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Semites Everywhere You Look

From: Stephen Schwartz To: Kerry Olitzky Subject: What would "Jewish Inclusiveness" look like? Kerry, I'm intrigued by your mention of "an inclusive Jewish community [that] include[s] Muslims as it does Christians." Could you elaborate? Certainly a great many Gentiles or … Read More

By / February 21, 2007

From: Stephen Schwartz To: Kerry Olitzky Subject: What would "Jewish Inclusiveness" look like?

Kerry,

I'm intrigued by your mention of "an inclusive Jewish community [that] include[s] Muslims as it does Christians." Could you elaborate? Certainly a great many Gentiles or people of partial Jewish origin would like to be considered Jewish.

But what of those who are of mixed origin but well-pleased with a non-Jewish religion in which they were raised, or into which they were adopted? Should a born Jew (i.e., of a Jewish mother) who has been raised Catholic and is happy with that faith be called back to religious Judaism? The same question applies to Muslims. Are they to give up their Islam and join the Jewish religious community?

Incidentally, in Islam, a Jew or Christian who becomes Muslim is generally viewed in a benign way if they return to their original religion. It is a common Islamophobic trope in the West that once a non-Muslim converts to Islam, any move out of Islam and back to the previous religion would be considered apostasy and punishable by death. But this is not the case, either in traditional Muslim law or contemporary practice.

There is a famous tale involving the khalifa Umar ibn Khattab, the first Islamic conqueror of Jerusalem. The khalifa observed that a Yemeni Jewish convert to Islam, Ka‘b al-Ahbar, honored his ancestors by removing his sandals when he walked on the holy soil of the Land of Israel. Ka'b was not seen as relinquishing the totality of his Jewishness when he became Muslim.

Clearly, lots of people want to be Jewish:

Madonna wants to be Queen Esther;

The Black Hebrew sect wants to convert or otherwise be accepted as Jews;

New Mexico Hispanics with no verifiable link to Judaism claim to be offspring of those expelled from Spain in the Inquisition;

The grossly antireligious Christopher Hitchens wants to be seen as Jewish due to remote family connections;

Christian Zionists certainly want to be seen as close to Jews, and some intermarry with Jews;

Even the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad aleyhisalem, wanted to be accepted as a prophet by the Jews;

I know an American Jewish woman, from a very prominent family active in all sorts of community affairs, good works, and cultural achievements, who enthusiastically adopted Islam, becoming a Sufi. She describes herself as a "truly reformed Jew"!

In Dutch Reformation culture, the religious Jew was a model for the Protestant preachers, so that one can view a painting in Amsterdam showing a rural divine pointing his finger at a page of Torah in Hebrew, symbolizing right guidance…

And finally, Trotsky, although a lifelong atheist whose second wife was a Christian noblewoman in origin,
felt more Jewish at the end of his life, and so was not exactly the "non-Jewish Jew" about whom Isaac Deutscher wrote.

Do the Jews need all these people?

Christianity and Islam owe a lot to Judaism. Christians have always claimed to somehow be Jews or to have surpassed Jews in religion. Traditional Islam recognizes great debts to the Jews and calls on believers to respect them. Is there room for a common recognition that all who are spiritual children of Abraham/Ibrahim aleyhisalem, a prophet in Islam but not in Judaism, should be recognized and welcomed as spiritual relatives of the Jews? Some moderate Muslims of my acquaintance have a nickname for Jews: "the cousins."

Stephen Schwartz

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