaries of racial and feminine identity that characterizes goodness as whiteness and chastity, inhabiting the structurally precarious place between. united by a shared function as iconoclasts, Christmas and Lena disprove the myth of absolute categorizability held by Southern civil religion. a new religion rises from the ruins of the old, implicating both Christmas and Lena in its demolition and subsequent renewal of the Easter and Christmas stories. Left on the doorstep of a white orphanage at Christmas, Christmas plays the central role in the novel. he appears to be white, but is tormented by his belief that he is secretly cursed with black blood. he wanders until age 33, when he meets Joanna burden, a white Calvinist spinster whom he murders. Later, Christmas will be shot and castrated in the name of Joanna’s honor. Christmas is mythologized, though, from the moment he is given a moniker, “an augur of what he will do, if other men can only read the meaning” (Faulkner 16). to Faulkner, people “look and behave just like their names,” by which logic “Christmas” would presumably presage nativity rather than Calvary (Railton).5 to Jefferson, though, the name Christmas has “something in the sound of it that [is] trying to tell them what to expect; that he carrie[s] with him his own inescapable warning” (Faulkner 16). The name “Christmas” is an omen of disaster, predicting its opposite: to look like a Christmas is to “look sullen and quiet and fatal as a snake” (Faulkner 20). Faulkner calls his snakes the symbol of “the old fallen angel, the unregenerate immortal,” which he prefers to the “good and shining angel” (Railton). This interior dialectic positions Christmas as homology and antithesis, Christ and antichrist. From his first appearance, Christmas is uncertain of his identity. While the Gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus’s genealogy as “character note,” Christmas is told that he will never know just who he is (Matt.1:1; Faulkner 170). The only identity he will ever claim is the absence of one. Christmas’s first character note posits his identity as refutation, with “something definitely rootless [...] no town nor city was his [...] no square of earth his home” (Faulkner 16). Christmas also acts as a wanderer, living within the image of the road: he has ties to a “thousand savage and lonely streets […] in its moods and phases, always empty […] in silence, doomed with motion” (Faulkner 93). Like Cain, Christmas’s flight begins from his childhood home after a familial murder. his indeterminate 18

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race is his mark of Cain, as any black blood condemns him per a psychological variant of the onedrop Law. both Cain and Christmas are thus driven “out this day from the face of the earth” (Genesis 4:14). Faulkner translates the biblical rhetoric of fugitives and vagabonds to “a phantom, a spirit, strayed out of its own world, and lost” (17). unlike Christ’s journey, Christmas’s wandering never attains holiness. While his aimless years of torment recall Christ “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil,” Christmas may have been better cast as the devil in that scenario (Matt.4:1). his foster father and grandfather identify him explicitly as Satan or pollution of God’s world (Faulkner 54, 84). in interviews, Faulkner maintained this distance from Christ metaphor, noting that the two are only alike in the fact that the human race repudiates them, and that Christmas’s “tragedy is a that of a failure of identity” (Welsh 125). Christ is repudiated so he may die to save humanity, the most unequivocal assertion of his identity imaginable. in contrast, Christmas “evict[s] himself from the human race because he [doesn’t] know which he [is],” a tragedy performed upon his indeterminate body “remote with ecstasy and selfcrucifixion” (Faulkner 67). in place of the trinity’s three-in-one, Christmas is unstably divided. his face is not one but “two faces which seem to strive…in turn to free themselves one from the other, then fade and blend again” (Faulkner 197). his white and black blood battle within him as an angel and a devil on his shoulders: the “white blood [is that] which snatche[s] up the pistol and the black blood which w[ill] not let him fire it” (Faulkner 187). This metaphor works as self-understanding, but the struggle is mental, as critics agree “there is no factual evidence for [Christmas’s] mixed blood” (bleikasten 83). befitting this ambiguity, Faulkner replaces the 17 verses cataloging Christ’s ancestors with an initial presentation of Christmas as stranger and object of speculation. With his “flesh a level dead parchment color,” Christmas is a creation akin to a piece of paper, upon which others ascribe meaning, but which remains itself a blank page (Faulkner 17). Faulkner defines Christmas by silence, a man who “still had nothing to say to anyone, even after six months” (Faulkner 17). The only time Christmas takes on the role of preaching, the negro congregation sees him as evil, reacting when they see “that his face [is] not black” with screams of “the devil! it’s Satan himself!” (Faulkner 131). Christmas takes the pulpit by sacrilegious violence in a bizarre inversion of the Cleansing of the temple, “his hands raised like a preacher [...] beg[inning] to curse, hollering it out, at the folks, and he cursed God” (Faulkner 131). The only gospel Christmas’s name will let him preach is hatred and blasphemy. both Christmas and Christ face the world’s repudiation, though, as a result of problems of categorization. Christ’s most inflammatory “blasphemy” is his claim to be both the Son of God and 19

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human (Faulkner 141). Christmas is also a category crisis incarnate, “never act[ing] like either a nigger or a white man [...] like he never even kn[ows] he [is] a murderer, let alone a nigger, too” (Faulkner 141).6 Labels prove essential to Southern civil religion, which mixes puritanism, racism, and sexism based upon “an order by way of distinctions and disjunctions” (bleikasten 96). Society structures itself upon this hierarchy, which allows “one term in the binary opposition [to be] always valued over the other,” and ensures that the segregation between elect and reprobate is “guaranteed by solid barriers blocking off all circulation” (Faulkner 96). While the negative side of the boundary is undesirable, the violation of the boundary’s barriers proves a greater cause of anxiety for the elect; miscegenation or any such mixing in social identity weakens the boundaries themselves. not only does Christmas sin in his racial uncertainty, he also violates by his “miscegenation” of white-coded Christ and black-coded Cain-Satan. he can purge this sin only through repeated self-crucifixion, triggered by situations that arouse his self hatred. Christmas precipitates these situations himself, beating both a black prostitute and a white prostitute who sleeps with black men, fighting a black man who calls him “white,” and murdering Joanna burden, all of which end in beatings and then death and castration. Christmas can only transcend his physical form and realize the promise of pascal redemption by his body’s tenebrous mortification. light in august also presents another protagonist, Lena Grove. Lena has been impregnated and abandoned by Lucas burch, hardly the ideal father figure of Joseph in the new testament. a lowclass and unchaste Mary, Lena walks from alabama to Jefferson, Mississippi, on a quest to find burch before the baby comes.7 never, though, does she allow society to push her into one side of the sexual binary. Even as her pregnant belly testifies to her fall from grace, Lena believes herself unbroken. The men around Lena rather than Lena herself struggle with her inherent duality. She obeys an ancient natural religion, in which virgin-whore and spiritual-earthly separations cease to have meaning. Faulkner formulates Lena’s duality in the same structure as that of Christmas. Just as Christmas repeats, “My name ain’t McEachern. My name is Christmas’” and “’it’s not McEachern [...] it’s Christmas,’” Lena admits “i told you false. My name is not burch yet. it’s Lena Grove” (Faulkner 61, 76, 10).8 Just as McEachern designates the white puritan man and Christmas the myth, Lena can be Mrs. burch, a conventional and respectable wife, or remain within the pagan grove.9 bunch perceives Lena “like she was in two parts, and one of them knows that [burch] is a scoundrel” (Faulkner 122). bunch’s mind divides her between the practical “part of her that knew the truth, that [bunch] could not have fooled,” and the spiritual one that “believes that when a man and a woman are going to have a child, that the Lord will see that they are all together” (Faulkner 122). unlike the “civil war” within Christmas, Lena’s duality allows or may even be the thing that grants her character 20

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William Faulkner
photo courtesy of Carl Van Vechten via Wikimedia Commons
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its mysterious peace. Faulkner characterizes Lena by the repetition of adjectives connoting stillness. She is quiet, tranquil, still, pleasant, serene, placid, calm, waiting, complete, strong, patient, sober, young, friendly, neat, alert, grave, candid, dogged, unruffled, untroubled, immobile, and inviolate. her quiet is the cold pastoral of Keats’s “ode on a Grecian urn,” whose “still unravished bride of quietness” comes to life in Lena as she travels “like something moving forever and without progress across an urn” (Faulkner 15).10 Keats’s ideal is found in the art of pre-religious times, and Lena’s tranquility is similarly pagan, but also terrestrial, cyclical in its rhythm of “the untroubled unhaste of a change of season” (Faulkner 24). 11 in opposition to the Virgin Mary, Lena symbolizes the positive implicit in Faulkner’s negatively formulated neologism of “unvirgin.” There is still nobility in the physicality of her “young strong body from out whose travail even there shone something tranquil and unafraid,” with a righteous and necessary role as one of “the good stock peopling in tranquil obedience to it, the good earth” (Faulkner 24, 164). unlike the Virgin, Lena’s spirituality does not enter her through the voice of God or his angels. She becomes one with the divine by “hearing and feeling the implacable and immemorial earth” in the motion of her unborn child, her “full, hearty blood” and the name of “Lena Grove” itself (Faulkner 15).12 not only does “Grove” evoke the image of a green, fertile space, but “Lena” signifies a “bright light” like the light of the book’s title, “from not just today but from back in the old classic times [...]a luminosity older than our Christian civilization” (Railton). her luminosity connotes a Greco-Roman fertility goddess, the elusive, gossamer-like “frame” parallel to the Virgin that structures Lena’s journey. Figures like the Magdalene and the Whore of babylon embody active sexuality for Christianity, requiring transformation or annihilation, but Lena’s affirmative, life-based sexuality is a pre-Christian variety immune to shame. Lena’s children are begotten naturally through copulation with burch: a Joseph so deficient the book double-casts him with bunch of the single letter difference. Like the biblical Joseph, bunch is granted “a manchild that is not his […] two men and only the third part of a woman” but without the gloss of angels or marriage (Faulkner 166). he tries to be the best Joseph he can, asking Lena to marry him and suppressing the knowledge of Lena’s sexual history as long as possible. This is the voice of puritan society and its need for categorization within byron, which attempts to force the woman he loves into the acceptable side of the binary: “something all the while which protect[s] him against believing” until the last moment possible, until “he hear[s] the child cry. Then he know[s] [...] [finds] out that she is not a virgin” (Faulkner 162). Lena no longer fits into the wife category, a social law hightower voices in his advice to byron that “if [he] must marry, there are single women, girls, 22

