Identity Theft?

When I was growing up, I understood what it meant to be a Jew.  It meant we had our own holidays that were different from our Christian neighbors, but we respected each other.  They had their holidays and we had ours.  I went to after school Hebrew School with other Jewish kids, and the Catholics went to their after school programs from their church.  When we got together with family, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all Jewish.  When we went to Synagogue, we got together with other Jewish people, whose parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were also all Jewish.  We were the Jews, and other people were not.  We ate bagels and lox on Sunday mornings, and my Uncle Sam would drop by and hang out with us all day, while my grandmother would sit at the kitchen table telling family stories.

Nobody else wanted to be Jewish in those days.  It wasn’t more than 15-20 years after the holocaust. What made us most noticeably different was that we got off from school on our holidays, when the other kids had to go.  I have warm memories of walking home from Shul on the High Holidays with my grandfather.

When I became Messianic, it was a very rare thing to be a Messianic Jew.  We were a very small group of Jews who believed in Yeshua in a vast sea of Christians.  When we started Messianic Jewish congregations, they were intended to be places we could belong and worship as Jews, where being a Jewish Yeshua follower was normal and we weren’t treated like oddities.  Over time, non-Jews who wanted to be supportive of Messianic Jews and our vision joined with us and we were happy to have them.

The next wave of non-Jews overwhelmed us in numbers, so that today most Messianic Jewish congregations have a majority of non-Jews, and many of them complain we are making them to be second class citizens.  I don’t make anyone second class.  I do make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews, not because anyone is better than anyone else, but because a Jew is a Jew, and a non-Jew is not, just like when I was growing up.

Many of the non-jews I know, didn’t like feeling like second class citizens, and some said that theologically they are Jews by faith.  They point to verses in the New Testament claiming they are “Children of Abraham by faith.”   That’s fine, but it still does not make them Jews.  In the Torah, Abraham speaks with God and he complains that he has no physical offspring to inherit the promises God gave him.  In Genesis 15:2-4 it says, “But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”  And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” ”  Abraham was not looking for “spiritual” heirs, but physical ones.  It’s great to be a child by faith, but not at the expense of dispossessing Abraham’s rightful heirs, his own flesh and blood.

Being Jewish was costly for our people.  Many of our ancestors were killed over the centuries because they were Jews.  They paid the ultimate price.  Many of us suffered the insults and physical trauma of anti-Semitism because we are Jews.  Many were shut out of jobs, and decent places to live because they were Jews.  When non-Jews dress up in Talitot, and take on other Jewish symbols, its like they haven’t paid the price we paid, and it is as if they are just playing with our stuff.  It’s hard for us to take it seriously.

I read a ministry newsletter a number of years ago and was appalled by an ad in it.  It said, “Don’t leave your hard-earned money to godless relatives who will spend it on wasteful non-essentials.  Leave your money to us, and let it be used for the Kingdom of God.”  What bothered me about it, was they were seeking to dispossess people’s children of the inheritance they were entitled do have.   When non-Jewish Yeshua followers claim to be spiritual Jews, and are at best no different from other Jews, and at worst, claim to have replaced the “physical Jews” as Abraham’s rightful heirs and children, they are in fact trying to usurp from Abraham’s children from what is rightfully theirs. Paul wrote in Romans 9:3-5 “… my brothers’ sake, my relatives according to the flesh,who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service, and the promises;of whom are the fathers, and from whom is Messiah as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen.”

Paul understood that the promises to the Jewish people were theirs.  The covenants of the Jewish people are theirs, and the Messiah, is theirs, whether they understand him to be so or not.   It is fine for the non-Jews to come along side us and share in the blessings of God.  It is not fine to try to replace us, and claim we are not the rightful heirs, but they are.   The fact is, someday, when Abraham looks for his children, he will be expecting to see a family resemblance.


39 thoughts on “Identity Theft?

