Apropos of Nothing

Not sure why I’m feeling compelled to write about this, but I’ve been thinking today about how bothered I am by extremism and stupidity (and how they usually go hand-in-hand).

There is this phenomenon that I notice in Orthodox Judaism that I wonder if it’s present in other variants of Judaism or other religions: this need to one-up; the constant pressure to prove how much more frum you are compared to others.

Why do we do it?  Why do we feel the need to ask our rabbis questions that would seemingly have no relevance other than to show the rabbi how pious we are?  Why do we come up with more and more restrictive rules that simply aren’t real.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone or anything specific.  I just read something that bugged me for this reason.  Without going into specifics, essentially, the subtle point was being made that sex was so dirty, such a repugnant concept, that the word itself was to be avoided.  Instead “—” was written in its place.  Really?

Or, for some random other examples, I had a memory of elementary school books writing ‘ד in place of Shem Hashem.  So to avoid expressing God’s name (the tetragrammaton), they used a shortened version.  But this isn’t one step removed.  It’s five steps removed.  From yud-hay-vav-hay to alef-dalet-nun-yud.  From alef-dalet-nun-yud to “hashem.”  From hashem to just a hay.  And as if that’s not enough, as if the hay itself is somehow still holy, scale it back one letter to a dalet.  That’s just nuts.

But as nuts as it is, it’s symptomatic of a greater disease in the orthodox jewish community: the one-upping.  Why?

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4 responses to “Apropos of Nothing

  1. I’d like to request specifics. Can you post it? Or at least email it?

  2. the subtle point was being made that sex was so dirty, such a repugnant concept, that the word itself was to be avoided. Instead “—” was written in its place. Really?

    Are you refering to the meaning behind the term “Lashon kodesh”?

  3. Are you refering to the meaning behind the term “Lashon kodesh”?

    Not specifically, no. I was referring to a specific post on a specific blog where I just read that. The post was about sex, but everywhere the writer needed to write the word, he wrote — instead.

  4. i don’t think it’s usually conscious oneupmanship; people get used to something, and then it just seems like “not enough anymore”. this is how words cycle through taboos in languages — you start with one word, which then gets used in negative contexts, so it acquires negative connotations, and then you need a euphemism. eventually the original euphemism, through use and commonness, acquires the same stigma as the original word it was replacing, and you need a new euphemism for that…

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