Tuesday, 11 April 2017

That which is Our Own

This article was co-authored by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks.

“Of course it is ok for non-Jews to adopt and use Jewish symbols and practices,” we hear many Jews say. “Isn’t it great that others find our Torah and its commandments so desirable that they decide to embrace them?” Others ask.

The Torah was given to Am Yisrael and the Jewish People, not to the world.  The Torah instructs Jews to wear a tallit, to use tefillin, to remember and to observe Shabbat. We are instructed to do that because as the Torah says G-d took us, Am Yisrael, not everyone else, out of slavery in Egypt with a “strong hand and an outstretched arm.” Jews alone were given the laws of Kashrut and the Mitzvah to celebrate Jewish holidays in a particularly Jewish way.  These experiences and customs are uniquely Jewish ones. They are related to and are an integral part of our unique Jewish history, the history of Am Yisrael.

Unlike what many Jews are taught nowadays, Judaism is not universal. Though many of the values, morals, lessons, of Torah and of Jewish history, are ones that all peoples can learn and benefit from, Torah, as we mentioned above, was given to the Jewish People. It is the story of the Jewish People, not of the whole world.  Even though various Gentile peoples have adopted what is Jewish, that does not make  G-d’s gift to the Jewish Nation, the Covenant with Am Yisrael, universal. 

After 2000 years of being subject to persecution, exclusion, hate, and all too often confiscations and violence by Christians, for the first time in history, some Gentiles, considering the roots of their own faith, have found an interest in Judaism and Jewish practices. Some because of sheer interest. Many more do it because it is a way, they believe, to understand and be closer to their religious roots.

So today we see some Christian ministers adopting the use of the Talit.  Others try the Kipah.  Some churches for the last several years have held Passover meals with matzah and traditional Jewish readings at their churches. 

We have no problem with Christians having an interest in learning and understanding the Jewish roots of their religion, to the degree that they exist.  It needs to be remembered, however, that Christians do it not to be Jewish or more like Jews, and not to be part of what is Jewish.  For example, when Christian Churches sponsor a Seder for Passover, they do it because Jesus did it and they interpret it through their own religious theology as being Jesus centered.  They do it not because they love the Jewish People or because they want to be like Jews.  They perform these rites for Christian reasons, to identify closer with their theological roots. 

We have no right to tell Christians what to do or what to believe within their theology. 

What we do have a problem with, though, is when Jews see Christians perform customs associated with Judaism and feel “Oh so flattered” and “Oh so happy” about it that they fail to see (or is it refuse to see) the rationale, the motives, behind it.  We do have a problem when Jews blur the differences between Jewish beliefs and Christian beliefs based on the Christian adoption of some Jewish forms and customs and when some Jews claim that we are all the same.
Because we are not. We are not better. We are not worse. We are just different.

To those Jews who are willingly and readily handing out slices of our Jewish heritage indiscriminately, we have this to answer. Will those same Jews allow strangers into their home, let them take, for example, a precious heirloom that has been running in their family for generations and let them walk out with it and declare it as their own? That, in our book, is usurpation! The difference is that when one takes a private possession it is between them and the owner. When one appropriates Jewish practices or symbols, it is between those who take it and Am Yisrael. That includes Jews like us who are unhappy about it. We cringe when we see reverends and pastors wearing talitot, Jewish prayer shawls, in their church services praying to Jesus when we all know that he is not part of Jewish tradition. We are unhappy when we witness a Pesach Seder conducted in a hybrid manner which celebrates the “Last Supper” more than the Exodus from Egypt

As much as we object to it and as much and we disagree with this reality, we cannot and should not try to stop others from taking on Jewish customs and practices while continuing to practice their own non-Jewish faith provided it stops there.

Unfortunately, it does not.

What we see unfolding in front of our eyes is a trend that we consider threatening to the future of our Jewish people. Many of those friends and supporters who adopt our customs and practices feel, much to our dismay, that with their interpretations of their “universal” nature, that they are compelled by their beliefs to spread their “gospel” to the Jews who, they believe, don’t seem to understand their own history or purpose. They then tell us what we should believe. They feel an obligation to educate us about our heritage and our tradition as seen through the lens of their own religious interpretations, in some attempt to define us, all with grave consequences to our future as a People.

Many of those who engage in such activities are charismatic leaders who whilst advocate for us, end up convincing Jewish youth, too often unprepared with a solid Jewish education, nor with any knowledge of the differences between Christianity and Judaism, of their interpretation of Judaism. They teach it through their own ethnic, religious and cultural eyes changing the meaning of the original Jewish values. We end up with Pied Pipers who allegedly came to our rescue but end up influencing a Jewish generation with a very misconstrued idea of what Judaism, Torah, Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are all about.

The solution is not isolation, nor is it telling Christians what to believe.   Nor is it in suppressing freedom of expression.

The solution is in education of that which is our own. We need Jewish education that is more sophisticated than patterns that seemed sufficient in the 19th century. We also need to coach and educate young Jews of how the Christian and Muslim see the world in order to ensure proper Jewish continuity. 

May we continue to have a blessed Pesach


  1. Courageously and correctly stated and written as always from Yourself and from Roger. We should also bear in mind that there are x-tians who adopt Jewish symbols and customs as a means (for them) to show, that they are not the same as their own Jew-hating ancestors. For me, I want to say that I'm convinced that the only way to prove that they're different compared to their anti-Jewish ancestors, is to ACT in a different manner (with respect for our uniqueness) towards us. NOT to try to usurp our heritage and claim it to be theirs and on-top-of-that preach to us and others, that they're holier than we are. The height of arrogance and hypocrisy !!! All my warmest, Judah N. W.

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