Monday, October 12, 2015

You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Find God

David Gregory as he appeared on Meet the Press
As is often the case when someone suffers a severe setback in their lives, David Gregory has turned to religion.  For those that don’t know who that is, David was the high profile reporter for NBC News selected to replace the highly regarded and (at the time) recently deceased Tim Russert as moderator of Meet the Press. This was a plumb position – second only to being the nightly news anchor for the network. Which gave him a lot of prestige – and a lot of money too, no doubt.

But as ratings began to sink during his tenure, he was terminated. He no longer has a job in network news. For someone like Gregory, that must have been a terrible blow to his reportedly substantial ego. He went from a super high profile and highly paid career to a rather quick and embarrassing termination from his job.

Gregory has now found faith and as reported in the Forward has written a book about it. Faith is something he says he had ignored in the past. Having been brought up as a Jew albeit ignorant of what it really means he now seeks to find his faith through Judaism.

While all of this sounds good, there is a fly in the ointment. David Gregory is not Jewish. His mother was a lapsed Catholic. His sister was baptized and raised as a Catholic. But David was raised as a Jew and even attended Hebrew school. True, his father was Jewish. But one’s Judaism is determined only by one’s birth mother. Not their father. Although he thinks of himself as a Jew, he is not. And just to add more complexity to this situation his wife is not Jewish either. And yet his children are being raised to believe they are.

It is laudable that he is now finding faith – even if it is only in reaction to adverse circumstances in his life. He has undergone some introspection and is trying to connect with God. He wants… “to become the best Jew I can be, to deepen my spiritual relationship with God and try to evolve as a human being.”

That should be the goal of every Jew. But as I said, he is not a Jew.

This underscores the problem of intermarriage. He thinks he’s a Jew. His religious environment encourages him to believe that. (Reform Judaism accepts patrilineal descent.) And he is raising his children to believe that.

I consider this whole thing to be tragic. Here is a man that, were he to actually be Jewish, I would be praising his new-found search for God through Judaism. I would be seeking to convince him about the importance in Judaism of leading a Torah way of life. What better way is there for a Jew  to connect with God?  And yet if I could I would stop him in his tracks.

He is not Jewish and not observant of Halacha. Nor do I believe he intends to be. If he could be convinced of the beauty of observant Judaism… and that finding a relationship with God can best be achieved through the Torah, I would strongly encourage him to convert. And his wife. And his children.

But as it stand now, conversion is not an option - even if he were to be convinced to do so. Which I doubt.  My guess is that he would be insulted by the mere suggestion of it. ‘How dare I question his Jewishness!’ Especially when he is seeking to reconnect with God and evolve as a human being through it!

Nonetheless this is what I believe to be the truth of Judaism. He is not Jewish. What about his desire to connect with God?  Well, you don’t have to be Jewish to do that. I would tell him to be a righteous gentile and observe the basic laws of mankind (also called Shiva Mitzvos Bnei Noach - the 7 Noahide laws). Non Jews can reach great spiritual heights that way. And they can still eat lobster!

He could continue to do the things he is doing now (in addition to eating lobster) without any guilt. Like placing a Christmas tree in his house, and attending a church service in order to please his wife.  His gentile wife who refuses to convert would then not be a problem either.

That he has instituted a weekly Shabbos meal into his life is a good thing. He need not stop doing that. It enhances family time. There is nothing wrong with a non Jew eating a meal together with family once a week on a Saturday. I think everyone should do it. Not just Jews. Although when Jews do it, it is part of the requirement of Shabbos- that fact is irrelevant to non Jews. The benefits of spending quality time with your family on a regular weekly basis should be obvious to all – Jew and non Jew alike.

The way in which David Gregory’s searches for faith is truly tragic. He is sincere. He wants to connect with God. He thinks he’s Jewish. And he thinks the way he is going about it is a Jewish one. But neither of those last 2 things is true. As I indicated, I’m sure that if David read this post he would be extremely angry at me. And I wouldn’t blame him. I would be angry too if some ‘religious fanatic’ (as I’m sure he might see me) were to castigate the way I chose to seek God. But as much as I would like to say all is well with what he is doing - or better put – the way he is dong it, I cannot tell a lie. It is not.

The fact that he and his children are being raised to believe they are Jewish is harmful to the fabric of our people. Because as things like this increase, it could eventually become impossible to know who is and isn’t really Jewish - unless they are born into Orthodoxy.