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 Here's an interesting pattern:

Generation 1: Highly religious, highly insular. People who aren't part of the faith are inferior/damned/the enemy. Possibly all three simultaneously.
Generation 2: Moderately religious, highly insular. People who aren't part of the faith aren't 'one of us' but they have some good points, I guess. Just don't go marrying one of them.
Generation 3: Moderately to non-religious, moderately insular. Other people can believe whatever they want, but people like us should still identify with each other and our religion more than with outsiders.
Generation 4: Mostly non-religious, moderately to non-insular. Belief is a personal thing and largely taboo to talk about. People shouldn't choose who they associate with on the basis of their religion.
Generation 5: Woah, you still care about religion? What a weirdo.

What I'm wondering here is:

* Is that pattern actually correct? Or at least largely correct. My own family has Gen 2 in my grandmother, Gen 2.5 in my mother, and Gen 4 in me (Gen 5 is my sister)
* Did the rise of tolerance cause the weakening religious ties or is it another factor controlling both, like increased personal prosperity or greater multiculturalism?
* Regardless of the historical cause of the decline of religion, can teaching tolerance weaken religious ties? It seems like it might, since the 'everyone's belief is personal' meme implies that religion shouldn't be taken any more seriously than any other subjective opinion about the world. And unlike political opinions we don't have to make regular semi-important choices based on our religious affiliation.
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 (slightly paraphrased, for clarity and faulty memory purposes)

*someone has left a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet on the table in the break room*
Coworker: I hate Jehovah's Witnesses. You shouldn't push your beliefs on other people.
Me: I don't agree with them but I have sympathy for their position.
Coworker: Why?
Me: Well, if you genuinely believed that people would go to Hell for not believing what you believe, wouldn't you try to convert them?
Coworker: What do you mean?
Me: ok, if I believed that there was a man outside this room who killed everyone with blond hair, and you had blond hair, then wouldn't it make sense for me to try to convince you to dye your hair brown so that you won't get killed?
Coworker: Huh?
Me: If I was about to kill myself, you would try to stop me, right?
Coworker: Why would you try to kill yourself?
Me: Maybe I was really depressed, I don't know.
Coworker: Of course I would try to stop you, but what does this have to do with religion?
Me: *gives up*

This was a particularly frustrating conversation for me because so far this is the only coworker who's shown even the slightest glimmer of intellectual curiosity. In fact, 10 minutes before this conversation she loudly declared herself to be 'philosophical'. Seems like being 'philosophical' isn't quite enough to separate beliefs about the world from facts about the world.
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So two weeks on with my whole not being Jewish thing, a couple of points have come up. The first being that I told my family and got even less response than I was expecting (I wasn't expecting Mum to be terribly bothered in the first place, since she's been known to eat ham and bacon occasionally). Turns out she's much more concerned about the identity and 'marrying in' parts than the religous bits. And since I've already told her multiple times that I don't intend to make a special effort to marry in, that's pretty much the end of that problem. The second being that I still haven't gotten around to putting a pork product in my mouth, partly because I don't eat much meat to start with, but also because it turns out that I developed an aversion to the idea of eating pork in much the same way that I'm not keen on eating anything from McDonalds or KFC, despite having eaten there with great enjoyment in the distant past. I think about eating them and get a response from my brain indicating that they're not really food and if I want food I should go eat something else. So I'll basically have to go out of my way to eat some ham occasionally until I've convinced myself that pigs are edible after all.

In non-religious news, thesis is coming along nicely, but so is the deadline. As of today I have 3 weeks left to finish writing, polish it, and then get it printed, bound, and handed in. Scary stuff. I'm enjoying it a fair bit though, when it's not tedious or anxiety-provoking. Enough to continue with this academic writing stuff in the future? Maybe. I'll see how I'm feeling in 3 weeks.

