The title of this post is the title of an article on CNN.com at http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/05/21/north.carolina.black.rabbi/index.html
and it is worth looking at -- but maybe for different reasons than one might at first think.
What hit me about the article is this woman's statement that while she was not born to a Jewish womb, she was born Jewish. I am sure we have all met a ger, a convert, who has made this type of statement -- and in many ways we find the events of this person's life intriguing and even mysterious. It just seems that there are some people who, almost from the point of birth, are searching to be Jews. They talk about how they gravitated towards Jewish friends even as a child and that the stories and lessons of Judaism touched them right from the beginning. Many of us see such individuals as Jewish souls born into non-Jewish bodies who have found their way home.
The fact is, though, the people who we define within this mold are, basically, gerim k'Halacha, converts who converted according to Halacha who are personally observant of Halacha. What is to be said in the case of this woman. Without entering into the question of whether her conversion would be accepted by Halacha (of course, applying lenient standards that, while often ignored today as a legitimate position in gerut, nonetheless are within the spectrum of halachic opinion)m how do we respond to her view of herself as a person who seems to always have been searching for Judaism, of course her view of Judaism? Is there something in a specific soul that could attract a non-Jew to Reform Judaism? And how would we look upon such a non-Jew? While maybe not technically Jewish, would this person not still meet the standard of a righteous Gentile?
I have always found these stories, of individuals who have felt that they were Jewish before even knowing what Judaism is, to be most interesting. I must admit my initial reaction is inherently one of skepticism -- yet when I hear the details of their lives, I often find myself amazed by their uncanny inherent connection to Jewishness that seems to be within them before they even could articulate the concept of Jewishness. What can I now say about this woman? She seems to have also exhibited a similar attraction to Jewishness -- yet this attraction has left her outside the pale of Torah. Did she just miss the mark in following this innate feeling inside her? Is the feeling truly real? Or was her feeling actually some type of inner motivation that took her to something that, although not truly Torah, would be a fine lifestyle for someone not really Jewish -- even as she might think it is?
I have always found the stories of non-Jews, who seem to have been internally motivated to become Jews, fascinating. Now I am wondering how to look at this story. I would appreciate some ideas.
Rabbi Ben Hecht