  1. Over twenty years ago, I was regularly attending a Messianic synogogue in Los Angeles and began dating a Jewish girl who was a member of the congregation. This inspired the leader of the congregation, a good shepherd of his flock, to make a point of getting to know me better, speaking to me about how I saw myself fitting in to the congregation as a non-Jew. It was a forthright, genuine conversation which ended up his saying to me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, with regard to our personal, ethnic identities that I should “be who I am” and he should, as a Jew, “be who he was,” and he gave me the title of a book about non-Jewish fighter pilots who fought for Israel in the 1948 War for Independence. He stressed the obligation intrinsic to every person to be who God made them to be. I never forgot that conversation; I agreed with it then and still do now. As a Gentile who follows Yeshua in the Jewish way that He lived, I find it wonderfully grateful to be grafted into Israel, a sharer in God’s promises to His people, while simutaneously fulfilling my role as a God-fearing Gentile who has thrown his hat into the ring with the Jewish people, come what may. It is good to be who you are in Messiah. It makes sense to me that when He gave me life as a Gentile that He intended for us to live out our destiny as such, and that if I were to somehow depart from His envisioned will for my life as a Gentileis to somehow be unfaithful to His overall intent and purpose. I have no more intention of betraying the identity my Creator endowed me with than I have of laying claim to some honor that has never been bestowed upon me by the proper authority. My gratitude to be a redeemed Gentile who’s been grafted into Israel through faith in Yeshua , it seems to me, would somehow be misplaced if I were to assume any identity other than the one He gave me in the first place. I stand with Israel from within the commonwealth of Israel, but as a God-fearing individual, a naturalized immigrant-citizen of strong Irish-Italian stock, grateful to be counted among the number of His people.

    • Oh, and thank you for raising such an important subject in a way that both emphasizes the importance of preserving Jewish identity while also holding we non-Jews accountable for diminishing Jewish identity through the often thoughtless over-externalization of Jewish culture before the eyes of the watching world.

  2. This is a hard one for many to deal with. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and nobody else is a Jew. Yet, the Gentile can become so attached to us that he begins to feel he has become spiritually Jewish, and as you have said that is identity theft. I suggest that, if a Gentile feels that closely attached to the Jewish people, he ought to take some time, lots of time, and pray about whether he should consider conversion. That way he can actually BE a Jew, but he needs to consider it very carefully, because it is a one-way street. For the right person, it can be a whole new and very rewarding life, even though one has to accept the hazards that go with it. It is, however, absolutely a journey with no return possible.

  3. I understand exactly what you say, however I believe(as believers) our identity whether Jew or Gentile should be in Yeshua, and of course One New Man would be an excellent identity.

    • Cindy, the problem with your view, is that its not “on earth.” By this I mean that your identity can be in Yeshua, but you are still a woman and not a man and still a non-Jew and not a Jew. and still a wife and not a husband. Identity is not so simple and one sided that it is in “Yeshua,” and that’s it, case closed. Identity is more complicated than that. I have two problems with the “One New Man” identity: First, the “One New Man” is never a Jewish man, and always looks amazingly like the non-Jews who are telling me that’s what we need to be. The second, and more major problem, is that the term would be better translated, “One New Humanity.” It is actually referring to us being a new type of humanity, but nevertheless, we are still men and women, Jews and gentiles, slaves and freemen in that new humanity. It means as a Jew, I am a more spiritual, godly human being, and as a non-Jew, you are a more spiritual, godly human being. It doesn’t mean I ceased to be a Jew, and it doesn’t mean you ceased to be a non-Jew.

  4. Dr. Schiffman, Your excellent post give me a lot to think about. And to it I say amen! As you and I have discussed, I am not a “wannabe Jew and I have never claimed to be Jewish, either physically or spiritually. But I do wear a kipah and talit for worship service and at times when praying at home. I do not do so lightly, but humbly and respectfully and out of obedience. Please allow me to explain. Early in my involvement with the Messianic movement I felt compelled to wear them but was unsure as to why. One Shabbat morning as I was dressing to go to shul I asked the Lord, “Why am I in this movement, why am I wearing a kipah and talit and why am I doing other Jewish things?” The answer came in a way that surprised me. The answer came to me very clearly from every location in the room. Not in an audible voice but in a profound presence, “You are called to the Jews.” (The experience still gives me chills when I stop to remember it.) Since that time I have remained faithful to the movement and sought to minister to my Jewish brethren as Ha Shem has led. My first ministry is to my wife. She discovered about 12 years ago that she had a Jewish grandmother on her birth father’s side. (She was adopted.) I began ministering to the congregation by doing small tasks, then was asked to serve as Rosh Shamash. I currently serve as President of the trustees of Beth Yeshua. I have never sought a position of authority in the congregation. I simply said yes when I was called. I am still discovering the full extent and meaning of my calling and don’t know where it will eventually take me, but I do know there is more.

