Wednesday, June 18, 2008

more on Lauren Winner's book

A few other observations about Winner’s book:

First, getting back to the book, I was amazed at the need Winner had to concretize her connection to G-d by worshipping through (or to - I am really not sure which word is more appropriate) various icons. She literally has a whole collection of crosses adorning her walls which she uses to channel her prayers. This need to find some tangible, concrete “thing” to focus one’s faith around struck me as reminiscent of the eigel and evidence that avodah zarah is alive and well in the 21st century. I had never appreciated the degree I am also surprised that Winner does not discuss this more - this whole use of icons and imagery struck me as the most extreme expression of the distance she has traveled from Judaism.

Another point of contrast with Dubner which struck me: Dubner travels to Poland to explore his family’s roots and is deeply moved by the records of his grandparents’ town and its destruction during the Holocaust. He is moved not just as a human being, not just because it was his family, but because he identifies with the experience as a Jew. Winner never seems to empathize with the Jewish people as her family in the extended sense. She connects with individuals, with families who befriend her, but I never felt that she connects with the Jewish people, with their destiny and history as a people. It made me recall the pasuk from Rus and appreciate that “ameich ami” precedes “Elokayich Elokai”, perhaps for good reason.

I liked the comment to yesterday’s post saying that Winner’s complaint of the lack of intellectualism among Jews as a reason for her leaving Judaism begs the question of whether there indeed are more intellectual Christians. However you interpret her remark, by my rough page-count estimate Winner spends only around 2% of her book discussing why she left Judaism, and her explanations (like this one) strike me as mostly after the fact ad-hoc rationalizations. Aside from the point I quoted yesterday she mentions that she was never fully be embraced by people – they may have admired her, but would never let their son marry her. Social stigma is a powerful force. I think the real explanation for her not digging deeper into her dissatisfaction with Judaism is that psychologically she really has not left Judaism at all. She describes getting together with another couple to hold a Christian seder, she sets up a tikun leyl shavuos learning sessions with Christian readings, she has a chapter devoted to her reading Rus (on Shavuos) as a Christian, and joins a Church which caters to her appreciation of close textual reading on the Bible. She even revisits a shule for a Shabbos davening. Her Christianity is just another layer added to the foundation of Judaism which informs and shapes that experience (and judging from the book reviews, it is this perspective that makes her writing interesting).


  1. Your observation about how some people distinguish Judaism from the Jews reminds me of this shakla ve'tarya:

    "How odd / Of God / To choose / The Jews."
    British journalist (and communist) William Norman Ewer, 1885-1976.

    "But not so odd / As those who choose / A Jewish God / Yet spurn the Jews."
    -reply from Cecil Browne:

    “It’s not so odd. The Jews chose God.”
    -attributed to various people.

    And Leo Rosten said,
    “Not odd of God. / Goyim annoy 'im”

  2. beautiful, as usual