Date: August 01, 2020 11:18AM
> So imagine what it was like when some 30 years
> later I met his dad. I converted. My boyfriend
> converted to Judaism for his wife (now ex). He
> still is a "believer." I don't know exactly what
> they call it in Judaism as he tells me things like
> it doesn't require faith to be Jewish, etc.
What you're asking about is very real, but extremely hard to explain. Among Jews, the shorthand often currently used for this is "having a Jewish soul."
I know this exists (I realized this in myself when I was in the early days of seventh grade, when I was talking to a student new to me; several different elementary schools fed into our junior high school, and she had gone to a different elementary school than I had). She mentioned she was Jewish and I said (with some heightened excitement): "My uncle is Jewish!" I started telling her about the siddur [Jewish prayerbook] at my maternal grandparents' house, and some of the things Uncle Benny had said and done, and she interrupted me, correcting me by saying: "No, No! I'm not that kind of Jew!"
She told me that my uncle was Ashkenazi (a word I had never heard before), and she was Sephardi (which I had also never heard of before). Her family was, most recently (last few centuries) from Turkey, and they spoke Ladino instead of Yiddish, and it was a [substantially] different "kind" of Judaism (foods, holiday observances, etc.) than the little I knew about my Uncle Benny's Judaism.
She is telling me this story, and as she is speaking, I am "remembering" sensations and feelings I had never experienced before. As she is going through her family history, I am saying to myself: "That is ME!" "That is ME!"--and I knew inside that, in some way, it really WAS "me." There was some part of me that was "remembering" much of what she was telling me.
From a Jewish standpoint, I had just consciously connected with the Jewish soul I had been born with.
A few years later, during the time when boys and girls start having boy-girl parties and fledgling relationships, I began preferentially choosing Jewish guys over non-Jewish guys--which did not end well in any of these situations. (Mrs. Horowitz: Wherever you are now, I am a Jew! And I am Bat Mitzvah too! So there!)
It took me a few decades, and it took American Judaism a few decades too, but eventually I was able to learn that conversion to Judaism was possible. (For a very long time, I thought that everyone Jewish had to be born a Jew. This was more true than not during that period of time, but American Judaism was evolving too, and Jews as a whole were figuring out that conversion to Judaism meant far fewer intermarriages, and far more Jewish grandchildren.)
When my husband (former devout Catholic who had left the Church) and I were in the early years of our marriage, I was on the Ventura Freeway one late afternoon, with KMZT ("K-Mozart") on the radio, and there was this program about Jewish music which mentioned, very briefly and in passing, something about a course that could be taken at the University of Judaism (a place I had never heard of before, though it was physically quite near)--and they SEEMED to be indicating that, if you took this course, you could become a Jew. It wasn't said exactly that explicitly, but the implication was there. I drove home and told my husband that there was a course at the University of Judaism I was going to take. I went up to the U.J. (now: American Jewish University), just off the 405 Freeway near the Getty Museum, and registered for the "Introduction to Judaism" course. I didn't tell anyone I was married (I was petrified that I would be rejected because my conversion would create an intermarriage)...I just showed up at classes twice a week, went through all the steps as they came up, and kept my mouth shut to everyone about my personal circumstances.
There were about 100 people in our class (divided into three, classroom-sized, groups--each taught by a different rabbi). Among them were, as I learned, quite a few whose personal stories were somewhat like mine. (We also had an exmormon woman in our class who, when it was time to briefly introduce ourselves, began crying as she explained that what she was doing now would cause her to lose all of her Mormon family. She had mentally wrestled with this for many years, and had finally decided that, for her own personal reasons, she felt she HAD to become a Jew--regardless of what she was inevitably going to lose when it came to her family.)
The "having a Jewish soul" concept wasn't common back then, but looking back, it would have been appropriate for many of us. (Some people in our class were converting simply to avoid an intermarriage, and some were converting because they had Jewish fathers but not Jewish mothers and they wanted to regularize their Jewish legal status.)
Today, "having a Jewish soul" is a universally used phrase when it comes to many (not all) conversions to Judaism, because for those to whom this applies, it REALLY applies!
c12: There is no required set of beliefs in Judaism--and there are countless Jewish atheists, plus an entire Jewish "denomination" for atheist Jews to practice their Judaism in ways appropriate to them: Secular Jewish Humanism. For the overwhelming part of the Jewish people: No one cares what any other Jew "believes." Jews DO care about how you live your life when it comes to daily life ethics and practices, etc., and whether or not you are engaged in healing the wrongs of life, and making life in general better for everyone [on the planet]. It is possible to be a very observant Jew...and to NOT believe in the contents of biblical texts, etc.
Also: "Being a Jew" isn't nearly as much about religion as most non-Jews would think. To Jews, the Jewish people [regardless of where their ancestors came from, or what branch of Judaism they identify with, or what belief system(s) they either do, or do not, identify with] are [take your pick] a big, related "family," a "community," or a "tribe."
You can be born into the "family" [by having a Jewish MOTHER], or you can convert into it. Once in, you ARE a Jew--as much as any Jew who ever lived.
The family/community/tribal religion is a significant PART of Jewish identity, but as real life is lived, how significant that "part" is, is up to the Jew most directly involved.
Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 08/01/2020 12:29PM by Tevai.