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Note: That’s Not Schmutz

It’s just Ash Wednesday

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Priest applying sacramental schmutz.(Wikipedia)

You’re going to be walking around today, at work or on the street or whatever, and you’re going to see people with some schmutz on their foreheads. It will be jarring, and your first instinct, of course, will be to tell them that they have some schmutz on their foreheads; secondarily, you may regret this person is not a close family member, making it inappropriate to grab him, lick the side of your thumb, and rub that schmutz off his forehead. Even after you pass him, you’ll probably continue to think about this schmutz—so dirty! so schmutzy!—for the rest of the day, or at least for a couple more minutes. That is, until you see the next person with some schmutz on her forehead.

So here’s the thing to remember: They want the schmutz there. These people are Christians, probably mostly Catholics, observing Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent (which is sort of like their counting of the Omer) and kicks off the countdown to Easter. Of course, schmutz is still schmutz, whether the person with it wants it there or not. But this is America, and differences are to be respected. Just be glad it’s not you with some schmutz on your forehead.

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I think this is one of the nicest religious traditions there is, particularly in New York City, where people are ordinarily so anonymous.

Steve Stein says:

This schmutz I understand. I even sort of understand the Hindu tilak (dot). But I noticed that my neighbor had a red vertical line down the middle of his forehead one day a few weeks back – I asked about it and he said “it’s a Hindu thing”. But it’s not any Hindu thing I had ever heard of. More to discover!

Jordan says:

If we Jews had a custom of putting ashes on our faces, and a non-Jewish blogger repeatedly called our ashes “shmutz”, I think we (and you) would be pretty offended.

Jillian says:

You must be reading my mind! I have a friend who actually did that (to a friend not a stranger) and every Ash Wednesday I’m reminded of her story. I guess there’s a little Jewish grandmother inside all of us.

elliot cohen says:

Please try to refrain from being overly adolescently snarky about a tradition that is practiced by over a billion of our friends and neighbors. It’s not good or funny.

Chana Batya says:

I agree with Jordan, Gillian and Elliot. This column is offensive. Ash Wednesday begins Lent which is a serious period in the Christian year, and we should respect it. By the way, way way back when Christians were persecuted by the Romans, wearing a sign of being Christian could get you killed, so wearing the ashes is a very strong symbol to them, that they are not only taking on the sacrifice that Jesus did during his 40 days of fasting, but they are willing to be marked as his followers. If you remember when Jewish men tried to cover or undo their circumcision to avoid being identified as such, then, well, all I can say is, please do not make fun of our Christian neighbors.

Good for anyone who, by placing ash on their forehead, is unafraid to proclaim their faith. That is the message I’d prefer to glean from today.

The purpose of the ashes is to remind humanity “dust you are and to dust you will return”. We must concentrate on God and not on things of this earth.

susan says:

This is beyond offensive. It is childish and obnoxious, and I can’t imagine why Tablet’s editors thought it was appropriate to publish.

R. Miller says:

Agree to all of the comments above . . .all Tablet had to say was “if you see one of your neighbors or someone on the street with a black mark on their forehead, here is the story behind it” and then make a reference to a symbol that jews also revere. . . But once again they (Tablet) wanted to create a buzz. . . My Father used to use schmutz all of the time but would have never used it in the way it was today. . .

Jerry Shapiro says:

Does The Tablet print crap like this for a reason? And if it’s to create a “buzz,” well I guess the seven or eight people who read this publication have been suitably buzzed.

Lloyd Gordon says:

My vote: This column is adolescent, stupid and offensive.

Paul Vincent says:

Some idiot thinks he’s being funny here.

Cheryl says:

Incredibly offensive, to say the least. Hey, how about those funny beanies Jews wear on their heads? Or those weird banana curls down the sides of their faces? What’s with the heavy black coats, even in summer? And that flat, cardboard-like stuff that they eat for a week every year?

Just be glad it’s not YOU with the crazy food laws and costumes. Oh, yeah — that’ll sit REAL well.

Martin Haber says:

Mr Tracy,

This piece that you wrote about Ash Wednesday is “shmutz”.
I’m Jewish, and its sarcastic and belittling tone offends ME; I can only imagine how a Catholic reader would feel.
Yiddishisms can be hilarious and even enlightening, but your usage is plain nasty.

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Note: That’s Not Schmutz

It’s just Ash Wednesday

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