  5. We consider, and tell people, that we have embraced the Hebrew Roots of Christianity. So I have a question (not being a smart alec here, just an honest question). Is it offensive to Jewish people when gentiles who ‘see the light’ of Torah want to obey what is written, out of a love for our Messiah? For example, we don’t feel compelled to keep kashrut to its fullest extent that the Orthodox do, but we do abide by the do-not-eat list in Leviticus. We obey the Sabbath command. The males don’t wear kippah. They also don’t wear tzit tzit (although we own a prayer shawl w/them). So, as far as gentiles go, what should be ‘in’ & what ‘out’? Who decides? (We do not currently attend a Messianic congregation we still go to a ‘church’.) My opinion on so many gentiles coming into Messianic Judaism is that MJ is prophetically having happen what God said would happen in Deut 4:6 ‘the nations will say what great nation is this whose God…’. We’re moths to the flame.

    • I have no problem whatsoever with what you describe. I think it is fine for non Jews to follow Torah as a way of life. It is not offensive to Jewish people for non Jews to embrace our Torah. It becomes offensive when they try to dress like us, and say they ARE us. You are not doing that. You are respectful, honoring Jewish Identity, and standing together with us. I think this is wonderful, and I am thankful that we have friends like you.

      • “have no problem whatsoever with what you describe. I think it is fine for non Jews to follow Torah as a way of life. It is not offensive to Jewish people for non Jews to embrace our Torah. It becomes offensive when they try to dress like us, and say they ARE us. You are not doing that. You are respectful, honoring Jewish Identity, and standing together with us. I think this is wonderful, and I am thankful that we have friends like you.”

        Wow, Dr. Schiffman, I am full of mixed emotions.
        You are of course aware that major part of Jewish leadership throughout the generations forbade Gentiles from studying the Torah beyond the “7 Noachide laws” on the penalty of death?

        What about “genuine” Jews like me who not always wear a Kippa or a tzitzit, am I stil considered a Jew? And since Believing Yeshua is Messiah is not the Jewish thing to do, am I a Jew still? Shouldn’t I adhere to Judaism and stop believing Messiah? I agree with you that they shall not be dressing like us, but Paul included the covenants in Ephes. 2:12…..

      • Wow Dan… I haven’t heard from you in a while. Nice to see you.
        I have never said non-Jews could not follow Torah. I said there were certain parts that are Jewish identity markers, just as there are certain parts for kohanim, women, men, kings, etc. In general, I believe all nations, according to the Naviim would eventually embrace the Torah. While I generally do follow Jewish tradition, I didn’t say it is on the same level as the Torah. Because I am in favor of tradition, some people probably erroneously assume I fully accept Rabbinic authority as authoritative as Torah. I know you wouldn’t jump to such a conclusion or mischaracterize me.

        To me, a Jew is a Jew, whether he wears a kippa or tzitzit or not. And a non-Jew is still a non-Jew even if he wears that stuff. I do what I think is right, and expect everyone to do what they think is right. HOWEVER, when people take Jewish forms and disregard their traditional meanings, and the parameters of their usage in the Jewish world, it becomes a more serious problem. It starts to look like a minstrel show, a pitiful charactature of the reality, which many find insulting. If people want to embrace Torah, thats fine and good. If they say it makes them Jews, thats something else again.

    • IWe, great article!

      “The themes of Jewish Disneyland are romanticism, exoticization, folklorization and historicization of everything Jewish. As a result, that which is really Jewish becomes (or is made) invisible. The fictions of Jewish Disneyland increasingly become the measure of reality for the media, which present them as “Jewish culture”. Real Jews, insofar as they are still around, cannot match the fictional image. They are therefore a disappointment.

      How true is the above for many Messianic congregations today!

  6. Pingback: Identity Theft? - - christian families network

  7. Thank for your reply Dr.

    “To me, a Jew is a Jew, whether he wears a kippa or tzitzit or not. And a non-Jew is still a non-Jew even if he wears that stuff. I do what I think is right, and expect everyone to do what they think is right. HOWEVER, when people take Jewish forms and disregard their traditional meanings, and the parameters of their usage in the Jewish world, it becomes a more serious problem. It starts to look like a minstrel show, a pitiful charactature of the reality, which many find insulting. If people want to embrace Torah, thats fine and good. If they say it makes them Jews, thats something else again.”

