A few weeks ago, I came across a very amusing story in the BBC (Link expired now) about a dog who had been sentenced to death by stoning in Israel, because it was suspected that the dog was in the form of a secular lawyer who had insulted a judge at the court 20 years ago. It was a story which could have come right out of turn-of-the-century Yiddish theatre, and I laughed and laughed while reading it, while simultaneously hoping that maybe the poor dog would get his sentence talked down to some time in the pound. I posted it on my facebook, laughing at the silliness of the whole thing.
Most people agreed with me that it was pretty bizarre and amusing, a few others were very concerned for the welfare of the dog. One person though, took the story as a chance to complain to me about how antisemitic the BBC was, how they had a clear anti-Israel slant, and this story was just an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Judaism and make Jews a laughingstock.
I just remembered this today, and decided to blog about it. As amusing as the actual story of the dog was, I found this type of reaction to be even more hilarious. You have to be seriously paranoid if you think that a story clearly meant as a bit of light reading between stories about Libya bombings and escalating use of surrogate mothers in India is meant as a propaganda piece against Israel. You have to be even more off-kilter to go on to say that mainstream news sources shouldn’t print stories like that because they make a certain community look bad.
It’s tragic that my fellow Jew failed to see the innate humour in the goofiness of believing that a dog is a type of dybbuk coming back to annoy and harass a Judge over some slight 20 years ago. One of the things which defines our culture is being able to laugh at ourselves and turn disheartening or unusual situations into comedy gold. I wholeheartedly believe that self-deprecating humour is just as important to Judaism as Torah study, because both compel us to ask probing questions on the nature of Judaism, why it is what we do. I also believe that it is the business of news websites to report all stories of interest, even if they risk offending someone or casting a particular group in a ridiculous light. My friend was essentially suggesting that stories in relation to the goofy goings-on of Orthodox or mystic Jewish communities, like the infamous case of doctoring Secretary Clinton’s photo in a Hassidic newspaper, should not be printed because he doesn’t want to deal with his religion and culture getting bad press. No religion, no matter how you feel about it, should be exempt from scrutiny and media coverage. All religions, from Tibetan Buddhism to Bahai to Kabalah to Islam, deserve to be treated in the same way: With accuracy and context provided. Does anyone seriously think that all Jews believe dogs can be used as channels for the undead to come back and bug you if you wronged them? Or that Jewish mysticism is the mainstream view of the religion and culture shared by Jon Stewart, Mayim Bialik, myself, and many other ordinary folk?
Oh puh-lease. It’s not like we don’t have the humour or intelligence to combat such silliness and restore the good name of our culture. I guarantee the next issue of Heeb Magazine will be barking up a storm over this story. I do hope the dog lives, too.