An old buddy of mine recently sent me the following note. I am curious about what you guys think of it and of my response.
My friend writes:
"Just curious- what are your thoughts are on the less than full status of ethnic Jews that immigrate and who have great difficulty converting and on the article below. I have difficulty wrapping my head around the ethnic/indigenous concept and reconciling that with a religious/tiered class system. If you have non- believers that are Jews, does any historical or religious argument become weaker?
There is a greater and greater proportion of Jews in Israel who are not of the Jewish faith or not recognized as such. The rules of determining who is properly religious and how one converts are only getting tougher.
My concern is this will only further divide the diaspora and create division among the growing "secular" population in Israel.
If you can recommend any reading on the subject, let me know."
My response was:
"Oh, man, these internecine squabbles within Judaism have been going on forever. As a secular Jew, this is not the kind of argument that I tend to get involved with and, from what I can tell, only really has a nominal influence over Israeli / diaspora relations.
My particular area of concern is the growing schism between Israel and the western-left, which is the political movement that I come out of.
The real schism between Israeli Jews and American Jews is over politics. Israelis are more conservative and hawkish while the Americans are more "progressive" and prone to the Democratic Party two-state-solution. American Jews are more concerned about Jewish standing in the world, while Israeli Jews are more concerned about the survival of their kids in the face of majoritarian Arab hostility within the Middle East.
As for ethnic Jews and immigration, that is not a problem. For example, as an ethnic Jew, I have full rights to citizenship within Israel. So, y'know, when the Kossacks come riding through the countryside like Klansmen, I will have someplace to go, as would Laurie, despite the fact that she is not Jewish.
Thankfully, this is not likely to happen in Oakland anytime soon... or so we fervently hope.
Questions do arise concerning the making of aliyah if a person who claims Jewishness does not have a Jewish mother. I am not exactly certain of the rules, but I am pretty sure that anyone who is at least half Jewish is eligible.
In terms of ethnic Judaism versus religious Judaism, many people find this difficult to understand. For me it is as natural as day. Judaism is both an ethnicity (or nation or tribe) and a faith. The Jewish faith is simply the traditional religion of the Jewish nation. Just as one need not be Buddhist to be Chinese, a person of Jewish ethnicity may not be a practitioner of the faith, but is still a Jew.
When you talk about a "religious/tiered class system," however, I am not really certain what you are talking about. Can you clarify what you mean?
Because, y'know, the way that I see it, the Jewish nation is actually the most open nation on the planet. Say, for example, that I was a Francophile and loved French culture and cuisine and the language and the arts and I moved to Paris and converted to Catholicism and lived there many years. I could still never possibly be French.
This is untrue with Judaism.
Anyone who jumps through the various hoops that the rabbis fling in your way for conversion and, in fact, converts to the faith is -- voilà -- one of us. Some Jews are more accepting of converts than others and sometimes the rabbinate in Israel will question a conversion if they believe the source unkosher. Nonetheless, anyone who converts to Judaism is a Jew.
That is it and that is all.
<"If you have non-believers that are Jews, does any historical or religious argument become weaker?">
Not in the least.
It is a bit like asking if the Japanese claim to Japan is weakened by the fact that so few Japanese are Shinto."