Fri Aug 05, 2011 7:39 am Comments on - Who Is a Jew? What Is a Jew?
Machon Ohr Aaron & Betsy Spijer
Thoughts to Ponder 276
Authenticity and Conformity: Free Spirit and Law
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
What makes one a Jew? Being born from a Jewish mother? Conversion? Not really. It is living in the spiritual order of Judaism that makes one a Jew: living through the Jews of the past and with the Jews of the present and future. We are Jews when we choose to be so. When we have discovered Jewishness on our own through our search for the sacred. When we fight the never-ending spiritual struggle to find God, realize that the world needs a moral conscience, and carry that exalted burden so as to save the world and give it a mission.
One becomes a bit Jewish when one realizes there cannot be nature without spirit; there is no neutrality in matters of moral conscience. But all this is not enough. We have a long way to go before we grow into full-fledged Jews. We must recognize the noble in the common; endow the world with majestic beauty; acknowledge that mankind has not been the same since God overwhelmed us at Sinai; and accept that mankind without Sinai is not viable.
To create in ourselves Jewish vibrations we need to see the world sub specie aeternitatis, from the perspective of eternity. We must be able to step out of the small box of our little lives and hold the cosmic view, while at the same time not lose the ground under our feet but deal with our trivial day-to-day endeavors and sanctify them. Not by escaping them through denial or declaring them of no importance, but by actually engaging them and using them as great opportunities to grow. As one painstakingly discovers this, one slowly becomes a Jew.
Some of us have to struggle to attain this; others seem to be born with it. They posses a mysterious Jewish soul that nobody can identify but everyone recognizes is there. It has something to do with destiny, certain feelings that nobody can verbalize. What is at work is the internalization of the covenant between God, Abraham and, later, Sinai. It is in one’s blood even when one is not really religious. It murmurs from the waves beyond the shore of our souls and overtakes our very being, expanding our Jewishness wherever we go.
Most Jews “have it,” but so do some non-Jews. They know they have it. It is thoroughly authentic. They are touched by it as every part of one’s body is touched by water when swimming, its molecules penetrating every fiber of one’s being. Nothing can deny it.
These are the authentic Jews, but not all of them belong to the people of Israel. Some are gentiles with gentile parents; others are children of mixed marriages. If they should wish to join the Jewish people they will have to convert in accordance with the Halacha, although they have been “soul Jews” since birth.
But why are they not already full-fledged Jews with no requirement to convert? All ingredients are present! Why the need for a biological component such as a Jewish mother, or the physical act of immersing in a mikva (ritual bath)?
Because Halacha is not just about religious authenticity and quality of the soul. It is also about the down-to-earth reality of life. It asks a most important question: How shall we recognize who is Jewish and who is not? Can we read someone’s soul? How can one know for sure whether one is really Jewish? Can she read her own soul and perceive it? How do we know that our believed authenticity is genuine?
The world is a complex mixture of the ideal and the concrete, where genuineness can easily and unknowingly be confused with pretentiousness. To live one’s life means to live in a manner that the physical constitution and the inner spirit of man interact, but also clash. There is total pandemonium when only the ideal reigns while needs for the realistic and the workable are ignored.
Tension, even contradiction, between the ideal and the workable is the great challenge to Halacha. It therefore needs to make tradeoffs: How much authenticity and how much down-to-earth realism? How much should it function according to the dream and the spirit, and how much in deference to the needs of our physical world?
As much as Halacha would like to grant full dominion to the ideal, it knows that it must compromise by deferring to indispensable rules, which allow the world to function. Just as in the case where it must come to terms with authenticity vs. conformity (see Thoughts to Ponder 275), so it must deal with authentic Jewishness and the necessity to set external and even biological standards of Jewish identity. And just as in the case of authenticity and conformity, here too there will be victims and unpleasant consequences.
Some “soul Jews” will pay the price and be identified as non-Jews, despite the fact that “ideal” Halacha would have liked to include them. However unfortunate, it sometimes has to compromise the “Jewish soul” quality of an individual who because of these rules can’t be recognized as Jewish. Were we not to apply these imperatives, chaos would reign.
But it is more than that. There needs to be a nation of Israel, a physical entity able to carry the message of Judaism to the world. It must have a common historical experience which has affected its spiritual and emotional makeup. There needs to be, as Emil Fackenheim calls them, root experiences, such as the exodus from Egypt, the crossing of the Reed Sea and the revelation at Sinai. The impact of these events crafted this people into a most unusual nation ready to take on the world and transform it. For Jews to send their message to the world they need to have a historical experience – as a family and later on as a nation – in which people inherit a commitment to a specific way of living even when some of its members object to it. Paradoxically, this experience needs to be transferred from one generation to the next so as to have its desired effect.
