Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Biblical Living and Loving Man

Quite some time ago, a fellow by the name of A. J. Jacobs decided, for a book, to spend a year living biblically.
He is Jewish, but not religious; as a "stunt journalist," his original intention when undertaking this project was meant to, obviously, poke fun.  

He went above and beyond what any observant Jew would do; he refused to tell any lies, white or otherwise, which is certainly not what a Jew of today would do if he needs to spare another's feelings (Rabbi Hillel as our back). 
Unlike Norah Vincent (who wrote a book about passing as a man) and Eddie Murphy (who made himself over as a white man in a classic “Saturday Night Live” skit), Jacobs does not take the undercover spy route. Instead he lives out the biblical high life in his usual New York surroundings, among all his wanton, gossiping, blaspheming journalist friends. The result is that he ends up sort of like Kramer on “Seinfeld,” a big weirdo who interrupts the normal patter of urban life. Lots of comic relief ensues. He accepts a hug from a homeless woman on the subway, who then accuses him of harassing her. He contemplates taking his cute nanny as his second wife. He grows a beard of ZZ Top-like proportions.
What is irritating is how he seems to equate Jewish observance to his "interesting" uncle, who after trying everything from drugs, cults, Christianity, and Hinduism eventually settled on a chassidish lifestyle in Yerushalayim. 

The book reviewer, Hanna Rosin, points out that Jacobs is missing out on the true observant experience since he is doing this without a community. He is a solo religious practitioner surrounded by scoffers (including himself).

But in the end, the joke was on Jacobs. Somehow, all those odd, incomprehensible practices led to feelings of kindness and consideration for others. 
. . . toward the end, he deepens. A friend e-mails him a YouTube clip of a newscaster who gets smacked in the head by a stage light and falls over. Jacobs can’t bring himself to “lol” as his friends do. He finds it upsetting. He spends 20 minutes trying to track down the newscaster’s e-mail address so he can ask if she’s all right, while at the same time worrying that he’s become some kind of “overly virtuous sap.”  
Interesting. I can never watch America's Funniest Home Videos since they usually involve some sort of bodily harm. While maintaining seemingly unconnected chukim, his empathy widens. 
After a year of praying every day he becomes by no stretch a believer, but someone who at least accepts “such a thing as sacredness.” Sometimes he can even envision a God who might watch over him and care what happens. As a teenager he convinced himself that even when he was alone in his house, the girls he had a crush on could see him, so he listened to David Bowie and brushed his teeth in a “rakishly nonchalant manner” to prove he was worthy of their attention. This is how he experiences God now.
God as Mean Girl. It’s not exactly biblical, but it’s not nothing. 
It's a start. 

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