I Want To Stop Being Jewish – Why Is There No Exit Strategy?

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Dear Jew in the City,

Here’s a question that no one seems to be willing to answer … how can one EXIT the Jewish community and why doesn’t the religion allow for it?! I was born to a reformed family who couldn’t tell you anything about “what it means to be….” I have never felt a connection to it (and yes, I’ve tried) and any association with it has always made me feel more an outcast in society. What bothers me the most is that the religious dogma associated with it polutes society with the notion that you are “born” into it. Nothing could be less true, in my opinion, or more offensive. It’s a religion … not a race! And it is only the religious aspect of it that proclaims it’s a race. Forcing someone that the religion believes was born into become a Jew is tantamount to forcing the title on them … and no better than the proselytizing that other religions do! Unless the religion wants to deteriorate from the inside-out, it needs to formulate an exit clause. I find myself having to force separation from the stigma by saying some not-so-pleasant things about the religion. I cannot respect it or it’s people until it respects me and my position. I AM NOT A JEW!

RSM

Dear RSM,

Thanks for your question. I am willing to answer it, even though I am sad that you need to ask it. I once joked that being a Jew is like being in the “Hotel California” – “you can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave!” But seriously – there were Jews throughout history who wanted out, so they left, they assimilated, they intermarried, but you know what – the non-Jews STILL considered them Jews. Remember how Jewishness was tracked in Hitler’s time? They went back at least two generations. Anti-Semitism has NEVER made sense – it’s just a reality that the Torah says will exist while we’re in exile. So even if we Jews could let you off the hook, the Anti-Semites of the world wouldn’t.

Why can’t you stop being Jewish? Well – let me ask you a different question. Let’s say that you and I were brother and sister, but you wanted out of our family. You could change your name, change your nationality, get plastic surgery, deny that we’re related, but at the end of the day, we share the same parents and therefore we ARE family, no matter what you do. And the same goes for being a Jew. You can believe what you want, call yourself what you want, but you are a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on your mother’s side, and therefore you are part of our family. We share a common history and a common destiny. We are spiritually bound to one another. Judaism IS more than just a religion, because other religions are usually just about belief and practice, whereas Jewishness does not go away  due to lack of belief or practice. At the same time, we allow for converts to be “adopted” into our family if they show that they are committed to our people and our way of life because if someone goes to such lengths to become a Jew, it’s because we believe that they are spiritually bound to our nation as well.

I’m sorry that our family has failed you, that you’ve never felt a connection to Judaism. Back in my pre-religious days, my only connection was cultural. It was still a positive one, but not particularly deep. I commend you for trying to make a connection, despite the fact that your parents didn’t raise you with one. But I wonder if you ever explored Orthodox Judaism. Have you ever spent a Shabbos with people who truly embody the essence of Shabbos and hachnasis orchim (hospitality)? Have you ever attended a Torah class given by a world class teacher? The kind that fills you with inspiration and leaves you awestruck?

If you haven’t, I would love to help you experience these things – not in an effort to convince you of how great being Jewish is, but rather to expose you to the best we have to offer. Perhaps such experiences will change your feelings, perhaps they won’t. But at least you’ll know what inspires those of us who do feel good about being Jewish. I know you believe that Judaism’s religious dogma “pollutes society,” but Judaism’s dogma brought concepts to the world like “love your neighbor as yourself,” “love your wife as much as yourself and honor her more,” and “don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

Look, RSM, you can call yourself whatever you like. You can refer to yourself as a gentile. Who can stop you? You’re a free agent, living in a free country. All I will tell you is that for all the anti-Semites throughout the centuries who made being a Jew punishable by death and all the Jews – your ancestors and mine -who were willing to give up everything to hold on to their Jewishness. For those people who were willing to risk it all, I just hope that before you close the door forever, you know exactly what it is you’re leaving.

 

All the best,

Allison (aka Jew in the City)

 

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. Esther Smith says:

    Awesome reply! So well stated!

  2. Jo Pearlman says:

    A brilliant answer to a hard question.

  3. Allison,Great response as usual. Seems like you put alot of effort into this post and it’s sad that you received this question in the first place. I hope RSM finds her way back into Judaism. Judaism is a beautiful religion. Some people need direction.Good Luck RSM

  4. Reading this makes me so sad. my parents became frum when I was young, and just recently one of my siblings has announced that they no longer want to be Jewish, they never connected, they are repulsed by Judaism. This is from someone who has been exposed to orthodox life and still has rejected it. I have no idea what to say or do. They see how happy my family is being frum, surrounded by close family and an amazing community but they still want out. I can’t figure it out :(

    • I think it’s a good question, and it is great that it was asked, not sad. The situation is unfortunate, unlucky, and sad, but asking the question is very good, especially in a safe place like JITC. Because the question was asked, I understand from this that the person didn’t give up entirely yet, there is still a part they are holding onto, they are still seeking, still hoping. And the answer was written well and was very respectful.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your sibling, Abby. There are people who cannot accept the “faith” aspect of Judaism. Like Elisha Ben Evuya. They just can’t accept a God who would allow suffering in the world or they think that intellectually things don’t add up. But if your sibling is not objecting on a intellectual level and had a happy upbringing, my gut tells me that something went on with this sibling that you don’t know about. I’m going to email you privately.

  5. I would argue that being Jewish is a race and not just a religion. For instance, there are certain diseases only affecting to Ashkenezi Jews, while that’s sad, it does prove that there is a DNA linkage amongst Jewish people from different regions. The same disease does not affect the gentiles from that region, thus proving the point that Jews are a family, and not just a belief system.

  6. Reading this post makes me really sad. Specially when I feel more and more connected to my Judaism. My father passed away 5 months ago and, the only responses to the void and the sadness his absence mean to me are in Judaism. No matter how much therapy I go to, how much I talk to my friends, practice yoga or hug the rest of my family, nothing calms me more than the loving practice of Judaism.

    I come from a conservative Jewish family, I went to Jewish schools and learned hebrew. Judaism has been with me all my life in different forms. Sometime closer and sometimes in more distant ways.

    From my experience the need for a more meaningful and profound life eventually arrives. That is when you start looking in Buddhism or The Art of Living or whatever gets to you. But fortunately, all that wisdom has existed, for thousands of years, in the religion you were born in. And that connection is much closer than you expected.

  7. I am a Jew in the City reader who is a conservative presbyterian.
    I just wanted to add – other religions also continue to claim their children even when the children don’t claim them. Roman Catholics count all baptized Catholics as Catholic, whether they practice or not. At my church all the children of members are considered covenant children all their lives, whether they practice or not, and if they don’t, we pray for them to return to the faith. As far as Jews, G-d made his promises to Abraham and his seed, not just the seed who claim G-d, so I do understand the idea that to be a Jew is a matter of race as well as religion.

    • noonereally says:

      Yes Jodie, but there is a fundamental difference, in Catholicism there is a way out, you can undergo a ritual which will undo the baptism and so you will cease to be viewed as Catholic, unless, of course, you practice Catholicism. Another thing is that Catholics do not first and foremost identify as Catholics but as members of the nations they are born into, so a Swedish Catholic when asked about their identity or nationality will say “Swedish” not Catholic, that person may add “Catholic” but it will always be secondary, Catholicism does not interfere in one’s life to the point where it overtakes one’s identity.

      In addition, how do you know it was God who made promises to Abraham and not the other way around? I think it Abraham who chose God, there is no proof that God chose Abraham.

      • Jennifer says:

        Well, I’m a convert to Judaism who was raised in a very devout Catholic family and there is no such thing as undoing the sacrament of baptism. If you want to stop being Catholic, you stop doing Catholic things like going to Mass, praying the rosary, wearing a scapular, etc. You simply don’t believe in the church anymore and you go on with life.

        Also, being Catholic IS a part of your identity.

  8. Wow

    This is my first time reading your work
    I am impressed and personally uplifted by your writing
    Keep up the good work !!

  9. Amazing response. I never would have thought of the analogy you presented, but it works perfectly.

  10. Leah Topas says:

    A rabbi, friend, and co-worker saw this post differently. He believes, and I happen to agree, the person asking the question is answering the question themselves.

    The fact that he/she even cares what anybody thinks or what Jews believe is the proof that he/she is connected eternally. We’re free to go off and do what we wish, G-d has given us free-will. But our connection to Judaism isn’t automatically severed by our behavior. It runs deeper than that. His example below:

    (If I left a country club and they told me I am a lifetime member even though I stopped paying membership and they would never bother me…would I care?)

