Is There One Right Way To Be a Jew?

Hello, David,

Lovely hearing from you, although I was a bit chagrined, as I always am, by a letter that begins with a citation of my own writing. It is standard hate-mail locution, the first hint of the letter-writer’s burning passion to prove his rightness, or righteousness. That said, I enjoyed your spirited rant, and expected no less, as I am now reading and enjoying your book despite its tendency toward–well, surety, and the fervor that springs therefrom.

On the one hand, I could say–as my Jewish grandfather said to my mother upon her conversion to Catholicism–that I wish I had your faith.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m not as great a fan of surety as you are. This is what puzzles me: If the human mind cannot fully grasp the Divine design of the world, as Judaism teaches, how can that same mind, even one as deft as yours, be so certain about Divine intention?

In your e-mail, you declared the rules of Judaism and established yourself as the winner. You are clearly the better Jew than I by those terms–and, I assume, the better person. Again, I don’t begrudge you your faith, but then why bother writing to someone like me (other than the fact that you were asked to by an editor for Slate)? Do you wish to persuade others to believe as you do? I gather not; if so, your tone is, um, the opposite of persuasive. Do you wish to cross non-Orthodox Jews off the rolls? Perhaps. This would sadden me, for your sake as well as theirs, for a blinkered piety seems to serve no one beyond its owner. I realize from your book that you’re not exactly a champion of compassion but, as a Jew, don’t you feel it’s at least a little bit important to engage the world before declaring yourself its wisest man?

Awaiting your reply, and wish you well.
Stephen Dubner