The fact that Judaism allows outsiders, who were not part of this experience, to join is not only a wondrous thing but is also based on the fact that not all souls need these root experiences to become Jewish. They have other qualities, that are as powerful and transforming, and that allow them to convert as long as they are absorbed into a strong core group whose very identity is embedded in these root experiences.
In terms of a pure, uncompromised religious ideal this means that some Jews should not be Jews and some non-Jews should be Jews. Authenticity, after all, cannot be inherited; it can only be nurtured. Ideally, Jews should be only those who have consciously taken on the Jewish mission and live accordingly. If not for the need for a Jewish people, it would have been better to have a Jewish faith community where people can come and go depending on their willingness to commit to the Jewish religious way and its mission. Just as other religions conduct themselves.
So the demands of Halacha create victims when some “soul Jews” are left out of the fold, as is the case with children of mixed marriages who have non-Jewish mothers, or children of Jewish grandparents but non-Jewish parents. Similarly, with gentiles who have Jewish souls but no Jewish forefathers. All are casualties.
It is the price to be paid for the tension between the ideal and the need for compliance. The paradox between the spirit and the law. That Halacha at all allows any non-Jew to become Jewish through proper conversion is a most powerful expression of its humanity. In fact it is a miracle.
There are probably billions of people who are full-fledged “soul Jews”, or “impending Jews,” who don’t know it and probably never will. Perhaps it is these Jews whom God had in mind when He blessed Avraham and told him that he would be the father of all nations and that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand granules on earth and the stars in heaven.
Well, I'm 71 years old and I've just been told by this guy that I'm not really a Jew.
I wish he'd been around when I was a youngster in London. He could have told the kids and their parents not to shout dirty epithets at me because they thought I was a Jew. He could have told the older boys at school who beat me up every day that they were wasting there time and that they should go and find a Jew to kick.
What a load of absolute rubbish! He redifines the word "Jew" to suit his own outlook on life and feels he has to write an article on it. Jews are Jews, good, bad, handsome or ugly. Even belief in Hashem doesn't do it for you. Ask the rabbis that we read about lately. No, don't say they're not really Jews! They are Jews just like the rest of us Jews. Every one of us who believes in some sort of god forms his/her own little religion to live by and calls it by the name of the religion upon which it is based. Just like this guy has. He calls himself a J..well you got it.
There's a queue of Jews a mile long waiting to tell him that actually he is not a Jew'cos he's not like them!
Thank you for replying - at least someone is reading the posts
I think you may have not read him through accurately - remember he is a philosopher
He talks about Jewish & Jewishness - the Judaic spiritual experience -
NOT how non Jews see us
I am going to send him your response and hope we get a reply
Fri Aug 12, 2011 7:54 am Why the disrespect in answering? Is truth to hard to bear?
I think that in some cases age is not enough to grant certain people at least the wisdom to read thoroughly and carefully and to find out who the person who wrote the piece is...
Much older people could tell him "so what if someone has called you a dirty Jew"? It is not what anti-Semites think, say or do that determine one's Jewishness.
I heard crowds calling fully gentile game referees "dirty Jew" yet that did not make the referee Jewish, nor are the Nuremberg Laws categories those which determine who is or is not Jewish, in spite of what the socialists who wrote the Law of Return" in Israel thought, that is: "if they were Jewish enough for HItler [i"s], then they are for Israel, thus throwing away 3,000 years of tradition [at least since the times of Ezra and Nehemia who sent away the gentile wives and their children after coming back from the Babylonian exile]; all while giving little mustache and his followers a posthumous victory by letting them decide who is a Jew.
As the upset poster should know, there are quite a lot of non-Jewish Jews, as there were many who were born from a Jewish mother but became apostate and persecuted the Jews, or simply preach other religions, and who are not considered part of Israel even according to the most lenient of opinions (see: Shachter: "Tradition and the Non Traditional Jew", Aronson 1991)
"We have not occupied a foreign land; we have
we have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation."
(I Maccabees 15:33)
End Arab occupation of the Land of Israel: Judea to the Jews, Arabia to Arabs
Fri Aug 26, 2011 7:20 am The Enduring Preciousness of the “Secular” Jew *
This is the latest article from Rabbi Cardozo and I think in a way goes along way towards answering MS's statement
We , born Jews , are always Jews
I may have a different lifestyle to MS but I suspect it was not so dissimilar in my youth
BTW I must tell MS that Rabbi Cardozo is not a favourite of the so called orthodox circles because of his philosophical views . He is much nearer to you than you can imagine
Machon Ohr Aaron & Betsy Spijer
Thoughts to Ponder
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
We are living in an age of flaunting irreverence. Debunking has become the norm and at every turn we experience a need to expose the clay feet of even the greatest. Human dignity, a phrase often mentioned, has become a farce in real life. Instead of deliberately looking for opportunities to love our fellow men as required by our holy Torah, many have rewritten this golden rule to read: “Distrust your fellow man as you distrust yourself”. Peoples’ lack of belief in themselves has overflown into their relationships with their fellow men. Fear for their own deeds and mediocrity has led them to believe that the ethereal mighty have left us and that we are a generation of spiritual orphans.
