Contemporary Texts

While we have so much to learn from our history, we are still, as Rabbi David Ellenson, President of HUC-JIR, likes to say, "Dwarves standing on the shoulders of Giants."   Standing on the shoulders of the Bible, the Rabbis, and medieval thinkers, these contemporary thinkers have a great deal to add to our understanding of outreach and conversion.

 

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Dallas, 1979

But this is America and it is 1979.  No repressive laws restrain us.  The fear of persecution no longer inhibits us.  There is no earthly—and surely no heavenly—reason why we cannot reassume our ancient vocation and open our arms to all newcomers...Judaism offers l ife, not death.  It teaches free will, not the surrender of body and soul to another human being.   Judaism is a religion of home, not despair.  Judaism insists that man and society are perfectible.  Judaism has an enormous wealth of wisdom and experience to offer this anguished world, and we Jews ought to be proud to speak about it, frankly, freely, with enthusiasm and with dignity.

 

Conversion to Judaism, D. Eichhorn, p.111

If the motives (of one who seeks to convert) are found to be acceptable, that person is told of the heaviness of the yoke of the Torah and how difficult it is for the average person to live up to the commandments of the Torah. Even after completing the requirements for conversion, that person continues to be under suspicion until found worthy of respect by righteous behavior. Despite these concerns, a convert is permitted to do everything a born Jew may do, except… when a congregation decides before a worship service, that if a convert were to lead the service, the non-Jewish community would become upset, the convert may not lead the service.

 

Sh’ma, A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, November 5, 1971.

Why be Jewish today, or any other?  Because I prefer the side of the powerless to that of the oppressor.  Because I agree with a religion that urges me to control my actions rather than my thoughts.  Because I am proud to be associated with the Jews, who have coped for centuries with the modern problems of doubt, exile, and despair.  Because I enjoy the worm, colorful fabric of Jewish life...The Jewish civilization is like a splendid old tree on a windy plain.  Age and weather have twisted its branches, thickened its bark, but its roots go deep and the twigs are green and alive.  Under its shade, there is room for all.  Being Jewish has given men no final answers, but I now have a place to take my questions, a way to live, and a people to travel beside me.  What else could I want?

 

 

 

Eugene Borowitz, Reform Judaism Today, p. 75

One can make something of a case that conversion to Judaism is more like changing ethnic groups than like accepting faith in a Christian way...Once they learn what Jews do and aggree to do this whole heartedly, they are accepted in our midst, a process not dissimilar to becoming a citizen of another country....one cannot ignore the relationship to God which lies at the heart of sincere Jewish observance.

 

 

 

Rabbi Yigdal Ariel  Speaking On Russian Converts in Israel, 1998

The children's desire to be Jews because of their father's ]ewishness is not a strange consideration. These children are torn between two worlds.When they are among non-Jews. the father's Jewishness pursues them,.. and [at the same time] they are distanced from the Jews like absolute Gentiles, Their choice of their father's world is an intention for the sake of heaven."

 

 

Sharing Jewish space: Membership, conversion, and the search for community - (12/06/2008),  Havruta, Vol. 1, No. 1. By Donniel Hartman

 

http://www.hartman.org.il/Havruta_View_Eng.asp?Article_Id=146

What is particularly striking is the growing phenomenon of intermarried couples adopting a Jewish identity for their families. In the past, intermarriage often entailed a rejection of one's Jewishness, and it was almost inconceivable to imagine a non-Jew wanting to adopt a Jewish identity. In the Middle Ages, for example, or in the Hitler era, a desire to convert to Judaism might have raised serious doubts as to one's sanity and psychological stability. With the decline in anti-Semitism, and the mainstreaming of the Jewish people and Judaism into Western culture, especially in North America, that is no longer the case. Not only does the Jewish partner often preserve his or her Jewishness, but the non-Jewish spouse chooses to affiliate as well. For the first time since the biblical period, we are witnessing the resurrection of the intermarriage model for acquiring Jewish membership, with ever-increasing numbers of non-Jews, and children of mixed marriages who never underwent a formal conversion ceremony, taking an active part in the religious and collective life of the Jewish people.

 

 

 

 

Pesach defines who is a Jew - (01/04/2008) By Donniel Hartman (http://www.hartman.org.il/Holidays_Article_View_Eng.asp?Article_Id=76)

The message of Pesach is that Jewishness begins with a choice. Let us unleash evermore diverse and compelling models of Jewish life - to inspire that choice. Let the best ideas win.

 

Jonathan Sarna 1994

Once upon a time most people in this country adhered to the faith and ethnicity of their parents; their cultural identity was determined largely by their descent. Now, religious and ethnic loyalties are more commonly matters of choice; identity to a considerable degree, is based upon consent.