    • I love the country club example! Believe me – the irony of a guy who doesn’t want to be Jewish any more hanging around a Jewish site – was not lost on me! :) I just didn’t want to be too in his face about it – I felt it might be taunting him almost to challenge him as to why he’s hanging around here. But it is an excellent point that I considered including in my response.

      • Esther Stone Smith says:

        LOVE the Rabbi’s analogy!

      • noonereally says:

        Allison:

        RSM hangs around here because he was born to a Jewish circle so it seems perfectly logical that he comes here for advice or discussion, it is nothing more than that but you Alison seem too close-minded about it, you say that one can not feel non-Jewish if one stays close to Jews haha, so Leaonardo Di Caprio is gay because he liked hanging around gay bars? I’m straight and I don’t find it strange. So a Jew who befriends Gentiles or asks Gentiles for advice is a Gentile all of a sudden? A traitor to Jewish community? Likewise a Gentile who avoids Jews or questions Jewish practices must be anti-Semite or anti-Jewish. I think Jewish people are not entirely used to challenging and discussing their Jewishness, you are still closed within your cocoon and you snap at anyone who dares make a mention of your Jewish traditions, just as you equally and obsessively surround anyone who you believe has Jewish blood lines and who approaches you in a friendly manner. I think you are way too extreme, you should be more open minded. I think at the back of your head is the notion that RSM has a Jewish soul and therefore at the slightest affiliation of his with Jews the divine hand is at work bringing him ‘back’ into Jewishness. This is the danger of religious fanaticism you adjust your reasoning in accordance with your religion driven frame of thought.

  11. I am German and have Jewish ancestors. The matriline is broken, so I would have to convert, what is not possible right now, because I am married to somebody who is not willing to convert. It hurts and saddens me to see that there are people who are Jewish and just don’t see and feel the beauty!

  12. Wonderful response

  13. Very good on you for being there, and taking the time to answering questions like this one.

  14. Alison, as usual your reply was spot on. I would like to offer a possible other clue to the question writer’s mindset based on what an acquaintance of mine is going through. She was born into a reform Jewish family, became observant in her native country and came to the US to live n a more Jewish Community. She married a chassidic man, has 6 young children now, and has become deeply troubled by what she sees as hypocracy in the frum world. She says she has been abused by her husband and that the rabbis in her community consistently take her husband’s side because he is a man and she merely a woman. Ive tried to tell her not to “throw out the baby with the bath water” but she is too hurt and angry to hear. So now she is acting out by breaking Shabbos and refusing to cover her hair, etc. I am concerned about the effect this has on her children and that her anger will continue to blind her. Your writer may also be reacting to a similsr dissapoindissapoinment

  15. Wow! Wat an answer! Wen I saw the title I was like OMG how do u answer that? I might be frum but bais yaakov doesn’t exactly tell u things like this. Just becuz I’m frum doesn’t mean I don’t need to hear these things too and understand why I’m proud to be a Jew and not just say it

  16. Please check your sources; the Tanna’s name was Elisha ben Avuya, not Elisha ben Nevuya.

  17. I appreciate the question and the response, especially as a “Jew” who was raised reformed but was not fortunate enough to have a Jewish mother. I am now going through an Orthodox conversion process and have to say that I also feel that Judaism is “unfair,” but from the exact opposite point of view. I have considered myself a Jew my whole life, loved everything about being Jewish, would have been killed in the Holocaust even though I am not halachically Jewish, but I still must “convert.” Our religion is beautiful but it is also unfortunate that it ostracizes both those who want “in” and those who want “out.”

    • True story. I think that alone is one of the biggest reasons I decided against converting, even Reform or Conservative. In Christianity I am free to observe Jewish traditions and holidays in honor of both my faith’s ties to Judaism as well as my family ties to the Jewish people. I don’t have to prove to someone that I’m a Christian with paper work – I just say that I am and my actions and words either prove or disprove the statement. (Also sad, considering that was once good enough for Jews too – after all, that’s basically all Ruth did – she declared her allegiance to Hashem and proceeded to live out her life as a Jew. If her conversion/legitimacy faced the same scrutiny as converts under Jewish law today she would no doubt not be considered a Jew – and by default, King David himself would not have been a Jew!) The only thing I miss out on is being counted as a Jew (I can’t make aliyah, I can’t go to mikvah (though I’d love to), and in some circles I can’t even share a meal because anything I touch would become trief). But I know inside I’m as much as Jew as I am a 2nd generation Mexican immigrant and the descendant of Mayflower protestants. That is all part of my genes, my soul and part of how I choose to practice my faith.

  18. Catholic Mom says:

    Your answer was generally very good, but you did dodge a major question — namely that of matrilinear descent.

    My childen are “half Jewish” but through the father’s line. Under the Nuremburg Laws, they would be treated as Jews. Yet the Jewish religion says they do not have “Jewish souls.”

    That in itself doesn’t bother me in the slightest — after all, I’m not terribly concerned with what Orthodox Judaism has to say about their souls (they are baptized Catholics) nor do I feel that the Nazis should be considered the definitive source for determining who is a Jew. But the fact is, they meet all your requirements for why someone should *feel* Jewish — they are related significantly by blood to the Jewish community (indeed, since my husband is Israeli, they visit Israel twice a year), they have connections to the Jewish community, they have a Jewish last name, and they would (potentially) be persecuted by anti-semites.

    Yet I also know someone is who 1/8 Jewish (great-greandmother). They have an Irish name and they would never be persecuted by anti-semites (unless said anti-semites were into geneological research). Furthermore, they relate as Irish (do Irish dancing, etc.) and are baptized Catholics. Yet, Orthodox Jews would tell them that they have a “Jewish soul” and cannot truly be fulfilled until they return to their “own” religion.

    The fact is that the Orthodox Jewish definition of a Jew is NOT “who has a great deal of DNA in common with the majority of the Jewish community” OR “who is treated as a Jew by the gentile world” OR “who is raised with Jewish traditions” OR “who feels a connection to Jews or Judaism.” Instead, it is a completely “religious” definition (hence, not based on reasons that can be argued rationally).

    If Judaism used a patrilinear definition (as it once did) and my children were told for the rest of their lives “you are really Jews and should practice Judaism or you will never be truly happy” I can see how it might a source of irritation.

    • Thanks for your comment, Catholic Mom, but the thing about an analogy is that it’s not meant to work in every last detail – it’s meant to illustrate an idea. The idea of family not being able to be undone still holds true. We just consider the family thing to occur only through the mother. There is a spiritual DNA of being a Jew, if you will, and that only occurs with a mother. In terms of your children – they actually do have a different status than other non-Jews actually, according to some opinions. There’s an idea of zera Yisrael – that having a Jewish father doesn’t make you Jewish but makes you more connected to the Jewish people and therefore although we normally discourage conversion in the case of your children, we’d reach out to them more.

      In terms of Judaism “once using a patrilineal definition” – that is not an issue that can be proven one way or another. It is a subject that is highly debated, actually.
      I don’t know who’s saying “you are really Jews and should practice Judaism or you will never be truly happy.” What the letter writer wrote was that he wanted the title removed – not that he wanted permission to not practice.

      I have never told anyone “you will only be truly happy if you practice.” What I tell people is “this is your heritage – your ancestors have fought for millennia – in some cases giving up their lives – to maintain these traditions. Educate yourself before you throw it all away.” I don’t need to twist someone’s arm when it comes to Judaism. I believe the Torah sells itself. My only objective is to let Jews experience their learning and their traditions and let them make a decision based on knowledge.

  19. While beautifully written, I respectfully say that you are missing the point.
    1: “the non-Jews STILL considered them Jews” So what? stupidity and evilness of others does not make it a fact

    2: “Let’s say that you and I were brother and sister, but you wanted out of our family” Another cute yet meaningless analogy. Furthermore, a Christian who coverts to Judaism, is he still a Christian? Jews would say no; he has seen the “light” and now is one of us. Yet the Church could use the “Let’s say that you and I were brother and sister, but you wanted out of our family” argument. But you would say that analogy is nonsense, right? Yet when a Jew converts to Christianity, the Church sings the song of “he’s seen the light” and the Jews use the “brother/sister” analysis. How convenient of every religion to speak out of both sides of their mounts (or as Jews would say “dance at 2 weddings”)
    3: “But I wonder if you ever explored Orthodox Judaism. Have you ever spent a Shabbos with people who truly embody the essence of Shabbos and hachnasis orchim (hospitality)?” Isn’t that condescending? Have YOU ever spent a month at the Vatican or a year in Tibet or a year in Mecca? Have you read the likes of Spinoza? Do you allow you children, teenagers, young adults to be exposed to other ideas? Of course not. They might like it and believe that there is no higher power or at the very least that individual religion and one’s superiority over the other is man-made. But the Yeshiva won’t let them go there as youngsters because they are too vulnerable, as teenagers too impressionable as young adults, why question. Sounds like brainwash to me. Yes it can be a beautiful life but that doesn’t make it right. Islam in its peaceful form is also a beautiful religion. Send some of our kids to a Midrasa? I don’t think so.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dave.
      1) The fact that the anti-Semites won’t let us leave our Jewishness behind I believe *does* indicate that something bigger is going on. It’s not like the world considers a lapsed Catholic to always be Catholic. there is something about a Jew’s Jewishness that everyone agrees can never be undone. Evil or not, it’s how things are.

