“You’re a Bad Jew!”

Image: Eleven angry, screaming faces. (Photo from Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

Reading the comments sections of Jewish online publications, I cringe. There are people who seem to entertain themselves by logging on and writing comments about what a “bad Jew” the writer is for having such-and-such an opinion, or what “bad Jews” other people are. They write as the arbiters of everything Jewish, in a tone that implies vast Jewish learning, with content that reveals only vast ignorance.

I imagine someone who wants to learn about Judaism reading this stuff, and I shudder. What are they to learn? The misinformation this supposed expert just spouted? That Jews speak hatefully to and about one another? That somewhere there is a “Jew-Hell” that “bad Jews” go to?

(Aside: No, there is no Jewish hell, except for the ones we make here in this life.)

Sometimes these bumptious blowhards seem to say that only the most traditional practice is valid. Sometimes they seem to be saying that their Judaism is the only real Judaism. Other disagreeable dogmatists seem to think that any traditional belief or practice is terrible, or they take delight in detecting any scrap of what might be an inconsistency in someone else’s practice. And all of them are cruel, using belittling language to make their point: “Not only are you a bad Jew, going to Jew-Hell, but you are unintelligent and ugly, too!”

Do you honestly think anyone was ever persuaded by hateful words?

Words have power. We learn that in Genesis 1:3:

.וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר

And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.

Words create worlds. It is up to us to decide what kind of world we want, and to create it with our words. Cruel words produce a cruel world. Is that really what we want?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

17 thoughts on ““You’re a Bad Jew!””

  1. Thank you for this post, Rabbi Adar. Social media provides amazing opportunities for humans to connect across all perceived lines of division, both within and across religions, and to find common ground that could help us create a more peaceful future. It is frustrating that there are those who choose instead to use social media as a tool for creating division and discord.
    May Passover bring you the redemption you seek, jen

  2. I remember my father telling me I was a bad Jew because I wasn’t “honoring my mother and father.”
    His interpretation of this commandment was off the mark. He thinks that I should do whatever he commands, whether it’s illegal, immoral, or against Jewish law.
    Of course, I know better.
    He sent me an article from a conservative Jewish writer, Dennis Prager, who, in my opinion, was completely incorrect on that commandment. He suggested that “only physical or sexual abuse should warrant a child, or adult child to be out of contact with their abusive parent.”
    I wrote: “Let me ask you, Dennis. Does mental or emotional continued abuse count? Or not? I am a practicing Jew who continues working with three Rabbi friends of mine. I ask their opinions and spiritual advice.
    Not one of them has suggested I remain in contact with my abusive father. It is unhealthy for me, not to mention for my psyche and spirituality.
    Is a parent required, by Jewish law, to honor their child?”

    Sorry, I went on a rampage, but your article certainly triggered this.

    Thank you for your support; I know I have it.

    1. The line from the text is “Kabed et avecha v’et imecha.” We translate Kabed as “honor” but I like to point out that it means “give weight to.” It absolutely does not mean “obey slavishly” or “put up with abuse.” It is not a carte blanche to mistreat one’s offspring, either.

      I’m glad you got good advice on this. You do have my support on this “mea akhuz” – 100%!

  3. I encountered something similar recently. Small town synagogue where it is difficult to get a minyan. My husband’s yarzheit. An orthodox rabbi shows up and all of the sudden women don’t count for a minyan because he said so. So we were 3 short and he refused to join because he didn’t want to hear women’s voices. Thankfully an elder congregant spoke up and set things straight but it was particularly upsetting to me and set me thinking about why my family lost its Judaism in the first place. I resolved to not let someone else’s interpretation of Judaism or judgement on my practice of it get in my way of doing what I feel to be right. So grateful that I was able to say Kaddish on my late husband’s first Yarzheit.

    1. I am so very sorry for your loss.
      ANd I am grateful to know that you were able to say Kaddish on your late husband’s first Yarzheit.
      May your memories of your beloved husband bring you comfort and may his memory always be a blessing.

    2. As an addendum, I have respect for those with orthodox traditions but our small synagogue is a combination of many sects of Judaism. Without a rabbi or affiliation, we usually find a happy medium but sometimes not without a little debate.

    3. Kaeli I am so sorry that this happened. You clearly are a woman with your feet on the ground and good folks around you – I’m glad for that!

      May you be comforted among the mourners of Israel, and may your husband’s memory always be a blessing to you.

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