Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Should I Pray Today?

By Michelle Nevada

Every morning I rise before dawn and, G-d willing, before my children, to steal a few moments for myself. Usually it is so close to dawn that the birds have already started to converse in a raucous din, and I plunge into the cool of the morning to retrieve my newspaper, and return to grind the coffee.

Then I stay Modeh Ani, and reach for the washing cup. It’s automatic.

Morning blessings, Shema . . . automatic.

Wash for bread. Eat. Pray.

Except, today it’s not automatic. I pause before I reach for the cup.

Should I pray today? Why should I? What would be the point? After all, maybe I’m praying in vain.

Thousands of converts to Judaism who thought they were doing the right thing by converting through the Israeli Conversion Authority are now considered to have been praying in vain.

Every mitzvah they did, in vain. Every act of chessed, in vain. Every Mikvah, especially the Mikvah for conversion, in vain.

Their marriages, their children, their lives, their deaths, their burials—all in vain.

And now I hear that Rabbi Sherman’s High Rabbinical Court has also thrown out the conversions of people who are deaf and/or mute.

The logic goes something like this: Deaf people aren’t required to keep all the Mitzvot, and since converts must intend to take on all the Mitzvot, deaf people and mute people can’t convert.

Another day, another outrageous ruling.

What’s next? A ruling that says that since women aren’t required to keep all the mitzvot, that women can’t convert? Then, perhaps, because converts can’t be Kohanim, and part of the mitzvot are for Kohanim, that no one can convert?

Should I steel myself for the next ruling, or slide away into nihilism? Does anything mean anything any more? Am I who I think I am? Does it matter?

One might say to me, “But you aren’t a Convert! Why should you care?”

Because I feel that it is only a matter of time before every Jew’s Jewishness is questioned. It is only a matter of time before every single one of us is determined to be unfit to perform a mitzvah or keep Shabbat or live in the land of Israel.

Can you say you are a perfect Jew, after all? Do you know EVERYTHING about your family’s past? Do you know who your great, great, great grandmother was? Can you prove she wasn’t a convert? Can you prove her mother wasn’t? If one of them was a convert, can you prove she didn’t convert for marriage? Can you prove she was completely Shomer Mitzvot?

Have you or anyone in your family now or in the past ever been a member of a religious Zionist organization? Have you always been completely tzniut? What about your family? Are there any pictures of you as a baby, for example, drooling and naked on a bearskin rug? Were you ever, for a moment, caught smiling out of context? Are there any witnesses who can attest that you may have been present in a movie theater?

Have you, G-d forbid, every gone off the derech? Did you, as a seventh-grader, dare question your rabbi in Chumash class? Have you ever wondered what bacon tastes like? Did you think about kissing a girl you weren’t married to? Did you imagine what her elbows must look like? Did you tie your left shoe before your right?

The truth is that if one Jew is no longer a Jew, how long will it be before every one of us is a victim of this witch hunt? Why isn’t anyone saying anything? Why is no one doing anything? Why are we just taking this craziness and going on with our lives?

Is it because it is not your problem? Let’s put it in perspective. Are your thoughts something like this:

First they came for the converts,
and I said nothing because I was not a convert.

Then they came for the deaf and the mute,
and I said nothing because I wasn’t deaf and I wasn’t mute . . .

Sounds familiar. Too familiar for me.

So what do we do? What will happen to us, to our Ger Tzaddakim, to B’nai Israel?

Today, I chose to pick up the washing cup and finish my prayers, but I fear that there are thousands of people, in addition to those converts who have been pushed out, who won't.

1 comment:

  1. Powerful article. One thing struck me though. (Background: Yesterday my friend, a more G-d fearing, tzanua, aishet chayil than I, told me that while I was fretting about whether the secular Israeli government was going to uproot my mishpacha from the suburbs of Jerusalem, she was waking up, saying Modah Ani, and oh, am I actually still Jewish today according to the RELIGIOUS Israeli batei din. She sent me to blogs to catch up.)

    I said to my husband just before reading your blog that I hoped the Orthodox got the message this time because: When they came for the American Conservative converts, I said good; they aren't halachic. And when they came for Blu Greenberg I said good; she's a rabble rouser and not really Orthodox. And when they came for my rabbi . . . "

    I believe the silence started back when Who is a Jew? first became an international issue and that rabbis worried about appearing less Orthodox started down the path of being less halachic, less courageous, less true to HaShem.

    The only way for the modern conversion industry, and it is one, to remain within halacha as a whole is to separate from the State. Each community of Jews follows the authority of their rabbeinim; each meta-community follows the gadolim; and each individual decides whether a potential marriage partner meets their standards of religious behavior and intent. Then you have not two classes - born Jews and gerim - but a spectrum of observance and knowledge with "One law" (whether followed or not) for One people under One G-d as the Torah commands.

    The rabbis have placed so many fences around fences in this area that there is simply no way even a non Orthodox convert who sincerely wishes "your people are my people and your G-d my G-d" is not a Jew min haTorah, whereas to invalid conversions or leaving gerim in limbo violates countless Torah prohibitions. A ger is a Jew. A Jew changes and learns and strives and stumbles and grows and does tshuvah.

    My friend continues her faith in HaShem but long ago lost faith in the state of Israel due to the so-called religious authorities there and now has lost faith in American Orthodoxy. Their attempt to "stem the tide" toward liberalism has been about as effective as the secular attempt to give up land for peace. Considering that we Jews were exiled for our treatment of our fellow Jews, this may not be a coincidence.

    Aviva Naomi


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