Thursday, February 01, 2001


Baslow attended a Jewish religious elementary school (a cheder). Religious subjects and Hebrew were taught before lunch. Secular subjects were taught after lunch.

The education did not include much theology, per se. There wasn't much discussion of the purpose of prayer, the nature of god, or of Jewish metaphysics. Baslow was taught ancient Hebrew texts and their interpretations; Baslow was taught laws and how to argue about them; Baslow was taught elaborate ritual practices covering many aspects of life.

Since almost all of these were transmitted, more or less intact, over hundreds and thousands of years Baslow learned things whose pertinence to his life were difficult to fathom. He learned, for example, the design of the altar upon which animals were sacrificed many hundreds of years previously. He learned about the methods of ritual animal slaughter (although there were no labs, no demonstrations to enliven the proceedings). As an adult, Baslow would think that one could almost smell the camels in his education.

Baslow remembers these years as having been uniformly grey and almost Dickensian, in a Yiddish kind of way. When he left the cheder each evening and returned to his suburban home, grey in its own way, he nevertheless traveled between worlds, across light years.

At home there was, for example, television, a window onto entirely different ways of regarding one's life. There was, to be more specific, "Rocky and Bullwinkle".

Baslow loved "Rocky and Bullwinkle". He loved the puns, the irreverence, the goofy voices, and the accessible satire. He loved humor as a way of addressing a complicated modern life. "Rocky and Bullwinkle" grew to have an importance to him beyond that of a mere "TV show".

Theology was scarce at school but it wasn't entirely absent. Simply studying the texts one had to come to grips with many beliefs. The day came when it was necessary to talk about the M'shiach. You, Dear Reader, may be more familiar with this concept by another name, "Messiah".

The M'shiach, let us be clear, had not yet (and has not to this day) arrived. The M'shiach was a PROSPECT. There was evident discomfort on the rebbe's part when he began to talk about life after the arrival of the M'shiach. This was a topic whose varying interpretations had brought much grief to the Jewish community over many generations. He spoke about it only because he had to.

He related to the class some of the speculations about how human life would differ after the M'shiach. Baslow remembers, now, none of it. Baslow had only one question: "Rebbe, will there be television after the M'shiach is here?"

"Television?" said the Rebbe, startled. He seemed to think the question was some sort of trap. He spent a little time considering. "Will there be television after the M'shiach arrives? I would say yes, there will be television...but only educational."

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