I’m still working on another post that I think says things that need saying about a fundamental tension in modern liberal Judaisms. But I’m taking a moment here to put down a marker on a different issue–Jewish identity.
A post by Elad Nehorai at Hevria, entitled “On Loving Jews Who Aren’t Jews,” is making the rounds and provoking considerable anger. (Elad Nehorai also blogs as Pop Chassid.) Hevria’s “About” page includes the following:
We are a group devoted to spreading the idea of positive creation in a spiritual context. We want to make this world beautiful. And we want you to join us.
This statement has proven itself to be a little ironic in the last few days as Nehorai’s “On Loving Jews Who Aren’t Jews” has made its rounds.
His post discusses who can contribute to Hevria, and the decision was only Jews, or people undergoing Orthodox conversion. He explains of Hevria, “We don’t see inclusivity as valuable in and of itself: it has to be infused with moral and spiritual truth, otherwise it becomes its own idol.” But wrestling with the consequences of dealing with individuals who are fully committed to living a Jewish life, who advance the interests of Jews where they live, and who fully identify as Jewish–all this left Nehorai conflicted. Responding to his own conflict, Nehorai recognizes a kind of “non-Jewish Jew” category. He says:
And so I can’t call these people non-Jews anymore. I also can’t call them Jewish. But I also have to do both. I must. Not to would be a lie. Rabbis, come at me. All-inclusive equality warriors, come at me.
I simply have no choice. I love God. I love truth. And in both halacha (orthodox-style) and people, I see infinite truth and God.
To use his “Fiddler on the Roof”-based conceit: on the one hand, he says, I accept the truth that I have to accept these people. On the other hand, I can’t. On the other hand…there is no other hand.
To put it differently, Nehorai is unwilling to take the step of recognizing that Jewishness and the legal dictates of halakhah are not one and the same. For what it’s worth, even most liberal forms of Judaism don’t actually recognize this distinction all that well. (That issue is part of the longer post I am still working on.) That’s why there are still halakhically-styled conversions, with a three-person panel and immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath), even in the Reform world.
But here’s the thing. They simply are different. All these individuals whom Nehorai wants to call Non-Jewish Jews? They’re Jews. Whether they’ve undergone some non-Orthodox form of conversion, or have a non-Jewish mother and Jewish father, or have simply become part of the Jewish community in deed, alliance, affiliation, belief, intent, or identity–they are Jews. Full stop.
Why do I say so?
Because I’m a Secular Humanistic Jew. And this is our position:
In response to the destructive definition of a Jew now proclaimed by some Orthodox authorities, and in the name of the historic experience of the Jewish people, we, therefore, affirm that a Jew is a person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew and who identifies with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people.
That statement, issued in a resolution on the question of “Who is a Jew?” by the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews in 1988, is the Society for Humanistic Judaism’s position.
And so, Elad Nehorai? You are a Jew. Full stop, no qualifier. And so are those whom you’ve named Non-Jewish Jews. Thus, so is Shocher Adam, blogging at “Wrestling with God.” And so are many, many others, because, as a friend of mine who is a rabbinical student and would be a Non-Jewish Jew succinctly put it, “My Jewish soul SHOULD make him uncomfortable … my Judaism is enough, and … he does not have a monopoly on the definition of Jew.“
You want historical precedent? I could give it; volumes have been printed exploring the origins, continuity, and legal issues surrounding Jewish identity. (I’d start, but not finish, with Shaye J.D. Cohen’s The Beginnings of Jewishness.) But I don’t care to, because Judaism and Jewishness are ours to redefine; the past has a voice, not a vote.
It’s not about being an “equality warrior,” as Nehorai puts it (in pretty close to “social justice warrior” flame baiting language). It’s about who we are as a people. We benefit from breadth, from depth, and from love.
And none of us are truly able to be arbiters of what identity another might claim for one’s self.
Want to join because you identify with our history, values, culture, civilization, community, and fate? Then welcome to “the Tribe.”