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virgins” rather than “sacrific[ing] [him]self to a woman who has chosen once and now wishes to renege that choice [...] God didn’t intend it so” (Faulkner 128). byron ignores this convention in favor of his love for Lena, and while God seemingly does not intend for any woman to have two Josephs, Lena does without even trying. The puritan separation between virtuous and sexual woman collapses as Lena reneges upon her previous choice of burch, replacing hightower’s old laws with a new one. Lena contrasts most with the Virgin Mary, though, in the implications of the novel’s framing image of the road. While Mary’s journeys were divinely dictated, Lena’s are self-motivated, perhaps not even to seek burch, as she may lack “any idea of finding whoever it was she was following [...] if she had ever aimed to” (Faulkner 203). instead of pursuing respectability, Lena makes “up her mind to travel a little further and see as much as she could” and ending the novel marveling that she had reached tennessee already (Faulkner 203). Lena’s “apparently optimistic ‘flight into Egypt’ image of mother, child, and potential, but precuckolded, husband” amounts to nothing more than a wideeyed girl on a road trip, a tourist eagerly anticipating her surroundings and “waiting to be surprised” (Millgate 47, Faulkner 203). Lena persists in her enjoyment and never allows the world to consign her to a singular category like that of Mary, whether it is to earthly whoredom or heavenly virginity, or to reality or myth. Christmas can only find redemption through his inclusion in Lena’s story, as hers reconciles its myths while his does not. The juxtaposition of Christmas with Lena converts his tragic Easter into the occasion for a new and comic nativity. While the two characters never meet, Christmas hovers over Lena’s narrative, which is hijacked by the pillar of smoke that rises from Joanna’s house. her circumstances are soon inextricable from his, from its first mention of his name blocking her story. She comments “Joe Christmas? That’s a funny name,” before moving on to the question of burch, and when she asks “what does he look like,” she has to clarify, “i don’t mean Christmas” (Faulkner 23). Likewise, when told of “the two fellows named brown and Christmas that lived out there,” Lena’s question, “What was the nigger’s name,” and the sheriff assumes on sight that “it’s one of them fellows. it’s Christmas, isn’t it” who is the father of Lena’s baby (123, 130). (Faulkner 23). Mrs. hines never corrects this mistake, finding Lena’s baby to be “that grandson whom she had never seen as a man [...] not only the child but his parentage as well mixed up” (180). Lena becomes Christmas’s mother Milly, who also gave birth outside wedlock, and then in absence of a father figure, Christmas conceives himself upon Milly/Lena. The name Joseph was given to Christmas because “it is so in the book: Christmas, the son of Joe. Joe, the son of Joe,” a repetition Mrs. hines will decide has taken place with Lena’s son (Faulkner 155). in her mind, she becomes a ‘witness’ like the women at Christ’s tomb, as her grandson Christ is ‘resurrected’ in another incarnation of ‘Joe, son 23

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of Joe.’ her convictions render Lena “afraid she might get mixed up” and believe it herself, and while Lena does not name her baby Joe, the reader never hears of any other name (Faulkner 165). Christmas becomes the hidden third Joseph figure, forcing Lena’s nativity to become a simultaneous Easter. Faulkner entertained the title dark house before he decided on light in august as the novel’s final title. dark house could reference the shadow Christmas and his story cast over the novel, particularly the burden house and its family’s Calvinist history. Christmas and his “dark house” of puritanism, though, are unsustainable and will inevitably disappear, leaving Lena and her open road. Christmas is symbolically reborn in Lena’s son as the launching of another life of Christ, changing the Christ narrative from one tragedy to a natural cycle ad infinitum. Myths recur in modern life by cycles, crossing and repeating like pagan rites of spring. light in august achieves its elusive unity by building itself upon Christmas and Easter and then collapsing both myths. What endures is Lena’s light, the starting image identified by Faulkner as “Lena Grove, the idea of the young girl with nothing, pregnant, determined […] the courage and endurance of women” (Railton). This light over the rubble is “a luminosity in which something pagan might live and flourish […] that luminous, lambent quality of an older light than ours,” enduring through a novel in which every artifice of the modern puritan world is unified in its breakdown (Railton). all that remains is the newborn child, unity in a single and eternal light. bibliography bleikasten, andré. “The Closed Society and its Subjects.” new essays on light in august. London: Cambridge university press, 1987. 81-102. Faulkner, William. light in august. new york: Random house, 1932. Millgate, Michael. “a novel: not an anecdote.” new essays on light in august. London: Cambridge university press, 1987. 31-53. Railton, Stephen. Ed. “Faulkner at Virginia.” Faulkner at Virginia. university of Virginia, 2010. Web. 23 oct 2011. <http://faulkner.lib.virginia.edu/>. “The bible, King James Version.” The electronic text center. university of Virginia, n.d. Web. 28 Mar 2010. <http://etext.virginia.edu/kjv.browse.html>. Welsh, alexander. “on the difference between prevailing and Enduring.” new essays on light in august. London: Cambridge university press, 1987. 123-147.

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Endnotes 1. For contextualization of the problem of unity in light in august criticism, see Michael Millgate, “introduction,” new essays on light in august (London: Cambridge university press, 1987), 23. 2. For more on the Christ allegory as a principle of structure in Faulkner with The fable as a later model, see dayton Kohler, “a Fable: The novel as Myth,” The english Journal, 44.5 (1955): 253-260. 3. one of the first definitions of mythical method can be found in t.S. Eliot, “ulysses, order and Myth,” Selected prose of t.S. eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), 175. 4. The identification of Christ analogy as source of unity has been discussed, particularly in C. hugh holman, “The unity of Faulkner’s light in august, pmla, 73.1 (1958), 155-166, “an attempt to demonstrate that such, indeed, is the basic nature of the novel and that it has a unity which is a function of its uses of the Christ story.” a great debt is borne to holman’s study, but, while olman principally focuses on similarities to the Christ story, this study purports to track contradictions to Christ and the Virgin and parallels with their opposite myths. holman’s study also takes hightower’s plot as a third thread of equal importance, a common conceit in much criticism. This study, however, purports to focuses on binaries, and confines itself to the light-dark binary of Lena and Christmas. 5. as beekman Cottrell notes in “Christian Symbols in Light in august,” modern fiction Studies 2 (1956): 207-213, “Faulkner gives us, on the outer or upper level of symbolism, certain facts [...] which are, indeed, inescapable. There is the name of Joe Christmas, with its initials of JC. There is the fact of his uncertain paternity and his appearance at the orphanage on Christmas day. Joe is approximately thirty-three years of age at his lynching, and this event is prepared for throughout the novel by Faulkner’s constant use of the word crucifixion. These are firm guideposts, and there are perhaps others as convincing” (207). For more on Joe Christmas as Christ figure, a convention established in light in august criticism since the book’s publication, as well as Christmas’s self-awareness of the parallel, see R. G. Collins, “light in august: Faulkner’s Stained Glass triptych,” mosaic, 7 (1973): 97-153; and James Leo Spenko, “The death of Joe Christmas and the power of Words,” twentieth century literature, 28.3 (1982): 252-268. 6. Christmas’s uncertain identity has often been noted by criticism and seen as a challenge to Calvinism, as in Robert Slabey, “Joe Christmas, Faulkner’s Marginal Man,” phylon, 21.3 (1960): 266277; and owen Robinson, “’Liable to be anything’: The Creation of Joe Christmas in Faulkner’s light in august,” Journal of american Studies, 37.1 (2003): 119-133. 7. Like the association of Christmas with Christ, Lena as the Virgin Mary is a critical mainstay. For Lena’s similarities with the Virgin, see for instance a. d. beach Langston, “The Meaning of Lena Grove and Gail hightower in Light in august,” Boston university Studies in english, 5 (1961): 46-61. 25

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8. See Martin Kreiswirth, “plots and Counterplots,” new essays on light in august (London: Cambridge university press, 1987), 60. See also heinz ikstadt, “The discourse of Race and the ‘passing’ text: Faulkner’s light in august,” american Studies, 42.4 (1997): 529-536”: “in a society whose prevailing rhetoric of self-interpretation was that of a homogenous community (whose dominance obviously depended on a clear distinction) [...] passing, ‘logically’, is the ultimate danger, the invisible enemy that potentially undermines all oppositions and thus calls the very principles not only of the existing order but all order-making into doubt.” 9. Lena’s duality is noted by Judith Wittenberg, “The Women of light in august,” new essays on light in august (London: Cambridge university press, 1987), 116, who describes Lena as “at one and the same time an uncomprehending peasant with strong survival instincts and an elusive mystical presence.” 10. This attachment to Keats’s poem is articulated by Faulkner, “Verse old and nascent: a pilgrimage,” william faulkner: early prose and poetry, (boston & toronto: Little, brown and Company, 1962), 117, who describes himself as having “ read ‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness’ and found a still water withal strong and potent, quiet with its own strength, and satisfying as bread.” For further treatment of the poem’s relevance across Faulkner’s body of work, see Joan S. Korenman, “Faulkner’s Grecian urn,” The Southern literary Journal, 7.1 (1974): 3-23. 11. The novel’s parallels to various pre-Christian and pagan myths have been well-documented, from the echo of the oedipus myth, as well as Faulkner’s characteristic use of The golden Bough, to the extent of a full set of castings as pagan gods and goddesses: Lena as isis, Christmas as dionysus, burch as osiris, etc., as in Virginia V. hlavsa, “The Mirror, The Lamp, and the bed: Faulkner and the Modernists,” on faulkner, (durham, nC: duke university press, 1989), 214-234. 12. Lena’s “Grove’” has been associated more specifically with diana of the Woods by critics like Elizabeth M. Kerr, william faulkner’s yoknapatawpha (new york: Fordham university press, 1983), 61, who notes the “theory that Lena Grove’s name has symbolic significance, identifying her with diana of nemi, diana of the Woods, whose sacred grove stood on the lake of nemi. The fact that the festival of diana of nemi gave place to the festival of the assumption of the Virgin on august 15 offers an obvious basis for the combination in Lena of pagan qualities and of attributes associated with the Virgin Mary [...] The birth of Lena’s child could have occurred on Monday, august 13, 1928, the festival of diana, or on Monday, august 15, 1932, the festival of the assumption of the Virgin Mary.”