    I agree 100%. But here is where the water get muddy. Since a non-Jew can follow the Torah, he reads Numb. 15:37 and wants to follow it. Down the street there is a Judaica store where he can buy a tzitzit. He buys one and also a blue thread. He comes to the congregation on Shabbat all happy because he fulfilled a mizvah and they tell him that because he is not Jewish he cannot wear a tzitzit, so he discards the tzitzit (Talit Katan) and get some tzitziyot with blue thread and attache them to his belt loops or saws them to his shirt. He comes to the congregation and the people tell him that this is an abomination to Judaism. He knows that to follow Torah he has to wear a tzitzit, but in order to be a part of MJ he needs to discard all this “stuff.” What should he do?

    • Dan, first of all, the non-Jew that reads something in the Torah and wants to do it, doesn’t mean it is theirs to do. I could read in the Torah that the Kohain Gadol went into the holy of holies and made an offering. Joe shmoe can’t just decide he wants to do that mitzvah and do it. All mitzvot are not universal. Personally, what the guy does in the privacy of his own home is his own business. He could wear tzitzit in his pants if he wants to keep the mitzvah without wearing them on the outside and risk a useless balagan. I come from the tradition of not letting other people see your tzitzit, as it is a private mitzvah. if hes doing it to be showy, hes opening himself up for criticism. If he is going to the congregation down the street, he needs to follow the rules of that community. If he doesn’t like that, he can move on. – thats my view.. but I’m sure other people feel differently.

  8. Dr. Schiffman,

    The problem I have with this is, whereas the mizvot for men, women, chohanim, cohen gadol and such are clearly stated in the Torah, there is no specific mizvot that are designated only for Gentiles. Also there are no mizvot given to Israel that say that Gentiles should not keep. In the case of the tzitzit it does not state that only men should wear them, hence, if I am not mistaken Rashi’s daughters wore them.

    I agree with you though that wearing a tzitzit for the sake of spectacle is a farce at best. I also agree that Tzitzit should be worn inside the pants, (or skirt?…..)

    • you are right Dan, there are not specific mitzvot that are designated for only Gentiles. That is because the Torah was not given to them. This is a Besorah innovation, which is why we make application based on principles that are inherent in the Torah and not on direct commandment.

  9. Hello, Dr. S… I read your blog regularly and am always grateful for the thought it inspires within me. I understand and agree with all that you’ve stated. At our weekly Torah Club studies (comprised fully of non-Jews), several times I’ve brought a kippah with me (I have several that have been given to me from friends visiting Israel), put it on, and then taken it off, setting it on the table in front of me. I then explain that if I choose to wear a head covering while praying or lighting candles for a Shabbat in my home with my family, that is one thing. It is a beautiful symbol acknowledging God’s covering over me, among other things. For me, personally, it is also like a endearing symbol of solidarity with the Jewish people who represent the vehicle of my redemption through Yeshua, Israel. However, I further explain that I would never choose to wear a kippah in public as it would cause undo confusion and tension, even anxiety to those who hold it dear to their hearts. I’m grateful to be able to walk as Yeshua walks – to acknowledge the festivals and Shabbat as He did, for instance – as a Gentile who does not feel compelled to appear Jewish while doing so. While working with CHAI, the Center for Holocaust Awareness & Information in Rochester, NY, planning a full-day seminar for teachers in the Roman Catholic diocese on survivor testimony and how to use it in the classroom (two survivors spoke to nearly 100 Catholic classroom teachers), a priest of African-American ethnic origin working on the planning team emphasized to me the great need for non-blacks to speak out on racism because when blacks do so, it comes off like “sour grapes.” As a Gentile, I see myself as a greater asset to the Jewish people by remaining culturally as I am while following Yeshua’s Torah-observant model as the Living Torah. Israel is stronger, I think, when grafted-in Gentiles lock arms with the Jewish people without assimilating into Jewish culture. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Ecclesiastes 4:9 Nice to touch base with you again…

  10. Dr, Sciffman and Mr. hennessy you sure burning the midnight oil…

    One thing that is hard for me to accept is when a gentile who is grafted in is deprived from being equal withih Judaism but not in God’s eyes. there was no case of separation between Jews and gentiles in the first century belivers. Paul did not open two congregation one for the jew and another th o the gentiles, they were grafted in as equal. The did the same think as the Jews but remained gentiles, I think it was a good arrangement. It comes down to education. God is not a respecter of person.

