Monday, July 26, 2010

What's it mean to Jew?

To be a Jew means to swim eternally against the dirty, criminal tide of Man.
I am happy to belong to the most unhappy people on Earth, for whom the Torah represents all that is most lofty and beautiful in law and morality. - Emanuel Levinas, "Difficult Freedom" Essays on Judaism (1977)
While the above quote might leave some people unsettled, it inspires me, in a sense.

I believe that it is an important thing for each and every one of us to be able to summarily explain - on a personal level - why we are happy to be Jews, similar to the way Levinas puts it. That is, if someone were to ask us: "Why do you do all these things? What is it about Judaism that you cherish, what is it about being Jewish that you enjoy?" we should have an answer that reflects our true inner thoughts on what it means to us - as individuals - to be Jews.

The RaMBaM constantly exhorts his readers to always question, to always search for meaning - within the context of the Torah  - and determine how to better oneself. Assessment and evaluation, and then reassessment and reevaluation.

And yes, we all need to find something about Judaism that we enjoy. It is not difficult to be a Jew; like Rav Moshe Feinstein OBM once said, "It is geshmak to be a yid (Jew)!"

There are many advantages to this exercise; it forces us to look inward and really focus on what characterizes us as Jews, how we identify with our birthright, and examine that idea and question if that thought, that self-conceptualization is enough...


Moriah said...

I am a Jew by choice. I have, since I was maybe 6 or 7 been compelled by an inner force or instinct to find G-d. I had no idea a person could become a Jew so I searched and searched in utter vain throughout the polluted streams. I hated everything about it - the prayers and especially the horrible songs - the hymns that literally made my body contract and wince at the sound.

Just so you know, I did not convert for love or money, in order to marry a Jew. My husband and I both gentiles converted for the love of Hashem.

So your question interests me. What's it mean to be a Jew? Everything! It means life and a soothing balm for my soul. The truth, the Mitzvot, goodness before me if I want it. The Torah and the yoke of heaven, holiness, that is so awesomely heavy, but rests so pleasantly and securely upon my shoulders. Shabbat, Bracha, bentshing, Bris Mila, Shabbat, Kiddush Hashem, did I say Shabbat? Crying for all the right reasons, learning, the beauty of the meaning of being silent, the incorporeality of our Creator, loving your fellow Jew,Fighting for Israel, Jerusalem, Jerusalem , Jerusalem, praying as a people - (to do good, not for a new TV), Giving up on praying for a living and instead asking for widsom, Crying at the thought of Hashem crying for us while reading Eicha, doing T'shuva, returning to Hashem ...

Moriah said...

Have you heard this?

Shmuel said...

Moriah, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, which are very thoughtful and enlightening.
I wish you and your husband much success and mazel, and I thank you for reading the blog!

As for the rest of the readership, I wasn't asking a rhetorical question! I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter...please share!

Moriah said...

A small addendum to my comment. I had a DNA test(matrilineal descent) out of curiosity. It looks like there are Jews on my mother's (Italian) side. My great uncle's name was Abraham - is that common in Italy? I know very little about heritage as we were not a close family. I'd like to find out more but some have said to leave it alone as there may be something bad like forbidden relationships..