Concepts in Judaism

Conversion – A Question of Substance Not Ceremony

Those who innocently ask: “How can you say that a person is not Jewish if he has even served in the Israeli Defense Forces?” show that they completely confused citizenship and Judaism.

A well known Jewish paradox is that there are many Jews who are also anti-Semites. This shows that Jewish identity is completely separate from identification with Judaism or the Jewish people.

When discussing conversion and determining a person’s Jewish identity, one gets the impression that a large part of the public doesn’t even minimally understand what Jewish identity is and why Jewish law so vigorously upholds it. It is especially absurd that in the Jewish state, this bedrock of Judaism — Jewish identity — which were universally affirmed for thousands of years of exile, suffering and wandering has become blurred.

Those who say about a non-Jew: “He is more Jewish than X or Y”, prove that they have no idea what a Jew is. Those who innocently ask: “How can you say that a person is not Jewish if he has even served in the Israeli Defense Forces?” show that they completely confused citizenship and Judaism. Those who seek to determine a person´s Jewishness from his belief system or behavior, reveal that they don’t have the slightest idea of the Jewish people’s essence.

The biological aspect. The truth is that it is not easy to define what is the essence of Jewishness. A son of a Jewish mother who totally denies his people and his religion — is a Jew, while the son of a non-Jewish mother who lovingly keeps all 613 commandments, but didn’t undergo conversion — remains a non-Jew.

A Jew who hates his people and his country, joins the PLO and supports killing Jews is still a Jew. He may be a bad Jew, a contemptuous Jew, but he is still a Jew.

In contrast, a non-Jew who loves Jews, enlists in the IDF, and puts his life on the line to ensure the safety of Jews — is still a non-Jew. A good non-Jew, a righteous gentile — but still a non-Jew!

Jewish identity is not a membership label which one gets by joining the Party and identifying with its goals. Jewish identity is inherent, a matter of one’s essence, which one can not be dispossessed of and which can not be acquired by beliefs, declarations or a change in behavior. One whose essence is Jewish, is still a Jew even if he acts against his people and his faith. And one whose essence is non-Jewish will not become a Jew by supporting the Jewish people and issuing declarations of solidarity with them.

The Torah says about Israel, “You are children to the L-rd, your G-d.” The father-son paradigm teaches us what Jewish essence is all about. A “son” is not one who loves his father, respects his father and thinks the same way as his father. Of course, it is proper that a son loves his father, respects him and goes in his ways, but this is not the definition of a son. A son is the father’s biological progeny — period. The one born from a father will forever remain his son.

After establishing that there is a biological relationship, we can ask what kind of son a person is — is he a good son or a bad son? But the mere fact of him being a son is determined only by biology. There is a certain absurdity here: A son may hate his father but he still remains his son. No matter how much a stranger loves you, he will never be your son. He can be a friend, a buddy, and be as close as a son, but he will never be your son. The definition of who is a son depends completely on biology and not social or ideological criteria. That’s the reality.

G-d has established Jewish identity by the same principle. Whoever is born to a Jewish mother — no matter what his behavior is — is a Jew. He is the son of the Almighty. And if a non-Jew loves G-d, loves Israel, and has every virtue imaginable — he is still a non-Jew, he is not a son of the Almighty. He is a righteous gentile and will receive a full reward for that, but it doesn’t make him into a Jew.

However, there is one exception to the son and father paradigm:

Someone else´s son can never be your son, but there is a way that a non-Jew can become a Jew.  When the Almighty chose His people and declared them His sons, He established a mechanism in his Torah to allow a person to change his inner essence and become a Jew. This is possible by converting according to the strict criteria of Jewish law. Conversion has the divine power to change a person’s essence from being non-Jewish to becoming Jewish. But only a genuine conversion can accomplish this revolution and no other process, since this is a spiritual makeover that only G-d is capable of doing.




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