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2xx1xy1JD

Faux Jew debate question

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2xx1xy1JD

We've had a number of threads snarking on the Faux Jew phenomenon. A common theme is Ur Doing It Wrong, followed by religious/cultural appropriation.

 

At the same time, we also have threads snarking on Christian fundies and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have very narrow views and tend to tell everyone else Ur Doing It Wrong.

 

Now, a big objection to the Jews for Jesus/Messianic Judaism movements comes from the fact that they are often a marketing device to sell evangelical Christian theology to Jews, often in some pretty sneaky ways like using Hebrew terms (Yeshua instead of Jesus, Brit Hadasha instead of New Testament) that the average American Jew wouldn't know. I agree with that objection, but for this discussion I'm not going to talk about that. Instead, let's focus the discussion on those who started off as either fundie or mainstream Christians, and decided to incorporate aspects of Judaism or Jewish ritual into their lives, for reasons that may have nothing to do with trying to convert actual Jews to Christianity.

 

So, the debate question: Is it hypocritical to snark on some people who blend religious traditions (the Faux Jews) and Do Judaism Wrong, while at the same time objecting to ultra-Orthodox Jews who claim that non-Orthodox Jews are Doing Judaism Wrong? If the answer is no, how do we tolerate one, but not the other?

Edited by OnceUponATime
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Sola

I don't tend to mind those Christians who want to incorporate elements of Judaism into their faith. What I find bizarre is the insistence that they are Jews. They are not. I find those that try to proselytise to Jews by pretending they are Jewish despicable. That is deceptive. As for ultra-orthodox, I will personally snark on them just as much as I snark on any other fundie theist. They are no better than any other fundie and are forcing their strict interpretation of their faith on others. They may not be proselytising, but they are forcing it on their daughters and wives.

Coming back to the blending of Christianity and Judaism and why I don't object to it if it is done honestly, I suppose that might be due to my opinions of Pauline Christianity (which is what we basically have now). Christians nowadays seem to put much more emphasis on what Paul had to say, rather than what Jesus had to say and in my opinion, that is not following Christ. Paul was a misogynistic asshole IMHO. If you were to try and take Christianity back to it's roots, to Nazarenes, what you have is a religion that has far more in common with Judaism than the Christianity of today and would probably look quite a bit like what we call Faux Judaism (but without the dishonesty).

Ah what do I know, I'm just an ebil atheist.

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yewchapel

Speaking as a Christian, I think you're on the money Sola, apart from the Paul thing. I don't think Paul was an asshole so much as books attributed to him were probably not actually written by him. Also, bear in mind that PAUL was Jewish too! Paul's writings are not the problem, the problem has been attributing a Hellenistic mindset to him that he didn't actually have and taking his letters out of the context they were written in. The modern conservative evangelical picture of Paul is very different from the actual Paul.

But yes, my objection to Faux Jews (the kind that take on Jewish customs for reasons other than converting Jews) is that they call themselves Jewish when they are not. They are Torah-Observant Christians and should call themselves such. Seventh Day Adventists follow the Torah dietary laws along with the Saturday Sabbath and seem to manage fine at not calling themselves Jewish.

I do think that the Jewish culture of Jesus and His disciples was just that - culture, and I don't think it is necessary or even advisable for modern Gentile Christians to adopt it. I don't think it's wrong for them to do it, but being a follower of Christ doesn't mean becoming like Christ in terms of cultural lifestyle, but of heart and soul. The cultural clothing doesn't really matter. I mean, my life isn't Jewish at all in terms of culture and I'm still a Christian and a faithful one (I hope), and covering my head, eschewing pork and celebrating Yom Kippur wouldn't make me more of a follower of Christ - they're just externals. They wouldn't have an impact on my faith in Jesus. Christianity isn't supposed to be a historical reenactment society.

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gardenvarietycitizen

Just off the top of my head, I'd say it matters when the tradition a person is practicing came out of SOME community and background, or if they found it on their own and just decided to build it into whatever religious practice they already had. Short version: If you only learned it out of a book, it's different than if you learned as part of some community (regardless of your original background).

Doing the latter shouldn't be a crime either, BUT! If those people start talking about how they're "Jewish" then for me it crosses the line into appropriation. Let them just be "Christians who find some spiritual meaning in adopting versions of certain Jewish traditions."

