יום חמישי, דצמבר 07, 2006
Who is a Jew? And Why convert?
1. Who is a Jew?
In the ongoing debate, I endorse the definition of Rabbi Rami, who says that a Jew is:
a person who calls herself a Jew, makes rabbinic Judaism her primary source of spiritual exploration and celebration, wrestles with God, Torah, Mitzvot, and Israel, and who identifies with, joins with, supports, and defends her fellow Jews world-wide.
My definition is behavioral rather than genetic, and is stricter than blood, if not thicker.
The context of Rabbi Rami's post is a question of whether Messianic Jews still count. He concludes that he uncertain whether they fall within or beyond his definition.
In any case, a behavioral definition of being a Jew. Amein, rabbi!
2. Why convert?
I hasten to add that my statement about a behavioral definition is not a statement against a process of "conversion," per se. This is something I have wrestled with for months. That is, why enter a formal process when I could just behave and believe? That is, do I need the institutional seal of approval? Even more, do I need it when it is Reform Judaism and just about only Reform Judaism (or probably Reconstructionism) that appeals to me, yet many more traditional/Orthodox Jews would never recognize me as a Jew in any case? I think TikkunGer sums up the thinking I have been gravitating towards:
it’s been my experience at least with most religions the conversion process is about personal salvation or emancipation, and anything else is a distant second to the primary reason. [...]
Becoming a Jew is about recognizing God and Torah but requires more than just these two ingredients, it’s about joining a family, it’s about joining a tribe, it’s about joining a peoplehood. [...]
This joining of the tribe is very much like immigrating to a new land, both literally and spiritually and requires more than just a desire. It requires that a convert not only learn and study, but also demonstrate that he or she is able to live life in a Jewish fashion.
This discourse (and the whole post is really worth reading) deserves a personal reflection. I was interested in "The Jewish People" long before I came to think about "The Jewish Religion." In fact, as I discuss in my previous post On Atheism, from the time I drifted away from Lutheranism until the time I decided to enter Judaism, I seldom gave God and spirituality much thought.
There have been times in the more recent phase of my own journey when I thought that my interest in peoplehood before religion was putting it backwards. But I am getting increasingly confident that it is precisely the right way to do it. If all I wanted was spirituality without Jesus-as-Lord, I could be a Bahai or a Buddhist, or any number of religions that don't require anything like a formal "conversion" process. But that's not what I've been looking for. It has taken me a while--including 15 years of marriage to my wonderful Jewish wife--to realize that it was both the Chosen People and Who Chose Them that I wanted to get closer to.
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