I grew up in a world of observance, separate from secular America, but soon realized that the borders are more porous than they seem
To my great surprise, the young man to my left kept interrupting his bliss with this beautiful young woman to ask me questions about the Talmud. “I am Jewish,” he said. “I have learned Hebrew, but I have never studied the Talmud.”
I answered his questions briefly at intervals, and then we each went about our business. But he kept coming back to make various statements and ask questions. I kept suppressing the following Talmudic question that was rising inside me: If you have a beautiful woman next to you and you are in the throes of carnal pleasure, why is your nose in my Talmud?
I struggled to come up with a theory that might answer this question. It is possible, I thought, that a young man’s need for identity—look at me, I am also a member of the tribe—was a force more powerful than lust. Does Erickson’s theory of psychosocial identity trump Freud’s pleasure drive as the best explanation of human behavior? Maybe.
It did seem important for him to declare himself. I am Jewish, were his exact words, I studied Hebrew. The connection was not interpersonal, but intra-tribal. Despite our numerous bite-sized interactions peppered throughout the long flight, we never exchanged so much as first names. Still, what kept him coming back after he established his bona fides? Why did he keep asking me more questions about the Talmud? I will never fully know the answer to this question.
Perhaps this young man was pushing against his limits, vaulting to the ramparts to at least catch a glimpse beyond the walls of his own castle into a kingdom not his own. Perhaps, in the same way that my cousin tried to cross borders, if only for a moment, people living outside the republic of the Talmud despaired of their “American” lives and tried to cross the border in the other direction, joining my father’s republic of the ordained and the enchanted, the sure and the certain. They longed to leave the world of basketball and girls for this horrible, wonderful world of the Talmud—if only for a brief visit.
I still wonder: Where is my seatmate now? Is he still with the same woman, or perhaps another? And what about her—where is she now? Have they combined or reconciled the different regimes of the body and the soul? Have they fused them?
Growing up, I had seen and felt the marvelous friction and pain created by republics in conflict with one another. One sees the stalwarts, the loyalists, the devoted, and those wanting to wander. Unbelievably, after a lifetime of storm—of resisting, avoiding, pushing against and going dead before the Talmud—things became more settled for me, opposites became reconciled. On that plane ride I came to understand that the crossover was easier than one might think, the borders more permeable. Perhaps the spirit of the Lord came to rest on both of us. As the jets stream across the heavens and their smoke trails grace the firmament, I came to believe God really is everywhere.
After the lost golem enjoys his long-awaited reunion with Rabbi Judah Loew, a fashion show goes horribly awry and drives the creature to drink