You Shall Pursue

June 29, 2012

Jewwwww(ish)?

Filed under: Patrilineal Descent, Spirituality — marleyweiner @ 4:00 am

I absolutely love this article from the Jewish Week. We are living in the age of the righteous gentile. This is a good thing. Now let me explain what I mean by that…

In Alexandria during the Second Temple period (and in other parts of the Diaspora at that time), there were non-Jews who worshipped with Jews, followed some of the Jewish commandments, but never bothered to formally convert. These “God-fearers” often later became Christians, which allowed them to incorporate certain aspects of Judaism without taking on all 613 mitzvot.

And now today, we see a similar pattern happening in the United States. There is a recent upsurge of non-Jews by birth who usually first connect to Judaism through marriage, and who become Jews in all practice but the dunking. They serve on synagogue boards, assist at Hebrew Schools, and provide an invaluable service to their adopted communities. Their passion is an inspiration to me, and puts me in mind of my mother (hi mom!) sitting with me in High Holiday and Shabbat services all through High School and into college.

This is not what the Jewish community typically envisions when they picture someone joining the fold. Generally, the normative story goes something like this: non-Jewish girl meets Jewish boy. Non-Jewish girl converts to win parents’ approval. Jewish girl drives Jewish babies to Hebrew school. The end. The narrative carries loads of sexist and insular assumptions about the importance of conversion, namely, that it is the woman’s job to give up her faith of birth because she is going to be the vessel for future Jewish babies *gag* It completely excludes the fact that any person with strong Jewish connections in their lives are going to build a relationship with the religion/ culture/ people/ whatever on their own terms. That might mean dunking. That might not.

I think that, ultimately, people who get involved in the community without conversion are a positive thing. It demonstrates that there is more than one way of relating to Judaism, and that people’s relationships to something as big and complicated as this religion are necessarily going to be messy. But regardless of the messiness, these women find genuine commitment and value in their current way of involving themselves in the Jewish community. And we could use more like them.

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