Non-Orthodox Jewish communities (actual communities of actual people growing up with it in a living tradition) with their own community customs exist all over the place. If Orthodox Jewish groups want to say that should be considered a different religion (and plenty do, at least all over the internet), they can party on I suppose, but I think most people consider it still just different flavors of Judaism since they both have roots in the same place (AND it can be argued that many of the practices of the current "haredi" set aren't actually any kind of traditional either, they just diverged in another direction). But all those groups have chains of people going way back.

I'm not any sort of Jewish (just like reading about it on the internet) but just applying my general views on cultural appropriation to the situation, which is something I've spent more time thinking about. Same answer for me, really - the important part is if you get whatever knowledge from a community or not. Living somewhere and "doing what the Joneses do as you socialize with them and maybe continuing to do it after you move away because it became part of your own life" is different from "reading about something exotic done by some exotic person 'Ms. Jones' and making a weird DIY version of it at home after reading about it in the library and THEN going out to other people who haven't met any of the Joneses either and claiming like you have some insight into them or are 'really a Jones' yourself."

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August

But, gardenvariety, it's all dancing around in funny hats worshipping a sky fairy. Whether your hat is purple or white or spiky or flat or has horns or tassels or whatever, they're all equal until they start impinging on other people, be they adults or children.

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yewchapel

There are questions of cultural appropriation though, August. There is such a thing as religious privilege - so no, not all religions are equal, because not all religions are equal in power (by power I mean social power). Exoticising or appropriation another culture's deeply-held religious beliefs for fun is rude at best and oppression at worst, even if you personally don't think any of those religions are real.

Edited to add that this goes a long way to explain why atheist hipsters think it's OK to appropriate Native American/First Nation people/other religions such as Hinduism's sacred objects as fashion.

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Soldier of the One

I think the issue is both a historical and a theological one.

Historical: due to a history of Christian persecution, Jews can be particularly tetchy about Christians co-opting their faith and culture. It's a bit of the Big-Sibling complex: Christianity went on to become Judaism's younger but far larger (and historically oppressive) sibling. This ties into a demographic reality also. If we had a billion Jews in the world (similar to the populations of Christians and Muslims), I think we'd be far less negative and feel far less threatened. But the Faux Jew phenomenon taps into communal insecurities about Jewish continuity.

Theological: apart from it being disingenuous, no matter how you shape your Judaism, the messiah-hood and a fortiori, the divinity of Christ is a non-negotiable. There are even some open-minded Jews who love and appreciate the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (many can be fitted into an early rabbinic rubric). But to accept Christ as divine savior is beyond the pale, theologically. There is nothing in Jewish theology - be it Chareidi or Reform! - to justify such a theological claim. The One, Undivided God-thing is a pretty big deal in Judaism :)

So yes, it's a heady mixture of theological incompatibility, insensitive cultural appropriation, fears of Jewish continuity and historical trauma that makes this issue such a contentious one.

Just my two shekels :)

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Soldier of the One
There are questions of cultural appropriation though, August. There is such a thing as religious privilege - so no, not all religions are equal, because not all religions are equal in power (by power I mean social power). Exoticising or appropriation another culture's deeply-held religious beliefs for fun is rude at best and oppression at worst, even if you personally don't think any of those religions are real.

Edited to add that this goes a long way to explain why atheist hipsters think it's OK to appropriate Native American/First Nation people/other religions such as Hinduism's sacred objects as fashion.

Amen. It really bugs me how Hindu and Buddhist iconography (and sometimes even Catholic iconography) are appropriated as a fashion accessory or because its 'cute' and 'hip'. Ugh!

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August
There are questions of cultural appropriation though, August. There is such a thing as religious privilege - so no, not all religions are equal, because not all religions are equal in power (by power I mean social power). Exoticising or appropriation another culture's deeply-held religious beliefs for fun is rude at best and oppression at worst, even if you personally don't think any of those religions are real.

Edited to add that this goes a long way to explain why atheist hipsters think it's OK to appropriate Native American/First Nation people/other religions such as Hinduism's sacred objects as fashion.

Fair enough, but it's cultural power, not mystical mumbo jumbo power.

