The first fight was, I’m sick of lecturing Arab women on how they dress

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I lost it at another party Friday night. I got in two political fights, and my wife was mad at me. I’m not sure how much of it I regret.

The first one was with a friend who had just got back from a tour of Israel, Palestine and Turkey. He was thrilled by the women who aren’t covered in Ramallah and Istanbul. They are fighting the good fight. He actually used that kind of language. I melted down. I said I had once lectured Arab women about covering themselves on this site and now I think, what a fool’s game. We are two secular Jews in New York, isn’t it idiotic for us to be lecturing Arab women on the other side of the world about their customs and dress? Can you think of a bigger waste of time? And yes I have real misgivings about the role of women in the Arab countries I’ve visited, but how can we possibly influence their progress except by getting out of the way? And did you ever think that the only reason we have these ideas, the only reason we care, is because of Israel, and its inability to get along with its neighbors, and its being a transmission belt of lousy ideas about Arabs to Americans?

That ended that conversation.

Then another friend, also Jewish, was talking in a group of four people about his wanderjahr many years ago in Israel. A guy very much like me, a seeker, he had landed in an Orthodox crewe and had studied Talmud for a year or two. It is very beautiful, he said, it is the most intense and meaningful discussion. I said, It’s bullshit. He said, It’s bullshit!!? The other two people there were non-Jews, and I said, Halacha is 613 rules they’re discussing about how to lead your life and apart from ones like, Feed the animals before you feed yourself, which is a beautiful rule, a lot of them are pure bullshit. It has no meaning whatsoever to the lives that we have made for ourselves. Like we have violated about 20 of the rules coming in the door tonight, and eating with non-Jews on the Sabbath…

I regret both arguments because I went off, became too passionate. I can blame the wine, and I know that issue of Jewish privilege also played a role (we are three privileged guys; and Jews’ denial of privilege angers me), but in both cases I said what I believe. My wife was quiet when we got in the car. She says the whole point of social engagement and manners is to make other people feel at ease and wanted. She used her worst term of abuse on me: you were a seven-year-old with a microphone.

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