Thursday, May 18, 2006
Who is a Jew?
[This blog entry was pasted from a comment I wrote to TikkunGer as a response to people challenging him on his Reform conversion into Judaism. The link to the actual articles are here and here. As a disclaimer, I want to point out that I am not an expert on conversions into Judaism, and so please do your own research and consult a proper rabbinic authority before relying on anything I have written here.]
MY ORIGINAL COMMENT:
The conflicts you’re facing are coming from the point of view that most Reform conversions aren’t done according to the requirements of Jewish law, and thus they (each considered on an individual basis) are not valid. On another note, choosing to be Jewish isn’t like choosing to be a vegetarian. The conversion process is probably the most important thing to do properly and strictly (even if you have to do it over again if your original conversion wasn’t kosher), and most Reform Jews don’t know the law or even think it has any validity and are not a reliable source for conversion. As a Jew (or as a neophyte), playing sides with Reform versus Conservative versus Orthodox when it comes to a conversion will only get you in trouble. It’s probably best to do it in a way that nobody will have an issue with your conversion, and then resume living as a Jew according to how you see fit.
[Hindsight, TikkunGer commented that lying that one would keep shabbos, kosher, etc., when he has no intention of doing so just so he can get an orthodox conversion would be a conversion in bad faith, and it would probably be void anyway. I agree with him. However, when I said "in a way that nobody will have an issue with your conversion," I was referring to the actual ACT of conversion should be done in the strictest way possible. It is totally possible that the conversion requires as one of the acts a promise to keep the Torah and its commandments -- keep in mind, I have never converted, so I don't know exactly what is done -- and if that were the case, converting with the intent of not keeping the commandments would be committing a fraud which would probably void the conversion. My point, however, is that the conversion needs to satisfy the elements of what is needed for a conversion to be kosher l'chatchila / bidieved. If a necessary element is missing from this equasion, then the conversion is not valid, no matter which sect performs the conversion.]
MY RESPONSE TO HIS REPLY:
I should say that I am honored that this blog title was kind of in my honor. I read your description of your conversion process, and there are basic physical activities that must be done for the conversion to take place. That being said, it is highly possible that you have completed those physical actions.
I do know that as you said, the orthodox community requires you in addition to take upon the commandments of a Jew, such as kashrut, shabbos, and family purity. I'm guessing it mirrors the acceptance of the Torah and the commandments as is what happened on Mount Sinai a few thousand years ago. However, if it ever became important for you to know whether your conversion was proper (I'll explain why in a sec), I would call the local rabbi and I would describe the details of your conversion. It is possible that you might have already done what was necessary.
Anyway, I knew that my comment in the last post would probably spawn some controversy, but I think that a friendly challenge or poke from time to time is healthy so that you can truly know where you are standing and why, as I believe you do.
There is the concept of being culturally Jewish, and then there is the concept of being matriarically Jewish (yes, through a Jewish mother), of which this second status can be achieved by a conversion into the faith. If during your life you realized that your identity is that of a Jew, I would posit that G-d has, in His infinite wisdom and for a purpose, put the holy spark of a Jew inside of you, BUT He caused you to be born into a non-Jewish body, probably for a reason. It is possible that there was an extra purification that needed to be done specifically through YOUR conversion to Judaism, and that act alone could be the reason you were put on this Earth; after all, as you said, too many people are born Jewish, but they don't have the slightest idea of what that means. I think you pursuing a conversion to make your body match your soul was the proper direction to take.
As for my comment to Ami, yes, the PREREQUISITE for being a Jew and for your children to be Jewish is that your wife be born Jewish of a Jewish mother, or that she be Jewish through a kosher conversion (meaning that the physical activities that constitute a conversion were completed). If the conversion isn't done properly, then you cause a whole bunch of problems for yourself and your soul. For example, if I remember correctly, a non-Jew is forbidden to keep Shabbos.
You are right in your observation that there is a problem in Judaism today in that we are in exile, and there is no central authority to determine what is proper and what is not proper. Of course, there is the Code of Jewish Law (the Shulchan Auruch), but the problem is that branches of Judaism have disavowed their allegience to the law and they are serving G-d in whatever way "they" want to serve Him. These people serving G-d however they feel most comfortable -- them being by their nature physical and limited in both intellect and understanding -- they are not serving G-d the way He has told us he wants us to serve him. Even the non-Jews agree that G-d gave the Jews instructions on how to serve him, and G-d gave the Torah to the Jews. This deviation from precedent is wherein lies the problem.
If, for example, your wife told you that she needed to HEAR that you loved her in order for her to feel loved, and you instead bought her gifts, but you never told her you loved her, or, if you gave her hugs but you never told her you loved her, you must ask yourself 1) do I love my wife? The answer is probably ABSOLUTELY YES. However, if you ask yourself 2) am I communicating my love for my wife in a way that she will receive that love? [by TELLING her you love her], the answer will be NO. Loving your wife YOUR WAY and not HER WAY is not going to make her feel loved. Wouldn't you want to communicate your love to your wife in a way that she will feel that love? If not, and you are loving her for your benefit and not hers, then your love is not for her, but for yourself.
This is the same when it comes to the different sects in Judaism. There are certain commandments that G-d told us he wants us Jews to do and to abstain from, as is codified in the Torah, the Oral Torah, and the Shulchan Aruch. Us disregarding that and serving him however we feel fit, but not doing the commandments he asked of us is not serving Him; it is serving ourselves.
It is a problem today that there are sects that have taken it upon themselves to omit and/or change certain parts of the Torah. Certain sects have even (G-d forbid) taken G-d's name out of the Torah and out of the prayer books. Other sects have come to the conclusion that the Torah is only a man-made story and there was no Mount Sinai nor was there a Noah, a flood, or a Moses. These people call themselves Jews (and many of them may be Jewish based on their heritage as long as they haven't intermarried to a non-Jewish wife and had non-Jewish kids) and yet they go around calling themselves Jews but metaphorically spitting in G-d's face by 1) not accepting his Torah and by 2) not doing his commandments. Yet they still have Friday night meals and they still cook bagels and lox, have matzah balls in their soup, and say "oy vey". This doesn't make them Jewish. Being Jewish or not is very specific. And this being said, it is possible that you MAY VERY WELL BE JEWISH without any question or doubt.
Do you see the difference between being a Jew and acting and feeling Jewish? Even Hitler (may G-d erase his name from history) killed practicing Christians and members of many faiths based on the sole fact that someone up the matriarichal line was Jewish, therefore they were Jewish whether they practiced the faith or not.
That is why I said that regardless of with whom you did (or do) the conversion, as long as the elements of a conversion have been satisfied and the right things have been done, your conversion is kosher and you are a Jew.