I wanted to pretend it wasn't a problem. Wasn't an issue. Wasn't the elephant in the room.
The first time I heard this accusation I was flummoxed. What? Of course Reform Jews are Jewish. Where did that even come from?? Where do people even get these things from?? How do people believe these things about us?
But I think I understand things a little better now. And that's good news and bad news. This blog has helped crystallize for me what exactly the issue is. In Judaism, there's a teaching:
I've learned much from all my teachers. But from my students most of all.That's how I feel about all those who read and comment on this blog. And here's what I've learned (and please hang on to the end; this is like a geometry proof. If you hate geometry, hang on anyway; it's like a recipe):
1. Orthodox people define Judaism very technically. Either you're born to a Jewish mother, or you convert according to halacha (Jewish law).
2. However, Reform Jews (I think) define Judaism more conditionally. If you feel Jewish, act Jewish, raise the kids Jewish, were raised Jew-ish, you're Jewish.
3. In some cases, the Orthodox view will be more inclusive (like when a born Jew celebrates Christmas, wears a cross, burns the Israeli flag, and eats pepperoni pizza, he's still as Jewish as Moses, according to Orthodox philosophy).
4. In some cases, the Reform view will be more inclusive (like when someone is born to a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother, he is still Jewish if he behaves Jewishly, according to Reform philosophy).
5. Therefore, since Reform Jews tie identity with behavior, they think Orthodox Jews do, too.
6. Therefore, a Reform Jew who isn't very observant might assume that the Orthodox don't consider him Jewish, since he figures that if he were Orthodox, he wouldn't consider himself Jewish.
7. This is not true, since the Orthodox tie identity to technical status only (while acknowledging that observance is very important but simply not a condition for status).
8. That's the good news.
9. The bad news is that since Orthodoxy asserts that only technical status determines Jewishness, conversion can become a sticking point.
10. However, this is highly dependent on personal circumstances and each situation is taken case-by-case.
11. Finally, I consider issues of personal status to be extremely private and unless there's a practical reason that someone is asking me or needs to be told for halachic (Jewish law) reasons, I don't intervene in this area.
12. Of all the things I deal with in Jewish education, this is by far the most sensitive and potentially hurtful: who is and isn't a Jew?
13. I wish I never had to hurt anyone's feelings and that my religious beliefs and standards never had to make anyone feel bad.
14. In the vast majority of cases, they don't.
How are you used to thinking about identity - Jewish (technical) or Jew-ish (behavior-based)?
UPDATE: May 8, 2012 - Due to the unprecedented number of comments below, you must scroll to the bottom of the page and click "load more" to view the more recent comments.