The Ecstasy of Faith
astrika wilhelm

photo courtesy of dr. Gregory S. neal via Wikimedia Commons
Since i grew up Catholic, my first memories of the sacraments—several holy ways with which Catholics commune with God—were my frantic struggle to remember all seven of them for catechism class, which taught me the fundamentals of my faith. Though i would remember most, i would always forget the anointing of the sick and ordination. alas, this academic association was my perception of the sacraments for most of my childhood and young adulthood. i learned to associate the sacraments with an academic quiz rather than with my religion. as i got older, i came to realize the true significance of the sacraments as instruments for salvation. to anyone outside of the faith, practicing the sacraments seems to be a very ritualistic ordeal. one has to recite the same words that millions of people have said for the past two thousand years. because i was born into Catholicism, i practiced the sacraments when it was convenient for me as a child. one day, in a moment of crisis, God opened my heart. after i begged him to fill the void within, he did so, comforting me. by God’s grace alone, i was moved. Rushing over to notre dame Church, i let every fear i had, every struggle i went through, pour forth from myself and into God’s hands. The initial realization of how lost i had been was electrifying. it was as if he had suddenly brought me 27

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back to life, my eyes finally wide open to see the world for what it truly was. but i didn’t love God. now, i knew that i needed him and that i owed him my entire existence, but the distance between us was still so great that he wasn’t visible in my daily life. When i first became involved with the Columbia Catholic undergraduates (CCu), i kept coming across phrases from its members: “Love God.” “Knowing Jesus.” Since then, these mantras have stuck with me. initially, i just brushed aside these sayings as irrelevant. over time, though, they started to make me feel unsettled and even angry. i wondered, “how could i love God like i loved my family? That’s pretty presumptuous on God’s part. how could i love someone, some God, if i had never known him? and how could i know Jesus? he was way above me.” Eventually, though, i learned to trust the teachings of Catholicism, knowing there had to be a way for me to learn to truly trust God. to cope with this tribulation, i did what everyone always tells me to do when i am struggling with a problem—i prayed, asking God to let me love him, to let me know Christ. Weeks, even months, went by: still, nothing. That created anger within me. although it took some time, slowly and surely, i was able to build my relationship with God. he blessed me with his grace. now, my favorite part of the day or the week is when i attend Mass to receive Communion. Catholics believe that the Communion, the wafer and wine, is the body and blood of Christ. Each Mass, i lean forward in my pew and my eyes wander, searching for the host and soaking up every glimpse of it. When i stand up to get in line to receive communion, excitement fills me. Receiving Communion is a tangible reception of the Lord into my body and my spirit, the most personal interaction i can experience on Earth with the Lord. i gingerly raise my bowed head and open my hands to receive Christ and he fills me. i thank God that i am blessed with this reception. My tongue holds Christ before i crush the host with my teeth, reminding me of my fallen nature, of the countless sins that permeate my actions and thoughts, and, ultimately, of God’s forgiveness for those same sins and his never-ending love for me. i think, “how can i not love someone, some God, who loves me unconditionally?” Gratefulness permeates my being as i cherish the host and God. i pray that God leads me wherever he wants to and that his will be done. amen. i have fallen completely in love with God through Communion and no one can take me away from him. The sacrament of Communion makes my relationship to God more personal and deeper each time i receive it. it is as if each time i go to Mass, ready to receive him, i have my own date with Christ. i get excited for the date as i walk to Church and as i see him at Mass. My happiness peaks when i meet him at the altar, placing my one focus upon him. as i leave church, i cannot wait until the next time that i’ll receive. This graceful cycle puts me closer to God each time. The Eucharist of Communion 28

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allows me to abandon my worries and put myself all onto Christ’s capable hands. Since learning to appreciate Communion, my catchphrase has become, “don’t worry. it all works out.” indeed, it does. no matter what, i know that everything will work out through Christ. i know God will provide. The Eucharist is a tangible reminder of this relationship between myself and God. Even as i hold the sacrament of Communion in the highest esteem, i realize that many others might criticize this religious practice as idolatrous. The Real presence of God has been a contested issue between Catholicism and other faiths for centuries. a non-believer once disparagingly said that it did not matter if the host truly was our Lord, for, either way, “we as Catholics were heretics, the worst type of sacrilegious folk.” he said, “if the host was not Christ, then we were just worshiping and glorifying a piece of bread, no better than worshiping a golden cow. but, if that host truly was our Lord, then we were the most blasphemous beings with the largest egos imaginable.” For how could we dare to approach the Lord on our feet, to receive our Lord, to touch our Lord? We would be treating ourselves as the equals of Christ. The problem with this statement is that this individual misunderstands the meaning behind the sacrament. as a practicing Catholic, i do not even register the first accusation. Communion involves transubstantiation, which refers to a change in substances: the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, respectively. i, however, see no transformation. The host is still in the physical and chemical form of bread and wine, but it is Christ’s body and blood. The second argument misinterprets what God’s love for us actually is. it is not the tempered love of a ruler for his people, a distanced love. in fact, this love is an involved love for his people, his children. in my view, God should infiltrate our lives. We should want to follow God’s will, do everything for him and share everything with him, including our love and our bodies. God does not want his children to be his subjects, which is why he gave us the privilege of free will. as he is held upon the altar before all of his children, God, too, is excited to see us. he is eager to deepen his own relationship with his children as one is immersed in the other’s company and existence. The Real presence of God heightens this unconditional love. to Catholics, Communion offers us something unique, something that no one can get anywhere else in the world. We can embrace the Creator of the universe in our own hands, a moment during which we become the focus of God’s world. Right then, everything else phases out. For me, all that exists at the moment is God, me, and our love for one another. his love is always greater for me than mine could possibly be for him. i strive to mimic his love for me by appreciating those in my own life. i will always be God’s child, and my faith in him will always be strong and unyielding.

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defending Modesty: Crouching muslimah, hidden dragon
maryam aziz
We wear the mask that grins and lies,     it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—     This debt we pay to human guile;     With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,     and mouth with myriad subtleties. Why should the world be over-wise,     in counting all our tears and sighs?     nay, let them only see us, while             We wear the mask. We smile, but, o great Christ, our cries     to thee from tortured souls arise.     We sing, but oh the clay is vile     beneath our feet, and long the mile;     but let the world dream otherwise,             We wear the mask! -paul Laurence dunbar, “We Wear the Mask” african-american poet paul Laurence dunbar once articulated the sentiment that “we wear the mask that grins and lies/it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.” 1 This statement reflects the trauma and sorrow that comprised the african-american experience at the turn of the twentieth century. This mask to which he refers is the face that african-americans crafted to hide their discontent towards the mistreatment they faced daily. as america soon learned, however, the african-american community would not continue to bear national abuses into the next century. by the 1950s, it became quite evident to all the parties involved in the legal and racial subjugation of the african-american community that the one who wears “the mask” can only wear it for so long before it cracks under the weight of lynch ropes, 30

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water hoses, police batons, and shotguns. if one begins in 1955 with the vicious mutilation and murder of Emmett till, one can trace the need for the community to respond, moving from merely holding itself together to irrevocably defending itself. This anecdotal history lesson shows that “wearing the mask” is intolerable. Each group of people, whether bonded by their ethnicity, religion, or nationality, has a “breaking point” after which the usage of a mask becomes unbearable. it is time for Muslims to take off that mask. ten years after “the attacks that changed our lives,” it is time for us to break the mask, time to acknowledge that, though we Muslims have often lived hidden and silent, we can no longer tolerate physical abuses. These abuses are the proof that the prejudices of the mind have strengthened enough to become the abuses of the hand. This summer, i interned with the Council on american and islamic Relations, new york (CaiR-ny). There, i learned that anti-Muslim prejudices have manifested themselves in abuse. This intolerable treatment indicates that Muslim-americans must rise against this negativity, because treatment of this community has already sunk as low as possible. Such maltreatment has reached the point that Muslim women can be attacked in our country without their attackers facing responsibility for their crimes. to take a gender-normative perspective that examines incidents cross-culturally and crossmorally, it is one thing for individuals to brutalize the men of the people they despise. There is an utter lack of respect for that people when one brutalizes the women, as well. Consider the mistreatment of african-american women that lasted well into the twentieth century. during the past year alone, an adult male attacked a Muslim mother tending to her child through the window of her locked and secure car.2 in addition, a young woman my age—only twenty years-old— was punched repeatedly on the subway heading to her home institution of City College twice. no one in the crowded subway car made an audible noise. oh, with what torn and bleeding hearts we smile!3 There is a common notion that someone committing a hate crime aimed at a particular religion can only commit that crime on someone who wears—or do i mean bears?—the mark of his or her religion. While pondering this idea, i stumbled upon a niche so specific that somebody or somebody had to cultivate that niche and help it grow. So, i spent my summer making that “somebody” me and that “somebody” CaiR-ny. This particular of area of which i speak is self-defense geared toward Muslim women. it astounded me that, in new york City, a city with hundreds of thousands of Muslim women, i could only find one place that offered self-defense classes catered towards Muslim women, particularly those who are physically identifiable by their dress. Moreover, there was no short course that revealed the basics of self-defense. Even if women could not commit to weekly self-defense classes, i wanted them to possess the fundamental basics indispensable to the knowledge of art of protection. if no one else was 31

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going take care of these women’s “tears and sighs,”4 i was going to CaiR. My methodology was basic. Find a space. pick a time. advertise. pay an instructor. but my methodology was also explicit. i did not want to simply hire any available teacher that charged a fair price and had many years of experience. i wanted the Muslim women attending the seminar not only to know, but to comprehend, that they, too, were capable of executing their instructor’s moves. i wanted them to see themselves in the instructor. i wanted someone who knew the burden of the mask and who could speak to wearing it ironically. i wanted someone that had learned how a smile could mask knowledge and confidence beneath it rather than insecurity. Consequently, i found a Muslim, female, martial arts instructor. no man, no non-Muslim “sister” would do. how could they have convinced the average hijabi5 that she could do anything they could? after a rambunctious introduction, our instructor, Mwalimu taliba—a master in an african art—proceeded to toss, decapitate, and humble her male uke, or demonstration dummy. he screamed in pain as our onlookers, who ranged from hijabis to non-Muslim women to CaiR’s scared male interns, looked on, awestruck. Soon, Master taliba had the attendees doing the techniques for themselves: learning how to escape a grab, how to deflect an attack, and how to manipulate a finger or wrist into a lock. She wasn’t merely opening their minds; she was shocking them. at one point, i beamed when she told the audience quite frankly, that, if all else fails, “you take off your kemar6 and you choke him!” She wanted to convince the women that, in the case of life and modesty, one should take choose life and live to be modest another day. This idea disturbed the thought processes of many of the women in the room. yet this disruption, this call to think beyond what they thought possible, was precisely our goal. There is no lesson in schools or masjids7 that prepares one to cope with the physical dangers of being openly Muslim in the united States. if someone is going to attack a muslimah, a Muslim woman, and onlookers will not breathe a word, then i want to equip women with the ability to speak for themselves and through their fists. islam is certainly a religion of peace: the name itself comes from the arabic word for peace, salaam. it would hurt me deeply if the media or everyday gossip misconstrued the mission of my program as a Muslim way of training a militant women’s army. i have a vision of empowered Muslim women that shatter their masks before others can do it for them, who cannot be victimized because they are neither defenseless nor helpless, whose head-coverings remind people of a ninja, strong and adroit, and not women oppressed. My dream is that one day they will call us ninjabis. We will smile without restraint and rightfully guard our modesty and our persons.

