We’re so excited that Laura Cooper, the talent behind Taste & See: One Woman’s Journey To and Through Judaism is now on PunkTorah. Check out her first comic below!
I was recently interviewed for a magazine about The G-d Project. And while I am grateful for the interview, I was miffed about a series of questions from the reporter about my “religious background”.
I answered honestly, “I grew up without religion.” It’s that simple. My parents aren’t atheists. But we never went to church (or anything else, for that matter), we didn’t celebrate holidays religiously, and I never went to any kinds of events that promoted religion, with the exception of seeing the Dalai Lama speak on world peace.
But this was not enough for the reporter.
“Oh, so you converted?” She asked.
This is a sticky situation. I’m open about the fact that I converted to Judaism more than I should be. People who know me, or know PunkTorah, or stumble upon one of our videos, know that Patrick Aleph is a big ol’ ger. Loud and proud.
But does that give anyone a right to ask me about it?
Technically, no. Judaism discourages “outing” converts. Abraham was a convert. All the matriarchs of the Torah were converts. And Ruth, the most famous convert in Torah history, has a holiday surrounding her (Shavuot). No one can trace their heritage back to Mt. Sinai, so in a way, we’re all Jews By Choice.
In reality though, converts are second class citizens. I’m done pretending that the Jewish community treats us any differently.
I have been asked by rabbis of every mainstream movement of Judaism, across the spectrum, if I am a convert. This is a violation of Jewish law, and no one can play the “they don’t know any better” card. Maybe a lay person walking down the street doesn’t know, but a rabbi does.
I hope people disagree with me, because I’d like to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
I want to share a series of texts which I like to call my Conversion Bible Bullets. Bible, because they reference holy scripture (in this case, the Tanakh and Talmud) and bullets because people shoot these verses at each other in Jewish pissing matches about converts to Judaism.
I believe that Judaism is what you make of it. Whoever you are, whatever you are truly about, is how you are going to understand the Divine. So the question is this: when you look at these texts, which would you rather do…love, or despise thy neighbor?
No converts to Judaism will be accepted in the era of the Messiah. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yebamot, page 24B, (20th line on page)
The Holy Blessed One does not favor any one person over another, but receives all; the gates are always open, and anyone who wishes to enter may do so. Shʼmot Rabbah 19:4
No converts to Judaism were accepted in the era of King David and King Solomon. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yebamot, page 24B, (21st line on page)
Moreover concerning the stranger that is not of Thy people Israel…when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to Thee for; that all the peoples of the earth may know Thy name (1 Kings 8:41-43)
Evil after evil will come upon those who accept converts. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yebamot, page 109B (10th line on page)
God says to us, “As I welcomed Jethro the Midianite in the wilderness of Sinai, so must you welcome anyone who comes to you to join your people.” Yalkot Shimʼoni, Yitro, No. 268
Our Rabbis taught: Converts…delay the arrival of the messiah. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Niddah, page 13B (14th line on page)
Ruth the Moabite was an ancestress of King David (Ruth 4:13) whose direct descendent will be the Messiah.
The Golden Calf was built by converts. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat Emor, chapter 11
The Israelites were struck dead with a plague for the Golden Calf that Aaron the Priest was responsible for. Exodus 32:35
Opening The Gates: An Essay
(Loosening up about faith, welcoming converts, and letting go of the past)
When one thinks of spreading their faith one probably imagines a ‘Jehovah’s witness’ type, going door to door, harassing poor folks about G-d, salvation and the like. Judaism, once upon a time, had its own tradition of proselytizing. In the Roman Empire, Judaism was well known as a missionary faith and accepted converts from all regions of the Empire until the Roman Emperor Hadrian outlawed the practice around 131 C.E. As Jews, we shouldn’t necessarily feel obligated to spread our faith, but at the same time we shouldn’t shy away from talking about it either. The Torah itself specifically commands us to be open to Converts, with the passage of history and in large part due to the Diaspora, Conversion to Judaism has been, up until modern times, largely not talked about openly amongst the Global Jewish community. Biblically, the first Convert to Judaism – Ruth had herself a relatively easy time coming into the community versus the experiences of prospective converts in contemporary times. With that said, it has to be asked, why is it so hard? Why are Converts often subjected to long periods of study and Reflection often lasting a year or more?
Some Rabbinical opinions cite ‘Sincerity of the Convert’ and ‘integration/acceptance into the community’ as being key reasons for such lengthy periods. Jewish communities everywhere are shrinking, areas of the United States where Jewish communities once thrived are now largely faint specters of what once was a mere five years ago. The remedy to our decline lies in future generations, how we continue our traditions and talk about our faith is key to our survival as a people. Halakah, Jewish Law, contrary to some, was intended as malleable work, open to revision and change as the world evolved. While this is not the case for a number of us, and that’s fine, we must confront and adapt to the changes we see around us, more importantly, As Jews, we should not shy away from talking about faith. The Torah teaches to live so as to be an example to the Nations. Sharing our spiritual and religious life with others is a major part of not only our bonds to our brothers and sisters, but also allows those who may be curious or spiritually a glimpse of the Joy and connections Judaism, and religion in general, can provide.
The world Jewish community still forces the global community to be reminded of the Holocaust, and for good reason, that we ‘never forget’. Yet, if we dwell in the past how can we ever look to the future? While Yom HaShoah by its very existence, causes us all, Jew and non-Jew alike, to be mindful of past evils, it should not force us to live in a bubble, Judaism is not some exclusive country club, it is a vibrant and all-inclusive living spiritual tradition that, together with Christianity and Islam, commands the attention of some several million people. If Judaism is to survive into the 21st century, we as a people must go forward with open hearts, open minds, and, more importantly no fear. The story of the Jews lies in the soil of the fields, from dust we came to dust we return, so lets keep our ears to the ground and our eyes towards Zion.
Bud W. Andrews 2/3/11