Let everyone be happy
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 18, 1997
Being Jewish is a privilege, not a right. And like any privilege, it must be earned.
For those born Jewish, the privilege was earned by our ancestors when they followed God into a howling wilderness and accepted His law at Sinai. For those who wish to become Jewish today, the same unconditional acceptance of God's law is required.
Yet it is frequently argued that the unity and strength of the Jewish people would be increased by less rigorous standards of conversion.
Just the opposite is true. Nothing is more destructive of Jewish unity than a multiplicity of standards for entry into the Jewish people.
The sine qua non of Jewish unity has always been the ability of Jews to marry one another. But with ubiquitous intermarriage and the proliferation of questionable conversions it brings, Orthodox Jews are wary of marrying anyone from a non-Orthodox background. Even a serious Conservative Jew cannot marry Reform converts.
The only beneficiary of a lack of standards for conversions is the Reform movement, which has developed the ingenious accounting trick of treating intermarriage as a net gain, an opportunity to rope in the non-Jewish spouse on easy payment terms. Just as anyone who wishes can find a 'rabbi' to co-officiate with a priest for a fee, so anyone can find a rabbi to convert him.
Far from strengthening the Jewish people, relaxing standards of conversion only trivializes Judaism further. The less importance we attach to Judaism, the less reason there is to restrict entry.
The Reform movement cannot even bring itself to require circumcision or immersion in a mikve from those who do not find these procedures spiritually fulfilling. Reformconversion is thus the perfect prelude to Reform Judaism: Make up any rules you want, and call it Judaism.
The modern Jew understands why in baseball the basepaths cannot be shortened for the slow runners and the outfield fences brought in for weaker hitters, but not why anyone should ever be told they are not Jewish.
Baseball is important; its rules are sacrosanct. Judaism isn't. So let everyone be happy.
CONVERSION today is viewed largely as a matter of convenience rather than one of deep spiritual yearning. According to sociologist Egon Mayer, nearly 90 percent of intermarriages in America are in the context of interfaith marriage.
For appearance's sake, Daddy tells Christopher Jr., that if he wants to marry his daughter Princess, he must become a Jew. 'What's a Jew?' Christopher asks. 'Like me,' answers Daddy.
Christopher has no problem owning a Cadillac and a country club membership, and decides, 'Why not?'
In Israel, the press is filled with stories of the difficulties facing non-Jewish immigrants from Russia. In Russia, where there was no advantage in being Jewish, conversion never occurred to them. In Israel, where there are many incentives to being considered Jewish, they are eager to convert.
Typical of the genre was the embittered complaint of one father whose son by a non-Jewish mother was informed at his draft registration that his Conservative conversion does not make him Jewish.
How could it be, the father lashed out, that this boy who so quickly learned Hebrew and who is one of Israel's most promising young jazz musicians should not be viewed as Jewish?
About his son's attachment to Judaism, his performance of mitzvot, his knowledge of Torah, the father had not one word to say. One would think that it is linguistic and musical ability that make one Jewish.
We are supposed to feel sorry for this boy. And we do. Not because he isn't Jewish, but because he has been defrauded. He was defrauded by those who knew that his conversion would not be recognized, and who never told him that there is a connection between being Jewish and keeping the Torah.
The common thread running through all these stories of hardship is the assumption that Judaism should never deny anyone what they want.
In the words of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 'The ancient, unbending Word of God, which until now thwarted so many desires and demanded so many sacrifices, has been turned into a heavenly manna, reflecting everyone's own wishes, echoing their own notions, hallowing their own ambitions.'
One of the greatest costs of conversion on demand is the stigma it casts on the true righteous convert. The Midrash records God as saying of one who accepts Judaism out of a love of Him, 'I consider him as one of Israel, nay, even more, I regard him as a Levite.'
Another Midrash says that those who stood at Sinai would not have accepted the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven had it not been for the thunder, the flames, the lightning, and the sounds of the shofar; while the convert came forward of his own accord.
The Messiah descends from two converts: Ruth, the Moabite, and Na'ama, the Ammonite. Rabbi Akiva, the greatest teacher of the Oral Law, was the offspring of converts. And Onkelos, whose translation of the Torah into Aramaic is printed in every Pentateuch, defied his uncle, the Roman emperor, to convert.
Count Potocki, a young seminarian and scion of one of the leading families of the Polish nobility, was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for becoming Avraham ben Avraham. And as long as there were Jews in Vilna, every Shavuot they sang the melody and words he sang on his way to martyrdom: 'But we are your Nation, the children of Your covenant.'
Converts such as these are a prod to those who were born Jews, reminding them that being Jewish is the greatest privilege of all.
Related Topics: Pluralism
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