The Intro to Judaism class was interesting tonight. We had a visiting rabbi because our rabbi was out ill. The class topic was nominally about Rosh Hashanah, but we went all over the place.
Intro to Judaism is not technically just a “conversion” class, although most of the people taking it are either already Jews who want to brush up on their own heritage, or people moving towards conversion. But there’s a guy in this class who just can’t seem to stop talking about how he’s a Christian. He mentions it, oh, every third sentence at least – and he really likes to talk. Makes a point of reminding us that his savior is a Jewish carpenter. (Because, you know, we don’t already know this from the last twenty-six times he’s said it.) Every single time he opens his mouth (and he opens it a lot), it’s to tell us how what was just said relates to his religion. As if this isn’t a class on Judaism so much as a class on the Jewish background of his religious beliefs.
I truly don’t think this guy is here to learn about Judaism. It feels like he’s there to screw up the class. He keeps derailing the conversations, and I’m frankly sick of it. Yes, okay, fine, you’re learning more about your religion by learning something about ours. That’s not the point of this class – were you aware of that? Do you get that this is not a class about Christianity, and that you’re annoying at least half the people in the room?
I hope he got the message tonight, but I don’t know. We got on the topic of Moshiach, and the visiting Rab talked about a few of the various pseudo-Moshiachs we’ve had over the years (such as the Bar Kochba, whom even Rabbi Akiva was skunked into believing in). And yes, the rabbi mentioned “that Jewish carpenter” as an example.
The Rab made a point of saying to Mr. Christian that he was doing his best not to give offense, but he still shut him down, all very politely, with some pointed explanation. He covered a) why Jews do not believe the Moshiach has come, b) an explanation about what that word ACTUALLY means (king, not spiritual leader), c) how Saul of Tarsus was an opportunist who rejected everything taught in Torah, pretty much, d) how Jews don’t practice human sacrifice and, sorry, that Yeshua ben Yosef qualifies as an example of that very thing, and e) that the title Moshiach has been part of the titles of every Jewish political king in our history – “Moshiach Adonai,” to be exact.
Frankly, given this guy’s pushy behavior, I am impressed that the visiting Rab was so compassionate. But I’ll be honest: even he couldn’t resist getting a little snarky: “Yeah, Jesus of Nazareth had a few followers – twelve of them.” Which then segued into the point that most followers were not of Jesus but of Saul of Tarsus…
After that whole discussion, Mr. Christian was very, very quiet. Apparently he’s now facing that Judaism is not just “Christianity without Jesus.” And he doesn’t seem particularly happy about it.
He may be there to learn, but I just get the sense that his constant mentioning of his own religion qualifies as at least being pushy, if not quite evangelizing. And in fact, the Rabbi also said that, that most of the Christians Jews have had to deal with have been very pushy. I don’t think he liked hearing that, either.
And the Rabbi talked about why – because it seems that Christians think we’re stupid for not accepting their beliefs. And yet we don’t think Christians are stupid for not accepting ours. The guy then objected “Well, evangelicals do…” and the Rab agreed, “Yes, and fundamentalists, too.”
Did I mention this guy’s faith ends in “Orthodox”? It’s a fundamentalist faith.
(I also thought it was in supremely bad taste that he told the Rabbi – before this happened – that he had bought a used copy of the book this Rabbi wrote for use with this class, and was proud of it. That’s another thing he’s mentioned every single class so far, that he found all the books used on Amazon. To me that just seems tacky, especially in front of the author of one of the books.)
I don’t want to be annoyed by this guy any more. And I don’t want to come into the room in dread. And I don’t want to be flinching every time he opens his mouth, because I know what’s going to come out of it.
But the fact that it bothers me, bothers me. I want to be a compassionate person, but how far do I have to go with the compassion with a person who is trying to derail the class? Does it change the requirement for compassion if the person is malicious instead of clueless? If he’s doing it on purpose, instead of because he doesn’t know any better? I honestly can’t tell if he’s being clueless or if he’s being passive-aggressively malicious. Even writing about it here makes me feel like I’m committing lashon hara, but I need to work through this somehow.
My husband says “You can be compassionate because this is another human being who is trying to learn. And you don’t have to like it that he keeps saying ‘Well, MY god does this and this and this.’ You’re being compassionate by listening to him. You don’t have to agree with him.”
That’s true – and I don’t agree with this guy at all. But how obligated am I to treat this person kindly, when he’s trying to make the class all about HIS religion instead of OUR religion? And frankly, there are several people who are LEAVING his religion in this class – is he even aware that his constant mention of his religion is harmful to that group of people? To me?
No, I guess he’s not aware. But now I don’t know how to handle this. I’m considering a email to our rabbi, but it’s going to have to have a light touch. I’m honestly not sure how to say it other than bluntly: “This guy is making the class very uncomfortable for me in ways that are harming my ability to learn and listen to the lessons you are teaching.”
I mean, I have to deal with evangelizing Christians all the time. I shouldn’t have to put up with it in the class I’m taking to convert to Judaism, should I? Is that part of what I have to be compassionate about to be a Jew? Is there no good way to draw the line?
Edited to add: A friend, on reading this, said that he’s like the guy who takes a Women’s Studies class to say “But not all men do that!” But what it’s really like is a guy who takes a Women’s Studies class to say “Wow, this class is teaching me so much about how to make women like me!” Which has a Creepy Factor of 10/10.
7 responses to “Dear Mr. Christian, please take your ball and go away.”
I wrote a partial answer to this on your husband’s FB post. More coherent thoughts later.
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It occurred to me this morning that another thing that annoys me is that part of what we’re supposed to be doing in this class is building a sense of community – like a graduate school cohort does. This guy is shredding that for me because of his pretty-much overt declarations of his Christianness. To me that’s an anti-community kind of statement in this kind of class. Maybe it’s just me.
I am so very sorry that one of ours (a Christian) is disturbing your class; this is very unfortunate. I have often wanted to join such a class, myself, but I would do it as a learner–not a disrupter, or counter-agent.
You desire to be kind is impressive. That is the way I try to live with all people. It seems that someone should talk with him about what he is doing; he might not be aware of his impropriety. Perhaps a compassion-oriented letter to the Rabbi is a good idea.
I hope this situation resolves if it has not already.
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Thanks, JWB. Since this post was made, he more or less cornered me and my husband after class two weeks ago, and we were able to tell him, privately, why everyone was so uncomfortable. To his credit, he got it immediately without us having to say much beyond “This is a class on Judaism, and many of us are taking it to learn about Judaism, not about Christianity. It’s hard when you keep making it about your religion.”
But he was also shocked to hear that some of us are there to convert partly due to abuse in Christian churches in the past; it had never occurred to him. He said he would try to dial it back ten or twenty notches (his words). We haven’t had a class since because this past Wednesday was Purim, so we’ll see if he took it to heart and makes changes at our next class tomorrow night.
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Great! I hope it turns out well and he is able, himself, to learn more about Judaism–as well as abuse in the Christian churches.
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Orthodox Christians are not necessarily fundamentalists (at least as I understand the term). They do tend, however, to be very conservative. (My sister is married to a Syrian Orthodox priest — and they live in Mississippi. Go figure.) All the Orthodox Christian sects I am familiar with (Greek, Russian, Syrian…) are essentially like more conservative Roman Catholics who have more ritual. From what you describe of Mr. C., you have a very obnoxious person who, as you said, was acting as though the class was for his benefit.
It’s a real shame that you and your classmates have to deal with him. There are far too many Christians out there who would do the same thing he’s doing.
The rabbi sounds great. I loved the Yeshua had 12 followers…
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