Get your feet off the couch.

I wandered for a long time on spiritual paths, even after I had settled on Judaism as my faith tradition. I wandered to be certain of my decision. I wandered to make sure I had explored all other options, fully, as an adult, to see which spoke to me, which I could intellectually and emotionally adopt, which I could live with for the rest of my life. I tried my best to explore respectfully—the last thing I wanted was for me to make a “hobby” of other people’s faiths. That’s a mockery of their morality and history, their rituals and experiences. I know there were times I failed, but I hope (and believe) the times I succeeded far outnumbered them.

Which is why it took me a day to cool down to respond to one of the New York Times’ latest pieces on Gentiles adopting the practice of hanging mezzuzot on their door ways. This is a Jewish ritual, with a portion of the Jewish Holy Text that in many ways is the central portion of the Bible for us. This is a Jewish marker of space and identity. And when I hear about Catholics making a blessing over it in the name of the Trinity, my jaw clenches up just a little bit tighter. Especially when I hear that a Jewish neighbor hung the mezuzah for her. What kind of Jew would do this? What did that neighbor think would happen to this object in a Catholic home? And equally important, why did the Catholic feel the need to take on a custom of another faith—one with a testy history to say the least—when her own faith provides blessings and objects to be decorate the door?

I know that as a 70-something Catholic, her opinion of Jews could be far worse. What harm is there in hanging this little wooden box with some scroll in it? Why do I care so much about yet another display of the majority culture cherry-picking from the minority culture, without caring in the least about the meanings, purpose, and implications? I wouldn’t take Holy Water from a Catholic Church and use it to clean out the chametz or pray for rain on Sukkot. I wouldn’t take Eastern Orthodox icons and hang them on the walls just because they’re so pretty. I wouldn’t use puja lamps to light up my house just because they’re so cute. Do people really have no respect for others’ cultures and religions anymore?

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2 thoughts on “Get your feet off the couch.

  1. Interesting…

    I actually found the NY Times article encouraging. I think it’s wonderful that non-Jews are finding some positive value in a Jewish practice, and I don’t feel that it disrespects Judaism, even in those cases where the folks fail to fully appreciate the power of mezuzot.

    And, in any case, in a pluralistic, globalizing world, we all riff on other cultures’ practices, whether it be adopting a style of clothing worn by one group or “borrowing” in art. Many Jews, for example, display Buddhist artwork in their houses without fully appreciating the background, but they hold it in high regard nonetheless. It would be terrific if those Jews, like the Catholics with mezuzot, would learn more about the meaning of the items they casually display, but, all in all, no harm, no foul.

    What do you make of Reboot’s Sukkah City project? Personally, I don’t think the fact that many non-Jews participated is a problem. The philosophical thrust of Sukkot is valuable to us; so, too, can it be valuable to others. Judaism and many Jewish ideas/ideals are universalistic.

  2. Just found your blog!

    When I read this article, I cringed as well at the same thing. As an ex-Catholic who is now a Jew, I think saying a blessing involving the Trinity when touching a mezuzah is a serious misuse. This goes beyond “borrowing” or displaying something as art, and distorts the meaning of an object that we have serious disagreement over. Aside from the fact that we still await the Messiah, and Catholics await the second coming of Jesus, and that’s why using a Jewish object to praise someone Jews don’t view as the Messiah is troublesome, there are other fundamental lifestyle differences that, to me, go further. Since Jews and Catholics base their spiritual centers in very different physical locations, I think that this one warps the symbolism too much. Mezuzot put our spiritual centers in the home. Catholics go to Mass in a church where Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist to obtain comparable spiritual connection. That’s why it bothers me. Our homes are our sanctuaries, and since that’s what this particular object symbolizes, and it is something that Catholics do not fundamentally believe, it makes me cringe.

    Thanks for your post. I hadn’t been able to figure out why that article bothered me so much until now. I wish you all the best in your conversion studies. Happy Purim, and Shabbat Shalom!

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