a jewish problem in modern germany? who would have thought? cantor avitall gerstetter did. she even wrote an article about it.
before getting to her article, one must address the landscape. being a jew is multi-factorial. it can be considered a race, a religion, a nationality, a people.
for those born jewish, the scrutiny over their jewishness is far different than that of a convert. a born jew is free to be non-observant, non-practicing, non-believing, ignorant, and literally non-identifying yet still be considered as a jew. one who wishes to be a jew, however, enters the community does so via religion. as such, religious conversion requires the covert be knowledgeable of practices and the customs. the conversion process is controversial because each denomination of judaism has different standards. conversion in reform, conservative, reconstruction, and orthodox are all different.
hypothetically, a mass conversion without solid religious and ritual practice, can seriously damage a community. many converts, while becoming jewish, maintain ties with their past. they have families and relations that can compromise their devotion to their adopted religion. continued celebration of christmas or easter may be part of it. discussion of engaging in the practice in a synagogue would be problematic.
cantor gerstetter’s article asked “but can this be true always and everywhere?” she asked. “the very large number of new jews has led to a considerable change in jewish life in germany. in some services and during some speeches i feel more reminded of an interreligious event than of the visit to the synagogue i have been familiar with since childhood.” [comment: is it possible that the non-converts in her denomination are also eroding. do they also have less enthusiasm for traditional reform judaism]
her controversial column was titled “why the increasing number of converts is a problem for judaism,” gerstetter charged that too many people in germany convert for the wrong reasons — such as to atone for their family’s nazi past or to identify with the victims rather than perpetrators — and she criticized the fact that converts fill numerous Jewish leadership roles in germany.” jta.org
this phenomena she describes may go beyond that of judaism. in america, there have been individuals who have taken on false identities to become part of victim groups. likewise, there are those who are perhaps social justice warriors who believe that their alliance with perceived victims makes them atone for their family’s past. for example, many believed that voting for barack obama for president served as part of some atonement process. [comment: as there is no formal mechanism in society to address these matters, they are made up in real time. indulgences are paid businesses and individuals who allegedly represent the victim group. businesses and organizations devote days, weeks or months to celebrate these so-called victim groups.]
cantor gerstetter knew that she was stepping into controversial topic. she noted ““i know that one should not talk about the giur,” gerstetter wrote, using the hebrew word for conversion and citing jewish law’s frowning on differentiation between converts and people who were born jewish.”
is there a problem?
motivations of either seeking atonement for family past or wanting to be a victim should not be considered as a valid basis for conversation. the question is whether there proper safeguards at the conversion process? is there enough exploration of these issues in the conversation process.
conversion to judaism is not necessary to make an atonement connection with the jewish community. god’s covenant with abraham is clear, “… i will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you i will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.” genesis 12:3. thus, seeking god’s blessing in life does not require one to be jewish. the torah expresses that establishing a mutually positive and supportive relationship is sufficient. jewish people, in kind, are obligated to act with kindness towards strangers.
the issue of victimhood is troubling. despite a history of victimhood moments, jewish people, in a large part, do not consider themselves as victims. rather, we are the ancient people who are the great survivors. we are the people that have been blessed with a multitude of generations. we are still hear because of god’s words, the torah.
in contrast of the german jewish conversation problem, one can look toward the issues with the peruvian bnei moshe jews. segundo villanueva and his group took on a devotion to both religious practice and biblical knowledge. their motivations were not in righting the past. rather, they were in search of their true faith. they presented to jewish people as perhaps being too jewish for jews. zeal can be intimidating.
in sum, perhaps the cantor needs to re-visit her concerns. is there a problem with the greater reform movement which is becoming more evident? in the united states, democratic party politics has supplanted the religion. some reform and conservative synagogues have even rented their spaces to orthodox congregations.
in sum, when looking at conversion, one must look at the root, or at ruth. she famously said “do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, i will go, and wherever you lodge, i will lodge; your people shall be my people and your god my god. ruth 1: 16-17. are conversation processes working towards this goal? are movements stepping up to make sure that this happens and that a congregation does not devolve into something of a inter-religious nature?
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