Unorthodox, the world’s leading Jewish podcast, takes questions from its listeners about all aspects of Jewish life, from the religiously profound to the utterly inconsequential. Every week, we discuss one of these questions in “Ask Unorthodox.” If you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question comes from a listener who pops in his headphones and hits “play” on Unorthodox on his Sunday morning run. We’re glad to be his running mate, and we hope our fast-talking inspires him to pick up the pace. His question is an interesting one: “Recognizing a general decline in levels of religious literacy—and noting that distortions of Judaism underlie much of anti-Semitism,” he writes, “my question for the crew is what misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of Judaism are you most surprised to encounter or most often encounter amongst regular, well-intentioned, people.”
As Stephanie mentioned a few episodes back, she was surprised to get to college and realize that some of her classmates, smart as they were, knew very little about the Holocaust. And during her freshman year, a frat boy who had just watched Munich informed her that “ya’ll are a dirty people.” To this day she has not watched the film.
But there’s also the stuff well-intentioned people—not, you know, the people asking about horns—just don’t seem to get.
Many people, for example, including many Jews, are still surprised when they meet Jews of color. And, according to one troubling survey last year, one-fifth of Jewish millennials believe that Jesus is the son of God. And if you want to find out just how much Jews know about, well, Judaism, ask folks to name the Ten Commandments, say, or explain the difference between the Mishnah and the Talmud. The answers, sadly, are likely to be less than inspiring.
It also seems that for people who grew up far from places with large Jewish populations, the dominant images are of Hasidic Jews, whose specific style of dress make them quite recognizable. Often people are surprised to realize that not all Jews are Orthodox Jews. But there are also people whose impressions of Judaism are based solely on pop culture depictions like Seinfeld and The Nanny. It’s often hard to explain the diversity of Jewish experience and lifestyles, and that most Jews land somewhere in the middle of those two examples. On this week’s episode, for example, Sister Julia Walsh asked whether we were sad that, as Jews, we couldn’t eat bacon.
We’ll do our best to keep offering as broad and accurate a view of Jewish life on our show as we can, but, really, the answers matter less than the questions: Too many of us too often feel embarrassed to ask whenever they encounter something they don’t know, as if not knowing somehow makes them bad Jews. It doesn’t, of course: It makes them, and all of us, curious Jews, always learning. Is there anything more Jewish than that?
Meanwhile, we’ll keep reading your letters. If you have a question, about anything, write to us at email@example.com. To get the Unorthodox podcast, visit iTunes here, or use your favorite app.