In other other news, I'm still visting a psychologist on a regular basis. Progress there is not coming along so nicely, it's more of the one step forward, two steps to the side and then do-si-do around your partner before heading back to where you started variety of progress. Actually, that's not entirely true, I do think I'm slowly making real progress, it's just frustrating not to be improving faster. And to add insult to injury somewhat my psychologist reckons that my perception that I still have so far to go is itself symptomatic of my overly-perfectionistic thinking. So, uh, I guess that when I stop feeling like I need to make progress to be normal, that's when I'll know that I've achieved normality?
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So one of my coworkers rang me up and convinced me to come with him to hear about some business proposal project thing with as-yet unspecified details. As the weekend approached I finalised the plans with him: He would pick me up from my flat on Sunday at around 11, and then we would go out to Burwood to hear about this thing. "Why so early?" I asked, as he'd originally said it was in the afternoon. "To get good seats" he replied. This set off my bullshit-sense, giving me a mental image of some charismatic guy trying to convince a hall full of people to buy his book. That and my coworkers' readiness to give me a lift rather than leaving me to find my own way there, which struck me as slightly suspicious. But hey, I thought, maybe this project is just really important or well-backed or something, or maybe he just gets a headhunter's fee for getting me in.

Sunday dawned cold and miserable and 11am came and went and I started to wonder whether I was waiting for nothing. At 12:30 I finally got a call from my coworker Monkey, that he was downstairs. On opening the car door the aroma of stale sweat enveloped me. Eugh. And so we set off for a long drive to Burwood. Along the way we talked of course, mostly about our religions and the differences and similarities between them (he's a Muslim), and about whether the holy books contain literal truth or not. Turns out he doesn't believe in "that monkey nonsense" as he calls it, but the reason for this soon became apparent when I tried to explain why I don't believe in the Garden of Eden story.
Me : "You don't marry your sister right?"
Monkey : "Of course not"
Me : "Do you know why?"
Monkey : "Because she's my sister!"
Me : *sigh*
Me : "ok, if you marry your sister or your first cousin your babies will be born sick and die. That's why no one does it"
Monkey : *is enlightened*

Yup, turns out he has no understanding of basic genetics and breeding. So it does sort of make sense that evolution would seem silly to him. And my explanation is massively simplified because we were working through a language barrier. By now I've reached the point where 90% of the time I can word things so that my Indian coworkers understand me the first time, although it means I have to lose a lot of the more complex parts of what I want to say.

Anyway, after what seems like forever (and lots of us going "oh crap we're going to be so late!") we arrive at the place. It's a crappy little back room that can comfortably hold about 30 people. I would estimate about twice that were crammed in. My first impression was of being the only white person in this SEA of dark-skinned Indians. My second impression encompassed the little Indian guy up the front delivering the motivational style speech, and made all my internal alarm bells start ringing.

We'd gotten there rather late after all and after about 20 minutes we had a short break before the next part of the afternoon began. I immediately turned to Monkey and asked him whether he knew what a pyramid scheme was. His first answer was "how do you know what a pyramid is? I didn't hear about it before I came here". His second answer was "this isn't one though" And then he went and found the guy who recruited him originally to try to explain to me why it's not a pyramid scheme.

His reasons went something like this:
  • Pyramid schemes are illegal so this must not a pyramid scheme
  • This company has lots of high-powered lawyers who would make sure this wasn't a pyramid scheme since otherwise they would get shut down
  • I asked them the same thing and they showed me some financial statements or somesuch that proved to me that it wasn't
I then asked him the name of the company and he refused to give it to me because he realised I would want to Google it as soon as I got home, but he would be happy to give it to me on some subsequent occasion. We then went back in for the second part of the afternoon, wherein the motivational speaker guy explained how you can grow your business and get money.