    • Dan, I think you are mixing two different things. Grafted in gentiles are in, but it doesn’t mean there are no distinctions. There are distinctions between men and women, Kohanim and Yisrael, but they are still Jews, and equally loved in the sight of God. They just have different laws pertaining to different groups. It would be reasonable to assume that grafted in gentiles would be subject to the same sort of distinctions, yet equal in the sight of God. By way of example: I have two sons. One is my biological son, the other is adopted. I love them both equally, as if both came forth from my loins (pardon the biblical language). I am also a Kohain. My biological son is a kohain, because the Torah decreed him to be such by virtue of his genetics. My adopted son is not a kohain, because his biological father was not a kohain. They are not unequal or more or less loved in my eyes or heart. I would give my life for either of them. But one will have different strictures on him than the other. My biological son will not be able to go to a cemetary unless it is for a close relative. My adopted son can visit any cemetery anytime he wants. If my biological son recites the birkat kohanim, people will respond amen. If my adopted son says it, they will respond ken ye’hi ratzon. God is no respecter of persons, and when it comes to my children, I love them the same, and the fact that torah applies differently to each of them doesn’t change that in God’s eyes, or mine, but that’s the way it is.

      • Dr. Schiffman, it is another issue, but I would be very interested to know how you feel and think about reciting the birkat cohanim in Christian services.

      • Thanks for your question Iris. I have seen variations of the Birkat Kohanim in Jewish as well as Christian services. It really is a wonderful blessing to pronounce on people. I would not presume to tell Christians how they should conduct any part of their worship, just as i wouldn’t want them to tell me how we should conduct ours. In Jewish services, when you have Kohanim pronounce the Birkat Kohanim, the people respond Amen. When a non-Kohain pronounces it, we say “Ken Ye’hi Ratzon,” may it be so, because one is not sure if it will come to pass if a non-Kohain says it, because only the Kohanim were commanded to say it. When Christians use it in their services, in my opinion, it falls into the Ken Ye’hi Ratzon category. God can bless whom He wishes. I don’t feel it is the same when a non-Kohain, either Jewish or non-Jewish does it and when a Kohain does it. I may be biased, but that is my view.

  11. Mr. Hennessy, my hat is off to you. Not all Gentiles are as perceptive as you. I, for one, welcome your fellowship. Even though I don’t know you personally, I am honored to walk side by side with you in Yeshua.

    • Mr. ben Avraham… Toda raba… you made my day. It’s a blessing and a privilege whenever I can successfully communicate even a parsec of my inner sense of respectful, autonomous, solidarity with my Jewish siblings within the body of Messiah while celebrating my adopted inclusion into the commonwealth as a redeemed Gentile. It is a difficult proposition, given the insensitivity of many Gentiles to traditional Jewish norms w/in the Messianic movement, to articulate why it is so important to respect the intrinsic Jewish character of Jewish believers (and the Jewish people-at-large) by way of humbly entering into our new redemptive land (the commonwealth of Israel) as grateful immigrants with much to learn before assuming self-appointed authority to adapt Jewish tradition to ourselves too quickly in oversimplified ways. As a Holocaust educator (who has been blessed to work along w/ Dr. Schiffman on a web-based Yom HaShoah project produced some months ago by First Fruits of Zion), my perspective is clarified both by years of trial-and-error as a Gentile living w/in the Messianic Jewish community, but also by looking through the lens of the “Righteous Among The Nations” who rescued Jews during the Shoah. It is, for example, somehow instructive for me to observe that Gentiles in Nazified Christian Europe retained precious possession of pragmatic material and sociological resources imperative to the rescue of Jewish individuals. As a Jew, those resources were menacingly stripped away, hence, made unavailable for self-rescue. I find this somehow relevant with regard to our joint mission today as followers of Yeshua. As Gentiles, retention of our pre-existing, non-Jewish character as believers becomes a kind of “added-on” or supplemental “special asset,” if you will, to the Jewish people, that does not come into play if Gentile believers reject their non-Jewish identity in their walk with God upon saving belief in Yeshua. Further, after two thousand years of “triumphalistic Christianity’s” tragic impact on the Jewish people, it also seems right and good for us Gentile spiritual immigrants to intentionally assume a position of humility within the body of Messiah by respecting the pre-ordinate Jewishness of our fellow believing Jewish siblings in order to preserve its divine significance without compromising its God-ordained integrity. Which is to say, not corrupt and/or dilute it with well-intentioned but misplaced religious zeal. To remember our place within the body is to not presume to be anything we are not. For the sincere and grateful immigrant, naturalization into a new land takes time and effort and dedication. Finally, on a somewhat “spooky,” more esoteric note, as Replacement Theology contributed heavily to the building of the road leading to Auschwitz, although the idea that follows may sound far-fetched and convoluted to the point of appearing to resemble a [mild] form of paranoia, inspired, no doubt by my intense familiarity with the Holocaust, whatever the cause, I must be honest and admit that when Gentiles within the Messianic community become overzealous in their incorporation of externally visible Jewish cultural symbols, it begets an eerie feeling deep within me that reverberates with haunting echoes of the tragic past, and I wonder, if quietly, almost unnoticeably within myself: “Is it [a mutational form of replacement] happening again? This time in reverse? What might the consequences be this time?” Thanks again, Mr. ben Avraham, for such a meaningful expression of encouragement. You really did make my day. Blessings and shalom to you and yours. ~ Daniel

