at the Western Wall with Reb Gutman Locks on Mystical Paths
I talked the older man into putting on tefillin. He was visiting Israel from New York State. He was very friendly, and spoke warmly about Jewish, cultural things.
I wanted to help the younger one, too, but I could tell that he wasn’t Jewish. I did not know what their relationship was, and I surely did not want to embarrass anyone so, pointing to the older man, I asked him, “Who’s this?”
“He is my father.” He answered.
I was afraid of that. I tried to say something funny to get over the awkward feeling of a nice Jewish man like him having a non Jewish son. I asked, “Has he been a good father to you?”
“Yeah, he’s been okay.”
“Only, ‘okay’?” I joked. “He’s feed you and clothed you all these years? And put you through school? Seems like he’s been a great father to you.”
He smiled to show me that he was only kidding about his father. The boy is in college in England studying anthropology. The father is a hearing aid specialist.
The father explained to me that they grew up in a Reform neighborhood. They went to Reform Temple, and his kids went to Hebrew classes, and were bar and bas mitzvah’ed.
I felt so sorry for the guy. He was a sweetheart, and the boy was very nice, too. The boy was raised his entire life thinking that he was a Jew. But the Torah clearly says differently.
I spoke to him softly. I told them that even though Reform custom teaches that children of a Jewish man are Jewish, the Torah insists that the mother has to be Jewish. Then I told him that although Judaism discourages conversions, if the person’s father is Jewish we do not discourage them. We believe everyone was born who they are for a good reason, and that they should develop and become righteous as they were born. But if someone has a Jewish father that merit will help them to convert if they choose. They took the conversation very well. I assume that they have heard at least part of it before.
Some 36 years ago, in Maui Hawaii, I met a Jew who was traveling around the world on his sail boat. He was obviously a wealthy man, and his sail boat and crew showed it. We talked for a while and he told me that he was going around the world celebrating his building a five million dollar Conservative synagogue in his home town in Australia, or South Africa, I forget which it was. I asked him one of my favorite questions. “Now that you finished it, what would you have done differently?”
He said, “I would have built five one million dollar synagogues in different neighborhoods instead.” He went on to explain. “Since there is just the one big beautiful Synagogue everyone drives on Shabbat to go there. If there were five smaller ones, we could have placed them in such a way that the community would not have to drive.”
Then, he said something very interesting. “The Conservative Movement should have been more like the Chabad Houses. Instead of saying that it is alright to drive on Shabbat as long as you are going to pray, they should have said, ‘You are not supposed to drive on Shabbat, but if you do we won’t throw you out. The real problem,” he went on to say, “is that once they start driving to go to pray, they also stop on the way home to buy bagels and cream cheese and then they have lost the whole point of Shabbat.”
If the Reform movement would only tell their people what the Torah really says about who is a Jew, it would give them the option to do what they think is best. The way they have done it now makes it perfectly alright to marry a non Jew and be completely comfortable in their community. Now they have second and third generation Reform members of their Temples who are not Jewish marrying Jews who have no idea that they are marrying non Jews. Ouch!