Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An Email from an Old Friend

Michael Lumish

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.

You ask:

<"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."


  1. “…what the Arabs envisioned was something that
    could achieve Israel shrinking to indefensible size…”

    SOURCE: From Time Immemorial:
    The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict
    over Palestine
    (chapter 2, page 14)
    by Joan Peters, 1984, JKAP Publications


    Please remember this quote when you hear people discuss
    the so-called “Two-State Solution”, which requires tiny Israel
    to give its land to Arabs who eagerly look forward to wiping
    100%-of-Israel off-the-map forever, thereby inflicting
    another Holocaust on the Jewish people!

  2. UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency]
    altered its definition of refugees to include
    those people who had lived in Palestine
    a minimum of only two years preceding
    the 1948 conflict [in which Israel
    became an independent state].

    SOURCE: From Time Immemorial:
    The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict
    over Palestine
    (chapter 2, page 18)
    by Joan Peters, 1984, JKAP Publications


    This means that a 1946 to 1948 Arab immigrant from Iraq or Egypt is counted as an indigenous person whose rights in places such as Hebron and Jerusalem override those of a Jewish person whose family had lived there since the year 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain.

  3. Mike,
    I think your reply was fine for all I know, and it isn't much.

    Here's what I read tonight, and it is depressing

  4. Joseph, you should consider paragraph breaks.

  5. Your acidic response seems to center around my claim that:

    Israelis are more conservative and hawkish while the Americans are more "progressive" and prone to the Democratic Party two-state-solution.

    I am clearly not talking about things like tuition for college students or domestic social policies.

    In fact, it seems to me that you are obfuscating.

    I am clearly referring to the very well known tension between Israeli Jews, who are more hawkish and conservative around questions of "the conflict" than are American Jews who still tend to favor Oslo.

    Once again, you have missed the boat.

  6. You said that Israelis are more hawkish AND conservative than diaspora Jews. More hawkish yes, more conservative no.
    The two state solution is the one favored by the current, and all former, American administrations. Netanyahu favors a somewhat modified two state solution with Israel only responsible for security in the territories. Short of expelling most Arab Muslims, I don't know what other solution there is.
    Of course, we could try forced conversion, though that didn't work out to well for the Hasmoneans.

  7. The real problem

  8. And by the way, a slight majority of Israelis support the two state solution of Oslo, 46% to 45%, though only 43% of Israeli Jews do.

    1. "Two state solution" is a meaningless term. Does that mean one state created based on Jordan's 1949-conquest or something with no connection to that conquest? Is that an Arab state whose government will acknowledge that Israel is and will remain a Jewish state or is creation of an Arab state not dependent on such recognition? Is that support in principle for an Arab state if it exhibits behavior consistent with accepting the right of Jews to have a state, or is that insistence that evidence-be-damned, they have interest in eradicating Israel so we should allow them a state unconditionally because there is no condition which is not axiomatically being met?

    2. To clarify, "does that mean one state created" should be "does that mean one of those states."

  9. Their country their rules. If you don't like them, emigrate somewhere else. To become Costa Rican you have to live there for 2 years, speak Spanish and have a job. Or marry a Costa Rican. And they don't have an army or any foreign policy.

  10. On the topic of religious issues in Israel, first there's the division of authority between the Rabbinate and secular authorities. For purposes of immigration, the secular authority is the Interior Ministry. The Rabbinate has been taken over by the ultra-orthodox in recent years and the ultra-orthodox potentates behind the Rabbinate are the ones who are responsible for the ever escalating stringencies on religious matters.

    As to Israeli preferences, the way I see it, there are three groupings of Israeli Jews.
    Those who are hawkish on security and accommodating to liberal on religion
    Those who are dovish on security and accommodating to liberal (or ultra-liberal) on religion
    Those who are unaccommodating on religion and don't care about security.

    Those who are accommodating to liberal on religion add up to a majority of the country. However, neither of the two groups has a majority on its own. The hawkish group has a substantial plurality now and for the forseeable future. While the religiously accommodating doves could advance religious accommodation if they were willing to join a coalition with the hawks and keeping quiet about giving things to the Palestinians, for whatever reasons they prefer to stand on principle about accepting Abbas as a bona fide peace partner.

