Apologia pro bloga sua, or: The jealousy of scribes increaseth wisdom

In the past week, while I was on vacation, Baraita posted several times on matters sublime and ridiculous. She also linked to (and mentioned) this blog; this generous mention has lit a leaping fire under the Readership Engine. Of course, this increases the pressure to write things that are actually worth reading. On this evening of re-entry, I hate to disappoint those who have come here expecting a quirky novella or two, but the only world-shaking and –remaking thing I have to share is this:

If you find yourself in Elkins, West Virginia, and have need of a vanilla milkshake, please go directly to Scottie’s of Elkins, at 430 Randolph Avenue (across the street from a smugly multicolored Safeway). Theirs is damn fine. (I know the ice cream wasn’t hechshered, but if one can’t fall off the wagon on vacation, then when can one?) From the placemats it appears that the diner is named after a dog. We also learned that the kind and helpful woman who waited on us (in between her end-of-day wiping down and polishing of various parts of the diner) works a 14-hour day, from 6 am to 8 pm, and will continue doing so until she puts her boy through college.

Actually, as long as I’m writing, I do have something else to mention about our West Virginia vacation. (There were so many points of beauty about it, from the old-time fiddlers’ convention we happened to be within Shabbes distance of, to the gaily yet somberly changing leaves, that I could go on for hours. I hope to touch on some of these other points in my Yiddish blog, too.) When I was in West Virginia with my wife, I was reminded yet again of how much I love churches.

This is not by any means the reaction a traditional Jew is supposed to have, for historical and theological reasons. However, I find both of these insufficient determinants of my present behavior. The Church – yes, the Church, but its present-day adherents, not to mention the Protestants of various hues (and especially those Americans of both sorts!), are not generally hostile to me or my people. Theologically speaking, it’s clear from the opening pitch of Avodah Zarah 2b (leaving Tosfos aside for a moment) that the Rabbis saw Christianity as idolatry. Well, as a rabbi friend said to me once, you either agree or you don’t. I don’t. (There are many instances of this, when the reasonably learned liberal Jew needs to decide whether he agrees with the presuppositions of Chazal – or, more precisely, whether those presuppositions are necessary for a morally halachic Judaism.) I won’t go into the details here, but I don’t think the trinity is a species of shituf (belief that the world was created by more than one god in partnership) any more than the sefiros are.

Back to the churches. Not only did we happen upon the Smallest Church in the 48 States*, but nearly every town we passed through in West Virginia, not to mention the rural roads we trundled down, was dotted by different flavors of Christian worship-house: Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, the odd Catholic church, and several examples of what are confusingly called “Church of God.” (As opposed to?) Such variety put me in mind of something that never was and never will be: the interdenominational shtetl, where shuls of every leaning and nusekh happily co-exist, and the Lord’s Day is Saturday.

*This claim may be questionable. Other contenders, some much more plausible, are listed here.

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