Who Is a Jew?

We've all heard of the right of return in Israel. It is the right of any Jew to move to Israel. Then the question becomes: who is a Jew?

I am Jewish, if you ask me. I keep kosher, light the candles every Friday at sundown, attend Torah study, observe the major holidays, don't work on Shabbat, my father is Jewish (although a practicing Unitarian), his mother was Jewish, etc. Actually, there is a list of things to show you are Jewish that includes a bar or bat mitzvah, choosing your Jewish name, using a Mikvah - that I have not done yet. Nevertheless, the question "Is Christine Axsmith a Jew?" can be readily answered by myself.

Of course, when you are running a country, the question is not so simply answered. Every day, people will want to come to your country to escape poverty or criminal prosecution with a tenuous claim to the religion or ethnic identity. Rules need to be established. Understandable. Judgements need to be made. These are political decisions.

In Israel right now, the question of "who is a Jew" is being answered in a very narrow way, as determined by certain Orthodox rabbis. Conversions to Judaism are not being recognized unless performed by Orthodox rabbis, with devastating results. Marriages are being annulled and children declared bastards, among other outcomes. It is beyond unfair, but it is also within Israel's right to make these choices. Under their scheme, I do not have a right of return. I am not even Jewish. Fortunately, my relationship is with G-d.

In Torah study this week, it was pointed out that the idea we can choose our religion is uniquely American. I wouldn't know, but many Christian evangelists and Mormons in Korea, Russia, China, Brazil and Africa might disagree. At any rate, I am unaffected, either way.

In fact, I am unaffected by anyone's definition of Jewishness outside of my congregation. But it is when that identity is tied to political expectations that I begin to get rattled.

No one can seriously expect my loyalty and support on a political level when my beliefs and practices are rejected wholesale. OK, they do expect that. It's funny, when you think about it. "We reject you and the idea of you. Give us money."

Now Israel's leaders are upset at President Obama's ideas for Middle East peace. And they want me to be upset as well.

Sorry, darling. That's political. You already made that choice. If most of the Jews in the United States don't cut it for you, don't come bitching to me now. It seems I am not an Israeli Jew. I am just an American one. I find the behavior of Israel towards the Palestinians to be unreasonable and their approach to "peace" to be just as bad. So you are on your own now. Enjoy.

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