    This means that one of the groups needs someone to form a majority. Further, a majority of Jews is currently insufficient because the current Arab representation (the new Arab party running in the next election might or might not change things) is a fifth column, so a majority of the country would mean 61 seats of 107 non-Arab seats, or about 57% of the Jewish parties (which include a handful of Arab MKs). Since the religiously hard-line have no principles on security, they can go either to the doves or the hawks. Since the hawks have more seats, they get the first chance to court the religious hard-liners, and they jettison their belief in religious accommodation in order to secure a coalition.

    Opposition to those hard-liners is not restricted to the non-Orthodox. In Israel, Tzohar is the main Orthodox opposition to the chareidi establishment. In the US, there is the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals (disclosure, I personally know Rabbi Marc Angel who leads IJII).

    Anyone who cares about advancing religious pluralism in Israel should get through their own skull, and then press through the skulls of dovish religious liberals in Israel, that moving Israel in a dovish direction ain't gonna happen. However, there is a majority of Israelis who favor greater accommodation on religious issues, if only they could set aside their differences on other issues and unite. The choice is theirs. Do they want to stand on principle about the settlements and get nothing or do they want to change the religious status quo?

    1. I quite agree with your analysis. I agree with you on the two state solution as well, the problem with a lot of polling is that the question becomes subjective.
      The important thing, though, is that YOU KNOW RABBI ANGEL! I read his book, "Maimonides and Spinoza" and quote it all the time. You should have provided the link to his website I bookmarked it and visit it frequently.

    2. More helpful would be one of Rabbi Angel's articles about conversion and the Rabbinate's "higher standards." I'll look for some examples later. Another source is his book Choosing to be Jewish.

    3. I read my book on my Barnes and Noble NOok. Choosing to be Jewish doesn't appear to be an ebook. At least it's not available on Barnes and Noble. If you can convince Rabbi Angel to upload it as an ebook, I'll buy it. I asked Rabbi Dunner to upload Mavericks, Mystics and False Messiahs, he did and I bought it. Good book, by the way.

  11. Joseph,
    I think your response to Mike is "just weird."
    It was clear what Mike was talking about.
    Israel is not a Socialist country. You're living in the 1950's, as most leftists in this country are.
    Bernie Sanders is thrilled with Israel? lol Yeah, I can tell.
    A majority of Israelis believe there is no partner for peace. Unsurprisingly, you left that out.
    Rabin wanted something less than a state for the palestinians. Was his plan to expel them?
    Israelis, because most of them are in their right minds, do not want a terror state next door bent on Israel's destruction.
    Read Matti Friedman's latest piece, and then grow up.

  12. Things have a nature. Someone asked a NY priest on the news when the latest Pope was ensconced whether he would allow priests to marry, allow gay marriage, and all the rest of the LGBTQ agenda. The priest, I forget his name quipped "He hasn't abandoned the Bible". With the exception of western Europe, Canada and Coastal Liberal America, no one is demanding all nations cease to exist as they are. Borders could change, as they have in the Mideast and the Caucuses and Ukraine but Argentina is still basically Argentine. Spain is Spain. Portugal is Portuguese, Japan will also retain its inherent Japanese nature, for better or worse. It's not about borders or nationality it's about the nature and character of identity. If the Pope embraces all those things the LGBTQ agenda demands then Catholicism ceases to be. It's become one more branch of Protestantism. If Norway becomes an Islamic Norwegian speaking caliphate then it ceases to be Norway. It doesn't disappear it just morphs into something else. Much the way that Mexico became Spanish in nature in the 16th Century. This is the essential character of that nature.

    Were Israel to become American Reform Irreligious Left Wing then it would cease to be what it is. It would become a non Israeli reflection of Diaspora Left Wing Jews who aren't Israeli and have no intention or desire to ever become Israelis even if they were successful with that change in nature of Israel. The change may comport with the people who want it to change but it's not their right. These change agents would be better served emigrating to a country that's already aligned wit their beliefs and values. If that means that they no longer have a birthright to automatically become citizens then they should take that up with THOSE host governments.