Stench

(Written in anger, reader discretion advised.)

As I write this, I keep wrinkling my nose. What is that odor, that smell, that disgusting, nauseating, enraging stench?

Saturday morning in the synagogue, and I grab one of the English-language Shabbat tabloids, full of articles about the Torah portion, possibly a recipe, and of course, lots and lots of advertising.

I know that I won’t like this tabloid, but I find it entertaining nonetheless. As a rule, the Torah in it is Torah-poor, Torah light, Torah that is 99% Torah-free, Torah that is, in the words of Monty Python, “certainly uncontaminated by Torah”. The bulk of the articles rely on the same midrashim from year to year, you know, just like the Rabbi in your synagogue. There’s no serious analysis of text, but always a rabbinic lesson to guide my personal behavior, for who knows how I should live better than someone who is qualified to tell me if my chicken is kosher?

Wow. I think I expended my annual sarcasm allotment with that rant. I’ll have to dip into my emergency reserves.

In the tabloid I see an advertisement for a home remodeling company, with a prominent notice that reads, “JEWISH LABOR “. Lest you think I’m inventing this, here’s it is:

Well, that’s striking. I wonder what they mean. No Catholic workers? Why would that be? No Protestants, no Hindus? Are they worried about idolatry? Afraid the workers will touch their wine?

Hmmm.

Wait – do you suppose that they don’t employ Arabs? Seems unlikely. Where I live in Baka (known to one unreliable Jewish laborer as Geulim) I simply cannot bank or shop or eat at a restaurant or get medical treatment without being helped, served, or treated by an Arab. Have you been to a pharmacy anywhere in this country? If you insist on Jewish labor, your heart medication is going to run out pretty damn quick.

Also, in my experience, Jewish labor is not so amazing. For example, we’ve used both Jewish and Arab moving companies. The Arabs won every time for price, service, speed, politeness and not breaking our stuff. My Arab butchers are friendly and always give me good meat. Best haircut – Arab barber. Best wait staff at restaurants, best customer service – you guessed it. Best Actor in a Comedy Series… possibly, but I haven’t checked.

So, why Jewish labor for a “shiputz”? Some possibilities:

  • All Jews are honest
  • All Jews are great with a hammer
  • All Jews are tall

That’s all I’ve got, and not one of them is true. I’ve hired contractors, I know. To be fair, one of them was pretty tall – the exception that proves the rule.

Also, if I’m going to get pure Jewish labor, I need to know more about the laborers. Men or women? Strong or weak? Light or dark-skinned? Gay or straight? Lithuanian, Hasidic, Iraqi, Tunisian, Moroccan? Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Karaite? Keeps Shabbat? Keeps kosher? Pays taxes? How many hours between meat and milk? If a man, kipa? Size, fabric and color of kipa? If a married woman, hair covered? If yes, with what? Any strands showing? Do they set aside time for Torah every day? Any daf yomi action going on? I’ve got standards ya know.

But the real stench, the irritating, caustic smell that gives me nausea and raises my blood pressure, comes from the explicit racism. Replace “Jewish” with “White” and there it is, plain as the (big Jewish) nose on your face. It’s ugly, it smells bad, and any way you look at it it’s just plain wrong. For me, those two words, JEWISH LABOR, preclude my hiring that company, and negate any good that might be in that publication, including the recipe.

If you fear that someone who enters your house will harm your person or property, will be dishonest or just do crappy work, get references. Bigotry and stereotypes won’t protect you from injury, thievery, or lousy workmanship. Hiring the best people for the job is good for you, your soul and the collective soul of society.

About the Author
Nathan Bigman is the author of the book Shut Up and Eat (How to quietly become a triplitarian) .
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