After one of my shows this week, I had a moment when I was standing with -- not only a nun and a rabbinical student (they were not together, just standing together) but also with a small group of ex-rabbinical students who had stopped their intended religious trajectory (they were orthodox Jews) because they were gay and they had been forced to chose between their sexuality and their faith. I wasn’t sure if those people were atheists or just alienated by their particular religion.
In any case, that moment after that particular show is my take-away image from this trip to New York. The nun blessed me. Which was partially shocking to me because I had sort of made fun of a priest blessing me during my show. I think it’s what those type of people do when they don’t know what to say next. In any case, I liked this nun, nonetheless. I can’t help but like those fresh-faced beaming lit-from-within nuns. And she was one of them.
The rabbinical student argued with me that I had gotten the Jephtheh story wrong. In my show I tell a story about how in Judges a character named Jephtheh tells God that if he can win a certain battle (I think it’s against the Ammonites) he will kill whoever greets him when he returns home, as a burnt offering. And that the first person he ends up seeing is his daughter. And after he allows her to go off into the woods for two months to mourn her virginity, he kills her. By lighting her on fire.
The rabbinical student argued that Jephtheh didn’t promise he would kill a person. When he said whatever greeted him, he meant an animal. And that it was customary only to kill animals in sacrifice. And that he didn’t kill his daughter, he told her to run off into the woods and then he didn’t kill her.
I was beside myself. I thought I must have gotten the story wrong. I mean he was a rabbinical student and I was an actress and what if I had exaggerated this story that much? I apologized and promised to immediately look it up.
And I was right. Jephtheh does promise to kill “whoever” greets him. As far as I know, “who” is referring to a person. And he does kill his daughter. In the story, his daughter actually begs him to kill her, because he must keep his promise to God. I’m sure this is told this way to make it less sadistic.
How does someone sit and listen to their teachers rationalize and explain away and blur over the more difficult stories of their sacred texts? I don’t get it. But then, as my boyfriend pointed out, I was one of those people at one time. Why did I accept that? And my answer was that I wasn’t studying the Bible so closely, and then when I did as an adult, I did question and finally reject it. But I accepted it earlier because it seemed like the people teaching me about it were smart and kind. And I liked them. And I wanted it to be meaningful. And l looked for only that evidence that confirmed what I already wanted to believe.
Anyway, these are the kinds of encounters that makes me infinitely glad that I came to New York to do the show.
On of the gay ex-rabbinical students told me that when he went to his superior and told him he was gay and how could he deal with this – the rabbi told him that he should sacrifice his sexuality the way Abraham had to sacrifice his son, Isaac. And that after several years of trying to do this, the ex-rabbinical student said he felt the sacrifice was much to great. And that Abrahams test of his willingness to give up what mattered to him most – his son, was a one shot deal and then when he proved his loyalty he got to still have his son. But this person said he would be having to turn away from his very nature every single day for the rest of his life. And that was too much. And for what reason? Finally this man left his religion and has had no contact with his family for over ten years. What a sad, sad, unnecessary result.
Anyway, I tell this just to give you that image of me standing there with the current rabbinical student, the former rabbinical student and the nun. What great moments this show has afforded me. I was so happy, in spite of the tragic aspects to some of those people’s predicaments. Being “Pat” on Saturday Night Live did not give me moments like that.