This condition has slowly entered the subconscious of segments in the religious community as well, although in a more subtle form. Influenced by materialistic philosophies, many a religious person who once revered his fellow men has become part of the problem without even being aware of it. Instead of sending a message of unconditional love and respect for a fellow Jew, whatever his background or beliefs, many within the religious Jewish community have fallen victim to a faint debunking, which has led to a most worrisome situation in and outside of the land of Israel.
When observing even those who are fully committed to helping fellow Jews find their way back to Judaism, we see an attitude that is foreign to religious life and thought. We cannot escape the impression that some people, without denying their love for their fellow Jews, tend to talk down to “secular” Jews. This has become the norm. Constant emphasis is placed on the need to cure the “secular” person’s mistaken lifestyle. No doubt such an attitude is born out of love for one’s fellow Jew, but it lays the foundation for infinite trouble. It is built on arrogance. While the religious Jew is seen as the ideal, he turns the “secular” Jew into a second-class member of the Jewish people. It is he who needs to repent for his mistaken ways. Such an attitude is built on the notions of contrast and lack of affinity. The “secular” Jew will always feel inferior. As such, the point of departure from which one reaches out to bring fellow Jews closer to Judaism is, at the same time, its undoing. The suggestion that “one should throw oneself into a burning furnace rather then insult another person publicly” (Berachoth 43b) may very well apply, since it is the community of “secular” Jews that is being shamed and treated as inferior.
For Jews to bring their fellow men back to Judaism there is a need to celebrate the mitzvoth that the “secular” Jew has been observing all or part of his life, not to condemn his failure to observe some others. Only on the basis of sharing in mitzvoth will an authentic way be found to bring Jews back home.
The foundation should be humility, not arrogance. There is little doubt that “secular” Jews, consciously or unconsciously, keep a large number of commandments. Many of them may not be in the field of rituals, but there is massive evidence that interpersonal mitzvoth enjoy a major commitment by “secular” Jews. Beneath the divisiveness of traditional commitment lie underpinnings of religion such as compassion, humility, awe and even faith. Different are the pledges, but equal are the devotions. It may quite well be that the meeting of minds is lacking between the religious and “non-religious” Jews, but their spirits touch. Who will deny that “secular” Jews have a sense of mystery, forgiveness, beauty and gentleness? How many of them do not have inner faith that God cares? And how many will not show great contempt for fraud or double standards? Each of these is the deepest of religious values.
This not only calls for a celebration but may well become an inspiration for religious Jews – not just by honoring “secular” Jews for keeping these mitzvoth but by renewing these mitzvoth and good deeds in themselves. There is a need to make the so-called irreligious Jew aware of the fact that he is much more religious than he may know. To have them realize that God’s light often shines on their faces just as much, if not more, than on the faces of religious Jews.
Just as the “irreligious” person needs to prove his worthiness to be the friend of a religious Jew, so too, the religious Jew needs to be worthy of the friendship of his “secular” fellow Jew. It would be a most welcome undertaking if religious Jews would call on their “irreligious” fellow Jews for guidance in mitzvoth that demand their greater commitment.
There is a significant need for calling Jews back to their roots by showing them that they never left. Once religious Jews learn that “irreligious” Jews are their equals, not their inferiors, a return to Judaism on the right terms will come about.
One of the tragic failures of the ancient Jews was their indifference to the Ten Tribes of Israel that were carried away by Assyria after the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. Overlooked, and not taken seriously by their fellow Jews, they were consigned to oblivion and ultimately vanished.
This is a nightmare that, at this moment in Jewish history, should terrify each and every religious Jew: the unawareness of our being involved in a new failure, in a tragic dereliction of duty.
*Published by the Jerusalem Post in 1996
Based on the writings of Avraham Joshua Heschel
The David Cardozo Academy was founded to revolutionize Jewish spirituality and learning. Its programs include: the Cardozo-Kagan Jewish Leadership Program at the IDC in Herzliya; a Think Tank forum of Jewish thinkers, educators and leaders; the Jerusalem Lecture Series addressing topics rarely discussed publicly in observant Jewish circles; and other programs. The Academy also strives to spread its mission through ongoing publications, serving as a catalyst for discussion, debate and innovative thinking.