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Guest Post: Reflections on being Jewish and Autistic: Different minorities, same critique

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7 responses to “Guest Post: Reflections on being Jewish and Autistic: Different minorities, same critique”

  1. Andrea

    Wow, thank you so much for this thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

    I’ve always wondered if the “Christianity has the lock on LOVE!” people have actually *read* the “Old Testament”. The books of the prophets talk a LOT about the duty people have to take care of others, and if that isn’t love I do not know what is. I suspect the main problem is they’re sticking to Leviticus.

  2. The Untoward Lady

    @Andrea: Don’t a huge number of Christians do exactly that, too, though? I mean, every time I’ve been told that I’m subhuman or going to hell by a Christian because of my sexual orientation and gender identity they pretty much quote right out of leviticus. Same goes with lots of other instances of theology being used to justify lack of tolerance or love, so…

    Anyway, if only it were just parents and other lay people who believed that the only real autistics are those who can’t speak. I was sent to a neurologist by my psychiatrist because he wanted them to screen for some stuff for a differential diagnosis and when I informed the neurologist that I’m autistic and that I have a diagnosis he parroted back to me that I was misdiagnosed as autistic. When I told him, no, I’m autistic he told me that I couldn’t be because I’m clearly able to form words and speak and that “real autistics” can’t speak.

  3. Andrea

    @The Untoward Lady Yeah, many Christian sects tend to cherry pick what they want out of Leviticus and ignore the rest of the Holiness Codes, and also ignore the fact that in the Apostolic Gospels, Christ has NOTHING to say about homosexuality, but a metric butt-load to say about loving your neighbor as yourself, helping your fellow human beings, and not judging. The antisemitism comes in when the same Christians try to pretend that the “Old Testament” has nothing to say about these same themes, when really it has quite a lot to say on the themes of justice for the oppressed and caring for other human beings.

  4. Sasha_Feather

    What a beautiful piece! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  5. Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

    Thank you all for your responses.

    One of the things that most Christians so badly misunderstand about the “Old Testament” is that to Jews, it’s something like shorthand for a much larger body of work. Nearly every “commandment” has been written about and discussed for centuries from every possible angle, and it’s these discussions that ultimately create the guidelines for communities.

    There are parts of the Hebrew scriptures that the ancients had trouble with in the same way that we do, and so our approach to Leviticus, in particular, is far more nuanced than people know. For instance, two women having a sexual relationship was not forbidden by all rabbis in the Talmud (although it was frowned upon). Obviously, this is not ideal, but considering that these writing are centuries and centuries old, Judaism was far ahead of Christian culture in his respect.

    And of course, nowadays, modern, non-Orthodox Judaism (which is what 93% of practicing Jews actually practice) has no issues with any of this. We tend to pay far more attention to the prophetic voice than to Leviticus, and to practice the things in Leviticus that make sense from an ethical point of view. Supporting people in their choice of partners and gender identification ranks very high on the list of ethical demands; giving people grief over who they are is not considered an ethical value.

  6. Kim

    There was a comment I read on another site that I can’t remember, but I think it was that you can’t rank order your otherness. Usually, the same people who are intolerant of your health being different from theirs won’t tolerate your religion, ethnicity, sexuality or any of a myriad of things being different.

    But what really sticks out for me is others’ assumptions that they know something about which they don’t, and then act from those. I also really connect with the feeling of incredulity. How can people not think we are people? Or treat us with such dismissiveness and contempt that it seems they don’t think of us as people, but as something less.

    I’ve been dumbfounded as a professor went off on a twenty minute screed about my personal (disability-related) failings, just as I’ve been dumbfounded after finding myself surrounded by hostile lecture-goers who promptly blamed “you people” (Jews) for stealing America’s divinely endowed Christian heritage.

    I know good, persuasive arguments have been made again and again against the rightness or propriety of such things, yet just existing and opening one’s mouth brings it all out again. To keep up the energy to keep explaining Jewish sage Hillel put it so well: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”

  7. Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

    Hi Kim,

    The idea of not being able to rank order our otherness reminds me of my favorite line from the poet Adrienne Rich: “They can rule the world while they can persuade us our pain belongs in some order.” Trying to figure out the question of my difference over the course of my life has often led me to assign my “otherness” to a single cause: my being Jewish, my being an abuse survivor, my being autistic/disabled, and so on. When I really look at it clearly, though, it’s all very much connected. I was a target for abuse in my original family because of my (undiagnosed) autism, which meant that I couldn’t be the person my family wanted me to be. And when I consider that the stereotypes about autistic people are often so close to the stereotypes about Jews, I realize that I also see being Jewish and being autistic in similar terms, although much more positive ones (i.e. my tendency to be outraged over injustices in a way that most people are not).


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