Keruv, Conversion and the Unchurched

Outreach Lecture I

by Harold M. Schulweis

Who are we to each other? What have we in common, you and I? And what may we hope to achieve? These four meetings are introductory.

By way of introduction I am a rabbi –  and if you want to know what a rabbi is and what a rabbi does, you are not alone. To many, the rabbi during the week is invisible and on Shabbat incomprehensible. Rabbi means “teacher,” no more, no less. He enjoys no sacramental power, no special access to God. The layman and the rabbi are colleagues in a joint quest. You are not the only ones with questions, and I am not the only one with answers.

In the eyes of God, we are all seekers. I was born into Judaism,  which means that I imbibed in my youth gestures, practices, sayings and songs that I took for granted. Being Jewish was a largely unconscious process. I recently came back from a trip to New York City, and for the first time I saw the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. I was born, raised and educated in New York, but I never saw.

In preparing for these lectures, it was in some sense revisiting my inherited faith, to see it with different eyes and with different questions to see not only the trees but also the forest. Not simply the question of “what is Judaism?” or “How to do Jewish things” but the purpose. “What for?”  It is for me, for Jews, raising consciousness, a rediscovery of the meaning of my faith. So in talking to you, I am talking to myself. This is a unique opportunity. There are present a mixed audience, Jews and non-Jews, un-churched and un-synagogued, a sprinkling of those who can believe, those who can't believe and those who make believe. Those who identify themselves as lapsed, disaffiliates and those who are identified as "seventh-day absentists.”  You are welcome.

Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher,  said "All real life is meeting." I welcome you all on behalf of the synagogue for this first of what I hope will be the first of many meetings. I am deeply respectful of your earnestness to seek out some answers to questions pertaining to your personal quests for meaning and purpose.

Why this program of outreach,  and why now?

We are all part of the zeitgeist of the 90's, the spirit of the times. We live in a free, open and democratic society in which many of the certainties and convictions of our inherited faiths are questioned. Sociologists tells us that there are tens of thousands of unchurched and unsynagogued persons who, while not at home,  feel a deep yearning for something deeper than that which secular mass culture has to offer. Many recognize that there is something more to life, than living in the Garden of Gucci and being entertained by our two great cultural icons, Madonna and Howard Stern.

In a pre-modern closed society, in an authoritarian society, choice was regarded as heresy. In fact, the very word "heresy" comes from the Greek hairein which means “choice.” But in our modern society, this kind of heresy is a blessing. We are modern men and women. Modernity marks a shift from fate to choice. We chose.

What we hope to offer is a taste of something of the flavor of the philosophy, faith, ethics, and wisdom of Judaism understood as a religious civilization of four thousand years.

For my part, this is not merely a theoretical exercise. This is not an unbiased, value free academic course. It is far more personal and significant than "Religion 101.”  I am not only a Jew by birth, I have fallen in love with Judaism. Not that I believe that it is perfect, but I know Judaism is open to improvement, to repair.

I believe that Judaism has something of immense importance to say to the world and particularly to the individual - to you and to me. I think further that not to share the poetry, the insight, the ethics of Judaism with sincere men and women who search is an injustice to them and a betrayal of the purpose of Judaism.

I must first tell you from the start some of my misgivings and some of the LA Times obstacles I face. Rabbi S calls for conversion of the unchurched.

I dislike the old term, "conversion.”  In the Webster International Dictionary, conversion is defined as "a change from one state or position to another, or from one substance to another, like the conversion of iron into steel or ice into water.”  The dictionary definition goes on. "Conversion is the conscious and manifest change from evil to good or from lower and higher stages".

I resent that notion of conversion which suggests something that is externally put upon another to make over another into someone else's image. In that sense, it conjures up an image of coercion, something external that forces change upon me. And conversion carries with it an implicit arrogance of superiority, a condescension, like the clergyman who says to his religious counterpart at an interfaith gathering, "I am a tolerant man. You pray your way and I'll pray His," pointing his finger heavenward.

