Tuvia Tenenbom’s “Careful Beauties Ahead!” is very funny. He achieves his humor by mocking the religious practices of very pious Jews as well as sometimes those of Judaism generally. For example, he recognizes that Jews prefer to respect God and do not mention the divine name, even use G-d instead of God, and many substitute Hashem. However, instead of using Hashem, he translates it as “The Name,” which makes it seem ludicrous, as in “The Name said….” He ignores that rational Jewish thinkers never understood Hashem to mean “The Name.” For example, in the phrase “God is One, and His Name One,” the word “name” does not mean what a person is called; everyone knows God is called by more than one name. In the Bible, “name” implies essence. So, “His Name One” means God is not made of more than a single part; He is not three or ten. God is One (a sole deity) and has a single essence.
Tenenbom also mocks practices that rational thinkers would consider strange. For example, pious men feel that it is wrong to look at a woman lest they be driven to lust, but women can look at men because they are not so distracted. Also, married women cover their hair so that men do not become attractive to them. However, many buy wigs that make them more beautiful than they ever were before they wore them.
Similarly, he sees it ridiculous that some Jews pay enormous sums of money to be buried on Mount Olives because of the tradition that those buried there will be the first to be resurrected when the Messiah comes and that many go to graves of so-called pious bearded men to seek help rather than praying at home to God who is supposed to be everywhere
He also mentions other ridiculous ideas that he or others may have invented. For example, he asserts that ancient rabbis cut off the wings of a fly and ordered it to fly. When they saw that the fly did not fly, they concluded that removing a fly’s wings made it deaf.
He reminds me of a story my rational-thinking father, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Drazin, who had no beard told. A man went to the cemetery, saw a rabbi, and requested that the rabbi say a blessing for him over his mother’s grave. The rabbi asked him, “With or without a beard?” The man asked, “What’s the difference?” The rabbi responded, “Without a beard, it is five dollars. With a beard, it is six dollars.” Thinking he and his mother deserve the best, he said. “With a beard.” Whereupon the rabbi reached into his pocket, took out a beard, put it on, and said the blessing.
Aside from its humor, which is effective, Tenenbom’s book’s mockery serves as a catalyst for intellectual engagement, as shown in the first example that I mentioned above. This is a positive aspect, provided we maintain respect for those whose beliefs differ from our own, fostering a space for diverse perspectives.