      2) Being Jewish is more than a religion. We are the “nation of Israel,” not just a people of a faith. We have a land, a language, a culture and history that goes beyond a religion.

      3) Actually, I have studied other religions and other philosophies. I was not raised Orthodox. As for my children, they are exposed to the larger world. We do not live in a bubble. I believe that the Torah is strong enough and compelling enough that we don’t need to shield them from other ideas.

  20. a Muslim says:

    hi, I’m a conservative Muslim and find these articles very interesting! thank you.

  21. Edward Berg says:

    RSM,
    You claim your not Jewish and never felt any connection to Judaism. So why do you care whether Judaism considers you a Jew or not? Only someone who on some level feels even a remote. connection to Judaism would care. For years the Mormons would “convert” deceased non-Mormons even though the person in life never expressed ANY desire or interest in Mormonism. If one of those people had been my father, I would find the practice repugnant but ultimately I wouldn’t give a #*&@. Why? Because what the Mormons consider my father is irrelavent to me. My father was Jewish in life, considered himself Jewish, and will remain Jewish forever in the eyes of my family and the Jewish people. Ultimately that’s all that matters.

  22. Very interesting question and response. I also enjoyed the commentaries. From all the commentaries, I think what RSM needs is not an exit from Judaism, but an exit from his resentment about it. This, I believe, should come in time, and in getting to know the “good side” (whatever that is to him)of the religion he was born in, which in turn will allow him to making peace with it, regardless of whether he chooses to practise or not.
    I found Leah’s Rabbi’s analogy of the country club spot on.

  23. noonereally says:

    I think should be allowed to chose whichever culture they love and be able to affiliate and build their identity likewise and others should respect it. Jewish culture or Lithuanian or Vietnamese it doesn’t matter which, one is not born one or the other one becomes one or the other through self knowledge, self realisation and one has this or that background but feels indifferent to it or does not relate it then be it, they have a right to. Telling someone that they are Jewish just because their mother is Jewish does not make one Jewish, especially if that someone is of different opinion and their feelings are different.

  24. noonereally says:

    I also think, going by my examples from above statements, that a person born in Norway who learns to love Norwegian culture more than any other attains Norwegian soul. We can argue that way just like Jews argue for the Jewish soul attainment – both are social constructs.

    Who is then to say that the Norwegian born to Jewish mother does not have a Norwegian soul instead of a Jewish soul? Who is to say how a soul is really created? Are Jews the only ones who possess the monopoly on knowledge of soul creation? Who is to say that the Norwegian soul does not take over all other souls? We can go on and on but if one feels Norwegian then no matter who their parent is, their soul or identity is Norwegian first and foremost, anything else comes second.

  25. noonereally says:

    To Alison:

    What if your children reject torah despite its “strength”? What then? Are you going to force them to become Jewish or feel Jewish even if they will not feel like it? I think you will try to make them Jewish once you notice that they are going in a different direction.

    Also, just because non-Jews or anti-Jewish folk see people of Jewish descent always as Jews is not valid to say that one has to feel Jewish. Firstly, it is not the case, not every non-Jew thinks alike and many believe a person of Jewish background is not Jewish if they do not feel Jewish, you are grossly generalising (you have to get to know some more non-Jews because you think you know everything about non-Jews). Secondly, even if it was a case (but it’s not) then it still not a valid point to assume one is Jewish, just because someone calls you stupid doesn’t mean you are, just because someone says you love that person or the other doesn’t mean that you do and so on, you feel this way and that’s it.

    • Allison Allison says:

      If my kids ever, God forbid, rejected Judaism, I wouldn’t “make” them do anything. I hope and pray that my husband and I will raise them in a way that makes them want to continue this on their own, but people have free will and everyone must exercise their own free will in life.

      I didn’t say EVERY non-Jew believes a Jew is always a Jew even if he tries to not be Jewish, I said anti-Semites often remind Jews of their Jewishness. In terms of can a person stop being Jewish – this is a point of Jewish law. We don’t believe it’s possible to undo it. I’m sorry but it’s not going to change. But for the person who rejects Jewish law it shouldn’t matter to him or her!

  26. noonereally says:

    To Dave who posted on 22nd February:

    You got it absolutely right, spot on! Religious leaders of many religions (e.g.: Catholicism and Judaism) tend to justify some of their arguments with a total lack of logic and you illustrated it well.

    What also puzzles me is how can one be told they are Jewish or Jewish born even if they don’t practice Judaism? Was Abraham Jewish born? No, he became Jewish, he was the first Jew, before that he was a pagan. He became Jewish only through his Jewish practices: circumcision and following Jewish values which he himself defined and which in the end defined him as a Jew. Without those Jewish practices there would not be Judaism and so there would not be Jews. So my question is what defines a person as a Jew who does not want to be Jewish or doesn’t practice Jewish religion -for whatever reason – or who is unaware of being born to Jewish mum and never identifies as a Jew? It seems like Abraham, 4000 year ago, decided for millions of people who they will be today and in the future, it seems he decided how they will feel about their identity. Why should Abraham decide what nationality a child in year 2013 will be? In my opinion it was his decision to become a Jew not those born to his tribe.

    One should be able to decide for oneself who they want to be, no one asked me if I want to be baptised and regarded as Catholic. I consider it wrong. likewise, telling a person they are Jewish because their mum is Jewish is wrong because Abraham did not ask that person if they want to have Jewish values instilled in them or not. Royals in medieval Europe were privileged just because they were born to a royal, many wanted to break away, yet they were told they can not because they have an inborn royal duty to fulfil and people to rule because in their veins flows a “royal blood”. It is like saying that one is a born car mechanic or a surgeon and has to do likewise not because they have mechanical or medical skills and knowledge but just because their parents were surgeons and/or car mechanics.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment – a person is certainly free to stop practicing a religion, but being a Jew is also part of a national identity, so just like someone with Greek heritage or Italian heritage could stop eating Greek and Italian food and stop speaking the languages, they wouldn’t be able to deny the fact that their ancestry is Greek or Italian.

      I believe that Jews should become as educated as possible about what their heritage is about, learn it, live it, etc. But then we all have free will to accept it or reject it. Too many Jews reject their Judaism without much knowledge, though, and IMO, that’s a shame.

      • noonereally says:

        To Allison:

        It seems you are missing the point, and it looks like it will take a long time for Jews to understand this. You are putting two separate things into one basket, one’s ancestry has nothing to do with one’s identity. I explained it already in one of my posts which have not been displayed. If one is born in Sweden to Norwegian parents then that person will most likely feel Swedish as oppose to Norwegian. This makes sense since it is not heritage what makes us who we truly are but the culture that surrounds us. We are human beings not programmed robots, we become our environment and come to like it, love it, affiliate with it. One’s parents may be Russian, grandparents Norwegian and Romanian, does that mean that the newborn is all those nationalities? No, nationality or identity will most likely be influenced by one’s expose to particular culture and way of life.

        Blood lines are just genes and have nothing to do with self-identity. A man of African descent born in England will be different and have different self-identity than his Ugandan ancestors, in effect his ancestry from now on is also English and it is the first and foremost ancestry of his.

        Identity is a social creation, “Jewish soul” is a social creation whether you like to think of it as such or not. Same goes for “Norwegian soul”. It is social upbringing that creates identity and nationality, not birth.

        • Allison Allison says:

          Thanks for your comment, noonereally, but we DO believe in a Jewish soul. I know it is nothing that can be proven, but I was just speaking to a secular Jewish woman last night who felt this need to save the people of Africa, so she moved to Uganda and is helping to get food, water, and basic sanitation for the people on that continent. She said “how can we rest until everyone in the world has their basic needs met?” I was so blown away by her and I noted that the number of Jews who attempt to “save the world” – the number in the peace corps, the number who are doing hippie-eco type things – we’re talking about the most secular of secular Jews who should have long forgotten the Torah’s commandments about “loving your neighbor as yourself” but the numbers are off the chart compared to other people in terms of how many secular Jews feel a pull to repair the world.