Conversionary faiths exist that believe that there is only one way to God, that there is one exclusive set of dogmas and doctrines, one truth about God and salvation, one way to save souls. And that those who don't subscribe to those dogmas are rejected by God.

In that sense, Judaism is not a conversionary faith. That is not the Jewish way for giving witness. Here we might begin with a distinguished mark of Jewish monotheism.

The church father Cyprian, expressed the church's feeling that extra ecclesiam nulla salus –“outside of the church no one is saved.” In Judaism this is an alien notion. There is no term in Hebrew for salvation as a sacramental or redemptive act. Why? Because there is nothing to be saved.

In Judaism, the soul of man is not enchained. The soul of every human being is not stained by original sin requiring spiritual salvation. We sin not because Adam sinned, we sin like Adam sinned. I have not inherited anyone's sins or anyone's punishment, or anyone's atonement. My sin is my own. My atonement is my own. No one cries my tears, or dies my death or atones for my sins. There is no intermediary between me and God, no priest, no rabbi, no vicarious atonement, no confession. I am pre-eminently responsible. So the motivation for Jewish witness is not that of saving souls from the fiery coals of hell and perdition.

Jews don't save souls. Jews save lives. The Talmudic expression made popular in the movie "Schindler's List" does not read "He who saves a single soul is as if he saves an entire world.”  It reads, "He who saves a single life is considered as if he has saved an entire world."

I dislike the term “conversion” because in the experience of my people it has been associated with force, persecution, bribery, deceit, with the kind of forced option: "either baptism or death.”  For Judaism, faith cannot and must not be coerced not for Jews nor for non-Jews.

This partially explains why there is deep reservation about the conventional meaning of "conversion.”  It is embodied in the important story told of a certain disciple of a rabbi who boasted that he had converted an unbelieving Jew.

"How did you do this?" the rabbi asked. The disciple answered "A poor man knocked at my door and was hungry and asked for food. I welcomed him. Then I said to him 'First we must pray minchah, the afternoon prayers.' We prayed together. And after that I told him 'we pray maariv, the evening prayers.' Then we went to the table but first I told him that he had to wash his hands and recite the blessing, and then to recite the blessing over the bread.

"What happened?" asked the rabbi. "The man fainted and I revived him and we prayed." The rabbi thought and told him, "My son, you have done wrong." "But rabbi, he blessed God. What did I do wrong?"

The rabbi said, "You should have acted as if there were no God." "But rabbi, that is atheism." The rabbi answered "God created everything for a purpose, atheism is for a purpose. When a person comes to you in need, you act as if there is no God in the world, no angel, no heavenly intervention. You act as if there is no one in the world but you yourself." The disciple asked him, "But what about the saving of his soul?" The rabbi answered "Save your soul and his body, and not vice-versa."

GOD DID NOT CREATE RELIGION

Let me be clear. Judaism holds no monopoly on God. No religion has God by His collar. You don't have to be Jewish to love or be loved by God. Franz Rosenzweig, the philosopher,put it succinctly, "God did not create religion. God created the world." This expresses the particular universalism of Judaism. The Jewish bible begins not with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses, but with the creation of the universe and with the creation of Adam and Eve. Adam was not a Jew. Eve was not a Jew. Noah was not a Jew, nor was Mrs. Noah.

Adam was every man - every woman, formed out of the dust of the earth (adamah) and God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life and he became a living soul.

The rabbis went on to ask from where and from what earth was Adam formed? And they answered "From the earth taken from the north, the east, the south and the west.” Not from Jerusalem, Benares, Rome or even Encino or Beverly Hills. And from what was it drawn? From the soil: red, white, black and yellow. God did not create religion or denominations or clans. God created every human being in His image. This is basic to a Jewish understanding of our kinship. We pray with different tongues but we cry with the same tears. We own different views of God but we share the same fears.

