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Woody's Non-Jewish Legacy
Mom with a View

Woody's Non-Jewish Legacy

Guilt and complaining are not Jewish ideas.


Philip Roth and Woody Allen (among others) have bequeathed two legacies to the Jewish world: the idea of complaining (particularly as it applies to Jewish wives and mothers) and the idea of guilt (particularly as it applies to Mr. Allen’s personal neuroses!).

I would like to set the record straight. Neither complaining nor guilt are Jewish ideas. In fact, they are both completely antithetical to the teachings of our heritage.

Besides their unique failings, they have a common element. They are both substitutes for action. They may even make the subject feel as if they have dealt with the issue -- through their kvetching or obsessing -- thereby absolving them of the need to do something.

If you don’t like a situation, work to change it or accept it.

This is diametrically opposed to the Jewish way of thinking. If you don’t like a situation, you have two basic options -- either work to change it or accept it.

If your child has a teacher you are not happy with, you can work with the administration to improve her teaching skills or find a replacement. Or you can accept it and teach your child some life lessons about dealing with different types of personalities and authority figures. Complaining is not a legitimate option. It accomplishes nothing and drags you and everyone around you down.

Likewise if you said something hurtful to a friend, you can replay the conversation over and over again in your mind, imagining different dialogues and different results. You can allow yourself to get discouraged, even depressed. But who will that help? Your friend will still be in pain; your social skills will still need improvement. Much better to apologize and work on ways of preventing such behavior in the future.

We have all bought into the stereotypes. We rationalize that we are behaving very jewishly when we torment ourselves with guilt and give loud and vocal vent to our dissatisfaction.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The real Jewish way is to recognize that the situation we are in is exactly the one we’re meant to be in; it’s tailor-made for us and is our ideal opportunity for self-improvement and character change.

Instead of kvetching, we should working on growth. We should see where we can make valuable contributions to ameliorate negative situations and where we need to learn some important internal lessons about just sitting still, about trust and acceptance.

And with respect to guilt, the authentic Jewish path is teshuva, repentance. We don’t wallow in the guilt (well we do but we shouldn’t!). We examine ourselves to see what character flaw led to the undesirable action. We make a plan and search out tools that will help us eradicate that trait or redirect it in a more positive direction. And we work hard at righting the wrongs with the injured party, whether it be financial or emotional compensation.

It’s time to lay these canards to rest. Complaining and guilt are not Jewish ideas. Action and change are.

April 24, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 22

(21) susannah garbutt, November 17, 2010 11:07 AM

too glib

dear Emuna Have you any idea of what it's like for the millions of people with schizophrenia, major depression or bi polar disorder? You cannot control everything, you cannot even control your own thoughts often. Excessive guilt feelings, remorse and obsession are often some of the symptoms of a psychosis - they can be treated to an extent - but you never, in my experience, ever get back to the innocent you were before serious mental illness struck and devastated your mind and world. A lot of the time it is with you for life, even though you fight it every day. And sometimes fighting is not as effective as acceptance, but that only lasts until the next upset with friends, family or people you deal with at the shops due to your faulty modus operandi with the outside world. Rejection, failure and guilt are commonplace in the life of a person with a psychosis, misunderstanding and being thought to be intellectually disabled are - but most people with mental illness are above average intelligence. Many people are building their self esteem on the perceived failures and shortcomings of others - even your friends - and they often do this at the expense of the ill person, who, by the way, suffers exceedingly even if they are not homeless. Please look around and think deeply before you roll out the Pollyanna approach to life Emuna. Shalom and understanding. Susannah

(20) , May 3, 2010 4:03 PM

I've always hated the idea that Jews are kvetchers. Kids need that because they're not in control of what they can and can't do. Adults need to shape up and take action, not kvetch.

(19) Soroh, May 2, 2010 1:56 PM

This article is not substative enough

While reading this article, a few thoughts come to mind. Emuna, it would have helped your argument had you brought down sources or mephorshim to substanciate your claims. This just looks like an opinion peice in the op-ed section. Also, I do think the idea of jewish guilt and complaining actually started from chumash, when the jews were still in the desert, complaining about the mann, quail, or wishing they were back in Mitzrayim (see mephorshim for what this really means). The pasuk says "Vayehi k'misonenim rah -- And the Jews violently complained." Like many ideologies floating around our society, this idea may have started from "The Old testament" itself. Tanach is filled with people given challenges from Hashem and their emotional turmoil related to thier choices. Also, commenter "Phylis S." made a good point - you did not look into any of your subjects' medical diagnoses. Woody Allen is a clinically and self-proclaimed narcissist, a condition wrought with anxieties and guilt. Also, the worried mother sydrom could also have its roots in the Jews' constant fear throughout history of being persecuted and molested in various ways. And for a religion so full of mitzvot and labor related to its service to Hashem, it can defenitely cause anxieties and guilt if one feels they cannot do everything. I agree that we should do our best to fix negative sitautions and fight for what is right, but I think your blaming Hollywood is misplaced.

(18) Anonymous, April 30, 2010 3:12 AM


Orah, September 7, 2011 5:21 AM

He did marry a Jewish woman- Louise Lasser

Woody Allen was married for a period to Jewish actress and entertainer Louise Lasser.

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