Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
After having read and heard so many stories over the years, do you find it hard to keep straight which ones are really from the Bible and which are not?
-- S., via email
Yes, I sometimes have trouble sourcing a story, but at least it's now easy to check things out on Bible websites. Unfortunately all this does is confirm or refute the biblical origin of a story; it doesn't tell me where the story comes from if it's not from the Bible. I am, for example, still searching for the origin of one of my favorite stories. Here it is: A student asked his teacher (maybe a rabbi, maybe a priest, maybe a shaman, maybe an imam -- I don't know), "What is hell like?" The teacher answered, "In hell, all the souls are sitting around a table laden with wonderful food. They're hungry and they can smell the food and touch it, but they can't bring any food to their mouths because they can't bend their arms." The student says, "Yes, my teacher, that is hell. And what is heaven like?" The teacher answered, "In heaven, all the souls are sitting around a table laden with wonderful food. They're hungry and they can smell the food and touch it, but they can't bring any food to their mouths because they can't bend their arms." The perplexed student asked, "So what's the difference between heaven and hell?" The teacher answered, "In heaven, the people are feeding each other." Help me source this one, please. If it is from the Bible, I'm going to be very embarrassed.
NOTE FROM RABBI GELLMAN:
Some weeks ago, I wrote a column against cursing with God's name attached. However, I was at a loss to find an emotionally satisfying replacement for the G-Damn curse. Several readers tried to help me out:
R., FROM WEST PALM BEACH, FLA., WROTE: "My Dad's only 'curse' was, 'Sacramento California!' I never heard him use a curse word but if he yelled, 'Sacramento California!' I knew something bad had happened and stayed clear of him.
MG: Nice, but Sacramento is a fine town, and I don't want to irritate the Chamber of Commerce there. It really is a damn fine town.
B., FROM SOMEWHERE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE, WROTE: "Did you know that Oliver Wendell Holmes used the phrase. 'What the Moses is coming next?' For Jews, I would nominate 'OY' (with or without 'VEY'). As a gentile, I learned several expressions of annoyance during my term in the Navy, all unprintable. I've trained myself to simply say, 'nuts!' "
MG: As a Jew whose best friend is a priest, I just want to say, "Oy vey, you are making me nuts!" And my favorite . . .
R., FROM SOMEPLACE IN FLORIDA, WROTE: "I agree that using G-d's name as a curse is wrong. First of all, it's biblically forbidden, but the name is also too short -- just one syllable. One with three or more syllables gives three or more times the pleasure or relief. Secondly God's name has been associated with the divine for so long that we might slip into forbidden territory. Lastly curse words lose their intensity over time, and new ones are continually invented to add a fresh kick. Over 300 curse words in the works of Shakespeare are no longer used today.
"Therefore, I propose that we invent a new curse word every 10 years. Here in Florida, we know every year what alphabetical names will be attached to each storm during hurricane season. I propose that we name new curse words after rivers in the United States and around the world.
"None of these river names have cursing in their original meanings. Names separated by a comma are two different rivers -- needed for emphasis. Rivers in caps are not in the U.S.
"Here we go:
1. Apalachicola 2. Brazos 3. Cimarron, Colville 4. DANUBE 5. EUPHRATES 6. Fabius, Feather River 7. Guyandotte 8. Hammonasset 9. Ichetucknee 10. Juniata 11. Kaukonahua 12. Lac qui Parle 13. Manumuskin 14. Narraguagus 15. Oconomowoc 16. Pahsimeroi 17. Quinsigamond 18. Rappahannock 19. Sagavanirktok 20. Talachulitna 21. Uncompahgre 22. Virgin River 23. Waccasassa 24. XIANG 25. YANGTZE 26. ZAMBEZI. "
MG: ZAMBEZI! I JUST DROPPED A ROCK ON MY TOE! ICHETUCKNEE! I FORGOT MY KEYS!
Yup, it works for me.