Judaism, Racism, and Converts

Image: Person immersing in water. (free-photos / pixabay)

Currently on Twitter there is an argument raging as to whether Jews are a “race.” Leaving aside the fact that race is a social construct to begin with, I am increasingly angry at arguments that insist that DNA determines Jewishness and that Judaism is a race.

Converts to Judaism are legitimate Jews, no matter their skin color or ancestry. Stop erasing us by insisting that Jews are a race. Jews are a people, and that is not the same thing.

Read the paragraph above a few times, please. Let it sink in. The gerei hatzedek, the people for whom we ask a reward in the Tzadikim section of the weekday Amidah, are real Jews, not “Jews Lite” or “Jews Sorta:”

May your compassion, O God our God, be aroused over the righteous and over the godly; over the leaders of your people, the house of Israel and over the remnant of their sages; over the true proselytes and over us. Grant a good reward to all who truly trust in your name, and place our lot among them; may we never come to shame, for in you we trust. Blessed are you, O God, you who are the stay and trust of the righteous.

– from the Amidah in Birnbaum, Daily Prayer Book, pp 88-90 with adjustments for modern English. Emphasis mine.

Conversion to Judaism is a long process. We have learned, by the time we get to the mikveh, that some Jews will refuse to accept us as genuine. We embrace Torah anyway.

We have been told about anti-Semitism, and in many cases, we encounter it from old friends or even from relatives – we know what we are signing up for. We embrace Torah anyway.

We know that if we are blessed with children, we have signed those children up for the hatred of anti-Semites and the skepticism of racist Jews, and we embrace Torah anyway.

As no less an authority as Maimonides asserted in a letter to the ger Obadiah in the 12th century:

since you have come under the wings of the Divine Presence and confessed the Lord, no difference exists between you and usDo not consider your origin as inferior. 

Letter to Obadiah the Proselyte, from A Maimonides Reader, ed. Isadore Twersky.  Behrman House, 1972

We are here. We are genuine. Stop erasing us with foolish racist arguments.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

10 thoughts on “Judaism, Racism, and Converts”

  1. Dani Ishai Behan is such a polemicist, I see.

    His argument relies on his claim that Israeli Jews are not of “European”, but of Middle Eastern, ancestry. So he concludes that they have an ancestral, a genetic, right to “own” Israel.

    From what I’ve read, he has nothing against converts per se, but his logic requires him to insist that “white” converts are only 0.01% of all Jews today.

    He’s a nut cake; posts hundreds of b/w photos of Jews, darkening the photos to support his claim that they are not “white”.

    The Washington DC Holocaust Museum has a similar display, done by the Nazis to “prove” that Jews were not “European”, not “white”, not human.

    1. I agree with your point about Behan. For him it is about “owning” Israel. For others, it is about side-stepping accusations of racism in Jewish communities. Either way they wind up at conclusions that are hurtful and untrue.

  2. Yes, yes, YES! Thank you for this. Genetics have determined that I’m 4.2% Ashkenazi (owing credence to the family lore that my great, great, great grandmother was a German Jew), but I’m a convert and feel 100% Jewish because, as you said, we are a people. My African-American husband is currently going through the conversion process, and will be joining the ever growing list of POC Jews. It forever hurts to be rejected or not considered a real Jew, but this is a great reminder that they don’t define who we are. Again, thank you!

    1. I am a bit concerned that by centering the experience of converts, and my own experience as a white convert, I have overstepped a boundary and injured JOC. However my intended audience is white Jews who insist that Jewishness is a race. It just isn’t.

  3. I know who this guy “Dani” is since he is very active in various popular social media. There’s definitely something off about that guy.

    He is OBSESSED with promoting the notion that Jews (especially Askhenazi) aren’t white. He talks about little else.

    He’s so over the top and polemical and melodramatic about this that I can’t help but suspect he’s an Alt-Right troll. If you’ve ever seen a photo of him he’s a particularly pale skinned individual (odd for a person so obsessed with claiming he isn’t white).

    Another really odd thing is that he has at times claimed to be “half Celtic”. I realize he’s had articles published online but standards and vetting today aren’t what they used to be.

    [Note: This post posted prematurely when I first started writing it and there isn’t an edit option so I just reposted and completed my thoughts.]

    1. I hear that “Dani” is irritating to you. What would you like him to do? If you could have a real conversation with it, what would you like to say?

      1. Frankly, I’d like him to provide proof that he is what he presents himself as online.

        I don’t think he is. I don’t think he’s even Jewish. Whatever his motives are, if you look at what he says online, basically everything he writes invariably is geered towards one thing, which is to assert that Jews aren’t white. In the process of doing so he often makes some pretty outlandish assertions. It’s really really weird.

      2. As to the second part of your question (what would I like to say to him), I would like to ask him about some of the more outlandish assertions he’s made and why he supposedly thinks they are true and what compelling evidence he is basing it on.

        I don’t know what your familiarity with this person’s postings are but some of them are do bizarre it’s hard not to strongly suspect he isn’t trolling.

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