Somehow, in recent years, BuzzFeed has revived one of the oldest irritating features of the Internet: useless “which character are you” personality quizzes. Also quite popular nowadays are the more serious tools of personality analysis, such as Meyers-Briggs (INFP, regrettably) and the Enneagram (9…no one believes me). Generally, ever-larger swaths of the population are engaging in what is hopefully not paralyzing narcissism but rather self-reflection and self-awareness.
All of this is wonderful, but it doesn’t take into account the specific wrinkles and rhythms of the Jewish condition. It’s clear to me that we need a personality system (and attendant quiz) of our own. I set out to devise it. It was surprisingly easy. Since it’s Jewish, I used a joke.
THE WORLD’S SHORTEST (JEWISH!) PERSONALITY QUIZ
Below is my version of a classic Jewish joke. Your job is to pay attention to your own intuitive feelings toward the characters in the joke, your gut reaction. (Don’t overthink things! I mean it!) Based on that reaction, we will tell you whether you’re type א or type ב.
Three yeshiva students are in the middle of smoking cigarettes on Shabbos (a forbidden activity) when the head of the yeshiva walks into the dorm and catches them red-handed.
The first student says, “Forgive me, Rabbi; I forgot today was Shabbos.”
The second student says, “Forgive me, Rabbi; I forgot it’s forbidden to smoke.”
The third student says, “Forgive me, Rabbi; I forgot to lock the door.”
Question: How do you intuitively feel about the third student? Would you generally say (based on the little we know) that he is a more moral person than students one and two, or a less moral person?
If you think he is more moral, your personality type is א.
If you think he is less moral, your personality type is ב.
If you are type א:
You probably think student 3 from the joke is more moral because, while the other students lied, student 3 was refreshingly honest about his transgression.
This means you intuitively value personal authenticity over the maintenance of social processes. Though all three students probably know themselves that they have transgressed, only student three decided to express it outwardly to an authority figure, the Rabbi; the other two students are presumably embarrassed to publicly display what they and G-d already know to be true.
As a type א, you profoundly appreciate the essential purity of the soul — in other words, in man’s potential to reach a state of perfect altruism and selflessness. You are moved to act by situations in which systems — social, political, religious, etc — prevent you or others from achieving the collective perfection that springs naturally from the noble human spirit. Type אs are frustrated when others do not use their incredible human powers for the good of mankind.
Religiously, type אs are enamored with the concept of a transcendent, infinite, all-powerful, kind G-d, unbound by any nature or limitation. They are generally more inclined to spirituality than to religiosity. One of their primary challenges is relating the G-d of their understanding to the moral strictures of religion. They are particularly turned off by the imperfections of religious people, which type אs often view as unacceptable hypocrisy. They also have more trouble reconciling the existence of G-d and the existence of evil than other people, and will constantly struggle with how an omnipotent, good deity could cause so much suffering in the world.
A religious type א has trouble attributing any inherent worth to our world per se. They tend to view our world as a beautiful place that exists only to be fixed and perfected so it reflects G-d’s vision. That something “happens to exist” is after all no argument for its perfection, and they feel no compunctions in reshaping the world to bring it more in line with G-d’s vision.
Type אs are outcome-focused rather than process-focused by nature. Thus, Jewish type אs in their approach to Torah are generally disposed toward straightforward expressions of the Truth rather than the underlying generative systems of the law. They have a particular passion for the written Torah, including נ”ך.
Type א tends to view love and specifically empathy as the foundation of any relationship. As in other areas of life, they view their relationships as controllable and open to a great degree of personal decision-making.
Type א people tend to view type ב people as lethargic, stuck in their ways, and sometimes even needlessly cruel. They admire the type ב detachment; they sometimes wish they could be as calm and levelheaded as type ב, but they worry that detachment breeds emotional coldness and indifference to the injustice of the status quo.
As a type א, your vision of the final redemption is inclined toward a cataclysmic shift that is a total break from the past. Nevertheless, you see it as our personal responsibility as Jews to directly bring about that reality; we cannot wait for G-d to fix the world but must actively strive every day to fix it ourselves; this is the type א mission.
If you are type ב:
Student 3 from the joke is clearly less moral than his companions since they at least were embarrassed and ashamed to admit their transgression, whereas student 3 is so far gone that he has no shame and publicly admits to inappropriate behavior.
This means that, as a type ב, you intuitively value social cohesion and group dynamics over expressions of personal authenticity that might affect the standards of the group. Only student 3 thought to make the communal context one of explicit and acknowledged transgression, whereas the other two students, though equally culpable in their smoking on Shabbos, decided to keep the public ban on that transgression at least nominally in place.
As a type ב, you are constantly aware of the deep imperfection and flawed nature of humanity. If at all achievable, human perfection is in your view extremely rare. You are moved to act by your desire to refine and improve existing processes, and to defend those processes from outside meddling. You are annoyed when others fail to acknowledge their own limitations and the impact those limitations have on their efforts at self-improvement.
Religiously, type בs are attracted to the idea of an imminent G-d over nature who runs the world according to knowledge and reason. They are generally more religious than spiritual. One of their biggest religious challenges is seeing beyond any one aspect of serving G-d to embrace the creator as an infinite whole, not bound to the limits of their own religious practice. They are particularly turned off by the zealous religious and secular leaders who impose their will on the world and try to change it; in their opinion, religion and accepting religious truths is a natural phenomenon rather than a volitional one. Type בs also have trouble conceiving of a G-d beyond their understanding who operates super-rationally.
A religious type ב sees the world as brimming with inherent value; the fact that G-d created it means it has a certain claim and stake on existence, and we should only actively alter it with great forbearance.
Type ב Jews are process-focused people and find the underlying reasoning of the Talmud endlessly fascinating, whereas the laws it produces are seen more as an afterthought. They are inclined toward the study of ethical/mussar works.
Type ב people see love and feelings as secondary in any relationship to the actual obligations and structures that bind people together, whether contractual (in business and marriage) or social. They view their relationships as just another thing over which they have very limited control. They tend to focus on the unwritten laws of tact, respect, and etiquette more than expressing their feelings.
Type ב people admire type א people for their soaring aspirations but worry that “dreaming big” detaches people from reality and brings them to make the wrong decisions, not just for themselves but for the world they are trying to fix.
As a type ב, your vision of the final redemption is a gradual change bringing the world to perfection from within, but you don’t worry about it much, since (other than playing our small roles in G-d’s plan) there is nothing we can do it bring it about and it rests ultimately in G-d’s hands alone.
Neither type of person is particularly happy with this dumb quiz and its stupid results, but for different reasons.
The type א person is generally uncomfortable with divisions between people, and is particularly uncomfortable with being categorized, which they see as an all-pervasive separation from others. Their impulse will be to fight this divide and find unity in a common ground. Yes, we are all human beings in the end.
The type ב reader doesn’t mind division as much, but for some reason feels the need to delve deeper into these difference and probe them for falseness, even though they know it’s just some ridiculous online quiz someone whipped up in half an hour . They undoubtedly are working to come up with a whole list of reasons why these categories are internally inconsistent. They, too, will fight the type distinction, not to find unity but because as a system it is not perfectly true and in fact is riddled with errors and imperfections.
Originally posted on Hevria.