Friday, February 29, 2008

A quote

This is one of the distinctive beliefs of the Catholic hurch that distinguishes it from other forms of Christianity.

"Belief that the Church is the vessel and deposit of the fullness of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles from which the Scriptures were formed. This teaching is preserved in both written scripture and in unwritten tradition, neither being independent of the other."

Fascinating, isn't it?

Also, this chick is amazing. She made a Britney Spears song sound good. That's talent.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nuch A Kashe

See here, here, and here. Oh, and also, here. I feel like there may also have been a similar discussion somewhere on E-kvetcher's blog; or it may have been LNM. Both of these wonderful bloggers are far too prolific for me to find said post, if in fact it does exist, and so if it does I would appreciate the link.
Now I know- this all begs the question "am I not making the situation worse?" Which, I probably am. But come on people. Get a grip! If we weren't all so very very self-absorbed, wondering where exactly we fit into things and how other people think we fit into things, this entire conversation would sound ridiculous. Honestly, it already sounds ridiculous, even to me, and I'm Jewish. I'm finally starting to sympathize with people who say "Call me anything you like, but G-d forbid you should label me!" On the one hand, it's a cop-out that I don't believe in; on the other hand, they're probably just sick of the entire stupid discussion already. I know a bit what that's like.

Several points. 1) Human beings categorize everything in their brain in order to understand it. It's called assimilating information into a pre-existing structure. (Or something like that. I'm too pressed for time to wiki the exact wordage.) People naturally categorize other people in their brains because that's how we understand everything.
2) No one likes to think that they are a steryotype. However, most people are, if not steryotypes, at least extremely predictable. "There is nothing new under the sun" means people and personalities too.
3) Everyone is a mix of things today. It's all sociological, really; where you came from in Europe, where you settled post-Europe, who everyone married...things used to be a lot more defined, for example when people were born, raised, and died in the same shtetl without ever going anywhere, save the next village over for their Rabbi's tish. The world got smaller and people got mixed up. It is no longer a chiddush that you are a mix of different backgrounds. Nearly everyone is.
4) I know that categorization is a useful and necessary tool for manipulating and understanding the world, and G-d knows, for shidduchim. But there is a limit people. Really. I am, indeed, all for the whole "be in as many categories as you want! It's fun and confusing!"approach, because it is fun. And confusing. But there is a point at which other people really don't care as much as you do. So, you know. Chill out.

I think this last is very possibly my main point. When you start getting into long-winded, more than thirty word descriptions of exactly who, where, and what you are in the Jewish world, it gets to be a little much. It's like "ok, I get it, you're not the steryotype!" Only, of course, you are.

I mean, look man, all I'm saying is this; I barely have the energy to care about my own issues of identity (which I have, just like everyone else) but I have even less patience for everyone else's issues of identity. Really, we don't care that much. And really? Neither should you.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

On Questions of Identity

No, that's not the name of a class. I'm just being pretentious this time. :) It is however, inspired by a class. So there.

In my Philosophy in Literature class (I know, right? I love being a philosophy major. We take the coolest classes ever,) we've been studying this poem by Zelda called לכל איש יש שם- Every Man Has a Name. (I tried to find the text and failed. Sorry.) The basic gist of the poem is that an individual claims an identity in every aspect of his life, and that all these identities together are what make up the individual. Well, that's my interpretation of it, but I'm pretty sure that's the generally accepted interpretation. Anyway, naturally it started a discussion on the nature of identity - what is the "I" of an individual? And it reminded me of this.

In tenth grade, we had this class once a week called Mechanechet. Essentially, every class was assigned a mechanechet - a teacher who was supposed to be our personal guidance counselor or something. She was supposed to be the one you could go to talk to in case you had an issue. Twice a week she taught us "Machshava" (Or, "how Not to Think") (sorry that was overly bitter; I'm a bad person) and once a week we had a session called "mechanechet" that was supposed to be the whole class together discussing whatever "issues" were on our minds. Like tznius, or....tznius. And then sometimes we discussed tznius. Sorry, really stopping now.

Anyway, this one particular week our Mechanechet wanted to do this activity with us. I came in late and grumpy, bc I always davened too long and never got enough sleep (two completely separate and very long stories) and I was handed this sheet. I don't even remember what was on it, but one of the things we were told to do was to write down what we would miss about a friend of ours if she weren't there. You know, sick or moved away or something, nothing morbid. I spent the entire time staring blankly at the sheet and getting more and more frustrated and upset. I mean, what the hell were we supposed to say? "Her bright and cheery smile." "Her sense of humor." "Her caring nature." "Her intelligent input in daily conversation." I mean, what if she didn't go anywhere, but she got depressed and withdrawn and stopped smiling and laughing and talking to people? Is she no longer the same person? Has she become someone else? Would we still say "Where has Shaindy gone? I miss her!" (I mean one could but that would be obnoxious.) How the hell were we supposed to be defining the essence of a friend in terms of external behaviors? Is that how we were supposed to define people? Is that how we're supposed to define ourselves? And why are we trying to define people anyway?

I tried asking some of these questions and I think exactly no one knew what I was talking about. Which just made it worse, of course. Admittedly I was probably babbling and I think close to tears. (This makes sense to none of you who didn't know me in high school. I was very, very tired. The whole four years.) But the question continued to bother me, and I still haven't figured it out.

What is the essence of a human being? What is the "I?" Is it our mind? But what about when that goes? Our hearts? What does that even mean? Our souls?

I actually had a real problem with that last theory bc if you're operating on the assumption that everyone is a gilgul (which I still was; I was barely two years out of Chabad let's not forget, and Chabbad philosophy tends to be the root of my world view even to this day) then your soul can't be you bc your soul isn't just yours. Oh, right. The reason that's problematic is bc, then what happens at techiyat hametim? Who are you then? What is the eternal, unshifting, unchanging, permanent "I?"

I've only come to a couple of possible very weak and sort of troubling conclusions. The first is that there is no"I." We just think there is bc it's a convenient device for manipulating the world, to think of oneself as having an intrinsic individual selfehood. The second is that we are not one of our characteristics, but the whole mesh of everything together. There is no one single essence, but rather the essence is the sum total of the parts of the individual - all of my qualities, plus my environmental influences, plus my free will. Everything altogether as one. But it doesn't feel right.

Rav Dessler says that man is only his choices - which is to say, only his free will. I can maybe buy that, but it doesn't feel completely right either.

In the nearly six years that I have been pondering this question, that's all I have come up with. Anyone else have any ideas? Cuz at this point, I'm kind of desperate....