Jewish Without the Big-Noseness

My RSS feeds were crawling with Jewish International Conspiracy today. (It was a welcome break from learning that my other favorite religion, Catholicism, is going back on its longtime and necessary support for health care reform.)

First, Sarah Silverman gets some Kabbalah—or Kabbalah—in L.A. and explains what makes it different from Scientology. (Hat tip to Brad Greenberg’s God Blog.)

But seriously, folks.

Over at The New Republic, Adam Kirsch has a really nice piece about the 11th-century Jewish scholar Rashi, the subject of a new book by Elie Wiesel. Truly a Buddha-killer:

When he meets Jacob, his future son-in-law, he embraces him. What could be more natural? No, says Rashi: ‘He embraces him so he could go through his pockets which he thought were full of gold coins.’ Laban embraces him also ‘to see if he has precious pearls in his mouth,’ says Rashi.

Kirsch takes Rashi as his text for a commentary on the matter of whether all Jewish thought—as folks from Wagner to Wittgenstein have suggested—is essentially commentary, incapable of truly original creation. Thankfully Kirsch dispatches the distinction between the two and, in the process, gives a pithy account of Jewish secularization:

If the Bible is God’s word, then all our human powers are needed to understand it—and, in fact, our powers need no wider field of activity. If the Bible is not God’s word, however, then it is possible to turn those powers to other purposes; what was once coherence begins to look like mere constriction.

And the answer to constriction? A nose job and Kabbalah?

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.