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gardenvarietycitizen
But, gardenvariety, it's all dancing around in funny hats worshipping a sky fairy. Whether your hat is purple or white or spiky or flat or has horns or tassels or whatever, they're all equal until they start impinging on other people, be they adults or children.

Same can be said about all kinds of cultural artifacts though. Does it REALLY hurt anyone to wear Native headdresses? Or to go around talking about the meaning of some festival that those exotic people do, and get it all wrong? Of if some guy in a bar decides to wear a purple heart he bought on eBay to pick up women?

If the question is whether people who are from that group will go after you for appropriation, I think community is important. If you don't care whether people are giving you side-eye for appropriation, well, it's a free country, party on.

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mockingbird

I think I would say that cultural appropriation and any other kind of Orientalizing/exoticising a minority culture or religion hurts the people in that group (culture or religion) by refusing to give them their own voice and instead filtering their experiences through or conforming their traditions to the majority view. I think it perpetuates misunderstanding and existing prejudices (because you continue to hear everything through the perspective of the majority, not people from that culture or religion themselves).

That being said, yes, it's a free country. I don't think there is or should be anything criminal about it. If you don't care that you are appropriating a culture go ahead. That doesn't mean people can't speak up against it or snark on you for doing so, though. ETA: And I also think there is a difference between coming from a common background and splitting off to form your own group (like a different religious denomination) and just randomly reading a book one day and thinking "oh Judiasm sounds cool let's celebrate Hanukkah!!1!" Obviously there is going to be a spectrum, though, and I think the question of why it's OK for a religious group to say their interpretation is the only one and be snarked on, but why we use the same argument to snark on Messianic Jews, is valid.

In terms of "fake Jews", I do know two people who are Christian and follow some Jewish traditions in some way. Both have or grew up having friends who were Jewish so it is part of their own experience. Neither calls themselves Jewish though, they are Christian. To me, it doesn't seem like they are just randomly appropriating the traditions. A mutual friend with one of them is Jewish and thinks it's a little weird but harmless; we think it makes sense on some level because this friend grew up very involved in Jewish traditions so it seems natural she would want to continue them. (I'm no trying to pull the "but I have a FRIEND who's Jewish!" card, just giving multiple perspectives. I in no way think my friend represents all Jews - for one thing she is not really active in her religion so someone more involved might think differently.)

I also have cousins who grew up with a Jewish dad and Catholic mom. They are mostly Jewish and will/have already done their bat mitzvahs. They do celebrate Christmas though. Their dad died and I think their mom is even more into keeping them involved in Judiasm now because it is a way to remember their dad.

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Dysfundamental

Here are my issues with "Torah-Observing Christians" or whatever they call themselves:

1) They are highly inconsistent in their observance of Jewish rituals and customs, often cherry-picking from different traditions.

2) They are culturally appropriative in many cases, which I find pretty goddamned offensive in the post-Holocaust world.

3) Annoying and smug in many cases.

4) Oddly disconnected, in many cases, from mainstream Jewish culture and tradition, often with a strong implication that actual Jews are Doing It Wrong.

My own perspective on this is as a Christian married to a man raised reform Jewish, whose extended family includes Conservadox and Orthodox Jews.

I don't understand how "it's a free country" gets into the mix. Obviously it's legal to be a culturally appropriative smugster, but it doesn't make that laudable. It's legal to fart in elevators, too.

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keen23
There are questions of cultural appropriation though, August. There is such a thing as religious privilege - so no, not all religions are equal, because not all religions are equal in power (by power I mean social power). Exoticising or appropriation another culture's deeply-held religious beliefs for fun is rude at best and oppression at worst, even if you personally don't think any of those religions are real.

Edited to add that this goes a long way to explain why atheist hipsters think it's OK to appropriate Native American/First Nation people/other religions such as Hinduism's sacred objects as fashion.

It seems that wearing a rosary as a fashion accessory is a very big trend out here. Even on teens that I KNOW belong to one of the local evangelical churches. I always thought that the rosary was a Catholic religious symbol.

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Lady
Here are my issues with "Torah-Observing Christians" or whatever they call themselves:

1) They are highly inconsistent in their observance of Jewish rituals and customs, often cherry-picking from different traditions.

2) They are culturally appropriative in many cases, which I find pretty goddamned offensive in the post-Holocaust world.

