Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Convenient Conversions

Interesting question on The Frum Skeptics Group recently:

"If living one way and believing another is "par for the course" on this list, then no one here has any objection to Russian/Rumanian/Ethiopians who convert for convenience (i.e. for admission & facilitation of absorption into Israeli society), no?

*That* would be having double-standards: being lenient upon oneself while nit-picking about others."

In my mind, being Jewish is far more an identity issue than a issue of even either belief or practice. So I think it is likely that many of the Jews here feel strongly about being Jewish and identify strongly as Jewish even without any religious connotations. Because of that idea then having non-Jews convert to Judaism and calling themselves Jews without that deep-seated true identity as Jews, it makes a sham of our history and our heritage.

So I'd follow the general conceptual strictness in Orthodox conversions where a person has to prove real interest and real conviction and real understanding of what he's getting into if he wants to join our collective path and identity as one of us. It isn't a factor of "meaness" or double standard, we just cannot allow a dilution of our identities by those who would add nothing to it.

12 comments:

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

As overused as the comparison is, naturalized citizens often end up knowing (or at least memorizing) more arcane information then born citizens, and they have to swear a loyalty oath to boot. It is, as they say, par for the course.

JDHURF said...

I am not a member of the Jewish community here where I live and I am not and never have been Jewish. However, I have had many friends that were all varying in degrees of observance. All of them, I’m sure, would agree with this post. My friend Eli recently had his yeshiva graduation and he has told me that his Temple would refuse the convert three times before allowing them to do so, in attempt at making sure that the person “really” does want to become Jewish. I feel that this is the way it should be, you should really want to become Jewish and there should be no easy and convenient way to do so. Some of the aspects of Judaism that I really like are things like this. Judaism does not proselytize like other religions, Judaism seems to be more about peopledom than other religions, it is (in some ways) more about the practice-of rather than the belief in, and it does not prostitute itself as does various forms of Christianity, Islam, and (most notoriously) Scientology.
From an outside perspective and opinion, Judaism would do well to maintain the difficulty of conversion. No more Madonna’s!!

The Jewish Freak said...

Hurf: Beautifully stated! - JF

The real me said...

At the same time, think to yourself what is it exactly that you are feeling so jewish about?

Orthoprax said...

Mississippi,

You got it square. It's true that the whole process might seem unfair if you see Judaism as merely a religion, but it makes so much more sense when seen as a national body.

Jdhurf,

You seem amazingly interested and surprisingly well-versed in things Jewish for a non-Jewish atheist. Is that because you have so many Jewish friends?

In any case, thanks for the visit and the response. I like the non-missionary way of Judaism too, though it wasn't always like this. A big part of the reason for Judaism's non-missionary attitude is that it is liberal enough to say that non-Jews can also get to heaven if they are righteous. Though that is a double-edged sword because if other religions can get you to heaven too, why bother with all these hard commandments which can make life difficult? This could explain part of the reason for why Judaism is determinately unfocused on the afterlife.


The Real Me,

"At the same time, think to yourself what is it exactly that you are feeling so jewish about?"

History and tradition, i.e. heritage. That's what I mentioned in my initial post.

The real me said...

Ths history is pointless without the why behind it.

We are jewish because we never gave in the people who told us to forget about the devine.

We burnt at the stake because we knew that everything the sages told us was true.

HHeritage is not about eating latkes on chanukah, and eating matzah on peasach. Its about knowing why R Akivah smiled when his soul left his body.

Ull forgive the drmatics and the spelling, as I am a bit drunk.

Orthoprax said...

Real Me,

Understanding the reasons why history flowed as it did is part of learning history itself. But there are those who don't believe and who still feel connected to this history anyway and that's because the Jewish people are more than just a set of religious beliefs.

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FrumGirl said...

I think being jewish is so much more than just conversion and practicing laws. It is a spiritual closeness to Hashem. For those lacking that key element... what is the point? But then again, you have all these FFB's who totally miss the point too....

Regardless, shouldn't there have to be some kind of "knowing" deep down in your soul that being jewish is the only way? A deep burning? that's just my opinion and I am quite ignorant in this - aside from my own strong feelings for Judaism. I'm sure conversion rabbi's would say much more about this as it is more complicated.

Datingmaster, Jerusalem said...

sometimes we wish we had something else and then we realize we had it good
think about that

Mar Gavriel said...

This could explain part of the reason for why Judaism is determinately unfocused on the afterlife.

By Judaism, do you mean 20th-century American Judaism? After all, Judaism has been very variegated over the past 200+ years, and many streams have been VERY focused on the afterlife.

Orthoprax said...

Frumgirl,

"It is a spiritual closeness to Hashem."

Perhaps that's one view, but there are many more religions that are more interested in spirituality than Judaism. I'd say that generally Judaism ranks rather low on the spirituality religion spectrum.

"Regardless, shouldn't there have to be some kind of "knowing" deep down in your soul that being jewish is the only way?"

Is that for everyone or just for Jews? Judaism has historically been rather liberal in the approach in that non-Jews can be "saved" without actually converting. Judaism declares, essentially, that Judaism is not the only way.

Mar,

"After all, Judaism has been very variegated over the past 200+ years, and many streams have been VERY focused on the afterlife."

Very true, I should have chosen my words more carefully. But even so, in general, the history of normative popular Judaism has not been involved in the specifics of the afterlife.