          Also, check out this post http://www.jewinthecity.com/2013/01/i-want-to-return-to-the-jewish-heritage-of-my-great-grandparents-but-i-dont-know-where-to-begin/#more-4350 – the story of this women – three generations away from Judaism only to feel a pull back is SO SO common. I hear these stories all the time. They make no sense.

          Does it *prove* that there’s such thing as a Jewish soul? Of course not. But it certainly backs up the idea. Jewish law is not going to be changing (for Orthodox Jews) in terms of who is a Jew. Progressive branches have changed it, the Orthodox won’t. So it’s not like we Orthodox just need to be enlightened and we’ll “see the way.” We believe in this concept and there are many real life examples which back it up.

  27. noonereally says:

    Why do I have to wait days before my comments are posted? Is this the pattern on Jewish forums to screen one’s comment by 10 investigators? You already ignored one of my comments which was quite valid – obviously no to you – how about letting readers decide? I posted two more comments few days ago and I yet to see these here.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Sorry for the delay in posting your comments. They came in during a Jewish holiday when we don’t use electricity (including technology) for a few days so it looks like they got lost in the mix.

      Sorry!

  28. noonereally says:

    To RSM:

    It is not Abraham’s decision, it is an individual choice. Those who want out and do not regard themselves Jewish even though their mum or dad are Jewish should be allowed a status of a non-Jew, otherwise it is a forced identity however one looks at it. Having a soul is an individual thing not a matter of birth. You are “you” not your parents.

  29. noonereally says:

    To Aliison:

    Ok, it’s fine, I didn’t know of the Jewish holidays and the ban on using electricity, now I get it, sorry if I sounded angry but the delay seemed weird to me.

  30. noonereally says:

    I posted another two comments, one today and one some week or 2 ago and it is not showing up, is it another Jewish holiday? If it is then I understand but I hope my comment is coming, it’s a response to one of Allison’s comments.

  31. Richard says:

    Why do I have no interest in Judaism anymore? I grew up with abject materialism, Where you lived, what you drove, what you wore, what college you attended, back-stabbing, etc, etc. It turned my stomach. Today, a lot of that culture is still there, but now Judiasm has been hijacked by hard core liberalism. Gay and female (or both) rabbis, support for Planned Parenthood, blind support for the Democrat party. In short, everything the Torah rails against, and supposedly the world was destroyed over. I tried Chabad about 20 years ago, but I didn’t care for being separated from society, and what seemed to me like endless rules and limitations. To be fair, I really don’t care for religion in general. I resent the idea that only my religion curries favor with God, and everyone else is a lesser human, or worse, going to hell for all eternity beacause they don’t believe like I do. I wonder about a God with human emotions such as jealosy and hatred. Oh yes, it’s in the bible. I have come to believe that God exists, but he/she stays out of things and lets the chips fall where they may. Just look at the world we live in, never ending war, strife, famine, hunger, grief, and hatred. I can’t imagine anything anyone could say could change my mind at this point.

  32. Phillip says:

    Hello Rabbi Allison :)

    It was so interesting to read RSM’s message, your reply and all the comments!

    I have so much to say about what I have read that I almost chose to say nothing. But I couldn’t. I found myself writing this instead of working. What follows is half the length it started out to be!

    Of course Jewishness is more than a religion! I would never go as far as calling it a race, because (from my stand) it is not. – But it IS at the very least, an identity. Where I come from, my Jewishness is there and is a part of me regardless of what Hasidic law or ”noonereally” have to say – although their views are probably respectable from where they come from too.

    I am a patrilineal Jew, matrilineal Catholic, Bolivian citizen (Jus Soli), Austrian citizen (Jus Sanguinis), HomoBisexual (87 % gay ;), politically somewhere between centre-left and centre-right. My ancestral heritage weighs in my life as much as all the cultures, religions, experiences and people that have touched and influenced it (too beautifully many to list here).

    For a human without one particular identity, as I see myself – one can choose between:

    – Being a renegade of mostly anything/anyone – This is because you see everyone and everything as different from you – not part of you. You cannot identify with anything in particular. All that surrounds you is the “OTHER” and you live in a hostile world. This is particularly dangerous for other people around you since you have no norms, laws or boundaries to contain your hatred.

    – All the in-betweens

    – Love mostly anything/anyone – since the “OTHER” has no particular form you perceive it as non-existent and you can identify with what you have in common with the rest: our existence, our humanity. You perceive the world as a welcoming place to call home. You cannot find the feeling of “hate” within you, because it does not exist.

    Fortunately for me, life has guided me to dwell somewhere within the last scenario. It has taken a lot of spiritual work though… I respect and admire people with their identity so well established! – They too have a lot of spiritual work to do in order to uncover the essence of what their particular identities have to offer them at the very core –

    RSM I am not sure you have read all the replies your message and Rabbi Allison’s response have produced – here is my message to you:

    I believe each one of us should embrace what we are and what we have. The “what we are” is really never that clear…. By what you say, what YOU are at this moment is a “legitimate Jew” who does not want to be one (and probably so many things more define your “what you are” in this particular moment!) –

    My advice to you: You are uncomfortable where you are at this moment. Go out and explore! Find yourself a place in this world. Explore! Take Rabbi Allison’s advice if it applies to you and explore Jewry to the core – and/or take your explorations elsewhere.

    It’s amazing what exploring can do. In so many cases it will bring you back to exactly the same place you left from – but with a world of a difference. It worked for me. Many times ;-)…

    • noonereally says:

      Well Phillip, for all the amount of exploring you have done you still seem to pin an identity on RSM that is Jewish. Basically, you write that one can go on exploring but will come back to the point of origin hmmm… who set this point of origin? You? Rabbi? Abraham? What makes one an authority on it? I can have an idea, go to a lake and perform particular ritual, then inspire a group of like minded people who will in turn do the same in regards to other individuals and we will have a great following where we will claim that we have special inborn attributed vested in us by divine powers from birth and all we have to do is be born to our parents, GREAT! New religion is born, 5 thousand years later it is still there and millions believe in it as if it was a true, why? Because my little group of people achieves soooo much, we refrain from sex because it is so animalistic and we sooo much better than animals, we give to charity, we only make wars to make money, we mutilate our genitals to offer something to God, we repeat my philosophy which we treat as the most truthful account of humanity, we believe we are special because we are sooo moral. We create little circle of trust an not let anyone in because we want to it only for ourselves, only we are correct and only we can receive the goods, others are less worthy, animalistic and deserve our scorn, we only see and love ourselves the most, we feel sooo special. Sounds familiar? It is only a matter of time before another group as such is born and becomes so organised that its members will believe it is God’s will that they be so special and rule everything because they are God’s right hand and the rest better obey, for some reason God rejected them, they are enemies, they are bad and evil and must be treated with scorn.

  33. I really dont like this post, it makes Judaism look slimy and adhesive, which is not the way it should look imo. Religion is a belief, its not inherited, its not genetic, and the last thing we need is for people to feel that Judaism is being shoved down childrens’ throats. And the equating of jewishness with a family or a race is not a pleasant idea…

    If you do not believe in judaism, you are not a jew. We can not look at it any other way in this modern world. If you insist someone is jewish and they say they no longer are, then you have fatally destroyed your ability to bring them back to faith. They will never trust you to speak honestly after that.

    This is not theoretical, i have seen it.

  34. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    Chris:

    I’m sorry you’ve seen things play out poorly but that’s not necessarily a factor of this particular issue. You name a race, religion or parenting style and, sadly, I’ve seen kids turned off from their parents’ belief systems – and turned on to them, as well! It’s a complicated world with a lot of moving parts so this one belief is not the great villain you posit it to be, it’s one tiny part of a major dynamic.

    The reality is that Judaism is more than a religion. It has an aspect of religion, of course, but it’s a nation and, largely, an extended family. That idea may not sit well with you but it doesn’t change the reality. If I were a kohein (which I’m not), I could lament, “Oh, how I wish I weren’t descended from the Biblical Aaron, brother of Moses!” I could turn my back on the responsibilities of Jewish “priesthood” but the fact remains, I would be a descendant of Aaron and those rules would apply to me whether I liked it or not.

    Now cast that net wider. All Jews are descended from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the 12 Tribes. (Converts are considered adopted.) You can deny it but we’ll still consider you Jewish. If I had an estranged brother (which I don’t), he would still be my brother, family friction notwithstanding.