On Jewish grounds, I abhor the "spiritual imperialism" that is called conversion. We need a new vocabulary for a new age for dialogue. But there is another way to speak to each other, to share one's beliefs, one's insights, one's conviction. The term I prefer to "conversion" is keruv which means to bring close that which is the opposite of distancing, of alienation.

My interest in these meetings is most assuredly not to stand on street corners or in airport terminals or to knock on the closed doors of other people. But it is to open the door of the synagogue to those who seek. Why is opening the door to the stranger so important for Jews and non-Jews alike to understand?

Because there is a perverse and pernicious myth that Jews are not at all interested in engaging non-Jews – even the unchurched who seek another faith – in embracing dialogue, because Judaism is an exclusive, elitist, private club, entry into which requires that you are born to a Jewish mother. It is as if Judaism were a genetic accident. That is a deep misunderstanding of Judaism, a distortion of its uniqueness that needs to be corrected.

One of the unique aspects of Judaism is its rejection of Judaism as a biological entity, an inherited spiritual DNA, racial or ethnic. The point is that being a Jew is not a matter of genes and chromosomes. To the contrary, Judaism is the first religion to recognize the ger,   the stranger who chooses to identify himself with Judaism. Judaism is not rooted in race or clan or in a genetic matter but a religious tradition of choice. The Synagogue stands ready to embrace with open arms all who come to it with free will and with understanding.

I am chagrined that so many have forgotten that the first convert in Judaism was the spiritual founder of Judaism, Abraham.  Born Abram, the son of a pagan, Terach, he is told that he is to be father of a great people in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed. How else could he accomplish that mission except by opening his tent to the world. Keruv?  Who else was there for Abraham to form a people of new faith in Mesopotamia?  For the world in which Abram lived was an entirely pagan world.

After all where did Jews come from? We recall at Passover at the Seder, when we read the Haggadah: from the beginning our fathers were idolaters. “My father was a wandering Aramean.”  Our fathers were slaves and we became free men. Our fathers were idolaters and we became believing monotheists. What is celebrated is not what you were born but what you become. What gives our life value is not what we were born at birth, but what we have become.

Being Jewish and becoming Jewish is a life-long process. Judaism is a becoming, it is a choice that is honored in Judaism.

On the great festival of Shevuoth, when we celebrate God's revelation at Mt. Sinai, the rabbinic tradition selected the book of Ruth to be read, not the book of Ezra, but the story of Ruth, a Moabite from the people who were classic enemies of the Jewish people. And according to the Bible, in Deuteronomy 23, we read, "A Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord even unto the tenth generation they shall not enter the congregation of the Lord forever." But Ruth chose to join a people and a faith and her vow is ours. "Entreat me not to leave you or to return following after you. For where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge: your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me and more also if ought but death part you and me." And it is Ruth that is the great grandmother of David, the king of Judea, from whom the Messiah is to be born. The book of Ruth is the classical biblical source for the joyous acceptance of those who choose to belong, to believe, and to behave.

Is not the blessing of the Jew by choice in our daily liturgy?

Every day, three times a day Jews pray giving explicit thanks to God for gayray ha-tzedek  –  for the righteous proselytes. In the thirteenth benediction of the Amidah, the central prayer of every day, Jews pray daily "May Thy tender mercies be stirred toward the righteous proselytes ... Blessed art Thou O Lord who art the staff and trust of the righteous."

I pause to discuss these matters because I have been appalled by the number of people potential proselytes, Jews by choice, who have gained the impression that Jews are not accepting of them. I am pained by the number of people who have spoken and written to me and my rabbinic colleagues asking one persistent question:  "After I am converted will they accept me?" I shudder when I read the biography of Rabbi Abraham Carmiel, a fully ordained priest who converted to Judaism in 1953, and after five years was told by a Jewish chaplain, "You will spend the next fifty years convincing every Jew in Jewry that you are sincere." That is xenophobia, a shameful bias based on ignorance of Jewish history, Jewish tradition and Jewish ethics. That alienation is contrary to the open tent of Father Abraham.

