The topic of Sukkot was so well researched and executed that I managed to somehow extract the original speech from little Amy and keep it for reference as the benchmark was set. I didn’t follow the Dali Lama on Twitter but since the last Harborview, I have added the Dali Lama.
Instead of exclusively broadcasting plagiarized materials from the internet, I thought it would be more engaging to have a group discussion in conjunction with my speech.
The topic I have chosen for discussion is a topic that is of relevance to everyone in the room: What defines us as being Jewish. This topic is at the core of us being here together and I am sure that after a long week of work, everyone still has a bit of energy to engage in a group discussion.
Before we commence this part of the evening, I must revert to the original task of discussing the weekly torah portion: "vayera", genesis 18:1-22:24. This particular portion incorporates three chapters. It is about Sodom and Gomorrah, birth of Isaac and Ishmael and where Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac. My interpretations of the chapters was that Abraham was forced into taking the ultimate test of faith in G-d on the basis that he feared G-d and entrusted G-d -The passage stated:
Then an angel of the Lord called to him from heaven: "Abraham! Abraham!" And he answered, "Here I am."
12 And he said, "Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me."
13 When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.
Let me give you some background: In my modern quest for knowledge about my religion, I went to a place where endless knowledge is bestowed to the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year… Wikipedia.org! I know some of you were expecting me to say “Rabbi Paul Jacobson” but I don’t think he appreciates non urgent telephone calls at 5AM on a weekend.
I typed in “Jewish” and was given a detailed explanation:
The Jews (Hebrew: יְהוּדִים ISO 259-3 Yehudim Israeli pronunciation [jehuˈdim]), also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and an ethnoreligious group, originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Converts to Judaism, whose status as Jews within the Jewish ethnos is equal to those born into it, have been absorbed into the Jewish people throughout the millennia.
Further down the page was what I consider to be Wikigold: the specific answer to my 8 minute (and counting) quest – Who is a Jew/Jewish – According to Wikipedia:
Judaism shares some of the characteristics of a nation, an ethnicity, a religion, and a culture, making the definition of who is a Jew vary slightly depending on whether a religious or national approach to identity is used. Generally, in modern secular usage, Jews include three groups: people who were born to a Jewish family regardless of whether or not they follow the religion; those who have some Jewish ancestral background or lineage (sometimes including those who do not have strictly matrilineal descent); and people without any Jewish ancestral background or lineage who have formally converted to Judaism and therefore are followers of the religion.
This information makes too much sense in my personal circumstances: I have Jewish parents, grandparents and long lineage of Jewish ancestors. In addition to this, (I have experienced a traditional early Jewish male ritual I care not to mention at the dinner table!), and I have had a bar mitzvah. I have been to Israel on a birthright trip. I intend on continuing my Jewish lineage – I married a beautiful Jewish wife whom is expecting our first child. All of these different things constitute my Jewish identity.
In relating the question of Jewish identity to this week’s chapters – the issue of identity surfaces through engagement: the core question that I have extracted for this discussion (with a little bit of assistance from a wise Rabbi)… Is: Is being Jewish about following God’s commands (as per Abraham and Issac) or is there more to it?