    Even if one does not believe in Judaism, he’s still a Jew (assuming he was in fact born Jewish). He can count in a minyan and be called to the Torah. He could join the faith without converting in. Just to play devil’s advocate, would you advocate requiring conversion for born Jews who reject Judaism and later want to embrace it? If not, you must concede that they ARE in fact already Jewish.

    • Is Judaism a religion? Is Judaism a nationality? Is Judaism a culture? Is Judaism a race? Yes to the first and No to the rest.
      Why is a self hating Jew still called a Jew?

      A person can leave a culture, and being Jewish is not a race and it’s not a nationality. So how does that work. If you can’t leave what exactly is it. Where is the line drawn. It doesn’t make sense. A black person can’t stop being black. A Jew can not be non-Jewish even if they totally dismiss what Judaism is about?

      I don’t remember this baseball player name, but his parents are Jewish and he doesn’t want to be associated with the Jewish label. Should we still call him a Jew?

  35. noonereally says:

    To Rabbi Abramowitz:

    Firstly, a family is based on an unconditional love, however, in a case of Jewish people one has to be born Jewish (born to Jewish mum, who was herself born to Jewish mum and all the way to the first Jew) to be accepted as a Jew, that is the condition, hence this situation differs from real, natural family concept where your parents love you unconditionally. Jews will accept you only if you convert to Judaism or you have been born Jewish, so belonging to a Jewish circle is not like being in a real family. Please Rabbi Abramowitz, do not equate Jewishness to a family.

    Also, if you wish for your Jewish identity to be recognised and respected by others: Jews and no-Jews alike then you are expected to respect other person’s wishes to not to identify as a Jew. Otherwise, you are being ignorant, you can not impose your beliefs upon others, it is not your right, if an adult person tells you that they are not a Jew and you insist on treating that person as a Jew you are violating their right to self-determination, they are free human beings and you have to learn to respect that. I agree with Chris, Jewishness has nothing to do with inheritance or genetics, it is just a belief and it exists only thanks to that belief, nothing else. Live and let others live Rabbi Abramowitz, respect others, do not be so ignorant and closed-minded.

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      A family is NOT based on unconditional love. There are people who love one another unconditionally but are not family (the Jewish paradigm for this being David and Jonathan, who were not related). Conversely, there are families whose members do NOT accept one another or get along or respect one another at all. They may be dysfunctional families, but they are families nonetheless.

      Jews (and non-Jews) can respect those of other religions without them having to convert – they’re just not Jewish! I respect and accept people not in my family, and I do likewise for those not in my religion. There’s no judgment in acknowledging that one person is a member of my family or religion and another one isn’t.

      If I consider someone who was born Jewish to still be Jewish, that’s no skin off theirs. I don’t expect anything of them. I’m not imposing any beliefs on them. All it means is that they’re welcome back into the fold. (How horrible and intolerant!) And yes, I know quite a number of people who have chosen to exercise that option and were glad to have it.

      Historically (and currently), enemies of the Jewish people have included in their persecution even those who preferred to “opt out” of Judaism. How horrible would it be of *us* exclude them! If I consider someone Jewish, that places no burden or expectations on them, it just lays out a welcome mat. I fail to see how that is ignorant or close-minded, though I appreciate your ad hominem attacks.

  36. I believe the OP has no need to worry.

    When I considered making Aliyah and doing my research, I encountered a nasty surprise.

    My father’s family came in three generations ago from the Eastern Bloc, and considered themselves Orthodox. My mother’s family had descended from the Reform movement which was part of America since that country declared it’s independence.

    They had married under a Conservative rabbi, and basically ran a Conservative home together. No Ketuba was ever produced or written. My mother’s mother had no ketuba either.

    I revealed this to an Orthodox rabbi when I attempted to gathering my evidence together for making aliyah about 30 years ago. He had said that the Orthodox do not recognize any lesser level of observe as being Judaism. Even if I could produce a Ketuba from either my mother or my grandmother, nobody in my matriineal line would be considered Jewish because they as part of the start of the Reform movement had split off from the Orthodox.

    He said regardless of what my parents had practice, or what I felt I had practiced sincerely, I was not Jewish at all. He said if I really wanted to be Jewish, I should study Orthodoxy and convert.

    I was really incensed about this… I thought… I had done the very best I could, thought I was born a Jew, thought I had lived as one, but had been told I never was one in the first place?

    But then reflecting upon the situation, it meant that if today’s keepers of the keys did not consider me to be one of them, I was free to be anything I wanted. I was free to BECOME one of them… or I was free to decide why my own fate should be.

    If you weren’t born Orthodox or converted into Orthodoxy, you are not Jewish anyway. Walk away, and don’t look back. That’s exactly what I did.

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      Something’s not right in that scenario. A piece is missing somewhere. It’s true that Orthodoxy does not view other branches of Judaism as equally-viable alternatives – after all, if the Torah was given by G-d, no one has the authority to say, “bacon is suddenly okay to eat!” – but Jews of all stripes are Jewish! (Obviously I’ have to qualify that generality for those who underwent non-kosher conversions. That’s not relevant here and is a discussion for another day.)

      There’s a whole movement called “kiruv” (outreach), whose entire raison d’etre is to introduce non-practicing Jews to Judaism. The endeavor would be pretty pointless if, once they became interested, they were all told, “Sorry! You weren’t born Orthodox – go away!” I know observant Jews who were raised Reform. (Know them? I AM one!) I know practicing Jews who were raised completely unaffiliated. I even know a Jewish woman who was raised Catholic and discovered as a teen that her mother’s mother was Jewish. She was able to step right into it without conversion. And plenty of non-Orthodox Jews make aliyah!

      So I’m not saying that your experience did not happen as you described it, just that something’s missing somewhere in that tale.

      • A ‘tale’ you say? A tale implies I have made this all up for the sake of discussion.

        ” but Jews of all stripes are Jewish! ”

        Not to the Orthodox. And I am given to understand by them that they are the only ones who matter, and they’ve pretty much written off all American Jews and most European Jews aside from their own isolated enclaves. Hard cheese, I know, but since they are the descendants of the original branch of Judaism before the other movements split away, they have the ones who are empowered by the creator to set the standard for all the rest, and define who a Jew is and or not. I could not make Aliyah since I could niether produce a ketuba from my mother or grandmother for a marriage conducted by an Orthodox rabbi, and only Orthodox marriages were the one recognized by Israel as having any force for a Jewish couple.

        Summary of a much longer phone discussion with an Orthodox rabbi who supervised Aliyah applications at the Israeli consulate in the United States, more than 30 years ago.

        From what I undestand from my upbrining, it is extremely difficult for a non-Jew to become Jewish. A rabbi is expected to reject an applicant three times before asquiescing. If the Orthodox rabbi was being unwelcoming, he was completely within his rights to be so. You say you were born Reform. Logic would then dictate that unless a Reform man had converted to Orthodoxy and then become an Orthodox rabbi (a lifetime process, to be sure), that he would have no authority to speak as anything but a Reform rabbi, whom the Orthodox would not even recognize as a rabbi in the first place, never mind as a Jew.

        There are worse things than being told the hard facts by someone in definite authority that because my descent was patrineal by Orthodox standards I actually were born without a Jewish soul. I think it definitely accounts for lack of joy I had felt growing up in the faith the way my family celebrated it. I think it accounts for how I had felt the faith as a set of obligations to be endured for the sake of obedience. In all the Seders done by my family, since I was the second born, I always had to recite the lines of the Wicked Child. Each and every time. So if I was ordained to be wicked, then so I would be.

        Therefore, technicially, my parents were intermarried, and I’m sure a large part of that accounts for why they split when I was 17 years old. I finished college at 19 (long story), and it was at 20 that I wanted to wash my hands of the whole thing and move to somewhere else, anywhere else. I had discovered Israel was not a possibility for me fo reasons described above.

        I jumped from the East Coast to the Southwest and essentially hid from sight from my entire and tried to build a life on my own, and on my own terms: pure ethical principles; no arbitrary laws or commandments or rituals. I was a very ethical person, but I was also very lonely.

        I still understrood that a creator existed, but I also understood that said creator existed for EVERYONE but myself,. Part of that was because I had been born with high functioning autism and so endured a great deal of abuse by most everyone I encountered in my life. I didn’t even have to identify myself as being Jewish to endure the bigotry usually felt by Jews at the hands of anti-semites. People treated me as if I were not even human. The other part, was that even my own parents had become physcially and enotionally abusive.