Basically the way the business works is that you have this catalogue thing, kind of like an online supermarket or something. So you order from this at the beginning of every month and of course you pay money for the goods but they're probably cheaper than what you can get locally anyway so that's alright. Now for every product you buy you get a little bit of money back, and for every product you convince someone else to order you get a little bit of money too. So ideally you need to get other people to buy into this whole business thing, because you're growing your network of people you're selling to and at the same time everyone you convinced to also sign on is growing their networks too, and if you're successful enough at convincing others to sign on then eventually you're getting more money back than you're spending. Of course this is highly dependent on your being an excellent salesperson and being able to convince enough other people to sign on to the not-quite-pyramid. And yes, I don't think it's quite a pyramid. It's central mechanism is pretty much identical but my instincts tell me that this one isn't quite so bad a deal for the people down the bottom. All you need is to be an awesome salesperson. Which just goes to show how bad a choice Monkey made when he tried to recruit me, since I couldn't persuade my way out of a wet paper bag.
Another difference I found in this scheme was that it didn't promise easy money. It actually advocates staying at your current job/career path indefinitely while you work on this business thing on the side, and they warned that you won't be getting much in the way of income from the business for the first few years. But now we get onto the other, and possibly even more insidious part of the business. They understand that not everyone is a born salesperson and yet they still want to try this business thing and get money. How to help them? Why, hold training sessions for sales and leadership skills of course!

So now we have a room full of people from almost identical backgrounds, who have invested into this long-term plan that promises incomes of up to 250k but not straight away, and attending these training sessions several times a week where they learn people skills from this charismatic guy. See what I'm getting at? It all feels very cultish to me, anyway. And Monkey has already invested himself into it. He says that at the moment his life pretty much just consists of working at Coles and coming to this place to learn how to grow his business.

After this realisation I decided I'd had enough. Monkey and I slipped out and he drove me home, complete with Dominos pizza, and more discussions about religion. Actually, I haven't done his views on religion enough justice yet. He believes that almost all religions are the same at their heart, ie they all preach more or less the same values. "What about Buddhism? They don't believe in God" I said, heading for the obvious weak spot in his theory. "Well, they have it half right. The Quran says "There are no gods. You shall have no other gods but me", right? They have the first part right, now they just need to add the other part to believe the same thing as me." I had no good reply to that, or if I did I lost it in my subsequent laughter. He also believes that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all had stints as the chosen of God throughout history. Every time the Jews got chucked out of Israel it was because they did something wrong, and every time they were allowed to return it's because they did something right. The Muslims had their Golden Age sometime around the 12th century (I could be very very wrong with the time here..) but then they did something wrong and the Christians were chosen, leading the Crusades to take control of Jerusalem. And so on. It's an interesting theory at any rate, and much more broadminded than I expected to hear out of a semi-practising Muslim. And there's more still but I've run out of time and I've gone on too long, so the rest of his theories will have to remain unaired on this blog.
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A lot of people I know seem to find comfort and security in their absolute knowledge that God exists. My understanding of this is that it lets one make sense of seemingly senseless events because then you can say that your cousin didn't die in a car accident because of a meaningless set of coincidences, but that God works in mysterious ways and his death somehow serves a higher purpose, even if as humans we can't understand what that purpose is.

As for me, I find the opposite to be true. If I try to imagine that everything in life happens because some omnipotent being out there made it like this I feel trapped and rageful at said being for dumping us into such a crappy world. I find it liberating to believe that life is complete and utter randomness. On the one hand it means that yes, horrible stuff happens to good people for no reason at all. But on the other it means that you really are free to do whatever you want. If you want to be a complete asshole, that's ok, but there's plenty of consequences in this world for that kind of behaviour such as lack of friends and stuff. And if you want to be good then that's fine too, and better yet, you don't need to listen to anything but your own conscience to decide what constitutes good. Hmm, that came out implying that you can be lazy by setting the bar as low as you want, which isn't what I meant. What I meant was that most people have certain moral ideas about what is right and wrong, and not believing in a higher power leaves you free to follow that inner compass rather than trying to reconcile your views with that of your religious institution.

I think I believe in an ideal world that doesn't really exist. I assume that everyone has a strong moral voice that, in the absence of an authority figure (eg god) would still lead people to act in a good/responsible way. I know from experience that there are a lot of people out there who are like that, but that there's also a lot of people out there who either don't possess or don't listen to that voice, who take the easy way out, who act in petty and malicious ways because they're bored or having a bad day or whatever. But then, the majority of those people wouldn't change their ways for religious purposes anyway..

