Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 10 December 2005 / 9 Kislev 5766

Free to be Me?

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Alberto in Israel

Dear Rabbi,

I'm Israeli but not Jewish. My parents are Brazilian. I'm religious and I keep mitzvot like every Jew. But I'm not Orthodox or Reform, I just keep the mitzvot in my life in my own way. I never wanted to become a "member" of a "community" in the way that the Orthodox do, being limited from other communities. I want to be free to go into every synagogue, to respect everyone according to his way. But reading your post I want to ask your "halachic" vision about me. Am I free to be like I am? Or maybe I should convert? Why? I'm already married to a convert reform woman. Does the halacha give me freedom to be myself? Thank you all.

Dear Alberto,

Let me commend you on your candidness. You raise many very important issues, and Ill try to deal with them one by one.

It is significant that you realize the unfortunate fact that Israel gives "Jewish"/Israeli citizenship to people who identify with Judaism/Israel but are not halachically Jewish. This policy is part of Israels on-going demographic war against the growing Jewish religious population in Israel. A surplus of sympathetic non-Jews sustains the secular status quo.

If in fact you are not Jewish, there is nothing wrong with that at all. However, as far as being religious in Judaism means observing the commandments as a Jew, you are not considered religious. You may be very spiritual, and a very good person, and there are mitzvot that you can do as a non-Jew such as prayer and charity, while also refraining from prohibitions such as theft and immorality. However, these things wont make you a religious Jew, but a religious non-Jew. G-d expects gentiles to observe the seven commandments enumerated for them in the Torah, through which they earn the World to Come.

As far as Reform Judaism or reform Jews are concerned, there is no such thing as being religious in ones own way. A person has free will to choose what mitzvot to keep, what prohibitions to transgress, and to what extent. This is part of every Jews highly individual relationship with G-d, whether for good or bad, blessing or curse. However, Judaism itself is not subject to each individuals take on it; the Torah cannot be reduced to a smorgasbord of subjective pseudo-spirituality. While an individual Jew who does this is certainly Jewish, a movement that espouses it is not Judaism.

It is for this reason that Orthodoxy accepts non-observant Jews as Jews, but rejects non-observant communities that purport to represent Judaism. Since these movements explicit intention is to undermine the Torah and free the Jew of observance, tolerance is tantamount to spiritual suicide; proposing pluralism is tantamount to spiritual genocide. Even visiting the meetinghouses of these movements gives tacit approval to their agenda. However, that doesnt mean that Orthodoxy and Orthodox Jews dont respect and care for other Jews. The number of rabbis, teachers, schools, organizations, funds, publications, etc., that are dedicated to outreach and bridging the gap between Jews of all backgrounds and levels of observance is rapidly growing.

Regarding your halachic status, you are free to continue as you are, with the qualifications I made above (there a few mitzvot that a non-Jew may not do, consult an Orthodox rabbi). Regarding your wife, if she had a halachic conversion, was observant for a time, and then left Judaism for reform, she would have the unfortunate status of a non-observant Jew married to a non-Jew and she must see a competent rabbi. If she converted reform (even though she may be Israeli), she is not Jewish, since Reform does not uphold the halachic criteria for conversion. You would both be free to explore spirituality as non-Jews according to the Torah, realizing that your children are/will not be Jewish. However, since you both obviously have an affinity for Judaism, you might want to gradually explore the option of converting together but only according to halacha.

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