Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


The Finkler Question and What It Means To Be Jewish

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Howard Jacobson’s The Finlker Question just won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. Pretty wild considering it’s a British award and the book is entirely devoted to the meaning of being Jewish in the 21st century. That is Finkler’s question.
I recommend the book, but even more important than Jacobson’s wise and witty wrestling with that question, is what we come away with when we ask that question ourselves. What does it mean to be Jewish at this moment in human history? Is it different today than it was a generation or two ago? If so, how?
Whether or not one is Jewish, we can all ask what Jewish means to you? Jacobson describes himself as having been raised Jewishly, “in the New York way — We were stomach Jews, we were Jewish-joke Jews, we were bagel Jews. We didn’t go to synagogue.” Is that a real Jewishness? Does it have depth and meaning?
Despite the number of people who insist otherwise, it’s clear that the answer to those questions is ‘yes’. In the case of Howard Jacobson that kind of Judaism created the Jewishness which inspired the newest work of literature to be awarded one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards — Seems to me that one can’t get more serious than that.
So rather than worry about what Jewishness is not, where we don’t go or what we don’t do, I invite you to share your answer as to what is Jewish and what it means to you.



  • jesusberg

    I enjoy going to walmart wearing my tire hat.

  • Dwayne furlong

    comedian David Steinberg said it best: “being Jewish means KNOWING that you can buy anything wholesale (and never at retail).”

  • romanscapegoat

    in every heart of a Jew there is a drive to own everything…a gift from Lucifer for killing their messiah and turning away from god’s finally message…Hitler stopped the Jews from taking over Europe…every where the Jews have been in history they have taken over…Obama is starting to turn on the light of truth on the evil acts of the banks and corporations, its what he will run his next campaign on…the space people have already made a small group of people the most powerful men in the world and most of them are Jews. Lucifer will land in Israel soon…

  • jewish non profit organization school for retards

    Can someone please send me some money, Im having issues.

  • Gil

    If you give romanscapegoat enough print space his paranoid psychotic ramblings will undo him. From his delusional projections onto the Jews – who represent his eternal nemesis – to “space people”, “Lucifer,” “Christ killer,” “controlling the world,” “wanting all the money for themselves,” “world power and domination.” His loss with reality is astonishing. It is unfortunate that psychotics such as he can chase intelligent, thoughtful discussions from these blogs. It degrades rabbi Hirschfield’s learned contributions. Roman reminds me of monkeys breaking out of their cages in a laboratory wrecking the area with their filth.

  • romanscapegoat

    gil..or maybe its true and you are the only one who looks like an ass without any original thought…think tanks shouldn’t be regulated

  • Gil

    What a fantastic rhetorical, and polemic reposte- “Maybe its true.” “Looking as an ass” is one thing; acting as, and thinking as an ass, as in your case is prima faci evidence of your devolutionary, and atavistic derangement syndrome. Your reference to “think tanks” pathetically in your case – JUST TANKED.”

  • marta

    I have to agree with Gil… romanscapegoat’s comments have almost led me to remove this feed from my RSS reader. (And it may drive me to that yet.) I don’t mean this as a threat or anything, just an acknowledgment that I find these comments poisonous.
    Anyway, on the main topic: I use Jew to mean someone who tries to follow Torah and Talmud law wherever it applies in their lives. Jews may disagree about just what those laws require, but they cannot disagree that the laws are still relevant. Some might quibble over my usage of “tries to,” but I think that someone can change his or her actions in steps. So someone born in a nonreligious family but who decides that following Jewish law is important, is being Jewish – even if he or she is still taking the step necessary to actually follow that law.
    I also use Jewish in a secondary sense, to refer to anyone descended from the Israelites. However I qualify that and am apt to describe such people as “ethnically Jewish” rather than “Jewish” full-stop.

  • heather

    well I find myself getting moist while reading romanscapegoats thoughts.

  • pam

    I would have to agree with heather. Roman is very stimulating.

  • Rabbi Brad

    Marta,
    I really hope that you don’t do that — we need your comments. First, it’s always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Second, my guess is that walking off the ‘playing field’ hands the opposition a victory by default. Third, the free exchange of ideas ultimatley rewards the more reasonable view — it takes time, often too much time, but it happens…if people like you hang in there.
    Peace

  • http://micheole2@yahoo.com Michelle Cole

    Humans are more than their thoughts. More than their opinions. Our minds and words merely explain feelings (often inadequately!). I am a Jew. With a short salute to Carl Jung, I know it in my soul.