As usual, I have no idea where I'm going with this. But I know that I find the idea of God as a kind of Big Brother to be oppressive, even if he had my best interests at heart. I want to be free, whether that means screwing up big time or becoming something amazing I never knew I could be. And without the capacity for the first the second loses a lot of its savour.
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I'm looking to move out to a place closer to uni by the end of February with a couple of friends from uni, so to this end we've spent the last week attending various house inspections.

So on Friday I was on my own, and somewhat nervous because a) it was only my second house inspection and b) I'd stupidly forgotten to print out a map of the place, so I wasn't even sure if I was at the right house. The total absence of anyone else around made this feeling worse. Then, luckily for the both of us as it turned out, I was approached by this stranger who was facing a similar problem to me. Between the two of us we worked out that we were at the right location, but then there was still no sign of anyone else such as the real estate agent. So we started making small talk, as one does in these situations, and it turns out that he just moved here from New Zealand, his wife is teaching at Emmanuel. "Emmanuel?" I queried, thinking about how Matt works there and it's just up the road from my high school. His wife was becoming the head of Hebrew, it turns out, and suddenly I realised where I'd heard his accent before. "Oh, you're Israeli" I blurted out. "Cos I'm Jewish and stuff.."*

And between one moment and the next we changed from somewhat friendly acquaintances into.. somewhat closer acquaintances I guess :p We're talking about a 10 degree rise in friendliness here, with both of us making an implicit assumption that a fellow Jew is more trustworthy.

After that the house opened for inspection and we had our couple minutes of checking out the size of the rooms and so forth. Afterwards he needed to find another location, and since I was going in the same direction I walked down with him, dispensing advice about Sydney, answering his questions, and exchanging quite a lot of information. I'm still somewhat surprised that we didn't end up exchanging names at the end.

Anyway, just thought I'd share this as it's the first time I've really felt the sense of community that everyone always yammered on about at school. After being alienated at high school for 13 years I came out under the impression that I would never fit in with the Jewish community and that I would be best served running as fast and far away as possible. But on a hot summer's day I met a complete stranger and we walked together for a while, knowing that the other person would help for no other reason than that we both called ourselves Jewish.

* Those were the exact words, or at least close to them. Yes, I say really dumb things sometimes, especially in spoken conversations when I'm caught off-guard
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The Poll
When you sing the Australian National Anthem, how do you pronounce the word 'advance'?
A: To rhyme with 'pants'
B: Advarnce, to be assonant with the word 'path'

For myself, I have no idea. I read both pronounciations and they both sound correct to me.

Random Linguistics

I finally discovered why I've occasionally been mistaken for Canadian/British!

From the Wikipedia article on Australian English:

Cultivated Australian English has many similarities to British Received Pronunciation, and is often mistaken for it. Cultivated Australian English is now spoken by less than 10% of the population.

I find this strange though because I don't consider my word usage to be very.. cultivated, to say the least. In fact I often seem to go out of my way (without really meaning to) to use some really weird or earthy turns of phrase and pronounciation. Sometimes I think that it's my subconscious need to distance myself from the speech patterns of people who I don't like, so my mum's strange idioms are in, my high schools' South African phrases and accents are out, and in between is a healthy sprinkling of random phrases that seemed particularly apt to me when I heard/read them. Oh and growing up with a reading vocabulary far beyond your spoken can lead to some really strange pronounciations :) I'm still coming across them nowadays (who the hell uses that word anyway? Other than me)

Anyway, I guess that puts my accent mostly in General Australian English but sometimes straying into Cultivated. Woot!

The requests

1. Does anyone know where I can buy dreidels? At some point I'll probably go check Gold's near Bondi Beach but I have no idea where else one could possibly buy these. And Gold's has a reputation for being expensive, so an alternate source would be nice. Heck, any source would be nice, I don't even know if Gold's has them.

2. If I wanted to read the Christian Bible (ie. the New Testament, Gospels, etc) what version(s) would you recommend I read?
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I have now had the second person ask me if the reason for my religion's name is because of the apostle Judas. Judging by the cultural, social and physical distance between the two queries leads me to think that this belief must be quite widespread.

