Q. My mother was born Jewish but married a gentile and I was baptised and as a child was brought up as a Christian. I now want to be recognised as a Jew out of conviction. Do I need to re-convert?
A. Because of your maternal background you are Jewish according to Jewish law.
But the matter is complicated by the fact that you were officially received into Christianity and practised it (though you do not tell me whether you have followed the Christian faith in the years since your childhood).
Therefore your acceptance of Judaism needs to be confirmed by means of immersion in a mikvah and a declaration of acceptance of the Torah.
In the first instance you should consult an orthodox rabbi and follow his advice. It is unlikely that any obstacles will be placed in your way.
In fact the return to Judaism which you seek is bringing an increasing number of people back to the Jewish fold.
If all or even most of the people in your situation re-asserted their Judaism, both they and we would be immensely strengthened.
Added features for the parasha:
God told Moses that when the Hebrew people left Egypt it would not be empty-handed (Ex. 3:21-22). The long years of unpaid servitude needed to be compensated.
We might have thought that no amount of compensation would ever be adequate – but this is not the Torah’s view. It told the Hebrews to ask their Egyptian neighbours to give them vessels of silver and gold.
What did the neighbours have to say? Did they give willingly? The M’chilta says that they did, probably out of remorse. How is this possible? All those years of servitude – how could they be compensated by gold and silver! Surely nothing could pay for the suffering.
The M’chilta however is saying that the gold and silver are not meant to be a reward or reparations. They are an acknowledgement that great sins have been committed. They are a token or symbol of repentance.
RIVERS OF BLOOD
The Ten Plagues hit horrifically at the central features of Egyptian life, the economy, the agriculture, the food supply, the transport network, the monarchy, the theology, the class system.
No wonder the upheaval was so devastating. The targets were all the things that the Egyptians regarded as mighty and divine. Imagine the furore – the great imperial palace was attacked, the Nile became a river of blood, the animals sickened and died. Normal living became impossible.
Centuries later the Haggadah emphasised an ethical lesson which the rabbis had recommended, the recognition that the Egyptians were human beings and despite their wickedness they deserved a modicum of respect.
The Ten Plagues, however, were a necessary tug of war which pitted the God of Israel against the gods of Egypt. It was the struggle of power as against puniness. It was proof that those who defy God are themselves defied!
Rabbi Dr. Raymnd Apple, AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective..