Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"You or someone like you" a novel by Chandler Burr

Three weeks ago, I recieved a book in the mail entitled "You or Someone like you" by Chandler Burr.Mr. Burr who I do not know, sent me an accompanying 2 page letter.
The letter starts by explaining that this novel is "about Judiasm". He goes on to say that it relates to "an experience I had in Israel at age 23.I was expelled from a Yeshiva in Jerualem for being racially impure".
After explaining to me his objections to organized religions,he highlights Judiasm which represents "seperatism" Quoting Charles Bronfman ( a businessman-philanthropist, and architect of "birthright ) who is certainly not a Jewish scholar,ethicist or philosopher who said "You can live a perfectly decent life not being Jewish but I think you're losing a lot."..there are people throughout the world who have the same DNA you have.
The reason that he sent me the novel,is because I am quoted in the book by name as saying "intermarriage is sweeping young Jews out to sea".
Mr Burr's father is "ethnically Jewish and his mother Protestant This somewhat mirrors the characters in the book where the mother is an Englishwoman who is gentile,and the father a product of an Orthodox Jewish home.
Mr. Buris concludes his letter to me by saying "you'll instinctivly disagree ( with the novel) but that is just my instinct".
The main characters are this very literate couple with degrees in Literature who become involved in Hollywood,both professionally and socially. She finds a niche in developing an expanding a number of book clubs for the rich and famous.
His parents object to the marriage,but very little is discussed regarding religious differences.The one exception is the annual Passover seder that they attend with their son (Sam) which culminates yearly with the "pledge" NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM.(the mother stops attending after a while)
Subsequent to the grandparents demise, Sam on his own `goes to Israel.At the Kotel(Western Wall)( he is picked up by an obvious right wing "shliach"(representative) doing kiruv (outreach) who asks him "are you Jewish?, he answers affirmatively.After agreeing that he would like to learn more of his heritage,he and 5 similar young men wind up in a yeshiva,where he is again asked the "Jewish" question and again answers "yes".
By the next day,Sam has confided in one of the young men the truth,and is immediately brought to the head Rabbi,who berates him as being "trefe (unkosher) unclean and impure.You are not a Jew.Your father has been part of the destruction of the Jewish people".
From then on the anger of the wife shines through.It is an anger that borders on the antisemitic.Sam returns home, announces his homosexuality,as the father has pangs of guilt for marrying a gentile.He consults a Rabbi,and proceeds to divorce his wife,though they still love each other.

Some of the quotes from this angry wife include
"What is called Judiasm.... is to divide.... 2 groups.The disgust for Trefe is not a disgust for shrimp, but a disgust for non -Jews "(p 298 )

"Israel is a racial security state ..with an exclusivist system of apartheid that distinguishes Jew from non-Jew" (p 298)

'If they don't accept my son..they can all go to the goddamn ovens.If that means mass cultural suicide through the intermarriage that they the racists hate so much,then mass suicide it will be " (p 282)

While Mr. Burr uses real people in his story including many prominent Jews such as David Remnick,Bronfman, Abe Foxman and Mort Zuckerman to name a few,none really touch the heart of the anger that is manifest in Mr. Burr's characters..None of course are learned ,Jewish philosophers or halachik scholars.(Jewish law).

Mr. Burr has fashioned a well written ,literate novel that any student of English literature would love..He notes that he wrote much of the book while in the NYC Public Library.Yet sadly nowhere in the book do we hear a "Jewish voice" defend the proud history of our people.We witness not an analyses of the issue,but a monologue against Judiasm.
Furthermore Mr. Burr lists a number of individuals who assisted him in bringing the novel to fruition.Absent is a single Orthodox Rabbi or scholar to place things into a different perspective at least as a partial rebuttal.Nowhere is there someone to raise a voice to say that whereas the words and actions of the Rabbis were indeed without compassion or based on how Jews should respond under those circumstances, yet they do not represent Judiasm.To me it is like condemning all physicians, because your physician had no bedside manners.
The most critical omission is the failure while in the library,to walk over to Google the 7 Noahide Laws which govern and define how a gentile is viewed by Jewish Law.One who follows the Noahide Law is considered a righteous gentile and as Maimonides (Rambam) notes is equal in stature to our High Priest,and has an equal place in the world to come.
The seven Laws are:
1-Idolatry is forbidden
2-Incest and adultery are forbidden
3-Murder is forbidden
4-No cursing in the name of G-d
5-Theft is forbidden
6-Eating the flesh of a living animal is fordidden
7-A system of Courts of Justice must be established

-. Jews have no special place in this world other than to study and follow Torah.Long before there was DNA knowledge, our Torah, written and oral kept us together.When Jews strayed from that path,they and their progeny were lost.
While we do not seek converts,those with a sincere desire to follow our 613 mitzvoth can do so after study.But why would a non-Jew want to be burdened with 613 Commandments, when he/she can reach the same level of purity and holiness by following seven?
The author describes our seperatism as a "toxin".To me it is a postive mandate pushing me to be the best human being possible whether in dealing with man-man relations,(INCLUDING GENTILES) man-G-d relations and man dealing with himself (to achieve the maximum from your potential) to be the best possible human being possible.

One last personal note.I fashioned my life as a Torah Jew,however my "seperatism" never stopped me from being a good physician whether my patients were Jew, gentile or even prisoner of war(during the Vietnam War).Our way of life is "tikkun olam"-to repair society (all society).
Contrary to living with a "toxin" in my system, my Torah ,and my learnings of Torah have guided me to believe that every human being is precious and made in the image of G-d.
Too bad Mr. Burr never sat down with some truly modern Orthodox Jews.