From Cantor Lee: Rabbi David gave the following sermon on Yom Kippur morning. He is amazed by the outpouring of appreciation and support that is still coming!
From Rabbi David:
A Jewish Soul
We often use the term "A Jewish Soul"or a "Jewish Neshama" .
No one can tell exactly what this means. It has to do with the uniqueness of the Jewish entity, the virtues which we attribute to G-D such as compassion and sense of justice.
There is an interesting story about Abraham making a deal, a covenant with G-D.
The deal was simple: If Abraham would follow G-D's laws, G-D in turn would give the land of Canaan (which later on became the land of Israel) to his descendents, for eternity.
According to Jewish mystical teachings, we, Abraham descendants, were given a special soul, a Jewish soul so that we will be worthy to dwell in this secret land given to Abraham.
According to this spiritual belief a Jewish soul can dwell in any person of any nation. However, it will always yearn to unite with the Jewish people.
Most of the time this yearning is a secret held by the soul so that even the person is not aware of the yearning of their own soul.
A convert to the Jewish faith is given a Jewish soul at birth and through some kind of revelation during their time on earth the person becomes aware of their Jewish soul.
And it goes beyond that. Even if a non Jew comes to Judaism purely for the sake of marriage and not at all for theological reasons, somewhere along the line his or her soul still has a Jewish light in it. It wants to unite with the Jewish people, even if it is in a very limited way.
There is a famous book in the Bible called the Book of Ruth which we read during the holiday of Shavuot. Ruth, a Moabite, becomes a young widow of a Jewish husband who lived in Moab along with his brother and parents. As the story goes, all the men of the family died.
When Ruth becomes a widow, she declares her love for her mother in law, Naomi, and that she will follow her back to Judea to become a part of the Jewish people.
While not born Jewish, Ruth's soul yearns to become part of the Jewish people.
On the surface this is a classical story of a Gentile who according to Jewish tradition has a "Jewish Soul" and therefore converts to Judaism. This is generally the way many Jewish scholars understand the story.
However, there is an interesting twist to the story. It is important because it gives a whole new dimension to the idea of becoming a part of the Jewish people.
The story is very specific with what Ruth says to her mother in law, Naomi. Ruth loves her mother in law so much that she does not want to leave her. She wants to be with her as Naomi returns to her homeland.
Ruth says, "Your G-d Is my G-D, your people are my people."
Notice that Naomi does not say "My G-D is the G-D of Israel" Rather, she is saying,
"Whoever is your G-D let Him be my G-D." . This small difference sheds an interesting light of a non Jew becoming a part of the Jewish people. Notice that I said "becoming a part of, not "converted".
While the Great Rabbis throughout the centuries assumed that Ruth went through some kind of conversion process when she converted to Judaism she may not have. We really don't know that for sure. And what was the conversion procedure in biblical times anyways?
We do know according to a story in the Book of Genesis which involved Jacob and his daughter Dina, that in order to convert, male Gentiles had to go through circumcision only. Nothing else was needed.
In the case of Ruth there is no mention of any particular act in order to convert. The story of Ruth doesn't seem to care at all about official conversion. Her declaration of her love to her mother in law and Judaism is enough.
Ruth's Jewish soul, planted in a gentile, is yearning to come home. The means to this coming home is primarily because of a love for a Jewish person, Ruth's love for Naomi.
This point is important for us to realize in our modern day life here in America.
I personally believe that no wedding match between two loving souls, no matter the religion of the two people, happens by accident.
Any person, who joins the Jewish people, even simply through marriage, and even if the person practices very few or no Jewish traditions or customs, is destined to do the will of G-D.
In a modern interfaith marriage, even if Judaism is practiced to a very limited extent, the Jewish light is still burning and Jewish identity has a good chance to grow and flourish.
Whether Ruth, the mother of all converts, ever officially converted or simply joined the Jewish people out of love for her mother in law, she is credited with being the great grandmother of King David himself. Her "Conversion" was certainly accepted by G-D.
There is no wrong reason to become a part of the Jewish people. Ruth may have been born a Moabite but her soul was Jewish. Admittedly, tradition and customs are the life line of Judaism, and although I will never diminish their importance, sensible flexibility and thoughtful adaptation to the needs of our generation and beyond is paramount as well, especially in our modern times.
The claim that interfaith marriage is a threat to Jewish survival may be very misleading.
The lack of sufficient Jewish identity among many Jewish youngsters in an interfaith family or otherwise has little to do with the fact that one of the parents may not be Jewish.
From what I have observed for the vast majority of the cases, the non Jewish spouse is happy to help instill Jewish awareness in the children if the Jewish spouse really wants it.
