Yesterday night, I wrote about Sarah Palin’s attempt to rehabilitate one of the vilest American anti-Semites of the last century, Westbrook Pegler, by quoting him in her convention acceptance speech. To my utter amazement, a reader wrote to defend Pegler and attack me. The reader was Jewish no less. His name is Justin White, an Israeli-American of the Orthodox right-wing militant persuasion. But Justin’s story gets even more interesting. Somewhere along the line he converted to Judaism.
Judaism has a very complicated attitude toward conversion. At one time long ago, our religion actively proselytized. And today, one sect, Lubavitch still does. But Judaism has for so long been a minority religion subject to persecution, that we learned to soft pedal conversion. We didn’t encourage it, but on the other hand we didn’t refuse anyone who wanted to throw in their lot with us.
Once someone did convert, there were very strict rules insisting that the community embrace baaley teshuva as if they were one of our own. I’ve always found these dicta to be admirable.
But then a piece of work like Justin comes along and puts all those Jewish teachings sorely to the test. He began his correspondence with me seeming to challenge the notion that Pegler was an anti-Semite, or at least challenge the notion that Pegler’s attitude toward Jews was as toxic or significant as I’m making it out to be:
Wikipedia also says: Pegler, a Catholic, was married to Julia Harpman Pegler, a onetime New York Daily News crime reporter who came from a Jewish family in Tennessee. How do you like that? I had an orthodox conversion in Jerusalem. I could say things about the way Jews behave that are MANY times more acerbic than Mr. Pegler. Stop pretending you are innocent. When you act like an ass people will call you on it. Small towns are the only thing America has going for it.
Gmar Hatima Tova
Isn’t it astonishing that some one who claims to be an Orthodox convert would make the claim that he’s witnessed Jewish behavior “many times” worse than anything Pegler noted? It makes you wonder what kind of Jew this person is. Or perhaps, since he’s adopted the most supremacist, intolerant attidudes of Orthodox Judaism, the “behavior” he’s attacking is that of “so-called” Jews (i.e. the rest of us) who aren’t so kosher (that is, non-Orthodox).
White’s next message upped the ante and the level of vitriol and added with an obscure reference I haven’t yet been able to decipher to “Rabbi Brenda.” I presume he’s attempting to make fun of the fact that women are rabbis in Jewish denominations that are less “manly” than Orthodox Judaism:
sorry, Rabbi Brenda
I suppose it’s being King Snot American Reform Jew and “Rabbi Spinoza” that allows you to pretend you understand derech eretz? No, aside from all of that my friend I come from REAL USA (Virginia, went to UVA). Only after I studied at yeshiva did I realize how much my Hillel buddies hated Judaism because they were taught this from their parents. None of them have Jewish children now (but I’m “not allowed” to say this)? By the way-are you a four year old? Only four year-olds have tantrums (and spoiled Ashkenazim who write for leftist, anti-Jewish magazines who pretend to be “Jewish.”) Some of us know Torah and we aren’t going to be fooled by Rabbi Brenda and her post-Semitic hate rhetoric!
??? ????? ????
if you can read Hebrew..
Justin may’ve studied physics at the Hebrew University, but he still doesn’t understand that if he wants someone to be able to read Hebrew characters included in an e-mail, he has to send the message in html format, and not plain text as he did. I hope his mastery of physics is better than his mastery of e-mail.
Also, isn’t it interesting that he assumes I’m a Reform Jew when I’m not? I also enjoyed the boast about coming from Virginia and being a University of Virginia alum. Thankfully, I know other Jews and Christians from Virginia who give the lie to Justin. Not all of them are as mean-spirited and intolerant as he.
In the following message, you’ll note Justin’s extreme modesty. And if anything comes across as a bit boastful, just know that he could’ve tooted his own horn even louder and the fact that he only tooted it this loud is truly an indication of his humility:
I am probably the strongest convert of my generation. I am an Israeli citizen for 8 years. I have an exemption from Hebrew from both Tel Aviv and Hebrew University and I studied physics at Hebrew U. I would imagine that you don’t raise money for Orthodox Yeshivot in J-m because that is too Jewish for you. I have been studying ACTUAL Judaism for 15 years, so I doubt you know more than I do (I am glad to write to you in Hebrew as well). If you are writing for Rabbi Brenda’s hate magazine, then I DOUBT you know any Judaism except for kiss Arab ass. Maybe you are an Arab? Do you expect me to leave a note for Rabbi Brenda’s lost-sheep followers? To be crucified by Seinfeld Jews? BTW: I took Sefardic minhag-that is most of the difference you are seeing here. Any Sefaradim writing for you all (I mean ones that weren’t kidnapped as kids)?
Considering he accused me of childish behavior, I wonder how he would characterize his own questioning of my Jewishness.
I’m taking a wild stab in guessing that perhaps White’s reference to “Rabbi Brenda’s hate magazine” may be a reference to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun Magazine. If so, White has become the 100th right wing commenter to confuse this blog with the Magazine. That too doesn’t speak well to the precision of White’s research technique in his scientific endeavors.
One of the things I find most troubling about Justin White and his conversion is that in becoming a Jew he has absorbed many of the worst qualities of a certain rigid strain of Orthodox Judaism. Of course, it’s entirely possible White was as insufferable before he became a Jew as after.
One of the most loving and powerful stories from the Bible is the Book of Ruth, which is a description of the archetypal Jewish conversion of Ruth to Judaism out of devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi. This story has a powerful impact on Jewish attitudes toward conversion and converts. It makes us appreciate the sacrifices that someone makes to join our faith. It compels us almost to venerate such a person. But in one fell swoop, Justin White tramples on all the best values that Judaism has to offer: it’s openness, tolerance, advocacy for justice, etc. Instead, he becomes a caricature of the worst that Judaism has to offer. It makes you downright sad.