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Monday, October 29, 2007

Who or what is a Jew and do we need more of them?

The problem of who or what is a Jew, and who should be allowed to become Jewish, is always with us. Judaism is not a race contends Saul Singer and continues to argue his plea for easier conversions, and perhaps for proselytization. He wrote:
The combination of low birthrates, high assimilation and negligible conversion cannot add up to sustainability. We are not a species, but if we were, we would have to place ourselves on the "endangered" list.
In this context, it is mind-boggling that so many Jews seem to fear growth more than they fear becoming a historic anecdote, or worse. Even if attitudes toward conversion changed, is there really a danger of there being too many Jews? Where exactly is the flood of potential adherents that justifies barricading the floodgates? How can Jews simultaneously fear being overwhelmed with newcomers while wondering who would want to be Jewish?
More Reader 2: To be Jewish means you're a member of an exclusive club. God chose to reveal himself to the Jews. God doesn't talk to goyim. Jews don't look for converts because it is God's decision, not man's.
Reader 3: I don't like the idea of seeking an expansion of the Jewish population through conversion because... I'm very skeptical of what most converts really FEEL about being Jewish... I don't believe in "Jews by Choice." I only believe in Jews that have no option but to be Jewish... developing a Jewish identity that may not even be explainable in rational terms.
I HESITATE to even reprint these reactions because I find them so offensive. Get this straight: Judaism is not a race. How can Jews so blithely spout Hitler's line? Indeed, it is the possibility of conversion (aside from opening one's eyes on any Israeli street) that proves Judaism is not a race.
To me, it is convincing. However, I have one or two quibbles. Zionism is based on the idea that the Jews are a people. To join a people, one should not have to make a profession of religious faith. There should be a way to become a member of the Jewish people without becoming a member of the Jewish religion, but there isn't. At least, there should be some way of becoming an "Israelite" that allows Israel to become a single nation, despite the presence here of people of different religions.
Ami Isseroff

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