Revolution for the hell of it

[Moses] hurled the tablets from his hands.
Why did Moses break the tablets? And what did breaking them accomplish? Early readers asserted that Moses’ action agreed with the Divine intent, and that G-d acknowledged this to Moses, saying “More power to you that you broke them” [Talmud Shabbat 87a]. But we know the Sages also said that breaking an object in anger is tantamount to idol worship; and if they said such a thing with respect to breaking an ordinary object, how much more so would it be the case with tablets “inscribed by G-d’s finger”?
I see the answer to the questions I have posed to be inherent in the statement of the early Sages that when Moses broke the tablets, the writing peeled off of them and the letters became ethereal. Whoever said that said quite a bit. For in creating the golden calf, our ancestors demonstrated that they had not yet reached a refined stage of faith, inasmuch as they could not imagine G-d as an elusive One who sees but cannot be seen. They rather chose a god which they could see and whose physicality they could touch.
When Moses saw this, and knew that he was descending the mountain with two tablets in his hands — tablets that were physical and that contained a sensible script — he feared lest the physicality of the tablets and the writing would give affirmation to the people’s views and would validate their error. And thus, Moses shattered the tablets, to teach the Israelites not only that G-d has no physicality, but also that G-d’s Torah cannot be embodied, and is not in need of tablets, but rather is alive with an independent endurance like G-d’s word and spirit.
–Arnold Ehrlich, Mikra Ki-feshuto on Exodus 32:19

Who owns Judaism? Who has the power to interpret and apply Jewish law? Who determines what gets into and left out of the canon? Who determines what is and is not Jewish? Who is Jewish? Who speaks with the voice of the Jewish people? Who represents our community? Who determines policy? Who steers the Jewish future? Who controls our collective destiny?
In the 4¾ years I have served as publisher and editor-in-chief of Jewschool, these are the questions that I have asked, time and time again. You might say it was my syllabus. Jewschool was my classroom; the Internet, my campus.
Not many people realize that I’m a college dropout. They’d be surprised to know that Jewschool has been, for me, the equivalent of getting a homeschool education in Jewish studies. Indeed, many of you have been my teachers and classmates. Others perhaps schoolyard bullies. (Yes, I’ve been a bully too.) And maybe I was a teacher somewhere in there as well. Maybe. I’m more prone to believe that the informality of my education stands glaringly evident. Sure, my time in Jerusalem helped (thank you Jay Michaelson and the Dorot Foundation). But perhaps nothing helped as much as you folks holding my feet to the fire and constantly showing me what a dick I am.
The hype aside, the truth is that I started Jewschool just for the hell of it. I never imagined that years later I’d be standing in front of an audience at the UJA Federation talking about Jewish Internet culture, or that I’d be getting shout outs in the NY Times, or that people would recognize me on the streets in Brooklyn and Jerusalem as a “celebrity blogger.” I never thought this gig would get me chicks (yes, yes, curdle at my insensitivity), or that it would get me paid. (Though it did.) I knew it would get me into trouble. That much seemed certain. And my, oh my… I was on the money there.
Really, all I had was a sense of purpose, and even at that, one that remains miserably undefined to this very day. Theologically speaking, I guess that’s the way I like things: Formless yet always in the process of taking shape. Practically speaking, no grant-making organization in its right mind would take a bet on that horse. “Please lend your financial support to my process of becoming.” Ahem, no.
And what of that becoming? I have, at one point or another, assumed every imaginable position, argued from every conceivable angle, and owned the role of devil’s advocate. I have proffered some of the most infuriating, provocative, futile, contorted, and sophistic statements ever committed to a MySQL database. And I have made an ass of myself more times than I care to recall. But damn it, I got people talking.
I also unwittingly built a refuge. By creating a space for the freakim to congregate, I created an opportunity for disparate, disenfranchised Jews to come together like Voltron. I am often told by readers who I run into, or who contact me online, that I have either lent articulation to their beliefs or provided them with a sense of validation and community. Their praise helps me to believe I did something right, even if I’m not sure what I did, or what I’m doing still.
Nonetheless, the opportunities that Jewschool has brought me, the relationships it has enabled, the knowledge it has imparted — these are the greatest gifts I could have ever hoped to receive.
The greatest gift I could hope to have given?
Who owns Judaism?
It’s like the old Zen kōan, “Who is the master who makes the grass green?”
The answer is “You.”
If I’ve accomplished anything meritorious in my tenure, I hope it has been imparting that knowledge to at least one person.


Az, nu? Why all the reminiscing? The hemming and hawing? The self-congratulatory trope?
This is my last post as publisher and editor-in-chief of Jewschool.
I have officially resigned effective as of, well… Right now.
And tomorrow is a brand new day.
(Click that link for further details about my departure from Jewschool and what it means for me professionally and for Jewschool itself. Much love to the Jewschool editorial board for Jewin’ It Yourselves; and wistfully pouty-faced goodbyes to all.)
Since December 2002: 12,552 posts. 38,959 comments. 78 contributors. 5 servers. 1 hell of a ride.

37 thoughts on “Revolution for the hell of it

  1. Yasher koach, Mobius. You’ve done something awesome and I raise my glass (well, okay, my coffee cup — whaddaya want, it’s 8:30 in the morning here) to you.

  2. Jewschool has been my Jewish homeschool for two years as well. Thank you for all of your work and vision. Good luck at JTA.

  3. your posts have pissed me off, riled me up, made me excited, made me sad but mostly inspired me to check myself and re-evaluate my judaism and what it means to me. I am a better Jew for having become a regular reader of Jewschool. Always controversial, always a lot of arguing, and not a lot of pussyfooting around the issues. Its a great forum. mad props homes. mad props.

  4. Mazal tov, Mobius. Thanks so much for what you’ve done, particularly for someone like me who’s still forming a Jewish identity after years of ignoring it. And don’t be so hard on yourself. You are, without question, a mensch, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

  5. Good luck, Mobius. As much as I love Jewschool, I think this move is for the best. More creative projects like Shulshopper, less “shoving matches.” The big winner here is the Jewish community.

  6. Best of luck on all of your new ventures Mobes, JTA certainly is lucky to have you. And yasher koach for all of the challenging and thinking that you have done on these very boards.

  7. One thing that turns me off about some of the blogging is the ranting, the anger and the resentment that people express.
    I hope that you find a good spiritual path. I like this move for you.

  8. hatzlacha raba in your new position and yashar koach.
    Why not argue a little but more?
    I don’t own Judaism. I hope I own my own Judaism. But Judaism, I don’t own. Judaism has no owners.

  9. Thank you,
    While there are many opinions here i have disagreed with some very strongly, this has been a place of fascinating and civil discourse on subjects that would have never made it to light or at least to my computer screen if not for you Mobius.
    yashar kochachem,
    and a jeorb well done!

  10. Yasher koach, Dan. What you’ve done here is remarkable. At the risk of sounding pompous, you’ve helped to define a medium. Good luck in all of your endeavors.

  11. I wish to publicly dispel the widely circulating rumor that Mobius’ move is just a short term plan before moving on to be webmaster at Beyond Teshuva. This is not true. All of our overtures have been rebuffed. Hatzlacha Rabbah, M.

  12. I am sure of your success in whatever you do. I know this will be a good move for you, and I wish you the best of luck and much satisfaction in your new job.

  13. Best wishes to Mobius in his new endeavors. While clearly not always agreeing I continue to respect his ongoing struggle to meaningfully explore his Judaism and that of many others of his generation.
    Yosef Blau

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