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I write the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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What language are these guys talking to one another?

I’m all for interfaith dialogue —


— but I confess that Noam Scheiber’s piece in The New Republic, about agreeing to let his wife bring his daughter to church so long as he could raise his daughter speaking Hebrew, raised some questions for me. It’s a touching piece, ending with how his relationship with his daughter flourished when they began conversing in English, but I think I’m not the only reader wondering about the comfort level he found, as a natal Israeli Jew, with having a fully Christian daughter. I don’t think many Israelis would think the language-for-religion trade is a worthwhile one. I am not saying this has to be a problem — and heck if I understand Americans, let alone Israelis — but it definitely, in this piece, seemed ripe for more examination, especially given the personal, intimate tone of the rest of the piece.


Music: thumbs up! Judaism: thumbs down!

Well, one reason to do this writing life (aside from the money and the front-row seats at fashion weeks from Paris to Milan to New York) is because you never know what your inbox will bring. Months after I wrote a controversial essay about not giving your children classical-music lessons, but mentioned that my children were learning a wee bit of Hebrew, somebody with a Finnish e-mail discovered it and, well, see for yourself:


On Apr 21, 2014, at 4:36 AM, [XXX]@helsinki.fi> wrote:

There is nothing more abusive and useless than subjecting kids to absurd Bronze Age fairy tales about the earth being made in a week, a woman being made from the bone of a man, and global floods.

In fact the only thing, perhaps, more useless than subjecting a child to such absurdities is getting a Ph.D. in Religious Studies.  A waste of a Yale education and hardly a surprise that you're an English teacher, eh?

Help your daughter out: involve her in an early start science or coding class in place of the Hebrew...   ;-)


Then I wrote back:


Quoting Mark Oppenheimer:

hey, great to hear from you! what piece of my writing are you responding to? and may i print your letter on my blog as my favorite letter of the week?

tell me more about yourself...


Then he wrote:



  What part of the letter am I responding to?  Pretty much the entire tone of giving parents any advice at all, especially regarding musical instruments when you are subjecting them to language learning under the errant rationale of continuing some religious tradition.

 It don't the language that continues the religious tradition, but rather the continuous telling of bullshit stories (in a number of languages) that does.



Then I wrote, referring to where he said he went to college and law school (in the ellipsis):


Quoting Mark Oppenheimer:

hey, you have my dad’s pedigree, and my sis in law... Turns out many fine people, even if they sometimes send weirdly hostile emails.


Then, his final salvo:


 Sorry that you found the email weirdly hostile. I find weirdly hostile telling little kids that an invisible, all powerful creature declared them "God's chosen people" to be weirdly hostile to everyone on earth.  And not to pick on solely the Jews out of the Abrahamic, but there appears to be a great deal of common consensus regarding the abusive nature of filling children's heads of extra heavy doses of Christianity and or Islamic propaganda, but somehow Jews often get a pass in this regard, so that you are not at all uneasy about flaunting that propaganda regarding Hebrew (as if that necessarily is related to her religion), but state that it's less useful than music.

 Personally speaking, I think that if she learns how to play "Mary had a little lamb," it's a lot more useful than the religious propaganda that I suspect that she might be subjected to.

 As noted above, I don't think there's anything more hostile than the religious myths that get handed down from generation to generation that, as we speak, are the basis for dispossessing Palestinian people of their homes.

 I don't know what the purpose of instilling propaganda to have your daughter feel that she has some right to that land based on the fairy tales that she's told or even a language that she learns, but in my book if she learned the violin it'd be a lot nicer.

  And if she learned code, math or science, it'd probably better help her future.   ;-)

  Pick whatever you want for the blog.  ;-)


To which I can only answer, the happiest man in America is a Jew! See the prior post, right below this one. How do they say "Q.E.D." in Finnish, motherfucker?

UPDATE, 1:58 p.m.:  I confess I hadn’t read this gentleman’s last letter to the end, where — now that I have read the whole thing — I see that what he’s really trying to do is conscript me into a debate about the Middle East. To be clear: I have not told my daughters that they have the right to any land; they don’t even have the right to dessert tonight, not unless they finish their broccoli.


Hawaiian + Jewish = Happiest American Alive

I didn’t write this update on the man statistically likely to be the happiest American alive, but I wish I had. I promise it’s the most delightful story you’ll read today.


Gallup’s data painted a surprising picture: The hypothetical happiest American would be a tall, Asian-American man over 65 years old, who lives in Hawaii, is married with children, owns a business, earns a household income of more than $120,000 a year — and is an observant Jew.

In other words, Alvin Wong.


And he looks pretty happy, no? Dig:



Let them drink chocolate

In Oregon, a school district tried to take away the students’ chocolate milk. It didn’t turn out well. Here’s my Times column on why we should just let them have their sweets.



Horror novels and atheism: S.T. Joshi speaks

I am fascinated by the crossover among subcultures: the number of Eastern religion scholars who also dig ’70s prog rock, the magicians interested in atheism/skepticism. I wonder: is there horror/genre literature and atheism crossover beyond this man, S.T. Joshi, whom I profile here?