Now, here's my train of thought on this subject:
1. The Torah and Jewish history is full of names which changed significantly when translated into whatever the dominant language was at the time. For example, Moshe is known in English as Moses, and his brother Aharon is usually referred to as Aaron. Furthermore, Jesus would be known in Hebrew as Yesu or Yeshu (someone please correct me on this if I'm wrong).
EDIT: Thanks Michael and Simon for correcting me. Jesus = Yeshua or Yehoshua

2. This is rather timely :) The festival of Chanukkah is coming up, when the Jews celebrate the people rose up against the Greek oppressors and the man who led them. The man's name? In English, Judah. In Hebrew, Yehudah. His name is sourced from one of Jacob's (Ya'akov in Hebrew) 12 sons.

3. The Greek occupation of Judah/Israel/Palestine predated the Roman occupation.

4. This leads me to believe a few things. From (1), that Hebrew names that end in vowels tend to have an S tacked on to the end when converted into the language that was dominant at the time of Jesus (Latin? Roman? Greek?). Secondly, that names that contain H in a medial position tend to lose it in the translation. Thirdly, in all names Y becomes J during translation.

5. From this I conclude that Judas' real (ie. Hebrew) name was probably Yehudah, a name the predates him considerably.

6. Independently of all the above points, there's also a case to be made about the stupidity of naming an entire race/religion that had already existed for a few thousand years after one man, no matter how infamous.

7. Another case can probably be made via the etymology of the name Judas/Judah/Yehudah. According to one of those baby-naming sites (not the best of sources I know, but I don't exactly have any good Jewish literature on hand):
JUDAS Greek form of JUDAH. Judas Iscariot was the apostle who betrayed Jesus.
JUDAH "praised" (Hebrew). One of the twelve sons of Jacob and ancestor of a large tribe in the Old Testament.

So there you go. Who am I to argue with the baby-naming site? :)

In other news, some friends and I are considering celebrating Chrismukkah this year. It'll be fun!
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What I found most fascinating about this is that the views on God are exactly what my friend Zhe and I discussed late into the night once upon a time, and which I reproduced in part in an earlier post about the nature of God

Still reading, and having a ball in the process :)
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I should warn you now, that what you are about to read is quite flameworthy. If you have definite ideas about God which you're not comfortable being challenged on, or you just don't like reading about someone else's fairly atheistic conclusions, or if religious debate just bores you then don't read past this paragraph. If you choose to read on remember that this is just my own opinion and if God really does both exist and cares about this sort of thing then I'm probably going to burn in Hell :)

Firstly, I would like to say that the God I'm considering is the monotheistic God of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. I don't particularly care if Vishnu or Zoroaster are different to what I describe because this isn't about them. Also, I'm not going to refer to pronouns of God as Him/Her/It because the capitalisation is too much trouble for me to bother with. Sorry if it offends anyone.

So, in the various holy texts we have an apparent contradiction. Firstly, we are told that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect, unknowable and so forth. Secondly, we are told that he loves humanity, sorrows that they aren't perfect, gets angry when they turn from him and so forth. In short, he isn't that much different from humanity (or we aren't that different from him since he came first, but thats not really important to this)

To me, this just doesn't work. A God who is perfect and all-knowing has absolutely no relation to humanity. Humans are born with restrictions on what they can perceive, how they can think, what they can feel. We are constrained by the physics of the universe. Now, God created the universe, therefore he isn't constrained by its laws. This means that we have about as much chance of relating to him as a point on a piece of paper has of relating to a hypercube. We will NEVER understand God. Any metaphor we attempt is going to fall so far short as to be pointless. Ascribing human emotions to God is pure fallacy because human emotion is a result of complex interactions between hormones which God is not prey to, having no body formed of matter in this universe. Even assuming that he feels some analogue of emotion, our own emotions could only be the palest reflections of what God is capable of feeling.