        If that which does not kill you makes you stronger, and if that which I endured would have killed 10 or even 20 human beings, then what did I have to become to endure all this? Not human at all! If I was not human, then I fell outside of creation and the Laws that creation was subject to. I therefore had to rederive ethics and morality from first principles… and, with a little help from my friends. Earth should consider itself extremely lucky that I came from a very evil place and somehow chose to be good.

        I married twice, both to non-Jewish women. Once out of loneliness, which my spouse soon discovered after about a decade and then resented, fortunately that marriage was childless.

        At neither time did my side of the family attend. Both my fiances wanted to contact my family for the wedding. I warned them both against it. Fortunately, none were available. I had outlived all of them, most due to old age, and some due to cancer or even suicide. I was no longer accountable to anyone in my family, because by the time I married for the first time, there was no one remaining for me to answer to.

        The second time, a few years after the first one, out of genuine love, which even now still continues after 11 years, and from which we have a 10 year old daughter. They were the ones from whom I learned all the things I should have learned growing up: how to be a good father, how to be a good partner, and even, how I really was a human being after all and could learn to enjoy being one without guilt.

        When I had my child I figured that even though I was fully within my rights to deny Judaism for myself, basically because of how I felt the non-Orthodox movements had sold me a bill of good regarding my identity, I felt that because she had such a faint and tenuous lineage through me, I should at least have her understand enough to be able to treat other Jewish people courteously.

        That said, if my daughter were to intermarry back to Judiasm at all, it would be to Orthodox only. I am given to understand that any other form of Judiaism is a cheap imitation, and since I know I do not have the strength to a real Jew, then I might as not be one at all.

        Even there, I would tell her that the various practices the Orthodox observe with respect to women tend to deny them their full rights and powers as women which our secular society offers, and that she would find herself very uncomfortable there. I’d be unlikely to attend her wedding. I know that I would be welcome only for her sake. I know where I’m not wanted,

        The creator is welcome to punish me severely in the afterlife. But before He begins, I would tell Him that nothing He could dish out to be then would ever be worse that the cruelty which He had dealt out to me on Earth.

        • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

          “Tale: a series of events or facts told or presented” – Webster. Nothing there suggests that it’s a work of fiction. I’m not suggesting that your life experiences didn’t happen, just that they are so radically different from my own and from those of anyone I’ve met in decades of Jewish communal service that I suspect there must be something else going on there. I’m not accusing you of withholding information – you may have no idea what’s amiss – but something is definitely not right. For example, Reform Jews don’t “convert” to Orthodoxy, they just show up! (Unless they have non-Jewish mothers – but that’s another story.)

  37. Phil Smythe says:

    That's a terrible response by Allison. It basically amounts to because Jews were persecuted in the past, even if they had forsaken that religion, you cannot escape what happened in the past so you'd be better off simply accepting that you are a Jew. Even though RSM basically noted that being born "Jewish" doesn't make any more sense than being born Catholic the response ignores that and equates it to denying you were born into your own family. That's an inescapable biological fact as opposed to a belief system you have no idea of when you are born.

  38. I am personally pretty unhappy with the Jewish religion. I know I am not alone. I don’t like it, so what are my choices? I can ignore it, though I feel Jewish nationally. I can try to tear it down, or at the least not suck up to it. In the end, it is a tough way to go through life. I like the idea of spirituality, I just think the Jewish version is utterly unappealing. I would probably go to an open minded church, or maybe an Open Orthodox shul, or even a weird messianic Judaism temple to find G-d.
    But not with Judaism. It sickens me. It is like having a close relationship, or a marriage, to a woman you find, for whatever reasons, totally awful.
    Any advice? I would love to get out of Judaism, the alternative is just to do my best to make it plain that I find it awful, and others who find it awful should not feel bad, but speak up. Of course, for those who like Judaism, that’s also fine. To each his own. But how can I experience spirituality in a religion i find gross? It’s like a person who is forced to marry someone who is totally, totally not for them — when the weird woman down the street appeals to them. How do we out of a forced marriage to someone who makes us (personally) sick? Not that there is anything objectively wrong with them. They are just really, truly not our cup of tea.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tuv. Can I ask you what community you grew up in hashkafically? And what communities (if any) have you explored in an in depth way? There are many variations to Jewish observance and there are certainly some communities I could never be happy in even though I love the community I chose.

  39. I’ve been around orthodoxy quite a bit. Also Chabad. I have good times, but I don’t really believe what they believe. For instance, I don’t know why we all have to act like we know where the Torah comes from. We don’t. But we have act like we have this amazing Torah (which if you read it? Not so amazing.)

    I also don’t like the way Judaism looks backwards so much. Like somehow “back there” is all this wisdom and sages and men who “really knew things” and were close to G-d. I don’t see it that way – I think what went on back there was kind of sick. Men controlled everything, slavery was pretty legit, blacks were Ham, medicine in the Talmud is laughably wrong.

    In fact, if you really read the ACTUAL Talmud there are things that are said that terrible – we just conveniently act like those things are not in there. Women can be sold into slavery, women own nothing, men can demand sex whenever they want, women certain times. You can beat up a woman who does not have your dinner and a drink ready when you get home. There’s much more of course.

    We cherry pick the Talmud to make it attractive to today. We pretend that Jews were so wise on subjects like raising children, when if you read what some of the great rabbis of the past wrote about how to raise children, you would throw up. Not even Talmud rabbis, just the greats. But we pretend that the rabbis came up with great ways to raise kids – when all of the current ideas Jews toss around about raising kids come from secular authorities – just repurposed as Torah wisdom.

    To me? It’s all a garbage way to go. It fills your mind with mush. I’ve been to synagogue – it’s all the same people – all white, all kind of looking to the past forever and ever when if we really looked at the past carefully we would repudiate it completely.

    I like going to open minded churches just because they are more human, people express themselves, and they feel G-d. They talk about it in the here and now. They don’t start threatening you if you don’t think the Bible is from G-d, think, please, think, is how they feel. And there are different kinds of people there. People from all over the world, different types and cultures – and everyone is doing something that feels great – saying there is a G-d and we are here to bond over that. And it’s simple, it’s straight, it’s kind of weird and a little embarrassing. You can be you. The real you. Not the one who forever looks to the dessicated past for wisdom that we all basically roll our eyes at when we actually bother to read it.

    It’s human and warm and real and lets you be you. I feel closer to G-d, and happier in other-than-Jewish places. I feel it is just more real and I feel I am there, not some sad representation of me that isn’t me.

    It’s again, like being with the wacky girl you love and who brings out the feelings in you, and not the one who is not for you, but was picked out for you. Who makes you miserable. People tell you “you will grow to love her.” But why bother? Love who you love. The one who really you want to love. Who naturally you love. Why should you be in a marriage that feels like ortho-donture?

    If there is a G-d, isn’t he going to say when he meets you, “this one really enjoyed me. He really had a good life when he stood in front of me.” Instead of: “this poor shnook took it in the neck for me for 120 years, with that wife he never felt good around, the one who made him feel half-dead. Poor shnook. Oh well.”

    Tuv

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’re certainly entitled to your own beliefs, likes and dislikes, and no one is going to try to coerce you to feel otherwise. But there are plenty of things you reference that are misunderstood, out of context, or just plain false. I think it would be a benefit to other readers at least if I clarified a few of these points.

      “Slavery was pretty legit.” Yes, it was. All over the world, in fact. But your impression of slavery is colored by the black experience in America, or perhaps even the Jewish experience in Egypt. What the Torah calls slavery is completely different. “Slavery” was a means out of debt by selling one’s services for a limited time span. A master was not allowed to mistreat his slave or even to give him busy work. When the slave’s term of service – typically six years – was up, he was to be given generous parting gifts. If the master so much as knocked out a tooth, the slave was instantly released. All of this is explicit in the Torah. The Talmud gives us more details, such as if the master and slave are traveling together and there’s only one pillow, the slave gets it. The Talmud says that one who buys a slave has actually acquired a master for himself.

      “Blacks were Ham.” Yes. Greece is descended from Yavan, Rome is descended from Edom and the African nations are descended from Ham. That’s not inherently wrong. What’s wrong is that thousands of years later, pro-slavery advocates in America (who were not even Jewish!) tried to use that fact to keep blacks enslaved. The slavery they endured was because of a curse, which had already come to pass. It was never a command that we are to enslave them.

      “Medicine in the Talmud is laughably wrong.” So was medicine in the 19th century. Let’s not confuse the best available science of an era with religious tenets.

      “Women can be sold into slavery.” Again, your idea of Torah “slavery” is all wrong. An impoverished man could “sell” his daughter so she could have a better life. When she reached the age of majority, she could marry the master or his son and become the lady of the house, otherwise she had to be freed.

