Belonging – On What Terms?

Belonging – On What Terms? August 8, 2016


From time to time, I read Jewish online magazines. There are several good one’s out there –, Tablet Magazine, Moment, and Mosaic – to mention just a few. I wish these magazines would talk more about theology, but alas.

A few days ago, I went to Mosaic online magazine and an article about Jews by Choice caught my attention. As a convert to Judaism, I’m usually interested to hear others’ experiences and thoughts on this subject.

The article in Mosaic discussed how the phrase “Jew by Choice” could be misleading or even dangerous. The author of the article implied that “Jew by Choice” ran the risk of treating Judaism as a creedal religion – with the convert’s decision being based on accepting a set of theological presuppositions. The danger with this approach being the possible neglect of Jewish peoplehood, Jewish community, and the fuller sense of Jewishness as almost (or for some) an ethnic identity.

As made my way through the article my eyes stopped in amazement at my own name. There I was, unknown to me, mentioned in the article, quoting an earlier post of mine about Jewish identity. Wow.

Here’s the article from Mosaic and here’s my response.

Just read your article and was surprised to see myself mentioned! Wow. Thanks.

I agree with what you’re saying in this article. The phrase “Jew by Choice” can imply a sense of Judaism being something one belongs to as a matter of creed – much like Christianity. This runs the risk of watering down or even ignoring the legitimate aspects of peoplehood and community that are part of being Jewish. Being Jewish has a sense of collective belonging that transcends belief.

Perhaps my blog post that you reference lacks nuance.

What I was trying to do is describe something of my experience – where I encounter some Jews who seem to think Jewish identity is solely a matter of ethnicity or even DNA, even if divorced from religion – like being Irish or Swedish or Mexican.

I didn’t become Jewish because I was interested in exchanging one ethnic or national identity for another.

I became Jewish because I hold a set of convictions that I see rooted in the Jewish experience. Those convictions lead to commitments that are also Jewish in flavor and motivation.

Of course, I understand and positively appreciate that my being Jewish also connects me to a people and makes me part of a broader community. I accept the responsibilities I have taken on to other Jews. I understand the sense of peoplehood and collective belonging – one cannot easily, if at all, be a Jew in isolation.

I would never try to say who or who isn’t a Jew. It’s not up to me to draw the boundaries or adjudicate another’s Jewishness. Nor do I see myself as a Jew without a also belonging to the Jewish people.

But I also understand that Jewishness simply as a matter of ethnic identity seems to missing something.

I appreciate and look forward to hearing other’s thoughts. Thanks!


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