Monday, May 12, 2008

Religious Fetishism! (Or, The Fetishes of Israel)

The religious fetishist is an individual who elects to place remarkable sentimental emphasis, elaborately display, broadcast overtly, or obsess upon the role of religious devices, rituals, superstitions, clothing/adornments, music, ideas/concepts, or religious scholarship within ones life.

To be clear, religious fetishism, like all things, exists within a spectrum.

So for example, one who maintains a specific superstitious sentimentality for a certain type of Kippah to the exclusion of all others may be said to have a Kippah fetish, specific to the type one wears—more specifically, as Kippah wearing itself is a generally standard or universal practice within “religious” Jewish life and is rather commonplace and essentially unremarkable in virtually any Jewish community or circle, Kippah wearing as a general practice in itself scores a virtual (if not absolute) zero on the religious fetish scale.

However, wearing a large Breslov type Kippah with large letters proclaiming a slogan of some kind in place of a more common place Kippah leads to a significantly higher score on the scale of religious fetishism. Add some long curly side locks and you have an individual who scores higher yet. A person clad in a Kippah that covers the entire head topped of with a tassel or pompom at the crown accompanied by prominent curly side locks is making a personal and very public statement about the religious importance/value/correctness of their appearance, as well as their fixated preference for it in opposition to other options: their elaborately displayed (and specifically selected) appearance takes on a remarkable sentimental ritualistic emphasis (with supernatural implications), which in turn broadcasts a specific preference for unusual or atypical lifestyle choices, or in other words: it’s the display of a Religious fetish.

Due to my dissatisfaction with religious fetishism of almost every kind I would like to highlight those that perturb me most:

The Haredi:

Haredim are religious fetishism incarnate. They even have rival fetishist gangs whose entire goal in life is to proliferate their own fetishes while suppressing those of rival fetishists. Their fetishes range from: side lock fetishes, hat fetishes, holy book fetishes, Shabbat kugel fetishes, chulent fetishes, unemployment fetishes, obscurantist fetishisms, elitist fetishisms, and various misogynistic fetishisms. Some have Palestinian/Islamic fetishes. ALL have a European alter heim fetish.

The Ba’al Teshuvah (BT) with Ba’al Teshuvah Syndrome (BTS):

The Ba’al Teshuvah with Ba’al Teshuvah Syndrome is one of the most annoying of the religious fetishists, quite generally they obsess upon religious minutia too openly for comfort and to a degree intolerable to FFB’s and people who are in general more well balanced and casual about religious minutia. They incessantly ask stupid questions that they wouldn’t ask if they had a half-ounce of dignity (in which case they would just pick up a few books on basic Jewish laws and really learn them). To be fair its not always out of stupidity and indignity that they persist so, often they know the answer to their question but make the error in thinking that all people in the real world are as interested in their religious metamorphosis as their rabbi’s at BT school were—and are more often than not just trying to impress the rest of us with their religious fetishism (an undo their years of non-religious life). Its funny how I never think of BT’s who don’t have BTS as Ba’al Teshuvah’s—I suppose that BT is in itself something of a pejorative term.

The Minyan Addict:

The Minyan Addict is a nuisance no different than a housefly or mosquito. You are likely to encounter a minyan addict at malls, public events, on airplanes, on busses, on trains, etc—anywhere they can easily enough (and tortuously enough) subject you to their addiction. There you are minding your own business enjoying yourself with your friends or family and some overly enthused stranger with a minyan fetish jumps into your life asking something like: “have you davened mincha yet?” ARRRGH. This one really grinds my gears. The only retort to somebody like this is to say, “Well if I hadn’t I wouldn’t make it your problem” or “If I hadn’t it would be me bothering you instead of it being the other way around” or just lie and say yes. I have tried these all and they all work, but occasionally I give in to guilt and join all the other guys who this minyan fetishist duped into getting involved in his addiction. (Ever notice the faces on the other guys there? They feel stupid for saying “no” too).

The Halachist (or the Halahick obsessive fetish):

“I’m not sure you’re allowed to do that… That’s Asur…According to [insert rabbinical authority] you shouldn’t watch TV/listen to the radio/use the internet/read secular books/live in Israel/etc… Can you say Vayechulu with me? … I don’t think you can eat that… That’s not Da’as Torah”… It’s too late to daven now…mamesh…takeh…gevalt… rahmanah letzlan… you cant eat that now… we can’t understand even one hair off the top of [insert rabbinical authority]’s head… that’s still not Da’as Torah…blah, blah, blah.” They have a religionist/Halachah/worshiping fetish, whereby they view Judaism as being solely defined by Halachah. These are Halachah worshiping orthodox practitioners of Jewish ritual who worship worshiping.

The Carlebach/orthodox hippy Fetish:

The Carlebachnik is a weird type. By and large their most obsessed over item is their scarf, which they wear in all types of weather (never wearing a coat with it; wouldn’t want it to become concealed) in a manner that can only be reminiscent of a flamboyantly homosexual fighter pilot. They love to quote “Reb Shlomo” who is to them a sort of Prince of Peace whom they hagiographize by the moment—tales of Reb Shlomo are increasingly and deliberately taking the form of Hassidishe Maisess. Avoid the direct wild-eyed gaze of guitar playing ones…their guitars and flutes are another weird obsession. They have a quasi-spiritual/hippy fetish.

The Spiritual/Kaballah Fetish:

These are the types who wax mystical about klipot and tikunim. At advanced levels they begin to obsess over wearing the color white, often with a hood and dark sunglasses. They are useless imbeciles whose only true ambition in life is to lead a cult. They have a perverse spirituality fetish.

The Redemption Fetishists:

They are religious/spiritual/kiruv/messianic fetishists all in one; a one stop shop of absolute weirdness. Their messianic fetishism usually takes the form of personality cult over a living or deceased rabbinic figure, as did their ancient religious/spiritual/kiruv/messianic antecedents and predecessors: the Christians. They have a redemption fetish.

The Authenticist Fetish:

They ramble on and on about authentic Judaism (there is no such thing). Their fetish is some sort of “Authentic” Judaism. Simple enough.

The Apikoras Fetish:

One who delights in denouncing aspects of Judaism and waxing iconoclastic, especially with the more traditionally sacred aspects of Judaism. Yours truly, the Frankness is indeed guilty of indulging in this tasty fetish.

So next time someone lousy religious fetishist gets in your face, just look him or her straight in the eye and say: you have a religious fetish and I won't tolerate it, so F**k off!

Enjoy the Frankness!


  1. B"H

    What about someone who does NOT tell others what he should or should not do, and is just comfortable with what his practices are?

    I'm mostly like that, except when it comes to people claiming that certain things are Jewish, when their not, black hats or ties or shtreimels or wedding bands for men, etc.

    Do what you want but don't tell me what I should or shouldn't do, and don't try to pretend something is authentically Jewish if it's not.

  2. [Relatively] non-judgmental, authenticist...


  3. What happens if you put a propellar on top?


Be Frank: