In a JYT op-ed, Shmuly Yanklowitz argues that “Judaism Must Embrace the Convert“:
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — THE recent arrest of an Orthodox rabbi in Washington, who was charged with having watched women showering via a hidden camera installed at the mikvah, or ritual bath, at his synagogue, has drawn attention to the challenges faced by potential converts to Judaism. The scandal put a spotlight on the near-total control exercised by the rabbi over converts into the Jewish faith. The system lacks oversight. It leaves those wanting to become Jews vulnerable to exploitation.
Yes, even today there are still arguments over whether being “Jewish” is genetic or voluntary. In Yanklowitz’s case, his father is Jewish but his mother is (gasp) Christian. And in Orthodox Judaism, the rules of matrilineal descent still very much apply: If your mother ain’t Jewish, then you’ll never truly be accepted into the club. You’ll always be a goyim, or a ‘second-rate’ Jew at best. (KMac has discussed at length the contrasts between Jewish particularism and Christian universalism.)
Some gems-of-understatement from Yanklowitz’s piece:
- “The Jewish tradition has shunned the proselytizing propensities of our Abrahamic cousins, Christianity and Islam, but in doing so, it has seemed, to some, to embrace an ethos of exclusion. The fact that anyone with the drive and perspicacity to convert is allowed to do so is one of the most important checks on the Jewish conception of chosenness; being Jewish is not a genetic condition, but a complex hierarchy of identity and choice.”
- “In theory, Judaism is an inclusive religion that is willing to welcome individuals who desire to become Jewish. The reality is far more complicated.”
- “Jews by choice are sometimes perceived as being less authentic or authoritative than those who are Jewish from birth.”
- “Current trends in Orthodox conversion are all in the wrong direction: Converts have to wait longer; their prior conversions are questioned; they are made to convert again before marriage; they are encouraged to distance themselves from non-Jewish relatives.”
Were a Gentile to make any of the above statements, would charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ not be far behind?
There are also some revealing sentiments in the comments to the op-ed:
Jacob Summer writes:
I used to laugh at one passage in the book “My Rabbi Doesn’t Make Housecalls,” specifically the one that’s roughly this: the rabbit [sic] would assign the potential convert a wheelbarrow-full of books to read, “at least two of which were authored by him–enough to send any born Jew screaming into the night–” and after much study and perseverence, finally convert, and after 20 years of exemplary help and attendance at shul, still be called “that meshugena goy.” Now? It’s too sad for me to laugh at it. I still adore the book, though.
I too had a Jewish father and Catholic mother and was tormented by a series of well-meaning Jews throughout my childhood, intent on pointing out the tragedy of my existence. I cannot enter a synagogue without a ripple of revulsion.
Stuart C. writes:
Judaism is a religion, not a race. Whenever we’ve been made out to be a race, it has been used to discriminate against us. As a religion, others who want to should be able to join us in the covenant. Jews decry abuse of power by leaders of other religions, such as the Medieval church. We must not be guilty of the same anti-human and anti-Jewish failings ourselves.
As a convert, I have experienced discrimination many times from other “religious” Jews. The word “Goy” is exactly like the “N” word as far as I’m concerned. My husband is Jewish so our children carry his surname. On several occasions when they have revealed their mother’s birth religion they have been told that they are not Jewish as a result. Let’s face it, Jews are among the most discriminatory clans on earth and yet they are the first to claim anti-semitism at the most minor of offenses.
Will in Massachusetts writes:
What a thoughtful and well written hope for Judaism. To my understanding, the exclusiveness of the religion and the curious yet common belief that being a Jew is a genetic condition, has been a cause of great harm to the Jewish people. Setting oneself apart from the larger society in which you live naturally creates friction, misunderstanding, fear and hate.
That’s the understatement of the century.