Teaching courses on the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust (as I do) forces one to wade through centuries of muck. In the first century C.E, the noted Greco-Egyptian grammarian Apion accused Jews of, among other things, holding some random Greek personage hostage in the Holy of Holies, fattening him up with delicacies and dainties, slaughtering the poor gent, and serving up his remains to the multitude. Shades of Hansel and Gretel.
Or, perhaps, a precursor to the blood libel that emerged in the thirteenth century. In that story, and versions thereof, Jews kill Christian children in a mock reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion, draining the child’s blood so that it can be used to make matzah for the Passover celebration. Little known fact: A blood libel accusation was made in our United States of America as late as 1928 in upstate New York. Better known fact: The blood libel is alive and well in the Middle East and some parts of Europe.
And how’s this for a twenty-first century twist? Jews are actually Nazis, and a Star of David can morph into a swastika. There are cartoons out there showing you just how it works.
We will not regurgitate all the things that have been said and written. You can find them in many other locations, if you must. It’s all old news, really. And new news, I am sad to say.
Here, however, is a recent addition to all these various calumnies: Jews of ancient times worshiped lizards.
It is true. Not that Jews worshiped lizards, of course, but that a living, breathing person has alleged such a thing.
Said person made this statement on an exam in my course on Hebrew Bible. I do not remember who wrote such a thing. I blocked out the association of lizards and any particular student immediately after grading. For one thing, I have a lot of students each semester. For another, it seemed important to me not to remember which of my dozens of students had made such a claim. I was afraid that I would not be able to look said student in the face if I made the association.
Student raises hand.
Dr. Thiede: “Yes?”
Student: “Is there going to be a study guide for the next exam?”
Dr. Thiede: “Omigosh, aren’t you the student who claimed the ancient Israelites worshiped lizards on the last exam?”
(For the record, I send out detailed study guides before each exam.)
Aside from the mad hilarity said statement caused me then and now, aside from the fact that I occasionally wonder what I might have said in class to induce my student to connect ancient Israelites with the worship of lizards, aside from the fact that I am likely suffering some post traumatic stress after reading said exam, I ask myself: To what end do I mention this at all in any forum?
There is a reason, actually.
There is no hope for a world in which we do not know more about each other. We cannot create peace and lovingkindness among peoples on the basis of our present colossal ignorance. Education matters because, as I keep telling my students, it has the capacity to make you a better person. You can become a whole lot more humble when you have a smidgeon of an idea about how little you know about anything. You can become less judgmental, less inclined to seeing everything through the narrow field of your own experience.
You can learn, and by learning, learn to care.
That’s what this drash is about, actually. That’s what every drash should be about.
The Hebrew word “drash” means to seek, to inquire. Ask. Wonder. Reflect.
Do your thinking with drash, not dross. Have the energy to strip yourself bare of assumptions. Why are Jews still be circumcising their sons? People are asking that question – and they aren’t just gentiles. Is God really “in” everything (and does that include the cow manure)? Why do we keep repeating a prayer that insists that God will choose who shall die by sword and who by fire each year at High Holy Days when most Jews don’t believe any such thing?
Look here (if you like). Adrenaline Drash will do its best to live up to its name.