      “Women own nothing.” Uhhh… that’s completely inaccurate and untrue. I don’t even know what you’re basing that assumption upon.

      “Men can demand sex whenever they want, women certain times.” Also completely backwards. A woman has conjugal rights that her husband is obligated to fulfill. A man cannot demand sex and he’s certainly not permitted to force his wife.

      “You can beat up a woman who does not have your dinner and a drink ready when you get home.” What? That’s ridiculous. A man is not permitted to beat his wife, certainly not for so petty an offense. Where are you getting these examples from? Because they’re just plain wrong.

      “If you read what some of the great rabbis of the past wrote about how to raise children, you would throw up.” Really? Like what?

      Again, you can feel, think and believe whatever you like, but if you’re going to make such claims, I’d ask that you cite the sources so I can look them up because they’re certainly news to me!

  40. OK, but we are going off on a tangent here. The original question was can I leave a religion and find one I really enjoy and actually get closer to G-d that way?

    I’ll try to be brief – I am not a Torah scholar, but I will try to put together some sources.

    My first source just comes out yesterday: Fink or Swim. He talks about the rotten things Chazal said about women.

    Now, what is of course interesting is, what does it mean when Chazal said rotten things about women? Do they mean it? Are they correct?

    As the comments on FoS show – if you are haredi you basically MUST accept the wisdom of Chazal (or else you may start getting into the slippery slope of “if Chazal were wrong, might they also be wrong on religious questions? Might they have been erroneous on transmitting the Torah? Might they be merely mortal, much like ourselves, full of goofy and wrong headed ideas?”

    That will not fly of course – halacha is at stake. Take a look at that piece.

    This is related to the second problem: if Chazal were wrong about science (they had ruach hakodesh of course) then maybe they were wrong about Judaism?

    Most haredi rabbis will tell you hazal could not be wrong – about anything. So if they seemed wrong about science or medicine – then nature changed. You got that? We smart Jews are supposed to think that cures they put forward worked – but only at that time.

    This of course leads to wondering: so, x cured a lethal bite by an animal, or a lethal disease – and then, it stopped working? Nature changed? Why didn’t Chazal bother to tell us this would happen? Think of all the patients using cures from Chazal who died only because Chazal did not bother to tell us “hey folks, these cures will stop working around the year ____.”

    This is pretty sad logic, no?

    Now, my next set comes from a Jew who does know Talmud and Torah. He goes by the moniker Rational Thinker, and comments a lot on other blogs:

    1. When 2 people are drowning the man is saved before the woman. SA YD 252-8
    2. Happy is he whose kids are male and woe to one who has females. Pesachim 65a
    3. Men say a bracha thanking G for not making them women. Women not only don’t thank G for making them women, they don’t even thank him for making them what they wanted. Instead they thank him for making them how HE wanted.
    4. A father can betroth his daughter. A woman may not.
    5. A father can sell his daughter as a servant. He may not sell his son. A woman may sell neither.
    6. Men can demand sex whenever they want. Women only at specific times.
    7. A wife who doesn’t perform her duties which include washing his feet and pouring his drink can be forced by hitiing her with a stick, Rambam laws of interpersonal relations 21-7
    8. Charity should not be accepted from a woman since it’s like stolen as he she owns nothing. (what she earns belongs to her father till she marries; then her husband.) Shulchan Aruch YD 248-4

    Rational Thinker says “I could list 10 more. And these have nothing to do with performing specific mitvot. There isn’t an objective person around who would learn of the halachic rules for men and women who wouldn’t come to the conclusion that women are second class citizens.”

    Finally on child rearing “wisdom” I am citing various things said by great rabbis of the past. I found these in a book you might actually enjoy reading. It is called Strictly Kosher Reading, by Yoel Finkelman. It is by a haredi academic who is wise to the way modern wisdom is filtered and processed and scrubbed of its true origins (in the modern world) and repurposed (in a clever, but deceptive way) as ancient Torah wisdom (mainly this is done by kiruv rabbis, who I think are truly not honorable or honest when it comes to teaching truth about our religion. That is if course the subject for another time.)

    Below are things I’ve read in that book from Torah greats on parenting:

    While the Vilna Gaon did prefer spanking without anger, he, like so much of the rabbinic tradition, clearly and unambiguously advocated regular, consistent, and at times quite violent corporal punishment.

    ‘If one loves his son, it is not enough to make him suffer for what he deserves, but he should examine him closely in case he has done a minor misdeed, and should make him suffer for that…[One is commanded to hit one’s son] even when he [the son] has not done any minor misdeed.”

    Traditional Jewish sources on child rearing…explain that spanking does not promote rebellion but prevents it.

    In a typical passage, the ancient Jewish text, Midrash Rabbah, quoting the book of Proverbs, relates that, “He who spares his rod hates his child. This teaches that preventing physical punishment (mardut) leads [the child] to bad culture.”

    R. David Altschuler, the seventeenth century Galician author of the Biblical commentary Metzudat David, goes further in commenting on the same verse: “Do not refrain from making [your son] suffer even if you see that this is not effective.”

    Sources, particularly from early-modern Ashkenazi culture but from other contexts as well, openly polemicize against fatherly affection.

    For example, R. Alexander Ziskind of Grodno, the eighteenth century mystic explains that, “Even though I had many sons, I never kissed even one of them, and never held them in my arms, and never spoke with them of frivolous things, G-d forbid.”

    The seventeenth-century rabbi, Yeshayahu Horowitz (the Shlah), states: If the father rebukes his son early in his life with the staff…and uses fear while he is young…then he will be accustomed to fear his father always…If in childhood the father displays great affection…then later when he matures he will not listen…Mothers are…not to spare the rod but to strike their sons even if they scream…Women who are compassionate with their children…murder them.”

    Finally, I want to quote stuff I’ve read on women and Torah study.

    Women are suspected generally of not being smart/serious enough to understand/appreciate Torah.

    From the Rambam (Maimonides)

    “Even though there is reward, the Sages commanded a person not to teach his daughter Torah, since most women’s minds are not designed for learning and they will turn the words of Torah into foolishness due to their weak intellect. The Sages said: “Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah it is as if he taught her licentiousness/nonsense.”

    Now, I know what you will say: women of course learn Torah. Women of course are considered smart, and there were women in the past who learned Torah.

    You can of course say all of those things – but the sages have spoken, and presumably they are not only greater in Torah, but in touch with divine will and understanding.

    I have no problem with sexist sages – to me? These are men, real live normal men. And the thing is: the way we treat the wisdom of theirs we don’t like tells me we (wink, wink) really think they are just men, not really prophets or not really right (if we deem it not right as moderns) or not really with ruach hakodesh.

    But the haredi norm is they ARE correct in all things.

    All of the above gets us away from the original question. Of course the Talmud says good things and bad things. But we cherry pick the good and throw out the bad. We do a lot of pretending and we do it with a straight face. OK, fine.

    I just personally think it reeks — would rather not be spiritually aligned with people playing games and thinking themselves clever by, on the one hand saying Chazal is inerrant, and on the other, trashing much of what they say. It’s so clever and exhausting, because we all wind up being manipulated.

    Yawn. Would rather just go to a church with a bunch of freaks from all walks of life and say yes to G-d. No apologetics. No games. To me, Judaism is all games. And everyone knows it (which may explain why so many Jews assimilate, and so many haredim act badly, and so many Jews roll their eyes as they do it, and so many are orthoprax, or at least do one thing in their own homes, and in public make sure they have the whitest shirt and the hat with the biggest brim.) We are all being manipulated, and while some people love it, many clearly are unhappy (BTs aside.)

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      I don’t have the time to go through this line-by-line, though I really could, much the same as I debunked the slavery misconceptions. Suffice it to say at this point that your information doesn’t come from primary sources but from secondary sources with an agenda who – to use your terminology – are cherry-picking the worst things they can find and giving them to readers to prove how horrible things are. (Rabbi Fink’s piece notwithstanding, though you’ll note that his examples are not quite so terrible as beating one’s wife.)

      But then you change the game and start talking about “Charedi philosophy” and the supposed infallibility of the Sages. So your problem isn’t what the Talmud says so much as it is how one particular group interprets it. The normative approach in modern circles would be to assume that the Sages were dealing with the best available science of the times. If their science was wrong, that doesn’t affect the transmission of Torah, it only affects practical application. The same would be true today: I can violate Shabbos to save a life. If a medical procedure is found to be ineffective, it would be removed from the “approved” list.

