Sunday, 9 September 2012

Jewish Identity - Missing the Point

Every now and again, I come across various articles that attempt to deal with the problems facing the Jewish world in regard to the issue of "Who is a Jew?". What I always find surprising is how all these articles delve mightily into the conflict without ever dealing with what really is the essential question - "What is a Jew?" You can't deal with the definition of membership in a group without first defining the very nature of the group -- and yet this is what, it would seem, everyone dealing with this issue does. And while these two articles are not written by Orthodox individuals, the same critique applies to us as well.

Please take a look.

This is a point I make over and over again -- yet the problem continues.  Maybe its time I just face it -- people really do not want to ask the 'What' question -- for then we would have to face the consequences of the answer.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

1 comment:

Mikhal-Sarah Gordon said...

No, nobody wants to touch that because it would probably get even more bogged down than the Who question.

The simple answer would be that a Jew is a person who is a party to, and subject to, the Covenant of Sinai, regardless of whether or not they are going a good job at at.

There are 4 known methods of entering said Covenant.

1) By voluntary acceptance of it in one's lifetime, as the original Hebrews at Sinai did, or by formal conversion after a mechanism was set for that.

2) By birth to a Jewish parent, in accordance with the terms of the Covenant. (which one and why the cause of contention from the Bible onward)

3) By absorption into the Jewish people after a number of generations of residence among them and adoption of their laws and customs (Biblical; lost after the Diaspora).

4)By one's soul having been at Sinai and assented to the Covenant.

The first two are the concern of Halakhah, from there all the arguments about what constitutes a proper conversion and all other matters of status come which create the legal construct "Halakhic Jew" and all other status constructs. Comparable to the laws and constructs of national identity and citizenship. Increasingly these are also the focus of political games that distort traditional Halakhah for some advantage to specific groups.

The fourth one is not within the capability of Halakhah to decide and is a matter for God. Nobody can tell anyone they do or don't have a Jewish soul, they can only comment on their legal status.

The issue is comparable to "what is an American?" (or any other national)....someone who holds the legal status of citizen of the U.S.A. and is subject to its laws. Except that the U.S. has always been able to revoke citizenships it grants and deport people, whereas Judaism was traditionally seen as a permanent state. Once under the Covenant, always under it. A Jew who converts to another religion remains Halakhically Jewish and can transmit that status to future offspring.

After that, yes, it will all get bogged back down into the "who" question.