  • http://migdalorguysblog.blogspot.com Adrian Durlester

    A Jew is…someone who, within his/her own mind, self-identifies as such. What more is needed? Each individual may choose what characteristics and behaviors they identify with this Jewishness of theirs. No one of us is more qualified than any other to pass judgment upon these choices.
    I’m a Jewish Educator. It’s not my job to create Jews. It’s not my job to spoon feed them some “party-line.” It’s my job to give people the tools that empower them to explore their Judaism and find ways to act and behave consistent with their understanding of what it means to be a Jew.
    As the Dalai Lama says in Kamnetz’s “The Jew in the Lotus” – “Could we make Judaism more beneficial instead of asking Jews to just hold on out of guilt?”

  • http://santacruzjewishtheatre.com Claire Cameron

    I once asked my grandfather that question. He was a very wise and loving man, revered as a Talmud Torah scholar who led discussion groups, and as a rabbi. His answer to me, when I was 8 yrs old – was short, but had meaning for me: “What does God ask of you? To love mercy, to do justly, to walk humbly with your God.” My life was shaped by my grandfather’s ideas and by my father’s ideas (he was a reform rabbi in upstate New York). I have always felt kindly toward those who were less fortunate than I, I believe that we are here to help each other, and always felt that MOST difficult situations cd be resolved through intelligent and calm discussion. Unfortunately, the world we live in is filled with those who allow their views and values to be led by dark forces. Guess I’ve always been a maverick.

  • Rob Rosenblum

    If you are not a Jew by choice, you are a Jew by default. From the seed of Abraham and chosen by G-d, your DNA has been blessed by the heavenly Father. Use it as you will.

  • Abambagibus

    It would seem that, according to this, to be Jew is to be a member of an aggregate so not necessarily religious that the religion of it may be secondary to the primacy of the culture it spawned. Thus the error which my parents had accused me of, when as a child I kept speaking of Jews as a mainly a cultural or a national phenomenon, has metamorphosed into the thankfulness of a valid description. Would you believe that, while correcting me, they used to insist that it is only a religion? But, other than being described as of that which is other than Jewish, is there such a thing as a Christian culture?

  • romanscapegoat

    what if jesus was the messiah….that would mean the jews turned away from god the moment the jews had jesus killed by the romans…that would mean what every book the jews base thier religion on after jesus was killed in fake and evil….jesus asked god to forgive you for you for you know not what you do….jesus cant make god do anything…god does not forgive the jews…god will allow the space people to hurt the jews….the space aliens will land in israel soon….the space people are really lucifer and his fallen angels…

  • Melvin Sharrar

    To me being a Jew is such a humbling and honorable hardship. Most of my life I had felt different than the rest of my friends ifelt it wrong to pick on the weak the poor the nerds the fat kids and so forth… I always felt the need to help out those in need even if i had less and though I was once caught up into the world of the flesh even then i felt different and a strong pull to do justly. I did not find out untill I was 35 that I was Jewish but then I found why I felt the ways I had growing up. God had given us the duty to show the world who did not know Him who He was through our actions our words our love our tolorence and our acceptance of others not from our tribes. We were called to be a light in the darkness a hope for the hopeless and the hand of God to help another man up who had fallen. To be a Jew is circumcision of the heart and the spirit within.As a Jew the world would know the father through us and all we do it is our duty and our priveledge to Love as god has loved us. Our people failed once to do this and Jesus came to re teach us how to be a jew He was a Jew Himself He had the Spirit of the Father in Him in the fullness and he showed it by his works. God is Spirit Jesus never said he was the Father but He did say “If you seen me you have seen the Father” and He also said “If you don’t believe me, then Believe the works that I do” I guess it’s our own desire for greed and sin that wouldn’t accept him as the Messiah to the children of Israel!

  • Florence

    In “The Finkler Question”, written with great wit and humor, I enjoyed the multifaceted ways the characters experienced Judaism in this book regarding the serious question.
    I was able to identify with aspects similar to my own Jewish journey as a Jew by Choice over the past 40 years of my life. There are many ways to be a Jew; one way doesn’t work for everyone. That’s what makes it so beautiful. If I had to choose one defining element of Jewishness it would have to be the “Peoplehood”. A Jew can travel the whole world and be welcomed by other Jews into their homes, schools and synagogues. Proud Jews share and act in their knowledge of Torah and those who are not close themselves off to everyone.

  • Ann

    A Jew is a Jew by DNA or by Choice. A Jew knows in his/her soul and heart that he/she is a Jew. Why the question?

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