      Finally, your horror at rabbinic child-rearing boils down to the fact that previous generations – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – approved of spanking children and strict punishments. It’s not as if they were into “honor killings” or anything like that. Again, a product of their times, not a religious tenet per se.

      Again, you’re free to do as you please, just be aware that your secondary sources have been hand-selected out of context to further an agenda. Just like the slavery thing, the canvas is much broader and nuanced than a single negative sentence. (There’s a clip of Hillary Clinton on YouTube saying, “I believe in white supremacy!” You can see it for yourself. But there you know that the context would help to clarify what’s really going on. Same here.)

  41. FromBrooklyn says:

    I’m sorry Rabbi, but you DID indeed ask this gentleman to cite his claims. So of it being of the Torah. If I’m wrong, let me know, but I wouldn’t find the Torah to be a second hand account, or secondary source, as you say. I think I would’ve preferred you educate us on HOW Tuvia’s statements are taken out of context. I can definitely understand that certain things written were subject to the validity of the times. But that does not make them any less horrid. Are there sources to cater to a more modern world, for those interested in Judaism? Something that a rational person today can look at and say, well that makes sense; I even like the message given, this is something I can live life happily following. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for Jay & Silent Bob’s -Buddy Christ icon or anything. Just a more contemporary way of understanding what’s important…the message.

  42. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    Thanks for your question. If it looks like I’m going to retroactively pick on Tuvia, that is not my intent. I’m going to go through his last post a little more thoroughly, since you seem to feel I was remiss in not doing so earlier.

    Despite what you write, Tuvia didn’t really cite the Torah first-hand. He cited secondary sources that admittedly have an agenda. He says it outright: “My first source just comes out yesterday: Fink or Swim.”

    He continues: “As the comments on FoS show – if you are haredi you basically MUST accept the wisdom of Chazal (or else you may start getting into the slippery slope of ‘if Chazal were wrong, might they also be wrong on religious questions? Might they have been erroneous on transmitting the Torah? Might they be merely mortal, much like ourselves, full of goofy and wrong headed ideas?’”

    That’s not an indictment of anything in the Torah, it’s an indictment of a mindset that is unique to a particular group. If you don’t like it, don’t belong to that group!

    He continues further: “Now, my next set comes from a Jew who does know Talmud and Torah. He goes by the moniker Rational Thinker, and comments a lot on other blogs…”

    Again, a secondary source picking scattered things and gathering them out of context.

    I do address (and debunk) a number of the points from Rational Thinker. Others may be technically accurate but lacking context. For example, “When 2 people are drowning the man is saved before the woman.”

    This statement is true. But it doesn’t note that a Kohein is saved before a Levi, a Levi before a Yisrael, etc. Or that a woman is clothed, fed and redeemed from captivity BEFORE a man. There are all sorts of calculations that go into the laws of who comes before whom in various situations. To boil it down to “men before women” is an oversimplification to the point of disservice.

    Tuvia continues: “Rational Thinker says ‘I could list 10 more. And these have nothing to do with performing specific mitvot. There isn’t an objective person around who would learn of the halachic rules for men and women who wouldn’t come to the conclusion that women are second class citizens.’”

    Right. Which is why women take priority in being fed, clothed and redeemed from captivity.

    I could just as easily cherry-pick ten quotes like these:

    * A man must love his wife as much as he does himself and honor her more than he does himself – Talmud Yevamos 62b.

    * A man must always protect the honor of his wife – Talmud Baba Metzia 59a

    * One who complains and argues with his wife deserves Gehinnom – Derech Eretz Zuta

    * Do not get angry with your wife. If your relationship is strained, appease her immediately – Orchos Chaim

    * A man who is wealthy but unmarried has no home – Tanchuma

    We have to look at the big picture, not sound bites out of context.

    Continuing: “Finally on child rearing ‘wisdom’ I am citing various things said by great rabbis of the past. I found these in a book you might actually enjoy reading. It is called Strictly Kosher Reading, by Yoel Finkelman. It is by a haredi academic who is wise to the way modern wisdom is filtered and processed and scrubbed of its true origins (in the modern world) and repurposed (in a clever, but deceptive way) as ancient Torah wisdom”

    Again, a secondary source. He then goes on to cite things in the name of the Vilna Gaon, R. David Altschuler, R. Alexander Ziskind of Grodno, and Yeshayahu Horowitz (the Shlah). Those are, of course, some pretty serious sources but if R. Alexander Ziskind said “Even though I had many sons, I never kissed even one of them, and never held them in my arms…,” you know who he speaks for? R. Alexander Ziskind. And if R. David Altschuler said, “Do not refrain from making [your son] suffer even if you see that this is not effective,” I can again counter with other sources, like

    * A man must train himself to be gentle (Talmud Taanis 4a)

    * The Torah requires us to be forgiving in the home (Bamidbar Rabbah)

    * Do not introduce strict discipline in your home (Orchos Chaim)

    * The father of a household should speak gently to his family (Talmud Shabbos 54a)

    (Would you like a quote to counter R. Ziskind, who said he never acted frivolously with his kids? Here’s one:

    * One who has children acts silly with them – Yalkut Tehillim)

    So, again, I can counter any hand-selected quotes with other quotes of my own choosing. Like I said, things really require a “big picture” view.

    Hand-selected quotes out of context are a dangerous thing. I can cherry-pick quotes from the Qur’an to show you that Islam is evil and that all true Muslims want to destroy us all. I can just as easily pick quotes to demonstrate how peaceful a religion Islam really is and how much true Muslims love Christians and Jews. Similarly, I can hand-select quotes from Jewish scripture and spin them to demonstrate that we should accept Jesus as our messiah. But I happen to know the proper context of those quotes. I * could * use them to demonstrate things I didn’t actually believe but that would be disingenuous.

    Now, you ask for something that a rational person can look at and say, “Well, that makes sense; I even like the message given.” That’s what I try to do with the 613 commandments in my book The Taryag Companion (http://www.amazon.com/The-Taryag-Companion-Multilingual-Edition/dp/1469192101).

    Finally, bonus points for the Kevin Smith reference. Snootchie bootchie!

  43. NaturesStudent says:

    Can Judaism, and thus Jews, actually exist without playing the victim/avenger card? For example, the holidays: On Purim, Jews “commemorate that they were victims of the Persians,” whom the Jews then slaughtered in what appears to be a preemptive strike because Haman never implemented what he is said to have been planning. On Passover, Jews were victims of the Egyptians who the Jews/Jews’ God then slaughtered. On Hanukkah, Jews were victims of the Seleucids whom the Jews avenged through war, though the Seleucids weren’t spilling Jewish blood. Victim-avenger seems to me a sad way to live. Nature doesn’t seem to have the concept of inherited victimhood, especially over a multigenerational lineage. The closest thing is when, for example, a pack of animals will attack another animal who just came and messed with their pack. But that pack doesn’t remember that attack every year, every generation, and teach their young to commemorate that specific attack in detail – what would be the point? Nature advises each generation to be aware in the present reality to what is going on, to live and be happy and free. Is it possible to reject rehashing past events – all of which had political contexts and were not attacks on Jews (or anyone else) in a total moral and societal vacuum – and still find meaningful belonging in Judaism?

  44. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    You raise some good points but you’re looking at it from the wrong angle. First of all, we don’t play the victim/avenger card. We play the gratitude to G-d card. These are things that happened and G-d orchestrated our salvation. To paraphrase the Passover Haggadah, had He not done so, none of us would be here to talk about it!

    In the Purim story, the Jews did not strike the Persians preemptively; they were given permission to defend themselves. See Esther 8:11: “the king granted the Jews in every city the ability to gather together and to stand for their lives, to destroy, slay and to cause to perish all the forces of the people and province WHO MIGHT ASSAULT THEM…” They only struck the Persians who chose to go ahead with the day’s original plan.

    Passover? G-d took care of the Egyptians; we didn’t do a thing. The Jews sang at the Red Sea because they were saved. The Midrash says that the angels also wanted to sing praises at that time and G-d silenced them saying, “My children (meaning the Egyptians) are drowning in the sea and you want to sing?” That’s the “big picture” view. but the ones who were saved can clearly celebrate their salvation!

    Chanukah? Yes, we celebrate the victory over the Greeks – foreign invaders who, by the way, were very much spilling the blood of those who didn’t comply with their decrees – but how is that different from, say, Independence Day, which celebrates our breaking away from the British? (I guess we could have rolled over and accepted all that taxation without representation…)

    Read the texts carefully. In all these cases, we celebrate not the battles or the deaths, we celebrate the salvation. These holidays are an expression of gratitude, which is very much an important trait to cultivate.

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