Jews around the world were united in mourning early this week on Tisha B’Av, the day that commemorates the many tragedies that have befallen our people throughout the millennia, chief among them the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.
Tisha B’Av is a day where we feel the burden of being Jewish. Sometimes it seems like the whole world is against us. Sometimes, the whole world really is againstIf there’s anything that irks me more than false advertising, it’s treason.
And that’s why a certain phenomenon I’ve been seeing a lot lately is pretty confusing, and just a little bit infuriating. That is the phenomenon of people wanting and/or pretending to be us.
Let me be clear, I am not talking, G-d forbid, about genuine converts. Jews-by-choice formed an integral part of the Jewish nation even before its inception. Avraham Avinu, whom scripture refers to as the first Hebrew, was a convert of sorts. Chazal tell us that his father Terach was, of all things, an idol merchant! Ruth the Moabite converted to Judaism, and not only does she have a whole book of the Bible named for her, but she herself was grandmother to King David, the Jewish king par excellence.
If you ever hear anyone question the legitimacy of conversion to Judaism (in my experience, these doubts are more common among non-Jews, based on the fact that we don’t proselytize like they do), simply point out that Rabbi Akiva, the universally-renowned Biblical-commentator Onkelos, and the future Messiah, are all either geirim themselves, or descended from geirim. Anyone who is still unconvinced by this is immune to logic and not worth arguing with.
So, we’re not talking about the ger tzedek, who is as Jewish as pastrami on rye–then to whom am I referring? Well, there are the so-called “Messianic Jews” for starters. For those of you who’ve never heard of them (oh, how I envy you), Messianic Jews practice a form of Yiddish-flavored Christianity.
Basically, you call your church a synagogue (usually giving it a name so ostentatiously Jewish that it sounds just a little too Jewish, something like Kehilat Baruch Hashem, or Congregation Oy Gevalt), you put a prayer shawl on your minister and call him “rabbi,” translate your New Testament (excuse me, “New Covenant”) into Hebrew—and write it on a scroll to make it look really authentic—and bam! You’ve got yourself some “Messianic” “Judaism”!
What really bothers me about this particular group is how disingenuous their beliefs are. It’s a bunch of Jews who want to be Christian without the guilt of abandoning their heritage, and Christians who want to be Jews without giving up Jesus, everyone having their decidedly non-kosher cake and eating it too.
If you are Christian, then by all means be proud of it! I may think that some of your beliefs are completely wrong, but why should that bother you? I’m a Jew, after all, and you are every bit as certain that I am mistaken about a few things myself. But we both fear G-d, and we both live in a free society–there’s no reason our disagreement should preclude the possibilities of respect or friendship.
A Christian missionary is like a salesman. If we were to compare religions to shoes, the missionary believes that Nikes are the best shoes in the world, so he wears all kinds of Nikes apparel, and sells Nikes with a zeal that, though I don’t share his brand loyalty, I can still respect.
A “Messianic” (e.g. a “Jew for Jesus”) on the other hand is an unethical huckster. He believes that Nikes are the best, but to appeal to those of us who don’t care for Nikes (perhaps because we’ve been kicked with them repeatedly for two thousand years), he puts them in a box marked “Adidas” and sells them to us. Bottom line: If your product is the best in the market, you shouldn’t have to resort to false advertising to sell it, and shame on the salesman who does, for he brings shame to his vocation and disgraces his brand.
A few days ago, my wife received in the mail a special “gift” marked with a picture of Jerusalem, a Star of David, and the words “ISRAEL RESTORATION.” It was, as I had predicted (remember the rule earlier about when something looks too Jewish?), a missionary sales pitch, complete with DVD and a booklet from Tom Cantor, a self-described Jew who has found “peace, security, and assurance” in Christianity, but who can’t rest until he has shared it with us. If there’s anything that irks me more than false advertising, it’s treason.
Of course, the plague of Jewish identity theft manifests itself in a variety of ways, not always as part of the machinations of the proselytizer. Take this putz for example, Gabriel Matthew Schivone. Schivone, 29, is a student at the University of Arizona (which makes this story even more embarassing for me, as it happens to be my alma mater, as well as that of one of my colleagues), is the coordinator of the Arizona chapter of "Jewish Voice for Peace" (not to be confused with the delightful New York-based newspaper the Jewish Voice).
He wrote a column, published by Israel's leftist Ha'aretz newspaper, in support of the anti-Israel flotillas. Identifying himself as a "Chicano-Jewish American" (funny that his name strikes one as neither Chicano nor Jewish), Schivone claims to be "acting out of Jewish ethical tradition," writing that "I am one of a growing number of young American Jews who are determined to shake off an assumed - and largely imposed - association with Israel." There's only one problem: Schivone isn't Jewish.
A former classmate of Schivone, Valerie Saturen, helpfully informed Ha'aretz that Schivone's claims of Jewishness were a crass, fraudulent attempt to add a certain, let's say, truthiness to his activism (and presumably to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism while doing so). "Gabriel is not Jewish, whether in terms of ethnic ancestry, religious belief, or cultural identity," Saturen explains. "He has never identified as a Jew until it became useful in advancing his political agenda. During the High Holiday season of 2007, Gabriel told me that he discussed Israel with campus representatives of Chabad, identifying himself as a Jew. When asked why he did this, he explained that he has a distant Jewish relative and that 'you use what you have.' "
In an unusual move, Ha'aretz allowed Schivone to post a response to the accusation. Schivone writes that he is "astonished by the bizarre charges about my most cherished sense of personal identity made by a person I haven't seen, nor corresponded with, in years."
While reasserting himself as a "Chicano Jew," he does nothing to deny that his ties to Judaism in terms of ethnicity or observance are extremely tenuous at best, and don't qualify him as a Jew by any accepted standard other than one that he invented himself. It's offensive, and embarassing, and completely unethical.
In a more confusing and some would say, hilarious, series of events, it seems that one New Yorker, Cino Rosselli, is suing his former employer for anti-Semitic discrimination. Cino, who is 29, not Jewish, Italian, a Theosophist—and did we mention he’s not Jewish?—decided to start wearing a Jewish skullcap to work. His co-workers taunted him mercilessly, with such abusive remarks as “you’re not a real Jew” (Editor’s note: well, um, yeah), and accusations that he was only wearing it to “cover his bald spot” (we actually thought this was pretty funny, and if you get your history lessons from Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man,” this was why the yarmulke was invented in the first place).
Somehow, this guy annoys me even more than the Messianics—he’s not even pretending to be a Jew, and he’s suing his old boss for discriminating against his Jewishness! AHHHH!!!
I have a message for all of these people that I feel would be delivered best with a rolled up newspaper (to smack them in the forehead with) and a sternly pointed index finger: “No! Stop it! Bad!” Maybe if I were to grab them by the scruff of their neck, and literally rub their noses into the newspaper (specifically, the articles portraying their ridiculous antics,) they would get the message that this is not acceptable behavior. Hey, it worked on our Golden Retriever. Of course, Golden Retrievers are a particularly intelligent breed of dog, so perhaps that’s not the best example.
There are so many out there yearning to be persecuted, people just itching for martyrdom. You want to be “chosen”? Fine, have fun! But if you think you can just waltz right in and be Jewish, keeping your Christianity, or your Theosophy, or your vanity, or your foreskin, don’t be surprised when the real Jews, the ones who cleaved to G-d and his Torah even when it was decidedly uncool and insanely dangerous to do so, don’t be shocked when they treat your newfound convictions like some kind of joke.
Nobody likes a fence-sitter.