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bibliography “CaiR-ny Seeks hate Crime Charges in attack on Muslim Mother, Child.” pr newswire. n.p., 14 oct. 2011. Web. 26 nov. 2011. <http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cair-ny-seeks-hate-crime-charges-inattack-on-muslim-mother-child-104954099.html>. dunbar, paul Laurence. “We Wear the Mask.” lyrics of lowly life. new york: dodd, Mead, and Company, 1898. 167. Endnotes 1. dunbar, paul Laurence. “We Wear the Mask.” lyrics of lowly life. new york: dodd, Mead, and Company, 1898. 167. 2. CaiR-ny Seeks hate Crime Charges in attack on Muslim Mother, Child.” pr newswire, 14 october 2011, 26 november 2011 < http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cair-ny-seeks-hate-crime-chargesin-attack-on-muslim-mother-child-104954099.html>. 3. ibid. 4. ibid. 5. i use the term hijabi not to indicate a Muslim woman who covers her hair, but as a term that represents any Muslim woman striving toward the islamic concept of modesty. 6. kemar is an arabic word for “head-covering.” 7. a masjid is the arabic word for an islamic place of worship. The commonly-used word “mosque” is derived from French. i prefer not to use that word here because of France’s precarious relationship with and attitude towards its Muslim citizens.

photo courtesy of Khadijah Safari
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Three Themes in the Feminine personification of Wisdom in the book of proverbs
daniel margulies

Sanctum — fall 2011
one of the main depictions of Wisdom in proverbs portrays her standing in opposition to Folly, the strange woman. The proverbist explains to the reader the value in seeking out Wisdom over Folly: “Whoso loveth wisdom rejoiceth his father; / but he that keepeth company with harlots wasteth his substance” (prov. 29:3). Contrasted with harlots, Wisdom is born through personification. Since Robert Lowth proposed the method in 1754, scholars have generally accepted that biblical couplets should be studied through an analysis of parallelism.4 Thus, we are compelled by the text to read Wisdom as a woman who, unlike the harlots whose company encourages wasting ancestral wealth, brings instead gladness to a father. are individuals meant to read these harlots as mere women that waste their money or is there a deeper point being made? Through personification, Wisdom is created as a character. Similarly, through inversion, we are introduced to a character that appears through the book of proverbs as Wisdom’s rival. Though serving as a counterpoint to Wisdom, Folly is as a woman, but one that is ignorant: “The woman Folly is riotous; / she is thoughtless and knoweth nothing” (ibid. 9:13). because she lacks knowledge and wisdom, Folly acts as a destructive force, just as above, where the harlots are a source of waste. Wisdom’s virtue is highlighted in contrast to Folly as being a positive influence on relationships. in personifying Wisdom, the proverbist not also develops her character independently. Wisdom is depicted as the loving companion or wife, as in proverbs 4:5–7: Get wisdom, get understanding; forget not, neither decline from the words of my mouth; Forsake her not, and she will preserve thee; love her, and she will keep thee. The beginning of wisdom is: Get wisdom; yea, with all thy getting get understanding. here, Wisdom is not as a path to be chosen over Folly, but rather a goal to be pursued in her own right. Wisdom is to be acquired, to be married and loved.5 The relationship is reciprocal—through not forsaking her, one merits preservation; through loving her, one merits her virtues. The choice of Wisdom over Folly, is a weighing of alternatives, a pro-con debate in which the relative virtues of each must be compared. here, there is no alternative: one is called upon to love Wisdom and pursue her not out of knowledge of positive outcomes, but out of a sense of reciprocal commitment. one should view his or her acquired wisdom not as techne,6 but as sophia.7 The reader is called upon to pursue Wisdom for her Wisdom’s own sake: “The beginning of wisdom is [to] get wisdom” (ibid.). Just as one does not fall in love according to any process outside of love itself, there is also no process to acquire wisdom separate from wisdom itself.8 35

photo courtesy of pete unseth via Wikimedia Commons
“if you lack knowledge, what have you acquired; if you aquire knowledge, what do you lack?” —numbers rabbah 19:3 The book of proverbs,1 a collection of instructions and warnings for how to live the good life, is the crown jewel of old testament wisdom literature. The message of the book can be summarized in a single idea: pursue Wisdom over Folly in all aspects of life. The poetic techniques employed to describe wisdom often utilize personification, depicting Wisdom2 as if she were a woman3 engaged in a variety of behaviors, ranging from homemaking to chastisement and love, to competition with her rival Folly. one is meant to model one’s own quest for wisdom on these metaphoric representations. This essay will focus on Wisdom’s roles as homemaker, loving companion, and rival to Folly. 34

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This idealized relationship between Wisdom and the reader is tempered by references to the contrast between Wisdom and Folly. Wisdom and Folly seem to be two suitors courting the love of a single person. in these contexts, the relationship with Wisdom protects one from engaging in a detrimental relationship with Folly, as in proverbs 7:4–5: Say unto wisdom: “Thou art my sister,” and call understanding thy kinswoman; That they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the alien woman that maketh smooth her words. although seemingly not about romantic love, the injunction to call Wisdom one’s “sister” is just that. in the hebrew bible, “sister” is used to connote romantic relationships, as in Song of Songs 4:9:, which states, “Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my bride …” Through maintaining a true romantic, loving relationship with Wisdom, one can stave off the “strange woman” that is Folly. Conceptually, this unifies the above two approaches, that of Wisdom versus Folly and Wisdom as a loving companion. one is engaged in a choice between Wisdom and Folly. Either the choice is informed only by rational evaluation of outcomes or the choice is motivated by the deeper emotional state that has already been cultivated. The proverb indicates that the second set of circumstances provide one with allies against Folly, while, in the first set of circumstances, the two choices lie before him equally. The reader is advised to develop his or her relationship with Wisdom early to protect him in the future. Thus, the romantic ideal of Chapter 4 is tempered in later life by the harsher realities of Chapter 7. Within this framework, it is fitting to examine Wisdom more closely. She has been portrayed as the counterpoint to Folly and praised as an object of love and pursuit. but the fundamental essence of what she truly is has remained subliminal. only through one’s relationship to Wisdom does one know her. The book of proverbs does provide the reader with two key passages to achieving this understanding, which are themselves among the most well-known passages in the book. The discussion of the “seven pillars” of Wisdom (proverbs 9:1–5) and the description of the “woman of valor” (ibid. 31:10) describe Wisdom as a homemaker par excellence. The relationship one has with Wisdom has been compared to marriage and to courtship. Chapter 9 of proverbs begins with a description of Wisdom preparing for a feast: Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars; She hath prepared her meat, she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens, she calleth, 36

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upon the highest places of the city: “Whoso is thoughtless, let him turn in hither”; as for him that lacketh understanding, she saith to him: “Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which i have mingled.” (proverbs 9:1–5) Wisdom begins her preparations long before most people would by building the house itself. This reference is seen in context as a means unto the final ends of hosting the feast. Wisdom proceeds in a logical, linear fashion in assembling first the location, then the supplies, and finally the guests. her guests are those that lack understanding; they are those that are currently unfamiliar to her. The feast serves to illustrate the good in life that comes to the one that pursues Wisdom. it illustrates how Wisdom actually seeks adherents. here, the impetus is not on the reader to choose Wisdom over Folly (as in prov. 9:13) and it is not incumbent upon the individuals to maintain a mutual relationship. here, rather, the action is entirely due to Wisdom. Fitting this episode into the chronology of the relationship, we see the expected increase in commitment over time. at first, Wisdom draws one in through the promise of good, which is the feast. The relationship then develops into mutual symbiosis. When the time comes for one to choose Wisdom over Folly, one’s mind will already be made up based on the whole of one’s past relationship. Throughout the book of proverbs, the personification of Wisdom and the development of her character have recurred. This personification reaches its height in the final poem of the book called “a Woman of Valor.” although the alphabetic acrostic does not seem to describe Wisdom, it discusses rather a human wife and homemaker, who is Wisdom herself. although a literal reading of the text denies that it refers to Wisdom, the metaphorical nature of the entire book, as well as the prevalence of female Wisdom metaphors, incline us to view the poem in this light; Rabbi Levi ben Gershon echoes this opinion (Gersonides, France, 1288-1344): behold, he concluded his book by describing the object that serves the intellect in full service … and he described it in the feminine according to his practice and called her a woman of valor … (Commentary to proverbs, 31:10, s.v. “a Woman of Valor”). according to Gersonides, the concluding poem of the entire book serves as a continuation and culmination of the themes that have been developed throughout, namely that Wisdom is a virtuous woman worthy of love and dedication. to understand the significance of this personification of Wisdom, it is crucial to read the final poem carefully. Wisdom is represented as the do-it-all housewife, who is precisely organized in her care for her 37

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family and the surrounding community. a woman of valour who can find? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, and he hath no lack of gain. She doeth him good and not evil all the days of her life. … “Many daughters have done valiantly, but thou excellest them all.” Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the LoRd, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates (prov. 31:10–31). The acquisition of Wisdom will do “good and not evil.” it will bring “food from afar” (prov. 31:12, ibid. 14). Wisdom is the tireless provider, and the comfort of home. Wisdom is not only warmth in winter but also the robes of the finest scarlet. all one’s life’s works are compared to many daughters, whose contributions are surely worthwhile. Wisdom is the crown jewel, however: her value exceeds all imagination, excels above all expectations, and raises her “husband” to the highest stature “among the elders of the land.” Wisdom is that quality that improves all else in a person’s life: it lends efficiency, purpose, success, and recognition to all a person’s pursuits. There could be no greater conclusion to the book of proverbs than such a poem, which extols Wisdom—the greatest virtue. The book of proverbs encourages one to evaluate Wisdom through the lens of building a loving relationship and culminating in an illustration of the pinnacle of that relationship. This leads to the success and holistic gains to be had through years of dedication Endnotes 1. all biblical quotations are taken from the Jewish publication Society’s 1917 English translation of the hebrew bible (public domain) from www.mechon-mamre.org. 2. “Wisdom” will be used as the proper name of the personified form and “wisdom” for the abstract concept. 3. in the hebrew language, the word for wisdom is of feminine gender. it is not the purpose of this essay to speculate as to whether the choice of feminine personification is consequential to the linguistic gender 38

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of the word or fundamental to the very concept of wisdom in biblical Jewish thought. 4. Robert Lowth, lectures on the Sacred poetry of the hebrews, trans. George Gregory, new york: Codman press, 1829. 5. in the talmudic legal tradition (e.g. babylonian talmud Kiddushin 2a) based on the torah (deut. 24:1), the verb root Q-n-h translated here as “get” is used to describe the fundamental process of Jewish marriage. Surely to later readers, if not to the authors themselves, this choice of verb was pregnant with connotations of male/female romantic and contractual relationships 6. Greek: techne—craft or skill, used to connote knowledge applied to practical ends, as in “technology.” 7. Greek: sophia—wisdom, used to connote pure knowledge of a transcendent nature, as in “philosophy.” 8. Cf. “Give to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser; / teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (proverbs 9:9).