If so, where did the notion arise that Jews do not proselytize, why are there no missions in Judaism to witness to God?" Certainly not in the Bible. Certainly not in the Talmud, which is replete with procedures for embracing non-Jews into the fold. Jews did not proselytize non-Jews not because of idealogy, but because of threats to their own persecution. From the time of Emperor Constantine's edict of Milan, from the time of 380 CE when Rome declared Christianity to be the official religion of the state, conversion throughout the fourth and fifth centuries were prohibited and considered a criminal offense punishable at first by the confiscation of property and later by the death of the proselytizing Jew. It was not Jewish ideology that arrested Jewish outreach, but the Emperors Domitian and Hadrian, and the Code of Theodosios.

The truth is that during the Talmudic period, commencing approximately two thousand two hundred years ago, Jewish missionary activity was so successful that in the first century the Jewish population increased between two and five million people.

Professor Salo Baron, the distinguished Jewish historian, estimated that the Jewish population grew from one hundred fifty thousand in 586 BCE to eight million in the first century of the common era. Baron claims that two thousand years ago Jews were ten percent of the Roman Empire.

So for Jews and non-Jews, let us put to rest the fabrication that Jews have never or that Judaism in some principled sense opposed to embracing the ger — the stranger in our midst who comes to ask to be accepted. As Rabbi Leo Baeck put it, "To reproach the Jews for not having preached their religion for so long a time would be the same as to reproach a prisoner in irons for not walking out of his prison." Jews stopped proselytizing not because they shouldn't, but because they couldn't.

JUDAISM AS A RELIGIOUS CIVILIZATION

This is the first evening in a series of evenings, for keruv.  It's a daunting enterprise.

It requires either conceit or chutzpah on my part to think that in four sessions we can transmit 4,000 of history, culture and thinking. Woody Allen once boasted of having taken Evelyn Woods' speed reading course. He had read Tolstoy's War and Peace in forty minutes. An incredulous reporter asked him what the book was about.  He answered "It's all about Russia."

If it's difficult to do with a book, then it's certainly the case with a religion.  And with Judaism, especially because Judaism is not a religion like other religions. It is not characterized by a set of dogmas or doctrines or ritual practices. I like my teacher Mordecai M. Kaplan's definition of Judaism as an evolving religious civilization. Let's focus on the term "civilization.”  By that we mean that Judaism includes not only theology, philosophy, ethics, but also art, song, music, language, history, attachment to the land of Israel, memories of the Holocaust. It is ethnic and religious, a matter of sentiment and reason, of the heart and the mind. Judaism is not something that you can segregate into secular and religious categories. Judaism is coterminous with life. And Judaism as a civilization needs to be understood in an holistic manner. There is no apartheid in Judaism, limiting it to the sanctuary or to God or to prayer or to observance. As an evolving civilization Judaism contains within it all of the expressions of vitality from a living organic people. It contains theology and ethnicity, secularity and religion, a way of living. No either/or. It reflects the total life of a living people.

PLURALISM

That may explain what to some may appear odd about Judaism. One speaks about Jewish lullabies; but one does not speak of Episcopalian lullabies. There are Jewish folk dances but there are no Baptist folk dances. There is Jewish humor which clearly is not religious and, yet there is no Methodist humor. There is Jewish food that has nothing to do with whether it is kosher or not –  kishke or gefilte fish. But to my knowledge, there is nothing like Presbyterian pastrami.

More intriguingly, it is not an oxymoron to speak of a Jewish atheist or a Jewish agnostic in the manner that it would be to speak of a Baptist atheist or a Methodist agnostic.

The wide net of Judaism is revealed in a Jewish folk anecdote that captures the latitude and inclusiveness of Judaism. It is based on the credo of Judaism –  the six Hebrew words of Sh’ma: Hear O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  The humor is based on the Hebrew word for God:  Adonai. Shma Yisrael Adonai Elohenu, Adonai echad. All Jews revere that credo but with a different dialect. The traditional Jew recites, "Adonai echad.”  The atheist Jew recited, "I deny Echad.”  The agnostic Jew recites, "I dunno echad.”  There is a unity in diversity and a yearning for inclusiveness no matter what the theologic dialect.

