By the Hebrew calendar, it’s already the 8th of Elul. However, I didn’t post on Shabbat, so this is for the 7th. Yesterday was the 7th of Elul, which is 5 days before I become a full Member of the Tribe.
Today’s theme is “be.” That’s also a toughie for me. Because today it’s raised the question: What does it mean to be a Jew?
Being is a pretty encompassing term. It’s also not a word that exists in Hebrew in the present tense – it’s all implied. This can lead to some funny weirdnesses in translation. If I say “Ani Adam,” it literally translates as “Me/I Adam.” Which is clunky in English.
But that’s not what I want to talk about tonight. Grammar is something for another day. Let’s talk about being.
When we say I AM something, we mean in the present tense. In the past year, I’ve been saying I am a Jew, more and more, rather than “I will be a Jew.” Because I have felt like I am already a Jew, and this Thursday’s scheduled activities (beit din; mikveh) are just formalities. They will be profound formalities, but they will simply affirm what I already am.
So then what does it mean to be a Jew? Is it about observing a certain number or kind of mitzvot? Is it in the way you dress? Is it in how often you go to Temple? Is it about how perfect you are about being ready for Shabbat before sundown, or not missing Havdalah? This has come up so often on this blog that it might be something my readers are tired of hearing. But today I read something on Quora about Judaism that really struck me. Lisa Reiss said:
Although the term ‘sect’ is used in regard to Judaism, it’s essentially referring to level of religious observance and regional traditions not radically different beliefs.
That, I think, is the best way to sum up the differences between my way of being a Jew and an Orthodox haredi’s way of being a Jew. And even then, I don’t think I’m at a lower level of observance than he is, but a different one.
I’m still a Jew. I may not be his kind of Jew, but I’m still a Jew.