Off the Pulpit

A Typical Jew?

The sinew of paradox runs through Jewish history. Were Jews and gentiles separate in the Middle Ages? Well yes, but there are also rules about hiring a gentile wet nurse on the sabbath which suggests a degree of intimacy between the two that would shock casual assumptions. Were Jews pious? Well yes, except that from ancient times until today we find innumerable examples of assimilation and indifference and heresy. Jews are often thought of as powerless in their history, but in many cases they exerted great power, and spanned the range from unfathomable persecution to acceptance and security.

To speak of “the Jews” is as misleading as to declare “Judaism says” when one can almost always find authoritative Jewish sources that say the opposite. We are caught in the normal human condition of ambiguity and ambivalence, with instances of love and betrayal throughout times of faith and times of failure.

I have known many poor Jews, many wealthy Jews, many Jews surrounded with family, many Jews who were almost entirely alone. What I have never known is a typical Jew. Our tradition tries hard to inculcate traits of goodness, industry, scholarship and family, but we still come in all varieties of the human rainbow. Praise God.