Punk Torah

'New Jew' Patrick Aleph is reclaiming righteousness by creating his own Jewish genre

BH: How did you find this place for yourself — this intersection of who you are, your passions, and your Jewish faith?

PA: The first thing I had to do was break down the stereotypes I had for myself. So I met with Orthodox Jews who have tattoos, and I met several. They hide them very well. And I had to put myself around secular Jews who claimed they were atheists but still practiced Jewish rituals. And it took me meeting those kinds of people to say OK we’re not a polarized community. In truth, we’re all kind of doing the same thing, which is basically making up Judaism as we go along. The problem is we’re putting on this front that whatever our bias is, whatever our standpoint is, that that’s the way to do it.

It took me eliminating that barrier to say that I could have just as holy and godly an experience at a Chabad house as I can at my friend Jenny’s house, who is an atheist.

The Judaism that has existed in different segments of history is really radically different than what we have now. Really makes me question a lot of how the Jewish mainstream does things, which is why I guess I do Punk Torah.

BH: Punk Torah includes these weekly videos from you on the parsha, or Torah portion. I’m wondering if you get any hate mail for its bluntness.

PA: I have people who hate my guts and people who think I’m messiah. The Torah is extremely blunt. And the places where it’s vague, that’s the fun part. That’s where you get to pick it apart and get to figure out what’s going to work for you. There are things I say that are very blunt and upset some people, but for the most part, most of the feedback I get is extremely positive, particularly from marginalized people: Jews of color, gays and lesbians, people with tattoos, people who don’t live traditionally Jewish lives, people who live outside of NY and LA and Jewish areas. I sometimes wished I lived in these areas, but I’m very comfortable with the fact I have three Jews in West Virginia who think I’m awesome. I’ve got a friend in Baltimore, a friend in wherever. That’s really fun for me because those are the people who need Judaism the most.

BH: Who is your Torah role model? Or a teaching or parsha that you relate to most?

Abraham and Sarah were the first punk rock couple… running from town to town… smashing idols… this crazy three-way thing going on with Hadar… Then Sarah gets all jealous… It’s not denigrating to say that. By calling it out, I think we liberate the scripture. It’s more real… Let’s find the holiness in that as opposed to trying to construct the holiness based on a preconceived notion of what it is.

PA: I don’t have a particular role model because I think every character in the Bible can have that status at some point. Really what I gather from the Torah, the main lesson for me, is that all people can be holy.

It’s said that there has never been a prophet that has lived since Moses, no one greater than Moses. But G-d in the end says to Moses, Look, you screwed up. You hit your staff against a rock and I have to punish you for it. Here’s a person who spent so long in the desert with the Hebrews who were complaining about how they want to go back to slavery because it’s better than wandering around with nothing to do, and puts up with all that — and in the end G-d says you are a righteous man but you disobeyed me so you cannot enter the promised land. That to me shows that all people have holiness in them.

So when you say things like that to people, they laugh about it because you’re taking sacred things and moving them into a secular context. But the thing about it is if you met someone who couldn’t get his wife pregnant, so she says why don’t you have sex with the maid, and we’ll raise that kid, you would think that’s crazy. You would never consider that person to be holy. But here it is in our Book. It says that these people were holy. So maybe we need to find holiness in all of these people who do these crazy things. If I can find holiness in these people in this Book, then I need to find holiness in my next-door neighbor. I need to find holiness in my boss. When I look outside and when I watch TV. And that for me is the greatest lesson of the Torah.

When two people meet each other and when they express this holiness with each other, I think that’s where G-d smiles.

For more on Patrick, visit Punk Torah at PunkTorah.com.