I’d like to voice my reaction to the proposal of Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky ( “A new path to joining the Jewish people,” Dec. 5).
They propose the establishment of a “Jewish Cultural Affirmation” process, permitting non-Jews interested in Jewish culture to have an additional vehicle (additional to actual conversion) to “acquiring a Jewish social identity…and acquire a measure of familiarity with being Jewish” without actually becoming Jewish through conversion. I think such a proposal, if implemented, will only serve to further becloud the issue and increase confusion over the definition of what Jewishstatus really is.
A measure of familiarity with what being Jewish is all about does not require, in my opinion, the acquisition of some “Jewish social identity.” Throughout the ages, anyone interested in Jewish beliefs and practices had the ability to inquire into them and eventually convert if he or she so chose. The basic premise has always been that the only way to achieve Jewish status and identity — involving a drastic change of identity — was through official conversion, opting to transition from a previous identity to a new Jewish identity. It has always been a given that such a change — perhaps comparable to a chemical change — needs an exact formula to effectuate such a change, i.e. an official conversion, which cannot be retracted (marriage can be easily reversed through divorce; not so conversion, as it is so intrinsic).
We have had enough problems over the past half a century over what constitutes halachic conversion. Let’s not add to the confusion with such a needless proposal.
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic