Columns - 2006

    The Good Book

    It's a busy time of year for Jews. One holiday right after another. The absolution of all reasons for guilt from the past year, and the pressure on our mothers to immediately start instilling new, original guilt.

    As we leave the week where El Al flight attendants indicate the nearest emergency exits using a lulav and etrog, we enter a period that defies all odds: Jewish Book Month.

    What makes a book Jewish? This question has frustrated and baffled the sages for ages to such a great extent that, if you ask your rabbi today about the issue, he'll adamantly deny ever giving it a moment's thought.

    Is it simply a matter of having a Jewish author? Jewish subject matter? Jewish characters? Pages from right to left? A mention of lox or kugel? A Jewish movie producer owning the film rights?

    No. According to the recently disembalmed Mishnah tractate Bava Gump, a book is Jewish if its foreword was cut.

    If I may digress for a moment... And if you're reading this, I apparently can as the editor didn't stop me... What is it with Jewish Books? They're all about spirituality, Jewish law, Jewish ritual, Jewish children, the laws of Jewish children in ritual. That's all fine, but who's bringing the funny?

    Look through any Judaica section in a bookstore and you'll see why to be serious about Judaism you really need to be serious about Judaism. There's more books about Jewish mourning than Jewish laughing. Where's the fun?

    All the Jewish comedians are making jokes about their mothers. All the Jewish songwriters are composing Christmas songs. Matzah is less dry than a startling majority of Jewish literature on store shelves and websites today. Why isn't there as much to lighten us up as enlighten us?

    (Editor's note: In no way is the preceding rant about the need for more Jewish humor books not a gratuitous attempt to catch the attention of publishers who could print a high-priced, higher-royaltied collection of these columns.)

    But this is not the kind of book that Jewish Book Month was established to honor. Not originally, anyway.

    Why didn't you know that? Probably because there's no books on the subject. Yet.

    Jewish Book Month, before it became a commercial observance, was originally established as the time of year when we place bets in remembrance of the long odds that Jews have survived throughout history.

    Did you think it a coincidence that it comes at the peak of football season?

    Consider these modest examples of the long odds that the Jewish people have encountered and somehow managed to overcome.

    Forty to one: A typical trip by foot through the Sinai by 603,550 men, plus a proportionate number of women and children, would take about one year. Thanks to Microsoft being typically late on releasing their GPS product, and the male genome's immunity to asking for directions, it took forty years.

    Eight to one: The Maccabeean Makeover found only one day's worth of oil in the Temple. But, through energy conservation techniques that were millennia ahead of their time and inspired by already rising oil prices throughout the region, they got the oil to last for eight days. This was a good thing because they needed the light all those days. The place was a real mess.

    Thirteen to one: Haman played the lottery to determine what day to kill all the Jews. In one of the more serendipitous moments of planning in recorded history, it conveniently fell on the same day as Purim.

    Ten to one: Ten Jews are required to make one minyan. Through the ages this has become increasingly difficult to manage on a daily basis. In some parts of the world, the odds of actually getting a minyan are equal to the number of Jews required.

    A quarter to one: That's what time services ended last Saturday. Outrageous. Everyone's proud of the bar mitzvah boy. Pinch his cheeks and make kiddush already. The Alabama game kicks off on CBS at 12:30 on the coast! We need to get out of services in time for kickoff, when the real praying begins.

    Still can't believe that making book is a fundamental part of institutional Judaism today? Show me a synagogue that doesn't have a bookkeeper.

    Doug Brook sings "Hanukkah in Santa Monica" and other songs in "Tomfoolery," a revue of the music of Tom Lehrer, October 13 through 29, in San Jose. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.