  12. Dr. Schiffman,

    Thanks again for the reply. Seems to me the scenario you painted is off kilt. (sorry to disappoint you Gene). The Torah states clearly the mizvot for Cohanim, so there is no problem if the adopted son is not a Cohen. A more accurate analogy will be, say the adopted son is black. Are you going to love him less because the color of his skin? Will he have to perform different chores around the house? Pray different prayers? will you allow him to assimilate into the family without changing the color of his skin?

    • Dan, With all respect, I have to disagree with your assessment. The scenario is dead on target. Gentiles are called in the NT as sons by adoption. He can be my son, but can not become a Kohain. It has nothing to do with love. It has to do with a distinction made by the Torah. Just because a gentile accepts Yeshua does not make him a Jew. The point of acts 15 and acts 21 is that gentiles do not need to convert to Judaism to embrace the Messiah of Israel, but if they wish to study Torah, they are more than welcome to do so. My adopted son is a Jew, but not a Kohain. To make the analogy work, and suit what I think you were trying to do in yours, my adopted son is fully a Schiffman. He was not born one, but is one by adoption. He as all the rights and privileges as all of my Schiffman children. He has the benefit of being raised my me, and will bear the blessings of being my child. He can not however, be a Kohain as my other son is. I appreciate you caring so much about this issue.

      • Dr. Schiffman,

        In essence we agree. Your adopted son and the imagine black Gentile adopted son are fully equal within your house, they share equally in all the privileges and duties, the only one thing they cannot be is Cohen. Why? Because your adopted son is Jewish? The black son is Gentile? No! It is because God ordained that Choanim can come only from a certain bloodline. We are both Jews. You are a chohen, I am not, because I am not from the same bloodline, I don’t have the same DNA. This is sepcified in the Torah. But the Torah does not specify who can or cannot wear a tzitzit.

        To take a strange child and love him like he is your own takes a mughty big heart, and you have one my freind (hope I can call you that)…

  13. “The next wave of non-Jews overwhelmed us in numbers, so that today most Messianic Jewish congregations have a majority of non-Jews, and many of them complain we are making them to be second class citizens.”
    One thing I find interesting about Messianic Judaism is the number of Gentiles who claim an ancestor was Jewish. Perhaps a great Grandfather. A friend said he did research in a Jewish library and discovered Jewish roots.. Another said their ancestors were Marranos and became part of the Spanish diaspora and they have a Jewish last name. It’s a distinction that seperates them from “gentiles”. How should this be approached?

    • “How should this be approached?”

      I have had quite a bit of congregational experience with such claims and I found that most if not all of them were groundless and dubious at best on closer inspection. A few well worded questions usually clear this right up. One way to approach this is to go by an established halachic definition of Jewishness (e.g. if your mother is Jewish then so are you). Some liberal Jewish streams (e.g. Reform) also accept those whose fathers are Jewish as Jews. Again, a few questions can really bring out the truth.

    • Glenn, thanks for your question. There is a Yiddish term called the “Pintele Yid,” the spark of Jewishness. I believe those sparks remain alive through the generations. However, the question arises, “how far back can someone have a Jewish ancestor and still be called a Jew? This analogy has been helpful for some. If I have a cup of coffee and put a teaspoon of water in it, it is still a cup of coffee. If I take a cup of coffee and put it under the faucet, and run the water for one minute, there may be coffee in the cup but it is no longer a cup of coffee. Each case is different, and if the ancestor is quite remote, conversion is always an option if they wish to fully identify as a Jew.


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