3) Annoying and smug in many cases.

4) Oddly disconnected, in many cases, from mainstream Jewish culture and tradition, often with a strong implication that actual Jews are Doing It Wrong.

My own perspective on this is as a Christian married to a man raised reform Jewish, whose extended family includes Conservadox and Orthodox Jews.

They do. Even if they went crazy and didn't wear mixed fibers at least they would be consistent.

I have a bit I do about the Faux Jew fad. I tell people I plan to become a faux Jew so my days of rest are Saturday AND Sunday. So sorry, I'd love to attend your boring event with tedious people but it's one of my days of rest.

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Soldier of the One

:lol:

Can we throw Islam in the mix and get Fridays off too?

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yewchapel

Fair enough, but it's cultural power, not mystical mumbo jumbo power.

Uh yeah, I pointed that out by saying 'social power'.

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yewchapel

It seems that wearing a rosary as a fashion accessory is a very big trend out here. Even on teens that I KNOW belong to one of the local evangelical churches. I always thought that the rosary was a Catholic religious symbol.

Yep, the rosary is a set of Roman Catholic prayer beads, they are not jewellery (although some like single-decade rosaries can be worn around the wrist for convenience). There are other 'rosaries' for Anglicans and Eastern Orthodoxen but they have different numbers of beads and again are not jewellery. So using rosaries for jewellery really bothers me.

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gardenvarietycitizen
4) Oddly disconnected, in many cases, from mainstream Jewish culture and tradition, often with a strong implication that actual Jews are Doing It Wrong.

OH hell yes. The "actual members [of whatever group] are doing it wrong" or "I, from my enlightened [non-member] background actually appreciate their culture more than they do, I'm a better [whatever group] than they are, they suck at their own culture and I look down on them for abandoning it" type stuff amps it up to another entire level of appropriation.

Just to be clear, I think cultural appropriation is a serious issue and something I'm not in favor of (also something completely different from normal and healthy cultural mixing and sharing and adoption). Just because I might not believe in a religion doesn't mean I can't respect that it's a cultural thing and therefore has value to the people who DO practice it and therefore appropriating it can harm those people as a process of cultural appropriation. There's also some issues when the original people who do whatever custom is it get persecuted for it but meanwhile other people can adopt and commodify a fake version and get praise and $$$ for being wonderfully "cool."

As a good example of this "Doing It Wrong" thing you have any number of (usually young single white men) who travel to various Asian countries, get enamored of "the women" for being nice and submissive and "not like those uppity fat women back home" but then noticing that young people often aren't fulfilling whatever stereotype anymore, so then they start whining about how "but young people are just abandoning all their wonderful traditions, isn't it sad that I respect it more than they do." Insufferable doesn't even begin to cover it, but some of the blogs are amusing for the trainwreck factor.

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snarktastic

I think it's a free country and if you want to borrow other bits of people's religions, go ahead, have fun. After all how were Christianity and Islam founded (ducks for cover :lol: )

Also as it's a free country, other people can snark on said borrowing especially if you're pretentious or insulting in how you go about it.

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samurai_sarah

Yep, the rosary is a set of Roman Catholic prayer beads, they are not jewellery (although some like single-decade rosaries can be worn around the wrist for convenience). There are other 'rosaries' for Anglicans and Eastern Orthodoxen but they have different numbers of beads and again are not jewellery. So using rosaries for jewellery really bothers me.

They're prayer beads for counting down how many "Hail Mary's"/"Our Father's" you've said, and how much longer you're going to have to slowly feel your knees going numb, your back ache, and realize that shifting from one knee to the other only helps for so long. Wearing them as a fashion accessory was a thing here, a few years ago. As a cultural Catholic, I can't say I was very bothered, but I was bemused. I don't see them as necklaces, but as ritual artefacts. A bit like wearing your christmas decoration to complement a summer-dress. It felt "off", for lack of a better word. I hasten to add that I can't speak for all Catholics, cultural or otherwise. Your mileage may vary.

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Lady
:lol:

Can we throw Islam in the mix and get Fridays off too?

Why not? Take 3 days off and eat pork!

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patsymae

Edited to add that this goes a long way to explain why atheist hipsters think it's OK to appropriate Native American/First Nation people/other religions such as Hinduism's sacred objects as fashion.

