I’m a bad Jew,” a friend said, grinning ear to ear and then biting into a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich. Even looking back on the Jewish gangsters of the 1920′s, socialist Jews of the 1930′s, hippies of the ’60′s and punks of the ’80′s, seldom has being a “bad Jew” seemed so trendy.
Time and time again, American Jews simultaneously act and critique their own actions, rigidly adhere to ancient precepts and then question them. As a community, we create the counter thesis to our own tradition through rebellion, with the rebellion itself long since becoming a tradition. The problem is that “bad Jews” don’t always play their part so well. Some don’t rebel against particular Jewish traditions or approaches to theology. Instead, they actively adhere to American Jewish cultural traditions — bagels and lox on the weekends, self-effacing humor, and political activism — while still claiming that they are somehow devious. How rebellious can conformity be?
True rebelliousness has been partially relegated to literature, where a set of young Jewish giants is replacing a generation of retiring ones. But how long can Jonathan Safran Foer‘s brilliant, if incessant, references to his sex life be considered truly rebellious? Are we losing our tradition of losing our tradition?