So for simplicity's sake, let's assume that God has something that we can recognise as emotion. Now, what motive could God possibly have for caring about humanity? My answer is that we will never know and so the question is rather pointless. To God we are smaller than atoms and so its hard to imagine him caring for us, but that's ok because he can focus on something infinitely small anyway, unlike us humans. The answer of why is still up in the air though

Now, let's assume that God does care for us, because if he doesn't care about us then religion is pointless. So why are we meant to worship him again? You might as well worship your parents, because for most of your life they have more power than you and they certainly care for you. What possible good could there be in us worshipping God? It can't be that he craves the worship, because that would be a weakness, and therefore flawed and human. Could it be that its so that we can go to Heaven? Now why would he create a Hell to start with if he cares about us? Eternal damnation in return for not worshipping him is damn (hehe pun :p) harsh and not very caring at all. And once again it feels egotistic from my point of view, that we must worship him or else he'll punish us. That's just bullying. Taking the corollary and saying that if we do worship him he'll reward us is just manipulation. Could it be that our belief is what fuels his existence? Well that's just stupid, because then not only is he not perfect or the creator of the universe, but it puts humanity as the ultimate power since we are responsible for God's existence, and therefore there's less reason than ever to worship him.

So really, if God does exist and is as perfect as he's meant to be, it makes no difference whether we worship him or not. Either way he won't be bothered by it, or else he isn't as perfect as he's meant to be. And if he's not perfect, then there's even less reason to worship him, because when I look at the monotheistic religions all I see is a lot of egotism and maliciousness. Testing someone to see whether they love their family or you more by testing if they're willing to sacrifice their son to you? Throwing a hissy fit because your chosen people turned away from you because they thought they were alone and got scared? Damning all of humanity for their ancestor's weakness that led them to disobey an arbitrary command you gave them? A God who does things you can't respect him for isn't a god worth worshipping in my opinion

And finally I give you a Discworld quote because its funny and semi-relevant:
"The gods of the Disc have never bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that's where they believe, in their deepest heart, that they deserve to go. Which they won't do if they don't know about it. This explains why it is so important to shoot missionaries on sight." - Terry Pratchett

Join me next time in religious discussion as I rant about all the ways in which my religion pisses me off!


Oct. 24th, 2005 12:31 am
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So over the last few days I've been having conversations about religion with all manner of people.
A few points that have come up:

* All the major religions denounce Hillsong because its rather cultish but are they not rather cultish in their own way, and being pointlessly restrictive by telling worshippers how they should be allowed to worship?
My own reply to this: "Evil done in god's name is still evil and good done in the devil's name is still good" Just because Hillsong songs have Jesus as every other word doesn't mean that they are actually worhsipping him. The other religions denounce Hillsong for replacing religion with song rather than using song to enhance religion as the others are meant to. Personally i have doubts with this argument too, since my memories of christian choirs and the chants and songs from synagogue seem to contradict it. The only saving grace i can think of is that at the last synagogue service i was at, the chanted and sung prayers were interspersed with the rabbi giving us lessons from the Torah

* The perceived chauvinism of judaism and catholicism. The argument goes that it is possible to give men and women equality but not interchangeability. This translates to not treating the genders exactly the same ( because as much as we can pretend we're the same, there are fundamental differences between men and women). Say what you will, but the position of priest/rabbi is essentially serving god in the most direct fashion possible these days (given that the ancient temple no longer exists). And the priesthood/rabbinate is only open to men. Until that point is resolved for me in a fashion which doesn't involves some remark that women aren't suitable for the job "just because" i will persist in viewing my religion as "sucks to be a woman"