You beat me to it; as I was reading this I was thinking of so many white people I know who--quite seriously--have run sweat lodges, hold men's lodges--complete with animal names--and so on. What's missing is the intimate knowledge of the spiritual nature of the rituals, the connection with history and tradition and, as someone said, community. I can invite some friends over on Sunday morning and read from a missal and pass out bread and wine, but that doesn't make it a Mass.

The Amish say that some people come to them wanting to become Amish and they think that means eschewing technology, doing a lot of canning or farming,etc.--with NO understanding of the spiritual core of their religion. Their response is: if there is something about us that you think is good, take it and go back and incorporate it into your own life.

As a lapsed Catholic/former Unitarian/basic spiritual whore I think it's fine to borrow respectfully and try to LEARN FROM other traditions--emphasis on learning, as you're the neophyte, not the one who truly understands the spiritual significance of the community. Right now I am observing Lent, although I haven't been Christian for about 50 years. I think it's a good time to impose a discipline on myself. Does that make me an observant Catholic, or a better Catholic than those in my family who say they are Catholic but wouldn't do Lent if you ripped out their fingernails? No. It means I'm borrowing a tradition for my own benefit. It's about me, not them.

I think with faux Jews it's just way more sensitive, especially given that the Holocaust is still in the memory of living people--including some of my in-laws--and the very active evangelical movement to convert Jews by pretending to be them. I have Jewish relatives and for many years lived in a mostly Jewish community, and I enjoy some of the rituals as well as, when I lived in that town, kind of having a year punctuated by periods of joy, sadness, etc. that were visible. But clearly, when I went to somebody's seder or bat mitzvah, it was their celebration and I was the guest. To hold my own seder or try to make my son a bar mitzvah would be, IMO, terribly insulting. I can totally understand why modern Jews would be offended by even well-meaning (as opposed to those with ulterior motives, whose name is legion) Christians holding modern seders (not at all like the one Jesus would have been at), building sukkahs, etc. Couple it in with the idea that actual Jews are getting it wrong (for example, "wine" was really nonalcoholic grape juice, which Jews are apparently too stupid to understand), and yeah, that would piss people off.

As someone said, there are some Christian sects, Seventh Day Adventists among them, but also others--who incorporate some aspects of Jewish law into their practice--they worship on Saturday, don't eat pork, maybe observe some purity laws--but they don't pretend they are Jews or even "Torah-observant Christians." They are out front that they are Christians, not "completed Jews," and this is just what they do. I don't think anyone would have an argument with them. Just saying.

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Jinger Jar

Our parish (Catholic) used to have a Seder during Holy Week, usually on Maundy Thursday after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. I was never really comfortable with the idea of this, mostly because of the cultural appropriation aspect of it, but also because I questioned whether any of its organizers knew enough about Judaism to have an actual Seder without inadvertently making a mockery out of it. I don’t think I was the only person who felt this way because our new pastor axed it his first year here.

And speaking of misguided cultural/religious appropriation… Many years ago I had the good fortune to spend Holy Week in Tokyo. My traveling companion and I visited popular shopping mall. In the middle of the mall was a spectacular Easter display. In the middle of the display was a 25-foot wooden cross. And hanging from the cross was…

wait for it…

the Easter Bunny…

wearing a crown of thorns.

I was simultaneously horrified and amused. More than amused, actually. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve been stone sober yet laughed until I pissed myself.

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yewchapel

Jinger Jar, that's hilarious about the cross in Tokyo :lol:

Re seder meals, I just find it odd since we don't know if the Last Supper WAS a seder in terms of having a lamb bone, an egg etc. It's especially weird to have churches that have Holy Communion EVERY WEEK as a Catholic church will to feel the need to do a seder, since the bread and the wine is the only food we know was eaten at the Last Supper. Seriously, just have a votive Mass instead.

Also Jinger, isn't it a priest at your church if it's Catholic...? I've never heard of a Catholic church having a pastor.

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patsymae

"I've never heard of a Catholic church having a pastor."

Yes, Catholics churches have pastors. "Pastor" is not a title, as it may be in other churches, but local churches do have pastors, who are also priests.

That said, I love your comment.

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