In all the furor, no one mentions that according to classic Jewish law, one becomes a Jew either by having a Jewish mother or by undergoing a proper conversion to Judaism.
The antireligious stance of the current Israeli government has created deep resentment and condemnation. The funding of the Arab sector and the defunding of the chareidim; “reforms” in kashrus; recognition of anti-halachic movements, and the weakening of the Chief Rabbinate are all very harmful, but they are not simply the result of anti-religious prejudice. In a larger sense they demonstrate a deep-rooted ignorance of what it means to be a Jew — an ignorance that is to be pitied rather than condemned.
For example: See what happens to one’s thinking when one views the Jewish People and the State of Israel as just one among many other nations, with no special connection to G-d or Torah or holiness. Exhibit A is the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world. Among the more odious Jewish reactions is that this resurgence is a result of a failure in Israel’s public relations. If we had better PR, goes the litany, the nations would respect us more
Such superficialities are not those of unlettered Jews. Instead, it is the diagnosis of no less than Israel’s foreign minister and prime minister-in-waiting, Yair Lapid. “We need to invest more in PR to tell our story to the world,” he declared.
Reading this, it occurred to me that it is unfortunate that the Jews of Persia didn’t have better PR: they might have averted the enmity of Haman. And if European Jews had better “spin,” we might have been spared the loss of the six million; and if our forefather Yaakov had skillful PR, then the enmity of his brother Eisav might have been prevented.
The secular mindset has never grasped the fundamental truths behind anti-Semitism: that Jews, whether we like it or not, represent G-d in this world, which means personal discipline in morality and ethics. We represent thou-shalt, positive behavior in areas that might be uncomfortable; and we represent thou- shalt-not in areas that are tempting but off-limits. The world around us resents and resists this, and ultimately tries to destroy every vestige of these restrictions — which vestige is the Jewish People. With Jews and G-d and Torah out of the way, everything is permitted.
Further superficialities arise from this secular standpoint. If we are a people like the French are a people, or the Dutch, or the British, then why should there be any conversion requirements to become a Jew? In these other countries, you simply declare your desire to be a citizen and you are in. Why all this talk about accepting G-d and His Torah, about circumcision and mikveh and mitzvos? Why does Israel make it so complicated? Obviously, this is because the Orthodox monopolistic rabbis refuse to relax the requirements in order to retain their hold on power.
Such a mindset cannot comprehend why a non-Jewish athlete representing the State of Israel who wins a gold medal in the Olympics should not thereby automatically become a Jew. And here comes Lapid charging again in full regalia: “It is intolerable that someone who brings home to Israel an Olympic gold medal cannot marry here because he is not a Jew. I will fight with all my might to see that he can get married.” Vying for a gold in the competition for shallowness, the Jerusalem Post joins in with an inflammatory headline: “Gold winner cannot be married in Israel,” adding in an editorial that “the gold-winning gymnast is not considered Jewish enough by the rabbis who control Israel’s marriage laws.”
In all the furor, no one mentions that according to classic Jewish law, one becomes a Jew either by having a Jewish mother or by undergoing a proper conversion to Judaism. This is beyond politics. Anyone who wishes to become part of Klal Yisrael, who sincerely wants to enter the stream of Judaism going back to Sinai and to Avraham, who is ready to become part of this holy people in good times and bad, who has no ulterior motives and willingly accepts G-d, Torah, and mitzvos, becomes part of the Jewish People with all the rights and privileges — and inconveniences — thereto appertaining. Winning gold medals for Israel is admirable, but it does not a Jew make. What makes a Jew is the surrendering of one’s soul to the history of Am Yisrael.
But for Minister Lapid and his cohorts, religious principle does not exist. Everything is cooked as part of a vast cholent whose main ingredient is politics. Positions based on Sinaitic revelation or halachah are not in his recipe book. Everything is political — even G-d Himself. Ultimately, such pathetic naïveté should arouse our compassion, not our anger.
To think that Israel’s future might soon be in the hands of someone who has a kindergarten grasp of Jewish history is enough to make one fall on one’s knees and pray for Divine assistance — which would, ironically, be an appropriate posture for Lapid to have brought about.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 886)
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