Robert Lewis Reid’s mural of Wisdom
photo courtesy of Carol highsmith via Wikimedia Commons
39

tales of a Former gabbanit: Women and Leadership in orthodox Judaism
leah greenstein

Sanctum — fall 2011
collaborate with the male gabbais, when to compromise with them, and when to stand my ground. My primary role, however, was to engage with a constituency that previously felt it had no representation. Women in orthodox Judaism are more educated than ever before, but many still lag behind their male contemporaries in Jewish knowledge and communal experience. So, when several orthodox female students approached me after morning prayers to shyly ask why willow branches were necessary for the upcoming Sukkoth holiday, i was not surprised. if anything, i was encouraged. When another student requested that i arrange an additional session for the prehigh holidays annulment of vows, i was more than happy to oblige. These women felt comfortable seeking help from me, and, as a result, they were able to participate more fully in religious observance. Columbia’s undergraduate religious community should be a place in which every person and his or her questions, doubts, triumphs, and personal goals are welcome. being gabbanit afforded me the rare opportunity to create this safe space and partake in my classmates’ spiritual lives, an enriching experience that simultaneously broadened my understanding of others and myself. The community served as a personal synthesis between two ostensibly contradicting values: feminism and orthodox Judaism. because the high holidays and subsequent festival season take place in the autumn, it means that the fall semester is a particularly busy time for a student gabbai. as early as last summer, my cogabbais and i began thinking seriously about how we could make the holiday services more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone involved. The holiday of Simchat torah is marked with joyous prayers, singing, and dancing. Those present also call a man who has proven his devotion to the community to read a portion of the torah; he is dubbed the chattan torah, or groom of the torah. This honor often goes to a graduating male senior. but what about the women who also deserve recognition, who have tirelessly worked to serve their community to create a warmer environment and to promote orthodox Jewish life on campus? This dilemma reminded me of a question asked in the book of Esther: “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor?” (Esther 6:6). The book of Esther records a question that the human king, Xerxes i, poses to his evil adviser, haman. in the implicit parable, the human king represents God, who may choose to honor the periphery and overthrow the mighty. This thought— and, in a larger sense, its source canon—determined a plan that we gabbais hoped would impact the community positively. We decided to create a voice for the female orthodox community to fit this need. This conclusion may seem obvious—of course, women deserve recognition just as men do!— but, without a female spokesperson these issues are often not raised in orthodox communities. to further complicate our position, we had to navigate the murky waters of halakha, which requires some understanding of the intricacies of rabbinical thought, as well as sensitivity to the traditional lifestyle 41

photo courtesy of Leah Greenstein
gabbanit is not a real hebrew word. The traditional word gabbai indicates male organizers of synagogue services and religious life. in the middle of my freshman year, i worked with the outgoing senior gabbais, all of whom were males, to create the position of gabbanit—a female gabbai—for the orthodox Jewish community of the Columbia-barnard hillel. in doing so, i sought to designate a representative female counterpart to a role associated with men. in a community of about 50-100 men and 200-300 women, it seemed only reasonable that a woman have some say in religious life and activities. at the time, i don’t think any of us realized the impact that decision would have. Since early childhood, i have questioned the implicit tension in living as a modern, religious woman. as a woman operating under orthodox halakha, or Jewish law, i sit with other members of my gender behind a mechitza, or partition, during communal prayers. i do not read from the torah, comprised of the Five books of Moses, in the prayer quorum, let alone call men up to read the torah like male gabbais do. Thus arises the inevitable question: what exactly does a gabbanit do? during my time as gabbanit at hillel, i spent hours dealing with logistics—posting prayer times on a website, setting up chairs, and counting the charity collected during services. i learned when to 40

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to which our constituents adhere. balancing the concerns of our forward-thinking constituents with those of our traditional-minded followers requires patience and humility in recognizing two legitimate positions. as we struggled to propel the community forward, my fellow gabbais and i were cognizant of the fact that our every move had social, cultural, and religious implications for our peers. When my term as gabbanit ended, i was overjoyed to see my successor gracefully take on her position, and, in turn, be immediately accepted by the community. Since then, she has tackled communal issues with incredible strength and brought the voices of the women in our community to a broader forum. i thrive on the hope that, in ten years, our successors won’t think twice about some of our most laborious decisions. The warmth and equality infused in the community will be second nature. The word gabbanit will be part of the vernacular.

Conversations With a Sardar
mark hay
i talked to the sardar for over an hour before the conversation turned to sex. actually, i don’t know if he was a sardar in the proper punjabi sense—the patriarchal descendant of a landowning feudalaristocratic family, the marshal and chief of an extravagantly extended clan—but he looked the part, so i called him a sardar nonetheless. Sardar or not, the fact that i was speaking to him was odd enough. Since that term carries religious undertones in the part of the world through which we were moving, it seemed even stranger that i should be speaking to him. a wrinkled man with a bushy white beard—sans mustache in accordance with the hadith, islamic guidance for life and law—a white prayer cap, and an immaculately matching robe, he spoke with me about sex, his fingers constantly working through a string of prayer beads. beyond that, why were we talking about what sex and rape entail within a Muslim marriage?             We met in Faisalabad, pakistan, when he climbed onto the Karakoram Express train going south. i was on my way back from Lahore, the cultural capital of pakistan. My destination was Karachi, the largest city and financial hub of the country, which, at the time, was also a hotspot for violence. in contrast, the sardar sought out family in hyderabad, india. They were to celebrate the Eid festival at the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in the islamic calendar. origin and destination voiced an obvious rift between us. Though i can pass for a Kashmiri or pashtun from the north, wearing my jeans and speaking broken urdu made it clear i was a Westerner and an urbanite, while he clearly identified as a Muslim of the old, rural cut.             it’s hard to predict how the confluence of two backgrounds so far apart will unfold. as an american man traveling alone by rail in a summer of violence in pakistan, it was all the more prudent to avoid undue attention. i intended to climb aboard the train, find my compartment, and read my way down to the southern district of Sindh, sleeping my way into Karachi. but three vital forces conspired to bring me into one of the most frank and illuminating discussions i’ve ever had.             one: pakistani rail is miserable. The Karakoram Express is, like any functional pakistani mode of transportation, operated by a foreign company, and, by that token, has a reputation for being the most punctual train on the tracks. That still translates to upwards of six hours in delays, and the trip from Lahore to Karachi already takes over twenty hours without interruptions. in an extended point of liminal travel, revelatory conversation is rarely lacking.             two: aside from the sardar and i, two other passengers occupied our cabin—a young Lahori businessman and his newlywed bride. For any that wonder if honest passion can come out of an arranged marriage, these two proved it is possible. Knowing they were in the presence of a kindly sardar with no power over them and a foreigner, they seemed quite ready to explore a level of public affection i had never encountered in a Muslim nation. and it was not negligible in noise or in motion. 43

View from the partition, or mechitza, dividing men and women’s sections in a synagogue

photo courtesy of douglas W. Jones via Wikimedia Commons
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            Three: The sardar would not stop staring at me. not a hard stare, not an interrogation, but a warm, curious scrutiny that could still unnerve.             There’s only so much scrub brush one can look at and only so much one can read with a constant slurp in the background, so i threw a traveler’s caution to the wind, trusted my gut, and turned to have a conversation with the sardar. Given my obvious accent and the moving blanket across the compartment, the sardar casually slipped in a criticism of the perceived libertine sexuality of americans—there’s a particularly odd story spreading throughout parts of pakistan that incest is rampant in america. i retorted with my usual line: first, this claim was not true. Second, these things may be apparent in the West, but i am sure similar actions, like rape, happen behind closed doors here. i think we can agree that crime is everywhere, whether or not we are part of a Muslim culture.             he disagreed. i was expecting that. i’d heard it often enough: islam brings absolute sexual purity and these invisible crimes do not exist. but, feeling somewhat free, i pushed him.             “What about marital rape?” i asked.             he looked at me, clueless, and asked me to explain. So i asked him what would happen if a husband forced sexual relations on his wife. he denied such a thing could ever happen. i called him on it. We threw it back and forth at each other.             and, suddenly, it hit me. he was not denying that such a thing could ever happen because of Muslim men’s pure spirits. he was denying the idea that a man can force himself on his wife.             islam is described as a sex-positive religion. The idea therein explains that one should use the parts God gave him or her and use them liberally within the confines of marriage. in this conception of islam—which is not a niche or bizarre one— marriage is the license for sex and blanket consent. When a woman marries, she has agreed in this tradition of islam to serve the sexual whims of her husband, because if his God-given parts want to fornicate, then what, after all, is a wife for?             i asked the sardar about this theory and he confirmed it. i asked him what would happen if a wife refused to have sex with her husband: he said that would not be a marriage at all. once the language of force enters back into the relationship, once the woman implies she has not given her consent to sex, the marriage can be dissolved the man’s will. The wife gave up her right to the term “force” in her vows. to reclaim it—and reclaim sole authority over her body—is to reject the vows and the marriage.             Rape does not disappear in a Muslim marriage. once confined in that structure, though, the language for it vanishes because, as the legal state of marriage is constructed, the wife has no right to utter the word “rape” even if rape occurs, as she consented to sex at the man’s whims. to reclaim the language is to end the marriage contract.             after the sardar clarified this, i nodded my head with some new and unfortunate understanding. i looked across at the writhing blanket that inspired this conversation and wondered if this newlywed girl knew what the sardar and so many in her community expect of her. and i prayed she never would. 44

