The Gantseh Megillah

Jewish Identity
March 1, 2002

The Israeli Supreme court recently issued a ruling stating that people who have had Reform and Conservative Jewish conversions are now to be listed as Jewish on their official government issued identity cards. Apparently, this has the Orthodox groups in Israel very upset. Until this ruling, ONLY people who underwent Orthodox conversion were officially considered Jewish.

It is my understanding that Israel is a home for ALL Jews. I did not realize that one must be of a certain category in order to qualify for official Judaism. What am I missing here?

As Jews, we are a small minority of the world’s population. Throughout history, there have always been those who did their best to make our numbers even smaller, or non-existent. Why in God’s name would we want to diminish our own numbers voluntarily? Most importantly, why should any group have the authority to determine who is the “right” kind of Jew?

I’m reminded of a situation that confronted me a number of years ago while I was living in New York City. It was just before Pesach and my assistant informed me there were two Hassidic men who wished to speak with me. I invited them into my office and asked them to sit and make themselves comfortable. They inquired if I would be interested in purchasing Israeli matzohs in order to help support their local organization. I told them I would be delighted to buy their matzohs and paid them the price they asked.

Before leaving, they began questioning me.

Where did I go to Chader when I was a child? Was I Bar Mitzvah? Did I put on my Tifillin every morning? Did I go to shul every day?

Although I was somewhat put off by the questions, I responded by saying that I had indeed attended Hebrew school after my regular classes as a child and that I had celebrated my Bar Mitzvah. I also told them quite honestly that I did not put on my Tifillin every day and that I did not attend shul with any regularity.

Upon hearing my answers, both men got up from their seats, grabbed the bag of matzohs and threw the money I had just given them on my desk saying that I was not enough of a Jew to purchase their matzohs and that I had no right to call myself a Jew. They then stormed out, slamming the door as they left. I cannot begin to explain the anger I felt at that moment. I could not fathom the fact that two complete strangers, after asking me for a favour, had the nerve to question my beliefs and to decide I was not really a Jew! What chutzpah!

I have to ask if this is not the same kind of judgmental attitude that is occurring in Eretz Yisroel today. The fact that the Supreme Court of the country had to rule on who is considered a Jew bewilders me. Religion and spiritual belief is something personal to all of us as individuals. Being a Jew is more than following the laws as they are supposedly written and interpreted. It is an entire way of life and culture. Moreover, while some Jews believe they must obey and observe the most orthodox practices and dictates, it is their choice to do so. This does not however make those Jews who follow a less orthodox path non-Jewish. The terms Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews and Reform Jews all have one very important thing in common; each term ends with the word JEWS. A person who is willing to go through the process of conversion in order to become a Jew should be welcomed and embraced wholeheartedly. With so many others in the world bent on destroying us, isn’t it wonderful to know there are still so many people who actually choose to be Jews?

Calling oneself Orthodox, Conservative or Reform is a choice that should be respected. Regardless of the designation, we must remember we are ALL Jews and we must stand together as one in this world that might prefer to see us gone. Several articles this month deal with the subject of Jewish identity. I hope you will find them interesting as well as enlightening.

Last month’s question: Should the White House Break Off Contact With Arafat?
Yes- 79
No- 44
Not Sure- 9

This edition of the Megillah is arriving one day after Purim but that will not stop me from wishing all of you a very joyous holiday. Purim has always been one of my favorite celebrations. What kid doesn’t love making all kinds of outrageous noise with the gragger? Purim is the one day children can do that with their parents consent. My mouth waters at the thought of delicious treats such as the traditional and delectable Hamantashen. This joyous holiday celebrates the saving of the Jews in Persia from destruction at the hands of King Achashverosh and Haman. It was another occasion in history when Jews were supposed to be eliminated and yet we survived. The Jews were once again saved. ALL Jews, not just the chosen few.

I am happy to report that work continues on the new glossary. As promised, I am keeping you up to date on the process of creating this new reference site, and the word is SLOW! This has turned out to be a far bigger job than we had originally anticipated, yet we remain undeterred. Arnold and I are spending every spare moment on the development and creation of the new glossary and we are sure you will find the results well worth the wait.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Megillah Fund. Your support is greatly appreciated and is being put to very good use. For those of you who have not yet contributed, please click on the links below for further information on how you may do so. All contributions are voluntary. There is never a charge for a subscription to the Gantseh Megillah or the glossary.

Enjoy the Megillah. Much love to all of you,

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