Tuesday, June 21, 2005

what is a jew

The quintessential Jewish question argued about and discussed for for the past 50 years or so relates to the definiton of a Jew. Jewish Law gives an absolute narrow definition as being anyone who had a Jewish mother or who converted in a traditional manner. But I think the question goes beyond that. Do Jews who follow the tradition as they believe it was passed down from generation to generation have a monopoly on the religion. Do we, and as a religious Jew I include myself in this category, have the right to tell other Jews that the "Jewish" way that they are behaving is in fact Not Jewish Behavior? What does Jewish mean to someone who does not follow the tradition? Why bother with the title, if in fact it means nothing else. As an aside, why would someone's wife want to buy them scented shampoo? Does she think her husband is gay? Does he smell that badly immediately upon leaving the shower? Does the State of Israel play any role in Jewishness? Should a non-religious Jew who's only real connection to Judaism is donating money to a yeshiva receive the Golden Torah award or maybe he should just get the "Good Rich Jewish (not frum) Person" award? Is someone like Rabbi Slifkin who was banned for writing a book asserting that science is something that gedolim may not have known considered better or worse then your average Joe Humanistic Jew by the black hat establishment that banned him? Are non-religious Jews who are "good people" better then chareidim who cheat and steal? (not that they do, but that is a line that I have often heard by people who say they don't need to be religious because religious people aren't either.

This is all food for thought for now. I'm going to try and answer some of it, at least from my perspective, over the next couple days. Feel free to leave your comments.


2R said...

with all that you have said i feel the need to comment on the bit you stuck in the middle sort of like i'm sticking it in the middle, buy the scented shampoo. There is a shampoo smell anyway, why not have it a fun smell. that's just my two cents on the line in the middle of your post.

rockofgalilee said...

Some people apparantly feel the need to comment on a small detail of an entire post and focus on that minute piece of information, as if it was the whole story.

Just Shu said...

I feel that way also..I don't use scented shampoo, but I like that Nat does, so i think if it were reversed, and she liked scented shampoo, and bought it, I dont think shes calling me gay.. I think its like cologne.

Just Shu said...

as far as you "main" topic, yes there is a Jewish way to behave as My father once told me in a massur shmooze, Parshat Kedoshim starts out by saying "Kedoshium tehuu" you are holy, and you should act accordingly. However, if your a secular Jew, and you choose to give your money to worthy places, that is a jewish way, you are being holy with your money, and it commendable

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

You raise some stiring and provocative questions, and I thank you.

Last week, before Shabbos, I got inbroiled in an internet debate about this very issue. The conclusion reached was that somehow I was maybe less of a Jew because I did not dress certain ways or follow certain commandments or prohibitions. Some women came out and said, C-d likes them better because they were more observant. I was distrubed.Consequently, it led me to a discussion, on my website of whether G-d favors some people who are more observant than others. To make a long story short, so many non-Jews were answering that I realized that the question was becoming more complicated than simple for me. Then I realized, for myself, that maybe I was asking the question the wrong way. It is not whether G-d favors us, but whether we favor Him by how we behave. Make sense? Anyway, I am still struggling with this aspect.

And to be, sending my son to Israel, the land of his people, was a good move, and something that will make him and me better Jews.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

You have me thinking about this question today, as I have over the past few days. I have posted it on this blog: http://margaritagirrl.blogspot.com. to see if I can get an answer. There is some discussion which dove-tails on your question about what is the meaning of a Jew. I ask, if I am less of a Jew, both mother and father are Jews and I am a Bat Kohen.

Thank you for bringing up this question.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

As you will see from my own blog today, this question you ask has put me in place where I am asking more quesitons than having than answered. I even posted about this topic on my own blog, called, "let my people go."

Thank you for your kindness and quality blog.

rockofgalilee said...


Being a bas kohen could cause a whole host of problems. If I remember correctly, the only place in the Torah where honor killing is mentioned is when a bas kohen has an unapproved sexual relationship. I don't recall if this was an unmarried girl or someone who commited adultery. I'll have to look it up. But the Torah says ,"...And her father she disgraced, with fire you should burn her..."

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Thank you.

My question is whether there is any place in the Torah that says that G-d favors some Jews over others, i.e. those who are more observant of His commandments and prohibitions?

From what I understand, if the question is asked differently, we, as Jews, are the ones who are to show favor to G-d more by observing the commandments and prohibitions, not the other way around. Is this a fair statement?

I only ask because someone who claimed to be Orthodox and frum said that G-d likes them better than other Jews.

rockofgalilee said...

I feel that question is fundamentally incorrect and may be using a more Christian concept of God then a Jewish concept of God.

We do have a concept though that God will accept a righteous persons prayers more then a non righteous person's prayers.

We have a concept of merit due to behavior.

As an example of a possible reference - in the Purim story when the Jews were not following halacha God was planning on wiping them out. All of them, not just the ones who weren't behaving. After they, as a group, repented God helped them win the war.

We also have the story of Jonah who didn't want to rebuke the non-Jewish people of Nineveh because it would reflect badly on the Jews. God said to him, should I not feel badly about the destruction of an entire nation?

We have pirkei avos, ethics of our fathers, which declares "be like a servant who serves his master, not on the condition to receive a reward"

and also - "make his will like your will in order that he will make your will into his will"

We also have a concept that each person is unique and has their own trials and tribulations. So who is to say that someone who started off in a bad situation and made themselves a little bit better is not better then someone who was born with a religious silver spoon in their mouth and just managed the status quo, even though when you look at the two individuals, one looks more religious.