Being Jewish, Being Autistic

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, who blogs at Journeys with Autism, has a very good post linking the misperceptions people have with being Jewish and being autistic. The whole thing is worth a read, but this part struck me:

In the larger, mainly Christian culture in which I’ve lived my life, the view seems to be that the Jews of the “Old Testament” were all about strict justice, and that the Christians of the “New Testament” were all about love. (I put the names of the books in quotation marks because I don’t see one as being old and outmoded and the other as having superseded it; I see them both as valid traditions in their own right.)

The Jewish God, the critique goes, is only a God of judgment, a God of punishment, a God who lacks forgiveness, and we are just like our God: cold, judgmental, merciless. The Christian God, on the other hand, is a God of love and forgiveness. When I was growing up, without much of a Jewish education, I actually believed all of this. I believed it until I was in my late thirties, and I asked a rabbi whether there was anything in Judaism to help me heal my broken heart. His reply? “Yes. Our people brought the truth to the world that there is a God who loves us and cares about our lives.” I nearly fainted. When I began to study and practice Judaism in adulthood, I was startled to find that we are instructed to love our neighbors, to love our enemies, to love mercy, and to make right the wrongs of the world.

And what did I believe about autistic people until I found out that I actually am one? I believed that autistic people don’t have empathy, the very basis of loving relationships. The lack-of- empathy trope has been at the core of autism theory for a number of years, and it’s appalling how many people still believe it. Of course, they don’t appear to have met any of the autistic people I know, nor do they seem to have much empathy for the pain and suffering this canard causes autistic people on a daily basis.

Christians and Jews interpret what we Christians might call the “Old Testament” a bit differently than our Jewish friends. That’s why we are different faiths.

That said, Christianity began as a sect within Judaism and all of the Old Testament stories we learn as kids are the stories our Jewish sisters and brothers also learned. If we look a little more deeply, we see that the God in those old stories is the same loving God that we Christians know.

But of course, I was trained in a seminary that honored this history of the Bible and our own Jewish roots. I’ve also met a few Jews that has helped me understand their faith. As Rachel notes, a lot of Christians have never met a Jew and that’s where the mispreceptions come in.

The same thing with being autistic. I don’t think many folks have met someone that is autistic and…well, a lot of wrong ideas come from that.

I wish at times folks would be more curious about differences and willing to learn instead of making up their minds about a person before they know them.


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