Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thorny Issues

Wrestling with this issue is the thing that prompted me to start this blog. Having come out of the broom closet as a Jewitch, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that means for me - how far can I step outside of conventional rabbinic Judaism and incorporate practices I find meaningful from other earth-based spiritualities without breaking the oath I took when I converted? It seems that the majority of those who identify themselves as Jewitches come from a Jewish heritage which gives them an undeniable right to claim to be Jewish. Although there are a few I've run into who converted to Judaism, those who converted under the guidance of a Reform rabbi don't seem to have to have taken the same oath I did despite it being part of the official conversion documents produced by the UAHC aka URJ or if they did, the same things don't bother them that bother me or nobody is saying anything about it which doesn't help me either.

  1. I make this affirmation as I enter the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, the children of Israel.
  2. I choose to become a Jew of my own free will.
  3. I accept Judaism to the exclusion of all other religions, faiths and practices and now pledge my loyalty to Judaism and the Jewish people under all circumstances.
  4. I promise to establish a Jewish home and participate actively in the life of the synagogue and the Jewish community.
  5. I commit myself to the pursuit of Torah and Jewish knowledge.
  6. If I am blessed with children, I will rear them as Jews.

Most of it isn't a problem and in fact a joy; of the sticking points though, #6 appears to be a moot point and #4 was entered into with good intentions but some things just don't work out. Even when we moved up here to the middle of nowhere we chose this piece of nowhere partially because it has a beautiful synagogue and appeared to have a Jewish community to participate actively in - look for another post on my views about that. I therefore consider myself absolved on that count since moving is not an option and the nearest synagogue we feel comfortable with is 4.5 hrs away. Between my unpredictable inability to travel distances due to the fibromyalgia and seizure disorder and the fact that Dad isn't really able to maintain the house for a day in winter, which is effectively half the year, we just don't get down there more than a few times a year. One of my real regrets of living up here.

Item #3 is the problem and makes me wonder if in stepping outside of recognized Jewish practices I'm an oathbreaker. Many rabbis and Jews would say yes including probably the ones who created that oath and the rabbi who oversaw my conversion but how much should that really count for? I know at least one rabbi, Gershon Winkler of the Walking Stick Foundation, that would applaud my wrestlings and might even affirm my decision if I decide to take on practices that I find meaningful say from Wicca. Knowing him though he'd point out the things in Judaism's own earth based mystery tradition that would cover whatever need I'm trying to cover by drawing from other earth based religions; unfortunately he's not readily accessible for me and I don't have access to the resources he draws from so I'm kind of on my own there. Another rabbi that might support my meldings is Rabbi Jill Hammer co-founder of Tel Shemesh a site I use frequently as a resource. I'd dearly love to study with her and possibly engage in the Kohenet training program but between the economy, the fibro, taking care of dad and the distance I don't see how that's happening but I digress. Even knowing that there are leaders of the Jewish community who would be supportive doesn't make this isssue much easier as it is something I have to square with myself. The language in #3 is pretty clear on not adopting the practices of other religions so that raises the question of what is the essence of Judaism in regard to how and what it can absorb from other cultures?


  1. Welcome to Jewitchery! :)

    With respect to your dilemma regarding #3 (assuming you made that oath), the way I see it, you have two choices:

    1. Reinterpret the terms of your oath (which can be done). For example, Torah and Judaism are not the same thing. And, there are many kinds of Judaism - the one you make for yourself can be one of them. Take control of the words of your oath, and define its meaning for yourself. Don't let a rabbi (or the community even) do that for you. Jewitchery is itself now, a form of Judaism. Also, cultural expressions of your ancestral heritage are part of your own Jewish particularity now, and don't let 'born Jews' bully you into not incorporating the cultural aspects of your heritage you want to keep into the expression of your own Jewish particularity. You DO NOT have to be 'just like' someone raised from birth within the 'Jewish culture'. You are a unique Jew. Please remember that and don't cut off part of yourself because people might say "it's not Jewish" to do that. Yes it is if you choose it to be. You are certainly Jewish now, even those expressions of yourself which are unique to you. UNDERSTAND THIS. You and EVERYTHING YOU ARE is Jewish whether it 'seems' Jewish to those born in the Jewish culture or not.

    2. Don't bother with the redefinition and decide that you may have broken that particular oath. Even if you have, that 'fact' DOES NOT nullify your Jewishness or conversion. So what if you have broken that particular oath? Judaism is not Torah and is not the Jewish people. For the rabbi/beit din to have had you make that particular oath in the first place to become converted is an illegitimate addition. It is illegitmate to ask a convert to make an oath to Judaism. It's not Judaism mi-Sinai. My point is this - the oath to Judaism has no impact on the validity of your conversion, so even if you have broken that oath, you are still a Jew. And, you are no different than a 'born Jew' who is a Jewitch.

  2. And actually, there's a third option, which I don't have time this morning to elaborate on and will return to later, but consider this - your obligation to and liability for this vow becomes nullified in the face of your greater obligation to your Divine Spark.

  3. May a vow never become a prison for your soul. Wherever your path may lead, may you be free to go:

    Judaism's View On Religious Vows
    Witchcraft's View On Religious Vows

    Consequently, if you've ever been to a Kol Nidre service, your oath in #3 has been nullified as far as Judaism is concerned and you are free to be a Jew any way your neshamah leads you.

  4. Myfanwy,

    Thanks for your comments, welcome and encouragement. I feel slightly silly after reading this latest comment because it is so obvious re: Kol Nidre but it never struck me before on a truly personal level since I generally don't go around making vows which might need annulment and therefore Kol Nidre seemed something of a halachic relic. That's what I get for not giving things enough thought in the right context.

  5. Hi there, I might add that the truth is, there is much in earth based Judaism that we share with Wicca. Wicca is of course a religion, and my practice does not involve that, but I do learn much from Wicca and not surprisingly in my learning I inevitably find the same in Judaism. There are more books out there that may help, and this blog is also a start. People are finding you and you will find your way. Myfanwy is very correct. Conversion to Judaism today is NOT what it once was. There was a time when if someone chose to join our tribe we told them of the difficulties of being Jewish, how we are persecuted and such, we would push them away with one hand while pulling them towards us with the other hand and if after ALL that, they still wanted to be part of us, we welcomed them as our own, NEVER again mentioning their geirut (conversion).

  6. I'm glad other people are finding the same things I am between Wicca and Judaism. I'm thinking that my practice may end up being Wiccan flavored versus any of the other Pagan traditions out there just because there are practices that Wicca has developed that speak to me and it's more geared to where I live and my N. European cultural background than Judaism. I've never been to Israel but am thinking that if I was able to see and feel Eretz Israel then maybe I'd be able to get more out of the earth based traditions we have in Judaism. As it is they're not quite hitting all the spiritual receptors - ie. it's kind of hard to experience the physicality of Sukkot when it's just too bloody cold or the counting of the Omer when the fields have barely been planted by Shavuot.

    As far as conversion goes, there weren't the type of classes available that you find now so I had to go through the whole rejection thing. I'm glad it's opened up a lot. At least it isn't seen as such a black mark to be a convert but I do find circumstances where not coming from a Jewish family can make things awkward and feeling left out. The one problem I am having with the new openness about conversion is that in an effort to make it not such a big deal to be a 'Jew-by-Choice' some focus has been on how each Jew chooses to be Jewish and I feel it doesn't do justice to the trials and tribulations that the ger goes through and how it is a different experience. It's a 2 edged sword and I don't know if there is a good answer.