A Medieval Disputation in the 21st Century

Anyone who reads about the Jewish Middle Ages in Europe will notice that the Church, often helped by a prominent Jewish convert to Christianity, and perhaps under the aegis of some King, would make the Jews debate the fine points of the Bible. It is an odd feeling to be needed in such a way, especially after the Jewish collective survival in Christendom at times depended on this very same neediness. Once or twice a year, a random person walks up to me in some public arena, like a store, park, or street corner (as I wait for the “walk” sign), to lob some Biblical verse in my direction. This happened last night at CVS as I was returning from Synagogue after Rosh HaShanah services. The stranger, another customer at CVS, spotted my kippah and perhaps my “rabbinic” black-and-white spiffy suit and decided to impress me with his knowledge of Leviticus. (I should say, ONLY men accost me in this way; which may say something about men.) Over the years, being confronted in such a way, I learned not to ignore the person. If I say, “I do not know,” it would disappoint him. He thought I was a “Jew,” who is supposed to be naturally impressed by his knowledge of the Bible, but I was really just a pretender. My whole existence crashes down before his eyes. I certainly would not want to disappoint anyone in this way. A real “Jew” should have every verse of the Bible memorized and play along. For just this moment, – as my whole life comes down to an eventuality, – I should “witness” the Second Coming of Christ, realizing the Old Testament had prefigured his coming the first time around. At the same time, if I denied Christ, I would be a typical “Jew,” which would also bring too much pleasure to my instructor as he tells that I will burn in hell, or something along those lines. Some years ago, I did not know what was better: to be a “Jewish” pretender or the “Jewish” denier. There is no win-win. So I devised a plan to pretend to listen without saying a word while finishing my chores and walking away.