Friday, March 27, 2009

The chosen people

The Jews are a talented bunch. Think about it: Some of the world’s funniest people are Jewish, such as Woody Allen. Some of the world’s cleverest people are or have been Jewish, such as Albert Einstein (although he didn’t actually believe in the God of organised religion, and he was pretty bright, so maybe there’s something to take notice of right there). Some of the finest singers are Jewish, like Barbara Streisand. And some of the people you least expect to be Jewish are Jewish, like Bob Dylan. The world of cinema is packed to the rafters with wonderful Jewish actors, directors and – probably, who knows? – costume makers and key grips. As religious groups go, the Jews are probably the high achievers. Amazingly, less than 0.3% of the world’s population are Jewish, yet they’ve quite an impact on the world stage, a bit like the Irish and their theme pubs.

But who was the most famous Jew of them all? Well, would you believe me if I told you that it was Jesus? Because it was.

Judaism is the forerunner of Christianity in many ways. The older Christian stuff tallies fairly closely with the teachings of Judaism. It is also believed to have influenced a good deal of the Islamic faith. For example, you wouldn’t get a ham sandwich in the canteen at a Synagogue (the Jewish religious building) or at a Mosque. The reason is that both religions forbid the eating of pigs because they think they are unclean animals. Actually, and I don’t want to get in anyone’s face here, or naysay anyone’s beliefs, but that’s quite wrong. Pigs are basically very clean. They’re easily as clean as dogs, and dogs mouths are actually cleaner than our own! Not that I’d eat a dog, like they do in some countries.

Anyway, you’ve got to figure that, as far as eating goes, the Christians got off pretty lightly by not adopting the no-pig rule. I have to say, that’s enough on its own to keep me out of Judaism. I COULD NOT give up my bacon sandwiches/baby back ribs/pork belly/chorizo. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. But, no pigmeat for the Jewish. That’s a hell of a cross to bear. I wonder if they can eat Frazzles?

One thing that’s different about Judaism is that the Sabbath is on a Saturday. Well, actually, it starts on a Friday night and goes through til Saturday night. So it kind of stuffs up your weekend because you have to stay at home on Friday night. It must be tough on the kids.

Sadly, because of man’s inhumanity to man, people of the Jewish faith have suffered hugely throughout the years, and been persecuted by lots of other races, not least by the Germans. Certainly, perhaps because it was so recent, the actions of the Germans are felt to be especially bad and are still known to rankle with Jewish people. Everyone knows about the holocaust from films such as Schindler’s List, the Dirty Dozen and the Dambusters, so we don’t need to go into that here. But suffice to say, the people of Judea have had a pretty rough time of it.

There’s nothing you can say to justify this kind of behaviour, but perhaps it stems in part from the fact that Judaism teaches that the Jews are the chosen people and that they are here to set an example to everyone else, which is a bit jumped up. That doesn’t make persecution right, though, of course. It’s disgusting and it makes me ashamed to be a gentile (the Jewish word for infidel). I’m just trying to understand these things.

It was still an issue when I was a kid, with Jewish people, like the Scotch, having a reputation for being stingy with money. I want to go on the record right here and say that I’ve got Jewish friends, I’ve been to their houses and, while I didn’t get any bacon, they were very generous and lovely. So that stuff about being tight is a load of old nonsense. A lot of it is down to Shakespeare who wrote a character called Shylock who was a nasty hook-nosed money lender and created a stereotype that was adopted down the years. He was used as the basis for the character Watto in the first Star Wars prequel. Anyway, like I pointed out, it’s a cruel stereotype.

That said, when I was a kid I had a Jewish guitar teacher called Mr Bloomstein. He was short, with a big nose and, not to put too fine a point on it, he was a bit thrifty. BUT, here’s the thing: the guitar teacher I had before him was called Mr Adams. He was also short, he also had a big nose, and he was also a bit thrifty. Was he Jewish? No he was not. He was, as far as I could tell, altogether without religion. This just goes to show that stereotypes are dangerous things. For example, you would be foolish to draw the conclusion, based on my evidence, that all guitar teachers are short, big-nosed tightwads.

The important thing when discussing Judaism is that we separate the Jews from Israel. Not physically, of course. To physically separate the people from their country would get them in a right old state (a Palestinian state, as it were!). Israel is, after all, their Promised Land. Although, it has to be said, if you don’t believe in their God, you can’t really take that promise too seriously. For example, I could invent a religion of my own and say that my God promised me Penelope Cruz. But if I flew over to Hollywood to claim my right, I’d probably get put in prison. And rightly so—Penelope is a beautiful woman, for sure, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to sexually harass her. And that goes for all beautiful women, not just Penelope.

No, what I mean is that Israel and Israelis aren’t representative of all Jews, like Catholics aren’t representative of all Christians, if you like, or the Taliban of all Muslims. So we must make sure we separate them in a discursive sense.

Israel, I think it’s fair to say, can be a bit bolshy. Like a spoiled little girl. Certainly it likes to have things its own way. For example, it is unarguably situated in the Middle East. However, it manages to get itself in to European competitions, such as the Eurovision Song Contest and the European Championship football tournament. This is politics at work, people, using populist events to generate solidarity between nations on grounds that simply don’t exist. There’s something not quite right about it, not unlike Israel’s 1998 Eurovision winner Dana, a woman who, it was later revealed, had a penis.

That penis, incidentally, was probably a roundhead and not a cavalier. This is because part of the Jewish religion is that all boys must be circumcised. Personally I find this a bit offensive. I’m happy to say it: I have not been circumcised. I own a foreskin and I don’t see what’s so bad about it that someone should decree that an entire race be forced to live without it. How can they make the decision if they don’t know what it’s like to have one, eh? And aren’t they insulting my foreskin by saying that they don’t think anyone should have one?

After all, if you’re religious, you believe that God made you. And on one of those days when He was making everything, perhaps in a quiet moment after He’d done the face, the finger and the foot (assuming He did it all alphabetically) He’d have thought to Himself:

“I know what that needs, it needs an extra piece of skin, just… there. Oh, now, I have to say, I’m rather pleased with that. I hope they don’t decide to cut it off!”

Still, Judaism, like a lot of religions, is basically run by a load of old men who think they know what’s good for everybody else. And, if what they think is that I can’t go out on a Friday, can’t have any bacon and they want to lop the end of my willy off, I think I’ll pass.

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