What helps this inclusivity is the absence of explicit dogma and doctrine in Jewish thinking that tends toward excommunicates. Judaism is not a monolithic tradition. There is no authority that can pronounce ex cathedra this dogma or that doctrine that you have to believe in to be included. The aversion to dogma and flexibility of Judaism reflects an awareness of the complexity and ambiguity of life that is captured into the wisdom of folk humor. It is a classic Jewish joke.

Two people come to the rabbi for a judgment on some small monetary matter. He, the plaintiff was a prosperous merchant and she, the defendant, a poor widow. The plaintiff began to argue his case. The rabbi stroked his beard and exclaimed in Yiddish, "Du bist gerecht" –  you are right. Then the widow defendant pleaded her cause. The rabbis responded,"Du bist gerecht" – you are right. The rabbis wife hearing this judgment said to her husband, "How could it be that he is right and she is right?" to which the rabbi responded "Du bist oich gerecht" – you are also right. Real living is not so simple. It does not lend itself to absolute and dogmatic judgments that torture it into uniformity.

That profound bit of humor applies to our situation tonight. I am a Rabbi, but I offer you my personally felt understanding of Judaism. It is I who chose what themes I emphasize. It is my knowledge and experience. I cannot jump out of the skin of my own life-experience. What you will hear from me or from any Rabbi is not the solitary exclusive, authentic interpretation of Judaism. No rabbi can rightly hold claim to infallible perception. I revel in that pluralism. It encourages among us, religious modesty and spiritual freedom.

I represent an old-new people and we have a rich variety of Jewish interpreters, whom you will hear about. From Maimonides to Yehuda Halevy, from Abraham Joshua Heschel to Mordecai Kaplan, and spiritual and cultural leaders who comprise mystics and rationalists, liberals and conservatives, humanists and supernaturalists, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist and secular leaders.

No one can speak for all Jews, and no one can speak for all of Judaism. For some, the multiple and even contradictory voices will prove frustrating. For me, it is a price I gladly pay that pluralism within Judaism allows me to retain my spiritual freedom. You can get simple answers if you are authoritarian, but that stifles the creativity and free inquiry. I follow the dictum of the philosopher Whitehead: "Seek simplicity and suspect it."

I admire the rabbinic truth, "There are seventy faces to the Torah.”  There are Rabbis who will disagree with me (they are of course wrong) and in my more modest moments I can say "They're right and I'm right and we're both right. “Du Bist oich gerecht.”  Incidentally, there is a fascinating postscript to that little story of the rich man and the widow: why does the rabbi say both are right? The rabbi is conflicted because he is torn not between right and wrong, but between two values: justice and mercy. Justice says that the rich man is right, but mercy hears the widow's cry. Finally ,the rabbi turns to the widow and says, "You are wrong. You must pay him." I can't falsify this. She replies, "But I have no money." And the rabbi turns to the wealthy man and charges him to give her tzedakah, charity.

Let me further elaborate. Consider one of the unique traits of Judaism is its treatment of its biblical heroes. The Jewish Bible, which is so filled with stories of patriarchs and matriarchs, Jewish priests and Jewish kings. For all their goodness and nobility, wisdom and power, each and every one of them is flawed, fallible, finite, errant, mortal. There are no saints in Judaism. There are no perfect men or women in the sacred writings. If they are holy, they are humanly holy. I learned this as a child. All our heroes and heroines without exception are blemished and they are purposively recorded in the Bible as such. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Jacob are flawed and their blemishes are recorded in the Jewish Scriptures.