* The interpretation of the written word of the holy texts. A prime example of this is the line that defines nearly half of kosher law for judaism, "you shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk". The possible interpretations of this are myriad. The rabbis interpret it to mean that meat and milk are not to be mixed AT ALL, not even in the stomach. I would personally interpret it a little more literally, as a command not to cook meat in milk in general, but other combinations such as cheese and cold cuts would be fine. Another way entirely to to interpret it would be to look at the exact wording "a kid in its mother's milk", and take it as an injunction against disrespect to your mother.
Theologically, the explanation for this is that at mount sinai the jews were actually given two texts, the Torah (written word) and the oral tradition which allows the rabbis to interpret the Torah effectively. Now my question is this: If god is so omnipotent and so forth, why would he dictate the Torah to be written in what is effectively a code that you need the oral tradition to crack? Unless he was afraid that any random person could pick up the Torah and understand the moral lessons written within? That really makes no sense to me. Further thought leads me along the line that if the torah was deliberately written to be cryptic so only the jews could read it, it could only mean that god intended us to exterminate everyone else who is by definition less moral than us... and if god does exist i can't accept that kind of callousness

(Thanks to Iva Matt and Robert for providing a sounding board and/or inspiration for most of this)
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Thousands of years ago, or so the legend goes, when the Persian empire was at its height, there was a king called Achashverosh. Now Achashverosh had a wicked advisor Haman, who was most wroth because the Jews wouldn't prostrate themselves before him when he rode by on his horse. So he went forth before the king and said "There is a nation scattered and separated among the nations throughout your empire. Their laws are different than everyone else's, they do not obey the king's laws, and it does not pay for the king to tolerate their existence." At this, the king gave Haman his signet ring so that these people could be killed.
But all was not lost. King Achashverosh was looking for a new queen, so the wise Jew Mordechai sent his beautiful niece Esther to win the king's heart. She did so easily, and then successfully pleaded with the king to have Haman and his 10 sons killed and to revoke the execution. And so the Jews of the Persian empire were saved.

This is the story of Purim which the Jews celebrate every year*. Now, fast forward to today. The Jews accept the sovereignity of the country they live in. They by and large accept the laws of the country as their own except for the die-hard religious who still insist on taking things to the Beth Din (Jewish religious court of law). But they still refuse to mix with the other nations who surround them.

I live in the eastern suburbs in the heart of what i might call Jewville when the mood is upon me. I was sent to a Jewish day school for my 13 years of schooling so that i would know about my religion. These things had the side effect that there are whole groups of people who i never really met until i started uni, for example Indians, Asians of all types, and Muslims. Now, because i never got on particularly well with my peers at school, i made new friends at uni, most of them non-Jewish. In fact, my three best friends are all Asian, a fact which never fails to scandalise my grandmother who is sure that everyone is out to get us (hey at least she has some justification. She went through WW2 in Poland where everyone really was out to get us). But every onw and then I see people i recognise from school, and by and large they haven't made any new non-Jewish friends or any new friends at all. The self-imposed ghetto lives on.

My theory goes as follows: It is exactly that behaviour which encourages anti-Semitism to flourish. Since most Jews keep to their own kind so much (with the occasional black sheep like me who proves the exception), most non-Jews will never have any significant contact with Jews and so will be free to form whatever prejudices they like. And every time the Jews either consciously or not shun the others they reinforce their reputation as rich snobs.

And in the legend of Purim it is very clear on the fact that Achashversoh agrees to Haman killing all the Jews for exactly that kind of behaviour. Why bother keeping a whole people in your kingdom who refuse to participate in it and instead insist on having their own society?

I have written this rant about Jews because as someone who was raised in a Jewish environment it is what i know best. But i see similar behaviour from other quarters as well. The Asians without much command of english who make no effort to talk to anyone except other people from their home country. The Indians who have their own private ghetto similar to the Jewish one.

It's a sad fact of history: if you keep insisting on drawing a line between yourself and the rest of the world you shouldn't be too surprised if the world doesn't view you too well for it. The more you trumpet your pride in your race/lifestyle the more other people will view you as exclusive or elitist.

* This is the extremely paraphrased version of the story. The real reading of the scroll of Esther usually takes around an hour, and has some colourful customs associated with it such as making noise to stamp out Haman's name whenever it is mentioned, and saying the names of all his 10 sons in one breath when they are introduced to be hanged from the gallows.**

** Purim is also one of the very few festivals known to man that actually encourage getting drunk. It is written by the sages that we should get drunk until we can't distinguish between the phrases "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordechai"


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June 2017

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