I’m working myself into a rant, I warn you. I suppose in part because I haven’t vented about The God Problem in quite a while. There have been plenty of God Problem incidents and I have been paying attention. But the thing is, I get tired of repeating myself about how bad, how awful, how crazy and how dangerous fundamentalism in any religion is.
It’s one aspect of blogging that is unsatisfying. I mean, I write this stuff and it goes out there, into space or clouds or wherever and, basically, that’s it. I have not changed the world, I fear. No number of Hasids–and I’d settle for one or two, I’m a modest person–have openly departed the religion and made sane statements about their departure, and thanked me for inciting it. Pity.
But two separate events over the past couple of days have brought me back to one plangent factor of the God Problem: how dangerously crazy fundamentalist religion is.
In these two cases, the fundament rests in ultra-orthodox Judaism, and I have a family story, a family legend, to put on the table as a way of indicating how I grew up the way I did, i.e., minus religion of any kind. (I’m writing this because I can: I’m a Jew and a non-believer and I am not a politician or any sort of public servant. They must placate these people. I don’t have to.)
Once upon a time, back in the middle ages (the late 19th century), my mother’s family was orthodox Jewish. There’s a slightly crusty debate between me and a beloved cousin about the territorial derivations of this branch of our family, but wherever they started out, they wound up in Paris, which is where our grandfather Jacob grew up.
This is how my mother told me the story: Grandpa’s mother, Sarah, was so devoted to her synagogue, her shul, that she spent all her days there, doing whatever women do at orthodox shuls (which, I’m sure you realize, treat the women like invisible servant-slaves to men. Funny, although I remember my great-grandmother’s name, I don’t remember the name of my great-grandfather, Sarah’s husband [see above, re servitude] who I’m sure had something to do with why she was hanging around the shul all day).
Devoted, she was, my great-grandmother Sarah–but not to her five kids: she sent them out onto the Parisian streets, even in winter, to sell little objects like pencils or whatever. I’m not sure when or if the kids went to school; it’s improbable that France had Jewish-child labor laws in those days.
That Finkelstein child labor contingent, hungry after a day’s “work,” would return home with their centimes to find no mother around, the kitchen dark, no food ready for dinner. Because Mom was at the shul.
And the results of that child labor–centimes or a few francs? When Sarah did return home, she’d collect all the money…and give it to the shul.
Grandpa Jacob determined then, as a kid, if that was the kind of god it was, he sure as hell didn’t want any part of it. He left, at the age of 15, and came to America, alone.
So when I read about a lawsuit in which Orthodox Jews are complaining in court because their irrational, anachronistic rituals are not receiving obeisance from a landlord, I fume.
You’ll see when you read this article that LeFrak City, a monstrously huge residential building complex in Queens, is upgrading the property and making things easier for its residents by installing electronic key openers for the main doors.
But, you see, Orthodox Judaism does not permit its acolytes to use any electronic devices, including elevators or cars or electronic keys–any labor-saving devices–on the Jewish Shabbat, which is Saturday. So Orthodox Jews can’t turn on stoves, can’t open refrigerators, can’t cook. Which is why a Brooklyn orthodox family home burned down, killing a number of children: they were using a hot plate the mother had turned on on Friday, before the sun set, to warm the Shabbat meal. And there was no smoke detector. So immediately afterward, as the community mourned, other Orthodox Jews rushed out to buy smoke detectors.
That was not rational. Rational would have been changing the rule. Whenever the rule was invented, it was before the invention of electrical labor-saving devices. Fundamentalist religions do not keep up with the times. Indeed, it’s sort of their raison d’être, isn’t it?
This is insane.
What is the religious rationale for this ritual? I once asked an orthodox friend that question. She said it was to insure that everyone had nothing to do during Shabbat other than thinking, honoring, giving over that day to god.
I’m running out of space for the second, and much more insane, case, so I’ll do it tomorrow. But one more comment: I hope the court decides against the Orthodox in this case. There is no need for our society, our legal system, to accommodate religious insanity, especially when it demands accommodation from a secular entity, and negatively affects the rest of the LeFrak residents. The boys who cry “discrimination!” must be defeated.
Orthodox Jewish tenants at LeFrak City claim they are being discriminated against because new lobby doors only open with an electronic key.
P.S. The family of my orthodox Jewish friend lived, as most Orthodox Jews do, on a lower floor of their building. They walked up and down the stairs on the Sabbath. Yet one of these LeFrak City guys claims he’s often missed synagogue because he has to wait for someone else to use the elevator and stop on his floor.
Lazy and phony baloney.