Take the greatest biblical hero of the Torah, Moses, the instrument of miraculous events, the redeemer of the Jewish people from slavery, the law-giver who delivers the Ten Commandments. This Moses, the Bible goes out of its way to emphasize, has anger and blasphemy, strikes the rod against the rock to force water for the people. This Moses will not enter the promised land. This Moses' place of burial is deliberately kept a secret, and the Bible goes out of its way at the conclusion of Deuteronomy to point out that no man knows of his sepulcher, the place for his burial "until this day." He will not be buried in a place that is known. There will be no shrine, no mummification, no pyramid with sepulchral chambers in the greatest prophet in Judaism. Why? In the Bible and throughout the rabbinic and post-rabbinic tradition, there is a fear of the deification of any human being, a fear that you will turn a sepulcher into a shrine, that you will turn it into a place of magic. That fear of apotheosis, turning a human being into God, is a constant admonition in Jewish history. The rabbis made the point that if there were no Moses, others such as Ezra, the Scribe could be God's agent in revelation. When my friends and children and grandchildren sit around the Passover table and read from the Haggadah, we are aware that the name of Moses is not mentioned. Imagine, the hero of the Exodus, the one who delivers the law in the desert, the one who talks face-to-face with God is omitted. It would be like reciting Mass without mention of Jesus, or the Hejira without mention of Mohammed.

So, when we celebrate Chanukah we emphasize the Jewish revulsion with the efforts of Antiochus IV, who was called “Epiphanes,” which means the “manifestation of God,” and who would be worshipped as a god. The struggle of Chanukah is the struggle against the deification of the emperor.

Similarly, one of the turning points of Purim is the refusal of Mordechai to bow to Haman. We don't bow to tyranny. The first American seal had as its motto "rebellion against tyranny and obedience to God".

We hear in all these celebrations the constant admonition to all human beings especially to those in power to totalitarian government: Fascism, Nazism, Communism –  "you are not God.”  This means we will not surrender our freedom, our critical intelligence to anyone who seeks such glorification. Is this pertinent today? This is a lesson as relevant and contemporary as Jim Jones and Jonestown, and the Davidians.

No Jew, no priest or prophet, no person who walks the face of this earth is perfect or divine. We are created, each of us, in the image of God -- but we are not God. As the book of Ecclesiastes 7:20 puts it succinctly, "There is no just man upon the earth that does good and does not sin."

THE UNIQUENESS OF THE JEWISH PROPHET

This Jewish opposition to the imposed totalitarian rule from Pharaoh to Hitler and Stalin is rooted in one of the truly unique heroic figures of Judaism, the Jewish prophet. It is the prophet who speaks out against human corruption whatever the authority may be. The prophet is the spiritual model who cultivates Jewish conscience and is one of the deep resources for Jewish ethical sensibility and social action.

May I share with you two stories from the Bible which influenced me in my youth, and which traces the moral activism of Judaism to the religious roots of social justice? I read and re-read that section in the I Kings 21, in which King Ahab is envious of the vineyards of Naboth. He pines to own that piece of property and his wife Jezebel proposes that that property can be expropriated by the shrewd use of the king's power. She arranges false testimony against Naboth. She arranges for witnesses who declare that Naboth has blasphemed God and blasphemed the king. They stoned him and he died.  It would be the end of the story were it not for the prophet Elijah who appears before Ahab while the king is feasting and drinking in Naboth's vineyard. Elijah says to him in three Hebrew words which resonate in the conscience of Judaism, "Hast thou murdered and will you inherit." That's the way to address the king's corruption.

The other event is recorded in II Samuel 12, and speaks of the great king David who lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. And he plotted to send her husband to the battle field and place him in harm's way. And Uriah was killed and David went in to Bathsheba. It is the king's privilege and who will deny him? Then came Nathan the prophet and told a story to the king. Once there were two men in one city, one rich and one poor. The poor man had a ewe, a lamb and the rich man had many sheep and cattle. A traveler came and the rich man took the poor man's ewe and slaughtered it and served it as a meal. And David when he heard the story grew angry. "That man is worthy to die." And the prophet Nathan replied with two words Atah ha-ish – “You are the man.” This is King David, from whom the Messianic hero is to descend.