The princess and the pea: Jewish Stereotypes in Late twentieth-Century Sitcoms
carly Silver

Fran drescher, star of The nanny

photo courtesy of Manfred Werner via Wikimedia Commons
network television shows have long played upon various Jewish stereotypes. Several of these conventions were alive and well in prominent 1990s television situation comedies, or “sitcoms,” such as will and grace and The nanny. both shows frequently invoked stereotypes about Jewish women in relation to their culture and religion. The characters that were involved rarely accessed their Jewish heritage outside of the conventional manner—unless it was a gag about hogging the bagels, one might never know they were Jewish. by imbuing their characters with these negative qualities so often associated with Jews, the shows’ writers reinforced these stereotypes in the minds of future generations. The nanny and will and grace characterize their female leads as “Jewish-american princesses,” a negative stereotype that still lingers in the american consciousness. The “J.a.p.” is 45

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“pampered, demanding, loud, and tasteless” (Woodbury 2003:126). according to folklorist alan dundles, the “J.a.p.” is spoiled: she is “excessively concerned with appearance,” loves to eat, but never cooks, and is interested in “money, shopping, and status” (dundles 1985:461). both will and grace and The nanny also portrayed their female leads’ mothers as “J.a.M”s, or “Jewish-american mothers.” Like their daughters, “J.a.M.”s are often attention-hogging women that are hypercritical of their children and put on a self-martyring façade (dundles 1985:457; antler 259). While these characters often represented exaggerated versions of Jewish stereotypes for comedic effect, their constant reiteration on television served to further ingrain such negative conventions into the american consciousness. nbC’s will and grace chronicled the decades-old friendship of Will truman, a gay attorney, and Grace adler, a straight, Jewish interior designer, in Manhattan. Grace rarely ever engages with her Jewish identity except to fulfill stereotypes. The only times she really views herself as “Jewish” are when she herself invokes Jewish conventions. Rarely does Grace have a deep thought over a Jewish principle or even consider her tradition deeply. This character is “carelessly Jewish,” one that never interacts with Judaism except to fulfill conventions set out by society. Grace’s hanukkah is shopping with her overbearing mother, which she dreads: more precisely, she demonstrates her ignorance of tradition by saying, “The holidays are all about ... misery and ... obligation ... and the Maccabees riding an elephant, or whatever the hell hanukkah is about.” of all the “J.a.p.” characteristics, Grace most often demonstrates a food obsession. in numerous episodes, Grace violates principles of common decency in her quest for food. in “one Gay at a time,” Grace follows a traveling box of doughnuts down new york City streets like a bloodhound after a scent. it turns out the woman carrying the treats is bringing them to a meeting of alcoholics anonymous. When Grace finds that out that the doughnuts are for aa, she shrugs it off, muttering to herself, “Well, they got bigger problems than me stealing a couple of doughnuts.” after stocking up on snacks, Grace is about to leave, but, then, a woman enters with “hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows.” as a result, a hungry Grace decides to stick around. because she wants free food, she professes that she is an alcoholic and needs the sort of serious help that alcoholics anonymous can provide. Grace continues to exploit the association for most of the episode, even spouting aa mantras to her assistant, Karen. She culminates her hypocrisy by telling Karen, “Free therapy and free food? i mean, for Jews, it’s like hitting the lottery.” here, Grace typifies the Jewish stereotypes of food obsession and frugality by exploiting aa. This episode of will and grace presents a multi-sided ethical dilemma. Firstly, a character not in need of aid violates the sanctity of an organization devoted to helping those with a serious 46

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illness. next, she transgresses one of the most fundamental rules of that organization—namely, that its members all suffer from a disease and are trying to help one another overcome it. aa literature even states that “closed meetings,” like the one that Grace barges into, “are for alcoholics only.” Finally, Grace does so relatively unrepentantly and does not hesitate to exploit her new found source of snacks. This sneaky move is accomplished through deception, which Judaism itself discourages (Eisenberg 107). Grace is so single-mindedly focused on getting her food that she tramples over others that are actually in need of help and are trying to find it. her quest for doughnuts is such an exploitation of a Jewish stereotype—one who is willing to get food at all costs—that it devalues the character of Grace. by associating their female lead with predominantly negative Jewish qualities, the writers of will and grace give tacit approval to such behavior and reinforce in the mind of the public the idea that these actions are characteristic of Jews. The writers of will and grace practically made a living on exploiting Jewish stereotypes. Grace frequently pines after the ideal male, a Jewish doctor. Eventually, she marries one, Leo Markus, who, just after Karen decries the stereotype that “certain religious groups are cheap,” exclaims over a penny he found on the floor. Grace further fulfills “J.a.p.” conventions: she revels in how much her intern adores her, constantly consumes Will’s food and never cooks, and loves to shop at big-name stores like barney’s. Grace does devote much time to her friends—hence the series name—but, as an individual, she is a prime definition of the “J.a.p.” by constantly associating main characters, and supposed heroines, with these Jewish stereotypes, will and grace reinforced them into the american imagination and the minds of viewers. will and grace also propagates the stereotypes of the “Jewish-american mother.” as Joyce antler notes in you never call! you never write!: a history of the Jewish mother, Grace’s mother, bobbi adler, “fits snugly into the pushy, interfering, overcritical Jewish mother caricature” (antler 184). She often meddles in her daughter’s love life, trying to set Grace up on dates. bobbi casts aspersions on Grace’s wardrobe, love life, and career paths: at one point, she even says, “honey, just tell me what you want me to criticize, and i’ll do it.” a true “J.a.M.,” bobbi always needs to be the center of attention and constantly criticizes her daughter. She enters rooms belting out in song and complains about Grace’s every action. When Grace marries James, a gay, african-american man, to get him his green card, bobbi asks exasperatedly, “Wouldn’t have it been easier to just run me over?” This portrayal of a Jewish mother as high-maintenance, overbearing, and hyper-critical is playing to a stereotype. by using such a depiction in one of its comedic characters, will and grace chooses not to eliminate a stereotype but to utilize 47

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this “stock character” for comedic purposes. in this way, it does not work to move beyond these simple conceptions but just to further them and ingrain them in the minds of the american public. The nanny also invoked similar stereotypes about Jewish women. The show chronicled the misadventures of Fran Fine (played by the nasal and talented Fran drescher), a blue-collar Jewish woman working as an au pair for an upper-class british broadway producer, Maxwell Sheffield. as Fran Fine, drescher provided a foil for her uptight boss: she talked noisily, she dressed provocatively, she loved food, and she had an overbearing mother. Like Grace, Fran demonstrates a lack of interaction with her heritage beyond fulfilling stereotypes about Jewish women. For many, she is the quintessential example of a “Jewish-american princess” (pearl and pearl 88-89). With her outrageous voice, the character of Fran is shown “within the limited range of stereotypes” that constitute the image of the “J.a.p.” (Gamson 2003:574). She is always searching for a man to complete her, whether she is flirting with her boss, Mr. Sheffield, or trying to snag a man, even offering to “help out” Mr. Sheffield by personally delivering a package to John F. Kennedy, Jr. Like Grace, Fran encapsulates the “J.a.p.” desire to get married to a “nice Jewish man” by exclaiming, “i don’t want to be happy. i want to be married.” Fran flaunts her figure in tight, tacky clothing and loves shopping. as scholars have noted, the “J.a.p.” is obsessed with shopping (prell 188).Whether she’s clad head to toe in fake leopard print or wearing a bright jumpsuit, Fran uses her clothes as an outward manifestation of her brash personality. The type of clothes she wears allows her to use her body to her advantage. often, she sits on Mr. Sheffield’s desk seductively in order to get him to do what she wants. her “vulgar” fashion sense and subsequent manipulation form two characteristics of the “J.a.p.” (beck 23; Ferrari 54). notably, Fran is also a shopaholic. She drags her youngest charge, Gracie, to a sale at the department store Loehmann’s and teaches the girl to manipulate other shoppers out of clothes she wants. in one episode, Fran develops a shopping addiction after hearing that her ex-fiancé has had a baby. The fact that her ex-fiancé is married with children, while she is still single, exacerbates an already prominent obsession with clothes. Like will and grace, The nanny provided “J.a.p.” Fran with a stereotypically “Jewishamerican mother,” Sylvia Fine. a true “J.a.M.,” Sylvia “nags her offspring to death, particularly about landing a man” and “is always obsessing over food” (antler 66). She frequents the kitchen at Mr. Sheffield’s home to coax free food out of niles, the butler, and can often be found in the house’s kitchen, scarfing down treats. Sylvia’s food obsession was one of the series’ running gags. in one memorable scene, after boasting of how she kept to her diet and “barely touched the cake” on the table, Sylvia proceeds to take the dessert “out of sight, out of mind” by running out the door with it. 48

