Columns - 2002

    The seven deadly mitzvahs

    By Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    In reporting on the world as seen through the eye of the beholder, we strive to serve our entire audience.

    Before all three of you thank me, it has come to my attention that I have neglected and underserved an important part of our readership. Ever since this column started appearing on the internet, many computers have read it every month and, unlike you, sifted through the text, not missing a word.

    You think I'm kidding? If the computers for websites like Yahoo, Lycos, Google, Giggle, and Guffaw didn't scan my every word, you wouldn't find my column when you search on their websites for such phrases as "Baba Gump" ,"unrecognized genius", or "burnishedy-boople".

    To pay greater attention to these crucial consumers, the topic for this July column is inspired by how they refer to July, specifically "7".

    Of course, this does not apply to all computers. Those PCs (literally, "poor computers") running software from Microsoft (corporate pledge, "One nation, under Gates, Windows is indivisible, with liberty and justice for us") are known to refer to July instead as "June", "November", "Gatestember", "the average length of a tech support call", "Rob", and "Dolores Gustafson".

    So this month, leaving no stone unthrown, we explore another snippet from the ancient, Not-Your-Grandmother's Mishnah tractate, Baba Gump: The Seven Deadly Mitzvahs. (Not to be confused with the Seven Deadly Matzahs, our upcoming Passover food review.)

    And, no, we are not talking about the traditional, Hollywood-blockbuster-inspiring Seven Deadly Sins: Lethargy, Jealousy, Pride, Prejudice, Enron, Sneezy, and Doc.

    The seven deadly mitzvahs are the mitzvahs that best epitomize the old Yiddish saying "the good old deeds weren't always good."

    (The writer is aware, as I'm sure you are, that there are "good mitzvahs" and "bad mitzvahs", and that "mitzvahs" is Yiddish for "mitzvot". But why bother to say that bad mitzvahs are bad? Pretty obvious. Besides, dissecting some good ones is much more fun.)

    So, out of the 613 official (depending who you ask) mitzvahs that came down from Sinai (depending who you ask) that we're all commanded to do (or not do, if they're the naughty ones), here are the seven capital mitzvahs: 7) Montgomery, 6) Washington D.C., 5) Montpelier, 4) Sacramento (motto: "The Home of Sacramento Wine"), 3) San Antonio, 2) Dallas, 1) Houston.

    Actually, those are the seven deadly state capitals. (Why three Texas cities? Everything's bigger in Texas, including country music and inferior BBQ.)

    Though Baba Gump calls these the seven deadly mitzvahs, you are not discouraged from doing them. In truth, you are encouraged to do them in a way that doesn't make one wish they were watching an XFL rebroadcast on ESPN Classics (with the cheerleaders censored out).

    7) Drinking wine for kiddish. This is not a public service announcement, and we're not discouraging a good glass of pinot with breakfast. But we learn early in life to do the kiddish with Manischewitz. While this is a blessing if you have a cough, the rest of the time it's a curse. (At least, the flavor leads to cursing.)

    6) Fundraising for Jewish agencies. It's a good deed to solicit for Jewish causes, even if you're helping people help yourselves. It's a difficult task, often thankless, and you have to put up with trying to squeeze a few spare dollars out of people like me while your peers use their own juice squeezers for their causes. You have my sympathy, if nothing else of mine. I could never do it. And the check is in the mail. Honest.

    5) Hanging a mezuzah. Yes, you should nail them up upon the doorposts of thine house and upon they Gates. But if you miss and hammer your thumb, you'll know the pain of death. So I'm told. Never happened to me. Nope.

    4) Going to off-day services. Off-days include the less-commercialized holidays (such as shavuot, the last two days of Passover or sukkot, and Super Sunday), as well as any other days your synagogue still tries to have a weekday minyan.

    It's a good thing for you to go to these services. Fewer kids making noise, shorter sermons, and better odds to get your own pew for your mid-haftarah nap. The catch? People who frequent these off-day services often find themselves more and more involved in synagogue affairs. This itself good, but it often means certain death for everything else in your life that doesn't go to your mortgage.

    3) Bar and bat mitzvahs. Yes, the bar/bat mitzvah is a pinnacle in life, unsurpassed until retirement to the pinochle of life in West Palm Beach. I mean no disrespect to the Jewish coming-of-age when, under Jewish law, one can first get a private cell phone number. But what are bar mitzvahs coming to?

    I wish I was just talking about the parties, many of which cost as much as the annual budget of Lichtenstein (the country, not the family). But when's the last time you tried to sit through the service?

    The voice-cracking lack of melody is understandable, even from the bar mitzvah himself. But it seems that all you see today is a kid who would rather be getting his braces adjusted or, in an effort to heighten the Meaning of the ritual in the shadow of The Party, the whole affair is so sentimental that the ushers keep insulin on-hand for diabetics.

    2) Fundraising for Jewish agencies. Yes, this was already on the list, but now we're looking at the other side of the shekel. If I decided to send my money elsewhere five years ago, stop mailing me pledge notices every six months for my "new pledge" based on what I "forgot" to send in "1996". You're spending more on postage than you're getting back.

    Also, learn to stop calling at times people consider impolite. Studies show these include early morning, late at night, dinner time, lunch time, weekends, and days of the week ending in "y".

    (Note to all fundraisers: If I send my money elsewhere, don't threaten any retribution. We've got ten plagues, and we know how to use 'em.)

    1) Trying to figure out how to get peace in the Middle East. Yes, it would be a mitzvah, but in a new category all its own. There's always been mitzvahs to do (good deeds) and mitzvahs to not do (naughty deeds), this one is vying to be the inaugural mitzvah that can't be done.

    If you figure it out, though, send your peace plan to "George Dubya", 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C., 90210.

    That's the list. After reading this column, I'm sure you are energized to rededicate yourself to the betterment of your Jewish community. Remember that postage for all letters, including to the editor, rose three cents on Dolores Gustafson 1, 2002.

    Either way, I'll see you next time. If I'm late, it's because the Birmingham Thunderbolts marathon ran over.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley. His play Retrograde is in the 8 Tens @ 8 Festival anthology, available everywhere. For more information, online ordering, an archive of past columns and other writings, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.