"An Israelite Without Guile"

It has always seemed somehow fitting to me that the apostle Jesus called “An Israelite Without Guile” would suffer a martyrdom that involved being skinned alive. Whether one resolves to live without guile or is simply gifted with its absence, going through life without a bit of craftiness suggests walking around with a degree of naked self-revelation that can go beyond skin deep.

So, it’s not really surprising that Max Lindenman has chosen to call his new weekly column at Patheos, “An Israelite Without Guile.” Last week, we watched him submit to wonder at the recklessly pious among us and this week’s debut column finds him Kvetching in Antiphon as his inner Alvy Singer and inner Andy Hardy duke it out in the pews:

I hate to be a kvetch—Yiddish for a complainer. This sort of thing is best let go. The man meant no harm. He was young, new to the priesthood, and had grown up in the suburbs, where cultural sensitivity was, I’m guessing, a non-issue. But even now, making these allowances requires a teeth-grinding act of will. At the time—forget it. Right there in the pew, I had an Annie Hall hallucination. I could see myself in Father’s eyes, growing a beard, side curls, and a mansion in Scarsdale.

The punchline; I’m not even Jewish.

At least, according to the best Jewish authorities, I never was. My father, now he was Jewish: a descendant of Galitzianers, bar mitzvah at thirteen, buried in a linen shroud at 66. The test, says Jewish law, rests with the mother, and mine is a cradle Catholic turned cafeteria Buddhist. My knowledge of Judaism is appallingly shallow; I wouldn’t know a mikva from a Mossad agent. Nevertheless, I have a Jewish name and a Jewish punim. These alone would have been just grounds for the Nazis to deal me out a Jewish death, so I consider them just grounds for nurturing a Jewish sense of paranoia. My baptism may have tweaked the DNA of my soul, so to speak, but it did not give me a new birth certificate.

A surprising number of cradle Catholics feed the Jewish convert’s sense of dual identity. . .

Read it all. It will be interesting — and I am certain both provocative and entertaining — to watch Lindenman peel off his layers, week by week.

About Elizabeth Scalia

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