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A month of living irritatably

I am on the third CD of A Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs. I am trying to crystalize in my mind what words I would use to describe Jacobs' voice and manner of speaking. I am also becoming increasingly irritated by the whole affair.

Take, for example, the trip to Brooklyn to sacrifice a chicken. On one day of the year a gang of men in black hats and beards gets together to do a little twirl of a chicken (over their heads) and then hand it to a kosher slaughterer, who quickly dispatches it. The chicks are then gutted and prepared for cooking, packaged and sent off to poor people somewhere nearby.

This follows some sort of Jewish law. So of course Jacobs can't miss this. He takes his bearded self to Crown Heights and pays the man for his chicken, follows the instructions and is done. Somehow this cleanses him? Somehow this is a good thing?

To me it is on the order of what that ass Jon Katz does with his poor sheep dogs, which might also be called sacrifices. They both do these crazy things as a way of somehow "making themselves better". The fact that there is an animal involved who doesn't get a say in the matter does not disturb them a bit. Jacobs feels a little bad about the chicken death, especially after he sees the resemblance of his chicken to his young son Jasper. But he laughs it off in his typical offhand detached way.

Same with the pigeon egg. He hightails it back to Brooklyn another day to meet with a man who follows the more arcane Jewish laws. The man has pigeons nesting in boxes. A.J. gets to reach into one cage, upset the mother pigeon so she gets off the egg, then grab the egg. He has the sense to return the egg to its nest, which is an option, but when he expresses concern about ripping the egg from under its mother his companion laughs at him scornfully. "Do you feel bad when your wife cooks you an egg for breakfast?" he laughs. And once again A.J. shrugs and goes on to the next biblical thing.

These two rituals are set up specifically to allow Jewish men to follow specific commandments. They are following the letter of the law with little regard to its intent. This because the intent is impossible to devine. Yet there they are, laid out in the bible or the torah and so they follow them. When some of these commandments get sticky there is always a rabbi out there who has interpreted them so that they can be followed. No stoning is necessary, for example.

I like rituals as much as the next guy, but I don't pretend they make me a better person. A better coffee maker maybe (making toddy coffee is a bit of a ritual).

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