Life & Culture

Schleps and the City: The art of being flexi-dox

The key to our multi-millennia success is our flexibility


And Just Like That.

As the global Jewish population recovers from its eight-day constipation fest, it is quite remarkable to think that, in the year 2023, we are still around munching on unleavened bread and being #grateful for our freedom.

Ancient Egyptian culture went out of fashion so very many seasons ago, but here we all are, living it large around the Seder table. Isn’t it just marvellous?

Wouldn’t you have love to go back and tell Moshe that not only will we smite those mighty Pharaohs but over 3,000 years down the line, while his powerful foes are consigned to the ancient artefacts halls of museums, his descendants will still be recreating the big night’s matzah recipe fail — the first-ever “epic fail’” viral sensation.

So what is it that has enabled us to stand the test of time? I’ve been wondering. Of course, there are the family values, the sense of community, the faith… yada, yada, yada.

All great, obviously, but I actually think the key to our multi-millennia success is our flexibility. There are as many ways to be Jewish as there are killer outfits worn by Carrie Bradshaw. I see Judaism as the couture of religions — a faith made to fit.

I don’t think I know two Jewish people who keep exactly the same combination of rules to precisely the same degree.

Wherever you are on the religiosity scale, there’s always someone a level up (meshugganahs) and others a level down (heathens). Everyone draws their own line when it comes to what they do. And that line, can often be a little bit wiggly.

For example, what’s completely unkosher in the house is generally just a little less unkosher out of the house. For someone like me, that means that having a yoghurt with a meaty spoon would be unthinkable under my own roof. Traces of chicken soup in the Yeo Valley — totally treif.

But two minutes down the road having the exact same yoghurt in any cafe with whatever spoon I’m given (which could have traces of something much worse than homemade chicken soup on it) — no longer treif.

And then, of course, there are the very many who would find it unthinkable to add unkosher chicken to their Ocado order to sit in their fridge at home but would happily munch on said chicken at any other restaurant in the world.

Don’t tut tut. I don’t want to cast aspersions but Chalav Yisrael kosher milk in the house… Starbucks out? That’s a thing too. The flexible ethos comes into play at many different levels.

And what about holiday rules? We all know Hashem is way less likely to punish you if you transgress in Tenerife than at home, don’t we?

Even the sheitel-wearers among us may have a few extra strands of hair out on holiday than in Hendon. I should say at this point that this flexible attitude is not a view that has been sanctioned by any religious authority — or, in fact, by anyone at all.

All I’m saying is that it may have served us well. Perhaps if the Pharaohs weren’t so “do as I command” and a little more “do as I command when I’m watching, but let your hair out of your headdress a little when I’m not”, we might still be building pyramids today.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being flippant about the importance of what we keep and the Jewish principles that we live by.

We all have our rules and our levels — even if in some cases they’re slightly different in and out the house or at home or on a tropical island.

My line may be wiggly but it’s a wiggle I stick to. If you’re reading this paper, it means your Jewishness means something to you.

So whether the threshold is keeping up with the community news or davening three times a day, we all have rituals that connect us to our Jewishness.

But there’s not just one way to be Jewish. There are infinite ways. And perhaps it’s that flexibility that has kept our religion thriving across civilisations and eras.

Hashem knew it from the moment we arrived in the desert with that unleavened bread on our backs. These people need choice, he must have thought as he invented manna, the world’s most flexible recipe.

Three thousand years on, it’s that sweeping variation in our definitions of what it means to be Jewish that has kept us going.

So whether you’re tearing toilet paper or flicking through this paper before heading out to Friday night dinner at your local, Shabbat Shalom. You do you. Here’s to another three millennia.

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