Any longstanding institution— from countries to heroes, from The White House to Coca-Cola— is going to be the subject of popular speculation and, ultimately, myths. Religions, including Judaism, are no exception.
As an avid partaker of such fare at The Straight Dope, Snopes.com, and MythBusters, I am well aware that such myths, even once “busted,” can persist for generations.
The Protocols of The Elders of Zion, for instance, is a forgery that has been proven to be one dozens of times, yet its virulent message is just that— virus-like in its ability to resist the serum of truth. Or even credulity. Say, for argument’s sake, that the Jews have been trying to take over the world. Well, we have been around for 4,000 years, and we are still not in charge… so maybe the world can let its guard down?
It’s not hard to see why we haven’t. Have you ever been one of four Jews trying to order a pizza? How could anyone even think we would have the cooperation it would take to dominate a planet?
There are persistent myths about Judaism that beggar belief, like that we have horns (thanks, Michelangelo!), and I hope those are finally dying off. And some, like the “blood libel,” that are mostly known by fringe fanatics. When Sarah Palin used the term recently, the media had to explain what it was before they could explain why it was offensive, which in a way I guess, is progress.
But there are some myths about Judaism and Jewish life that even many Jews believe. Like that you are supposed to put an orange on a Seder plate as a matter of tradition (as opposed to a symbol of protest against certain long-held attitudes, which it is).
Or the myth that kosher wine sucks, simply because the most widely available ones do. This would be like saying that some pop songs suck, so everything on the radio must (maybe not the best example). In fact, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of award-winning kosher wines from around the globe that stand up to any standard wines. Not surprisingly, many of these outstanding wines come from Israel, especially the Golan Heights… which some might say makes that spot worth fighting for almost as much as its strategic military importance.
Speaking of comestibles, some believe that food is kosher because it is blessed by a rabbi. Nope and nope— not blessed and not by a rabbi. The process is more like an FDA inspection than anything else. And the experts involved do not need rabbinic ordination to carry out their task, rather a deep knowledge of food science and production as well as the laws of kashrut. More details here.
The Internet is a double-edged sword in this regard. While many sites exist to debunk such myths, many other sites and individuals continue to spread them, probably more out of ignorance than malice. “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on,” as Mark Twain didn’t say. (In a rich irony, this great quote about lies is frequently misattributed; it was popularized by a Baptist preacher named Charles Spurgeon in 1855, who himself said it was an old proverb he’d heard.)
One of Judaism’s key strengths is its drive to ask and investigate. One thing we do at our Seders, even those without oranges, is encourage our children to ask questions and seek answers. So, when confronted with a stereotype or generalized statement or wild accusation that sounds just plain “off,” honor your tradition by asking, “Really?” and looking into it yourself.