In that respect, the children's Jewish awareness and pride has little to do with the interfaith marriage of the parents and everything to do with the Jewish awareness of the Jewish spouse.
I have seen that children of interfaith families, even if raised with more than one religion are more likely to show pride, care and concern about Judaism and Jewish causes then many children who are raised in a total Jewish household where very little or no Judaism is practiced.
Of course, this may not be true in every case. There are also many children who come from mixed marriages and are raised with neither religion. The parents feel that abstaining from religious education all together is a viable compromise - a very bad mistake.
And then there are the children who have two Jewish parents and are not raised with Judaism at all as the parents simply don't care.
In my opinion, more often than not, even if both religions are discussed and practiced in a mixed marriage home, the children still have a solid Jewish identity or at least they know that they are a part of the Jewish people.
I do not know of any interfaith marriage which has ever been broken because the Jewish spouse insisted on Jewish exposure for the children with or without Christian exposure as well.
It is therefore the Attitude of the Jewish spouse which ingrains Judaism in the kids even if exposure to Jewish practices in the interfaith household is limited. Children are very good in sensing sincerity in attitude.
Before we become concerned about the Jewish identity of children in interfaith marriages, perhaps we need to be concerned with the many Jewish kids from strictly
Jewish families who grow up with no Judaism in the house which leads to no Jewish identity.
In an interfaith family, children stray from Judaism because the Jewish spouse simply does not care or is willing to completely yield his children's Judaism to another religion.
Michael Douglas the famous actor, comes from an interfaith family and strongly identifies with Judaism. He is intermarried to Catherine Zeta-Jones. He was just honored with the second annual Genesis Prize.
This is how he was introduced to the guests in the auditorium:
"In the strictest sense, our laureate this year is not a “perfect” Jew. His mother is not Jewish.
I even suspect that he does not spend every Friday evening in a synagogue and does not follow Kashrut. Yet, he is someone who put his energy and determination into being Jewish, who exercised his free will and showed commitment to follow the path of his ancestors in search for a foundation. Should we deny his Jewishness on the basis of his mother’s birth or should we celebrate it on the basis of his commitment to embrace Judaismand pass his Jewish heritage to his children? Are not free will and determination the essential qualities of the Jews? We can respond to freedom by building barriers and closing up, or we can respond to it by being inclusive and supportive of those who choose a path of Judaism. "
We should support and encourage those who have made a decision to embrace their Jewish identity and pass their Jewish heritage to their children, like Michael Douglas is doing. We should welcome them with open arms – not turn away from them.
In a spiritual sense many non Jewish spouses may have a Jewish soul secretly yearning to return to the Jewish people whether it is "Converted" according to Rabbinical laws or not.
Over the years I have seen the yearning power of many Jewish souls to return home. I have conducted wedding ceremonies for many who came to Judaism even without official conversion as a part of marrying a Jewish spouse.
Are these situations different from the story of Ruth who came to Judaism because of her love for Naomi, her mother in law?
A close colleague of mine Rabbi Barbara Aiello in Italy tells many stories about many Christian in Italy as well as South America who yearn to become a part of the Jewish people without necessarily officially converting to Judaism.
When Rabbi Barbara asks them why they are in a synagogue they have difficulties explaining the reason. They say that they feel a strange but intense concern for Judaism and care about Jewish survival.
As we all know, many of them are descendants of the Spanish "Conversos" during the Inquisition. And now, after 500 years of Christian life their soul wants to come back to its origin to where it belongs, to Judaism.
Is it really important that they convert exactly according to tradition?
Should we not accept with open arms anyone who wants to be a part of the Jewish people for whatever reason whether it is love of a Jewish spouse, or because of theology?
It is time to fight for our survival the right way, by responding appropriately to what our modern Jewish life puts in front of us.
We need to consider interfaith marriage as an opportunity to educate the next generation towards a stronger Jewish identity which strengthens Judaism.
Indeed, the theology of Judaism and Jewish tradition is very important. However, when it comes to our children, the young men and women of the 21st century, love and pride in Judaism must come before strict practice of tradition. Learning more details about their Jewishness will easily and naturally follow later on in college or through the internet.
When it comes to a Jewish family, whether regular or interfaith, children will learn what Mom or Dad teach them and model for them about being Jewish even if in the process they also learn about Christianity as well.
It is about Judaism of the Heart. It is the flame of Love and Pride in Judaism in our children which needs to burn. Jewish scholarship and expertise are important but can always follow.
In this new year, may we see the strengthening of Judaism in all of our children. And may we all remember why we Jews are here on earth.
To be G-D's Light of Love, Compassion and Tolerance.