Can you be Jewish outside of a community?

18 02 2007

It’s interesting, something I hear fairly often from people who are having progressive conversions is that their conversion is between them and HaShem, and so it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  This confuses me, and to some extent bothers me.  I’m glad that they view their relationship with HaShem as something personal and private, but conversion is about much more than that.  You’re not just making a statement about you’re commitment to HaShem, it’s about you’r commitment to the Jewish people as a whole. Converting is by necessity about your involvement with the community.  You have to work closely with a Rabbi, you have to live with a community, you have to be present at communal prayer on a regular basis, and in the end, it is the community (represented by the Beis Din) that decides whether you can convert.  

You can’t effectivly be Jewish in a vacuum.   I mean, you can do a lot of things.  You can keep Shabbat (although that is really boring alone, trust me), you can keep kosher, but you can’t have a public Torah reading alone, you can’t have a repetition of the Amidah alone, you can’t recite Kaddish alone.  So much of Jewish life revolves around community and family, it baffles me how people can say that they don’t care if the community thinks their conversion is valid.  I understand not caring that people outside of your community don’t recognise it, since there is no way to have a universally recognised conversion.  We all have to make choices about who matters to us, and what opinions we care about, but to decide that no one matters? 

The community is what I love most about Judaism, the fact that there are people who every week welcome me into their home and their lives, and treat me like family in every sense.  That’s an amazing thing, and I think the people who dismiss the opinions of the community are also missing out on that. Am I missing something here, or is it not a little bit sad that people seem to be working to hard to join a club that they are actively stating they don’t care about?

Also, a quick note to Wegmans:  Our relationship has already been threatened when you moved all my kosher food, and replaced it with a Christmas display back in early November, but we moved on, and I thought things were getting better for us.  However, Passover is not for a month and a half.  I don’t need Pesach food until then, and to be perfectly honest, you’re having already set out a whole isle of Pesach food completely ruins my plan to ignore the existence of Pesach food until I absolutely have to deal with it.  Now I will be reminded that I need to clean my room every Sunday.  Please, remove the macaroons from where I will be tempted to buy them every time I go grocery shopping for the next 6 weeks, since I do not need them.  They are 100 calories each, and I DO NOT WANT THEM IN MY ROOM until they are all I’m able to eat.  One week a year of them is plenty, thank you.  And matzah a month and a half early is just sad.  No one needs kosher for Peasach blueberry muffins now.  No one. 

Thank you.

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5 responses

19 02 2007
Camilla

Beautiful post! I wish I had the courage to blog about some of the things you’ve been blogging about. Being Jewish outside of a community is incredibly hard, that’s for sure. My school is about half an hour from the nearest synagogue and there’s no public transport whatsoever around here. For a little while I tried keeping Shabbat in my dorm room, but that didn’t last very long because I got bored and lonely. Driving on Shabbat is pretty problematic, but I eventually decided that it was worth it to be near my community. I’m one of those “progressive” converts, and I care a great deal about what people in my community think.

19 02 2007
Emily

I spent the whole summer not being able to get to services, since I didn’t want to drive, and my family was not at all ok with me staying overnight with a family they didn’t know, so I completly understand where you’re coming from. Have you talked to your rabbi about having a family who lives closer to the synogogue host you for Shabbat every once and a while?
Also, since you care about being a part of your community, that removes you from the group of people I’m critacizing here. It’s not progressive converts as a group, it’s people who claim that thier conversion is just between themselves and HaShem, and that it doesn’t affect anyone else. I think conversion is just as much about joining a people as it is about your relationship with HaShem, since if it were just about you and G-d, why be Jewish, why not just be a good Gentile? ( I only mentioned progressive, since I feel like I see this attitude more frequently the more liberal the conversion was/is going to be, and I havn’t seen it at all with traditional/orthodox converts)
(also, about me being brave to post about some of these topics. I’m naturally outspoken and a bit agrumentative, so it comes a bit easier. In person I tend to be seen as argumentative. It’s a nice change to be able to work these things out in a forum where people choose to hear them, rather than where I’m forcing people to listen.)

20 02 2007
PB and J

wow. i think you get at the heart of one of the biggest issues in western postmodern culture. we (gentiles and jews) in the west often think that religion is personal. i know so many people who sit at home on Sabbath (jew and christian) and watch TV or whatever. they dont participate in the community.

while i have an outsider perspective, i have read Tanakh a lot. it seems to me that G-d intended Israel to be community. they were never meant to be individuals without the context of a group. in the same way, the first people who believed in rabbi yeshua also had community. but probably more than in judaism, most christians live very separate individualistic lives.

i also agree with you that one of the things i like most about judaism is community.

peter

21 03 2007
Dave

Becoming a Jew is the most rewarding experience of my life. Although I orginally converted in an Orthodox community and lived there for many years, I am now living in a Conservative community due to where life has lead me. In all honesty I feel that the community and support here is the same as in a Frum community. Being Jewish is about being part of a community. It is one of the most important parts of our lifestyles as Jews

21 03 2007
Emily

Dave- I’m glad you’ve found a community you fit in with, that’s the really important thing. And I agree with you, converting is incredibly rewarding. (Difficult, but rewarding.) 🙂

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