This is the material, the stories, the biblical record that cultivates conscience. This is the Jewish prophet who, like Isaiah (3:12-15) blows the whistle against the elders and the princes. With conscience and courage addresses them. "It is you who have devoured the vineyard. The spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people, by grinding the face of the poor?" And it is the unique inspiration of Jewish social justice.

The prophet came from the great word prophetes, in that "pro" means forth and "phetes" means to speak. The prophet is not a fortune teller; not a prognosticator, and the prophet speaks forth against the grain of power. He will not pretend muteness or deafness.

We need the prophetic hero in our lives and in our own times. Recall the episode in which Khrushchev, before the Communist Presidium, finally confessed the evil of Stalin, the day of the Gulag and the purging of Jewish physicians and he said "And no one spoke up. No one raised his voice." From out of nowhere someone said "And what did you do, Comrade Khrushchev?" Khrushchev turned and said "Who said that?" No one answered. "That's what I did."

Moreover, the Jewish prophet, contrary to popular opinion, does not prognosticate the future, God's verdict on man. He does not simply announce the fate that God assigns to men, neither for punishment or reward. Every prophecy is qualified by "if.”  This will happen "if.”  And in that conditional phrase lies the uniqueness of Jewish prophecy. Jonah, the prophet whose prophecy is read on the Day of Atonement, is sent by God to admonish the people of Ninveh for their sins and he predicts their destruction. But the people of Ninveh change their ways and the prediction of Jonah is nullified. Jonah feels betrayed. You said you would destroy them. The revolutionary religious point is that God's decrees are conditional. When we repent, when we change our ways, God's judgments can be averted. This is Judaism's repudiation of fatalism, predestination and determinism and its conviction that men and women are free to change themselves, to alter the conditions of their existence. I can change. We can change. We can begin again. We can become new creations.

At our next meeting I hope to speak about God and the Jewish conception of human nature and some of the major spiritual themes in Judaism. But before I conclude allow me one P.S.

When I ask myself about this effort of outreach I have many reasons. But I think the simplest reason is love. When you read a novel or see a play what is your first instinct? Is it not to share the beauty, the wisdom, the exaltation with other people? Is it not then that we say to those we care about "You must read this. You must see this. You must experience this." Analogously I love Judaism. I have lived with its insights and wisdoms and I want to share it with other people. I think it would be an act of selfishness to hoard it and I think for historic reasons and other reasons I have not given, Judaism has been kept a secret. We have been tragically insular or thought we had to be insular. We have not witnessed to the capacity of a tradition to exalt, to raise us up, to make us stronger, to inform our personal lives with its teachings. But this is a free society and we must not remain muted.

You are here for a variety of reasons. I want you to know, at least from me, that my motivation is not to stem mixed-marriage, to bolster our sagging demographic figures, to please Jewish parents or grandparents, to save a soul. My motivation is not the replace the losses of the Holocaust, for that would be using people as a means to other ends. I do not see you as surrogates or replacements. That would be an affront to your dignity. I see you as a human soul who searches, who has doubts and questions about your own inherited traditions or who simply may not have been exposed to this tradition. It is you I am concerned with, you as an individual, not as a member of family –  but you as an individual created in God's image. I have been blessed with the joy, the sanctity, the purpose and the meaning of Judaism and I feel obligated to offer testimony, to give witness. "Keruv," as opposed to conversion, does not ask a person to lose himself or herself to another, but to be enlarged by an other. The end is not to be dissolved or absorbed but to be enriched. "Keruv" is a process of growth.

In this room are men and women, my fellow Jewish laymen, who are accessible to you, to your questions and whom you may contact. On the information sheet are the names of Rabbis who are accessible to you. The public lecture is a prologue, an introduction, to further meetings. All real life is meeting.


* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

Date: 
Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 9:00pm