Sunday, November 19, 2006

“Dan l’chaf z’chut—judge everyone favorably”

[Update: Why does this post look weird on every computer except my home computer? And why can't I fix the formatting, no matter how hard I try? Too bad I don't know HTML from Adam. Sorry.]

Rav todot, many thanks, to Fudge, who first introduced me to the saying that I've used as the title of this post. It wasn't until many months later that I finally found the original here: Pirkei Avot, Verses [Ethics] of the Fathers, chapter one, paragraph 6, “Yehoshua ben Perachyah says: . . . “vehevéy dan et kol ha-adam l’chaf z’chut, judge everyone favorably.”

The leader of our women’s Tehillim (Psalms) group at the office was mocking a poor guy who came to davven Mincha (pray the Afternoon Service) after the minyan was over. When I pointed out that perhaps the man had nowhere else to pray in private—since visitors to our organization come and go, there are frequently empty rooms available in our office space, and the stairway landings, especially the less-traveled ones, are also sometimes used as places for davvening—she scoffed at the idea that he wouldn’t wish to be seen praying in such a public place as, for example, a corner of an office lunchroom.

I was not raised in New York City. The only man I knew in my entire town who wore a kippah at all times was the rabbi. (Given the fact that this was the nineteen-fifties, this may not have been only because I was raised Conservative. I’m not sure that all Orthodox men wore kippot at all times outside of major metropolitan areas with huge Jewish populations back then, either. In point of fact, given the complaints of one of the Orthodox bloggers, I am sure that not all Orthodox men wear kippot at all times even now.) I’m pretty sure that this woman has never lived in a neighborhood without a sizable Jewish population. She probably has no idea what it’s like to live in a place like the one described in the Shlock Rock song Minyan Man, a place in which, when one man dies, there’s no longer a minyan in the entire town. She probably has no idea what it would be like to live in a place in which she’d get weird looks from the neighbors and/or be accused of being dressed in an unbusinesslike fashion (as an Orthodox blogger whose identity I can't recall was) if she covered her hair with a scarf or snood in public at all times (in accordance with the tradition observed by many married Orthodox women), as she does now.

But I know, because I wasn't raised in New York City (or the Five Towns on Long Island, New York State; or Monsey, New Square, or Kiryas Joel in upstate New York; or Teaneck, Deal, or Lakewood, New Jersey; or Baltimore, Maryland, or . . .) So I sit on the subway, self-conscious, wondering whether either of the people sitting next to me notices the word “ReJewVenated scrolling repeatedly across the display screen of my CD player.

Then, I nearly crack up right there on the subway, as the word “ReJewVenated” is replaced by “cedarstarted,” which is, without a doubt, one of the worst, and funniest, mistransliterations I’ve ever seen in my life. :)


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