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Sylvia keeps attention on herself by dressing in outrageous outfits that rival those of her daughter. She is “invariably dressed in glitz, miniskirts, and open blouses that a woman of her age and shape would best avoid” (antler 66). With peroxide blond hair, which is poufed like a cloud of cotton candy, Sylvia is often clad in tight suits or blouses that do her mature figure no justice. Many of her outfits also come in metallic and neon-bright colors, some of which bare an inappropriate amount of skin for a woman her age. These efforts flatter her self-indulgent persona and draw attention to her, not always in good ways. by associating Sylvia, a principal character in the series, with the stereotypical qualities of a “Jewish-american mother,” The nanny reinforces the stereotype that Jewish mothers in general are this way. at times, Sylvia even manages to combine her unhealthy love of food, criticism of her daughter, and desire to hog the spotlight. When Fran comes home, crying over a fight in one of her relationships, Sylvia bursts into tears herself, shrieking, “don’t say that!” This drama queen decides to make the occasion all about herself, claiming to experiencing heart palpitations, and makes her upset daughter do her bidding. “Quick! Get me my medicine!” Sylvia shouts. Fran runs to the refrigerator and pulls out a bottle of chocolate syrup—just the cure for a foodaholic mother. after magically “curing” herself of her hysterics, Sylvia gets right back to task with the behavior most suitable for a “J.a.M.”: criticizing her daughter. She encourages Fran to “get back together” with her estranged partner, crying, “For God’s sake! you’re a single maid!” by portraying Sylvia in this exaggerated manner, The nanny insinuates Jewish mothers are always hyper-critical and selfish. Sylvia prefers to mock Fran’s profession as a nanny and her marital status over doing almost anything else. in the process, Sylvia also manages to make her daughter feel guilty about being a single woman in her mid-30s without a husband or children. perhaps this is where Fran’s “J.a.p.”-like obsession with getting married originates. in fact, Sylvia thinks Fran is speaking about her on-again, off-again relationship with her boss, Mr. Sheffield. When she discovers Fran is just talking about her relationship with her best friend Val—and not a potential husband—she asks indignantly, “i am missing jalapeno nachos for that moron?” While this retort might be funny, Sylvia’s unwillingness to hear Fran out about every relationship in her life, unless it is about a man, is rather selfish. While will and grace tends to neglect the morals behind Judaism, The nanny occasionally acknowledges them. The Jewish emphasis on family closeness pops up in the latter, rather than the former. despite Sylvia’s haranguing, Fran is actually very close to her mother, as well as her grandmother, yetta. She relies on her mother for emotional support and often spends quality time with her at the Sheffield home. in contrast, Grace is perennially estranged from bobbi, dreading her occasional visits and even attempting to pawn off her hanukkah shopping trip with her mother on 49

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her friend, Jack. Moreover, Grace never seems to interact with her religion, barely celebrating the occasional holiday. her main connection to Judaism seems to be interacting with Jewish and “J.a.p.” stereotypes: she hoards free goods like doughnuts, chows down on food, and indulges in expensive clothing. While most of Fran’s interactions with Judaism occur in the same vein as Grace, she occasionally does interact with her Jewish tradition. in the episode “The tattoo,” Fran reveals to Sylvia that she once got a tattoo. Though Sylvia first steals the spotlight by shouting, “i’m going to kill myself,” and sticking her head in the oven, she later has a serious reaction. She says, “you know, this time, you haven’t just defied your mother. you’ve defied God. if you have a tattoo, you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery and, unless you have it removed, consider yourself disowned!” The episode revolves around the conflict between mother and daughter over a religious principle. indeed, it seems to be the “only time in the entire series that Fran’s mother took a strong stand” on Fran’s behavior, especially in relation to Judaism (Gertel 149). While Sylvia can tolerate Fran’s skimpy clothes and eating habits, Fran’s violation of this particular Jewish principle is so hurtful that Sylvia distances herself from her daughter. on another occasion, Fran makes an effort to celebrate hanukkah with Mr. Sheffield, now her husband, and her three step-children. The religiosity in that episode, however, is overpowered by the main conflict when Mr. Sheffield’s car gets lost in a snowstorm. other than these two incidents, though, such a deep discussion on Jewish issues is something unfortunately lacking in the rest of the series. For the lead females and their mothers in The nanny and will and grace, Judaism becomes less than an ethnicity or a religion. indeed, it becomes a cultural system for individuals to exploit to justify bad behavior, like stealing free food. by portraying Grace and Fran as “J.a.p.”s and their mothers as “J.a.M”s, both sitcoms give tacit approval to the idea that these depictions of Jewish women are correct. if such shows ever become the cultural model for american’s perceptions of Jewish women, the future of Jewish womanhood might be in grave danger. bibliography “…and the horse he Rode in on.” will and grace. nbC. 26 September 2002. television. “a.a. at a Glance.” alcoholics anonymous. online. “a-Story, bee Story.” will and grace. nbC. 30 october 2003. television. antler, Joyce. “not too ‘Jewish’ for prime time.” television’s changing image of american Jews. Ed. neal Gabler, Frank Rich, and Joyce antler. new york: american Jewish Committee, 2000. online. 50

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antler, Joyce. you never call! you never write!: a history of the Jewish mother. new york: oxford university press, 2007. online. beck, Evelyn torton. “Therapy’s double dilemma: anti-Semitism and Misogyny.” Jewish women in Therapy: Seen but not heard. Ed. Rachel Josefowitz Siegel and Ellen Cole. new york: harrington park press, 1991. online. “The bird’s nest.” The nanny. CbS. 25 September 1996. television. “The definition of Marriage.” will and grace. nbC. 9 February 2006. television. dundes, alan. “The J.a.p. and the J.a.M. in american Jokelore.” The Journal of american folklore 98.390 (1985): 456-475. JStor. online. 10 october 2011. Eisenberg, Ronald L. what the rabbis Said: 250 topics from the talmud. Santa barbara, Ca: abCCLio, 2010. online. “Fanilow.” will and grace. nbC. 11 december 2003. television. Ferrari, Chiara Francesca. Since when is fran drescher Jewish?: dubbing Stereotypes in The nanny, The Simpsons, and The Sopranos. austin, tX: university of texas press, 2010. online. “From Flushing with Love.” The nanny. CbS. 17 december 1997. television. Gairola, Rahul. “Watching with ambivalence.” popmatters. online. 10 october 2011. Gamson, Joshua. “Sitting ducks and Forbidden Fruits.” gender, race, and class in media: a text-reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Gail dines and Jean M. humez. Thousand oaks, Ca: Sage publications, 2003. 553-574. online. Gertel, Elliot. over the top Judaism: precedents and trends in the depiction of Jewish Beliefs and observances in film and television. Lanham, Md: university press of america, 2003. online. “Green Card.” The nanny. CbS. 6 May 1996. television. “The hanukkah Story.” The nanny. CbS. 16 december 1998. television. “Mommy and Mai.” The nanny. CbS. 12 november 1997. television. “one Gay at a time.” will and grace. nbC. 30 September 2004. television. pearl, Jonathan, and Judith pearl. The chosen image: television’s portrayal of Jewish Themes and characters. Jefferson, nC: McFarland, 1999. online. prell, Riv-Ellen. fighting to Become americans. boston: beacon press, 1999. online. “Ship of Fran’s.” The nanny. CbS. 13 May 1996. television. “Shopaholic.” The nanny. CbS. 16 october 1995. television. “Swish out of Water.” will and grace. nbC. 24 november 2005. television. 51

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“The tattoo.” The nanny. CbS. 20 november 1996. television. “The unsinkable Mommy adler.” will and grace. nbC. 9 February 1999. television. “Where’s the pearls?” The nanny. CbS. 26 February 1996. television. Woodbury, Marsha. “Jewish images That injure.” images That injure: pictorial Stereotypes in the media. 2nd ed. Ed. paul Martin Lester and Susan dente Ross. Westport, Ct: praeger, 2003. 121-129. online.

to build and not to break
Joshua fattal

photo courtesy of Sean Gallagher copyright the Criterion
i have come to fear religion. it has lost the world’s favor, and, to a degree, the world’s respect. now, something else, something radically different, is globally venerated—in our contemporary world, the greatest respect is reserved for universalism. This new priority demands a particular style of life with which religions seem to conflict. all our thoughts, politics, and memories must become increasingly global; our vision must reach beyond the borders around us that are no longer capable of enclosing us. There is a societal urge to root out all differences; what can’t be eliminated must be limited. one truth, any truth, is no longer totalistic—the post-modern has, in this sense, built on early twentieth-century pragmatism. Every coin has two very relevant sides–-both the one we already know and the one we must be ready and willing to meet. We are taught to believe that each opinion has its validity. Each thought has its strengths and weaknesses. Each faith has its truisms. if my truths fail to coexist with those of others, they lose their credence. My god must coexist with yours. There is a global feeling in the air, a cosmopolitan wind that has blown away the potency of religious conviction. Religion now reeks of the 53

photo courtesy of david Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons
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past. We are left fearing that it tends to hinder the present. Religion, like every other dogma, belief, and idea, has been drawn into this new universalist world. The whole concept of the medieval religious battle, in words and in armor has, rightfully, lost its mainstream and intellectual appeal. The Enlightenment began this process; the contemporary world has expedited it. now, religious interactions have taken on a wholly new dimension, most patently illustrated by the exponential rise in interfaith groups around the globe. These groups bear fitting names like the united Religions initiative, the north atlantic interfaith network, and the Messiah Foundation international. Countless others have popped up in the last two decades. interfaith is slowly replacing faith, which must blush in response because it isn’t as modern and universal as its interfaith cousin. This, however, can’t be what religion is all about. after all, religion is all about itself—it is the theological claim of the receipt of objective truth. and so the value attributed to interfaith understanding, and the value given to faith that goes above particularism, is hard to understand. The validation of other belief systems is equally confusing: since when can one religion validate another? What happened to the appeal of purist, absolute religious belief? has the contemporary world truly “updated” religion? before we can grapple with the world’s growing discomfort with the “purity” of religious beliefs, we must first understand what those purities concern. to better isolate the breadth of this exploration, our discussion will be limited to the religious doctrines of the abrahamic faiths, as these three faiths have many congruencies between them, making them easier to compare and contrast. Much of the discussion, though, has broader significance. discussing the similarities in various religious beliefs, the English theologian John polkinghorne writes, “all the world faith traditions are all testifying to a realm of human experience that can be characterized as encounter with sacred reality.”1 The religious individual believes that, at a certain place and a certain time, the true nature of reality was revealed to the progenitors of their faith. From that point on, it has been the function of that faith to live in accordance with the understanding of this revealed reality. This reality, of course, is sacred; it is unchangeable and rises above human intervention and intellectualism. it cannot simply be experienced: it is encountered. The religious individual’s encounter with this sacred reality is what elevates faith from simple practice or conviction— it is a live encounter and dialogue with the divine. “There is no longer any tension between the world and God, but only one actuality,”2 writes the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher Martin buber. The English title of his magnum opus echoes this concept and its centrality to the notion of faith: religion is the relationship between i and Thou, between the individual believer and a holy Thou, the divine that is eternally present. The deity has certain expectations of its worshippers, who have entered into an everlasting dialogue and relationship with the divine. in that way, a religion is formed. 54

