Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

If You’re Not Orthodox, You Ain’t a Jew

When and who decided that in order to make claim to your naturally-born identity, you had to think one way and act one way?

Probably one of the best and most recent examples of this phenomenon was Joe Biden’s interview with radio and television personality, “Charlagmagne tha God” on his broadcast, “The Breakfast Club” when then-candidate Biden stated, “You ain’t black if you vote for Trump.”

In that statement, Biden was essentially saying that all black people can only lay claim to their identity by voting for him, because blacks, as a block, are supposed to be supportive and loyal Democrats.

Similarly, MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart, in a recent broadcast, attempted to define who constitutes a racist. By his way of thinking, being born black, being married to a black person or even voting for a black candidate does not necessarily exempt you from being a bigoted racist. Who would’ve thought?

So how do these examples connect to the title of this article? In all these cases, there is a clear pattern of having to meet certain criteria, arbitrarily set by those who see themselves as the keepers of the gates of race, ethnicity and identity in order to qualify for your birthright. To them, you are only welcomed, appreciated and legitimized if you mindlessly assert their beliefs, positions and practices. Thinking for yourself and adopting another way will get you disenfranchised and bring into question your fitness and right to the very identity you have always claimed.

Such is the case with today’s Jews who were not born in Israel but who might actually consider adding on to their Jewish identity the title, “Israeli citizen.” Although once it was enough, per the law, to prove Jewish parentage or even grand-parentage, that pedigree will no longer suffice. In today’s newly-defined parameters, in order to be seen as an authentic Jew, one who is worthy of Israeli citizenship, the Law of Return is no longer the determining gauge. Those guidelines, assembled by the Knesset in 1950, have been arbitrarily hijacked and amended to require rabbinical proof that you are an active member of the Jewish community in your town. That proof must be in the form of a rabbi’s letter from your local area, attesting to the fact that you are known to be a Jew in good standing who has observed the Jewish religion, thus being qualified for the possibility of citizenship.

The problem with these requirements is that not all Jews are able to provide such a letter. It could be that they are unaffiliated and have no rabbi. It could be that they have never really been active in a synagogue or their local Jewish community, or it could be that they are ethnic Jews, having been born into the tribe, but those who reject all religion and even the thought of an Almighty God. These are today’s problematic Jews who are not Jewish enough to be validated by the leaders of their own homeland.

Heaven forbid if they intermarried or have different viewpoints concerning matters of faith, because, according to today’s standards, if your religious beliefs are not in perfect alignment with what is considered “authentic Judaism,” then you are not able to claim the title of your birth, even though it legitimately belongs to you from a point of peoplehood.

There is a definite dilemma with trying to pigeon hole people into a particular, one-dimensional box which only has room for one perspective, one doctrinal position and one adherence to spiritual matters.  It simply doesn’t make room for any other possible paths, interpretations or analysis – all of which are central to arriving at true and honest conclusions.

Let’s face it!  No one who has ever been born of fallen humanity can really ever claim to possess all truth, all wisdom and all knowledge.  Within Jewish history, there were all too many leaders and prophets who led their people astray and caused great destruction in their wake.

In a recent Jerusalem Post story, we read about a married individual whose wife was not agreeable to divorce but whom, nonetheless, was permitted under Halacha (Jewish Law), by a quorum of rabbis, to be set free from her in order to remarry.  The article went on to say that Jewish law does not provide for women to enjoy that same benefit.  Can any right-thinking person believe that this provision is sanctioned from on high? Who decided that men are entitled to a compensation not afforded to women? This obvious bit of nonsense is just one small example of so many other modern-day laws of Judaism which have no biblical basis but which are still held as sacrosanct.

Being a Jew is a sure identity possessed from the moment of birth. It is nothing which was conferred upon someone by a committee of leaders, and, conversely, it is nothing that can be extracted from someone by a committee of leaders. Yet, unless these galling arbiters of “who is a Jew” are not challenged, there will continue to remain a large chunk of the Jewish people who will be unable to take full advantage of their birthright by returning to their ancestral home which is being blocked to them and fenced in by small-minded individuals who have decided that you have to think and believe just as they do.

If not, you are not worth saving, embracing, welcoming or validating. Your difference is seen as a threat. There is no allowance of making for others who choose to live life and make decisions based on their ability to think for themselves.  It is, in fact, this very type of narrow-minded, exclusivity which pushed many Israelis, in the last election, to vote out a government which represented one point of view and which made sure to reward those who supported and backed those leaders.

Israel likes to tout itself as a liberal-minded democracy amidst a sea of undemocratic Middle-Eastern countries which do not provide liberty, freedom and plurality to its citizens.

In fact, many of the left-leaning parties, such as Labor and Meretz take great pride in calling themselves all-inclusive and respectful of all its citizens regardless of personal preference, inclination or orientation. While it’s true that this more applies to gender choices, it has yet to apply to religious or lack of religious proclivities.

The same Jewish homeland which today openly accepts transgenders, gays, non-binary and other such orientations still will not come around to understanding that being born Jewish is not synonymous with being a believer of rabbinic Judaism.

It’s time for a change! It’s time to put an end to the pillaging and robbing of rightful Jewish identities which are a birthright but which, after birth, take on whatever the individual chooses. After all, free choice and individual conscience are supposed to be the hallmarks of the Jewish people who left Egypt long ago in order to live as free people!

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.
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