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is it possible, then, that this deity is just one of many? That for a Muslim, the Jewish understanding of God is just a true as his own? While characteristics of these and other deities overlap, deeming them synonymous undermines the sacredness of both. This idea holds true for Eastern religious traditions just as strongly. Their understanding of nature and the world isn’t a preference; for them, it is unquestionable fact. For the religious believer, his or her reality must be the reality, not a reality. if it is any less than that, religion becomes tradition, little more than malleable culture. to force religion into this disrespectful position would be to deny its history and aims. nonetheless, some could argue that the philosophical formulations of the abrahamic faiths are so similar that perhaps their belief systems are more related holistically than previously recognized. in fact, the islamic, Christian, and Jewish God is universal, unique, and unconditional that selected a certain people to represent him among the nations. These most basic similarities between religious beliefs, though, lose their relevance when actual religious doctrines and the patterns of history are taken into account. islam, notably, is predominantly anti-dogmatic, and it has no sacraments. Christianity is quite the opposite.3 These faiths differ in terms of history, as well. For Christians, the Messiah has already come; for Jews, he is yet to come. Congruencies in religions’ conceptions of deity lose their relevance in light of divergent worldviews and realities. in addition, conceptions of a deity do not characterize true religious belief today. to be religious requires more than just maintaining an image of God. French philosopher blaise pascal posed a wager that one should believe that God exists because it increases one’s chances of attaining access to the afterlife, yet this idea is hardly viewed as real religious belief and conviction. The concept of a wager is religious intellectualism, but the mind is not the home of religious belief.4 it is the inner soul of faith’s reality that is the essence of any and all religious belief. This inner soul is defined not by a rational gambit in theology, but by embracing the doctrines, beliefs, and history that makes each and every religion unique. This uniqueness, though, is what is under fire in our interconnected world. The community of each religious belief system thrived most when it existed in relative isolation. When a community has no external concerns and no foreign contaminants in its midst, its internal features and structures are given the freedom that they crave to evolve, develop, and grow. Religious purity excels in a religiously pure environment. Throughout religion’s history, though, every faith system has come into contact not only with different communities, but also different faith systems. in the past, the majority of the world’s governing systems were intimately connected to religious institutions, and so these encounters between faiths usually led to conflict. This defined interfaith relations for centuries. Still, we cannot underestimate the degree to which different faith communities grew together intellectually and culturally. ultimately, 55

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though, we must recognize that, theologically, there existed a constant and underlying animosity between the different faith groups, despite the vast literary, artistic, and societal achievements that existed only as a result of their coexistence. This animosity, the result of theologically conflicting values, has died down over the centuries. Modernity has led the world to lose interest in such devoted particularisms. The new guiding light of global relations has become universalism, as opposed to a missionary passion for the spread of one or another particular faith. as polkinghorne comments, “today it is no longer possible to dismiss people of other faiths as strange persons in far-away countries who believe peculiar things. They are our neighbors, living down the street, and we can see the spiritual integrity of their lives.”5 With greater access to divergent belief systems and cultures, we also have greater access to what other people like us hold to be true. polkinghorne continues, “it cannot be the case that we know all the truth and that they, in their ignorance, need to submit in every respect to our superior understanding and have nothing to say to us in return.”6 This very situation calls for a response from religious philosophy at large, which that community has provided. We will place the ways in which religious thought has dealt with the threat of proximal divergent truths into two categories: basic respect and intellectual respect. it is most important to first note, however, that both of these categories come into use out of a desire for a peaceful and civil resolution of the theological threat. Globally, the willingness for a clash of faiths to lead to a clash of civilizations has dissipated over the past two centuries. While the following two attitudes do differ, they do so in respectable ways, each with an appreciation for the modern values of society. Religious thought, in reaction to exposure to other so-called truths, has widely employed the first approach: basic respect. This method is quite in tune with contemporary etiquette. The perceived need for dialogue has influenced the thought of many individual communities, and this type of respect invites civil and courteous dialogue, as well as recognition that the global community as a whole largely holds any one religious truth to be just as true as the next. This is not a religious telos, or goal, to recognize different religious belief systems as equally theologically valid. Rather, this approach falls in line with a philosophical trend recurrent in modern thought, that of multiple truths. This mutual benevolence between religions, though, appears largely theatrical. in some cases, it is heartfelt, to be sure, but it doesn’t relate to the core or essence of any particular religious belief. instead, this civil, yet not internally damaging, reaction can be seen as “political” respect, as it relates only to the external practices of a religious system towards its neighbors. Religious systems have found another way to respond to the modern need to grapple with the existence of conflicting beliefs. it is, however, substantially different than basic civility. We will 56

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call this idea “intellectual respect,” and there is a vast and important divide between the two concepts. political respect deals with what kind of exterior wall one religion places around itself when exposed to alternative religions; it has nothing to do with the way the religion itself adapts to the existence of the alternative religions to which it is exposed. intellectual respect, though, consists of how a religion acts when it chooses to embrace, and, most importantly, internalize, the differences that exist between it and the alternative religion. The thinking goes something like this: if the truth of one religion diverges from the truth of another religion, but both exhibit similar roots, then what is really true must be some combination of both faiths’ core elements. intellectual respect is the search for fundamental religious similarities that, because they are the basic roots of these religions, hold more weight than the doctrines that lead to the diverging practices. This approach is not an easy fix. as polkinghorne writes, “The attempt to wrestle with the problems presented by the diversity of world faiths will require long and painful dialogue between them. i believe that the complexity of the issues is such that this dialogue is likely to be a task for the third millennium and not just the twenty-first century.”7 From this place comes the birth of interfaith dialogue polkinghorne’s comment that this dialogue will be long and arduous is correct, even prophetic. it is also why this very dialogue should not be envisioned, and is wholly undesirable. polkinghorne knows the intractability that exists between different religions, each of which claim to be in possession of the “real” truth. This conflict relates back to the fundamental nature of religion. any religious doctrine must be absolutely true if it is to maintain its credibility. Where, then, can one religion meet another? What kind of halfway mark are we looking for? Christians believe that Jesus was the incarnation of the divine. Jews dogmatically do not. Where, then, can there be a middle ground? how can the Jew validate the Christian or the Christian validate the Jew? Can a case be made that Jesus “maybe” was the incarnation of God? in saying so, look at what we have just done! by creating a search for common ground, we have destroyed the ground that is unique to each religion. if either Christianity or Judaism posits this halfway point, both will have been weakened and lost their own identity, and, consequently, they wane. The Jewish scholar arthur a. Cohen argues a similar point in his critique of the “JudeoChristian tradition.” he writes that it is “proclaiming a tradition in which distinctions are fudged, diversities reconciled, differences overwhelmed by sloppy and sentimental approaches to falling in love after centuries of misunderstanding and estrangement.”8 The dialogue occurs between parties that are no longer fundamentally different. after such a mixing, religion becomes tradition. Thus, the encounter in which it invites its believers to partake becomes no more than myth. Should, then, religion take part in its own downfall? Should it, by downplaying its uniqueness, make itself irrelevant? intellectual understanding, therefore, is unsustainable if religion is to come out of this contemporary debacle alive. 57

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“This is a conundrum,” Cohen writes, “but it is not without solution. orders of existence can remain contiguous without coalescing, parallel without overlapping.”9 Self-evidently, this understanding does not bring us back to the religious conflicts rampant around the globe in previous centuries. all that this realization does is recognize the necessity—and power—of basic “political” respect. While it is just the construction of a peaceful outer wall, it is this wall that allows everything inside to survive. i am unwilling, though, to leave interfaith dialogue in this thrown-out state without advocating for a useful and beneficial alternative. if anything, the loss of intellectual respect won’t suffer for it: perhaps the greatest kind of intellectual respect occurs when groups recognize that, because of their strict ideological differences, there can be no intellectual respect between them. after all, as bernard Meland writes, “faith tends to thrive either as a corporate energy insulated within its self-imposed bounds or as an individual passion.”10 and so each faith in our universalized world needs to be allowed to remain in its enclosed ideological surroundings; religion need not become an enemy of cosmopolitan modern society. butin fact, it is quite the opposite. our cosmopolitan modern society has given religion its greatest resource: the means with which to interact with the rest of the world. it has given religion a greater reach than it has ever had before, providing it with the means to reach communities of believers oceans apart. historically, one religion’s encounter with another resulted in armed conflict and disputations. today’s interconnectivity has widened the horizon towards a more global picture, in which religions can recognize the need for a universal ethic of responsibility. The particulars of every religion’s sense of responsibility towards the world are different. Each one, in its own way, however, maintains such a sense of responsibility. Let us not demolish all that remains above the religious common denominator, as interfaith dialogue would have us desire. doing so would destroy the uniqueness and strength of each belief system out of a yearning for intellectual respect. instead, let us recognize that the most basic of common denominators does invariably exist and build off of it. There is no global urge to intellectually respect another faith and there is no need for it. but there is a global urge for an ethic of responsibility among all peoples. Religion is the playground of the committed; it is the hub for those individuals who are best suited to take global action. While universal understanding is vague and dull at its finest, universal action is specific and has world-changing potential. Starvation, poverty, poor education, infant mortality—these are issues that the common denominators of all faith systems have the capability and inclination to change. Each and every religious mind maintains a distinct vision to make the world a better place. it is time to implement these visions on the global scale that is now achievable. it is not too late to convert poor intellectual respect into rich social action. The Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, has focused his thought and writings on a renewed commitment to the ethical dimension of Judaism. it is time for 58

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all the other great faiths to not just do the same—as some have already beautifully begun to do—but to do it together. it was religion that first developed the concept of ethical responsibility. now that contemporary civilization has so excellently laid out the resources and the opportunities with which one could truly change not just a neighborhood, but also a world, religion has its most precious work ahead of it. bibliography buber, Martin, and Walter arnold Kaufmann. i and Thou. new york: Scribner, 1970. print. Campanini, Massimo, and oliver Leaman. The Qur’an: the Basics. London: Routledge, 2007. print. Cohen, arthur a. “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition.” commentary 48:5 (november 1969):73-77. Meland, bernard E. faith and culture. illinois: Southern illinois, 1953. print. “pascal’s Wager.” encyclopedia Britannica online encyclopedia. n.p., n.d. Web. 26 nov. 2011. http://www.britannica.com/Ebchecked/topic/445456/pascals-wager polkinghorne, John. Science and religion in Quest of truth. Connecticut: yale, 2011. print. Endnotes 1. polkinghorne 132. 2. buber 157. 3. Campanini 5. 4. “pascal’s Wager.” encyclopedia Britannica online encyclopedia. Web. 26 nov. 2011. 5. polkinghorne,132. 6. ibid. 132. 7. ibid. 133. 8. Cohen 1969:77.. 9. Cohen 1969:73. 10. Meland 17.

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Rabbi Marc h. tanenbaum and pope John paul ii meet
photo courtesy of tanenbaum Center via Wikimedia Commons
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