Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Chinese person with exposure to various traditions finds Judaism most appealing.

Dear Progressive Judaism Victoria,

My name is David and I am currently a non Jewish student with a
great fascination about Jewish/Israeli culture and theological practice.
Though I am not an extremely religious person I feel very connected to the
Jewish people as well as the land of Israel. I have deep sympathy and
admiration for the triumph of the Zionist movement against all odds and so I
visited Israel earlier in January and I can say, despite my substantially
secular thinking, my connection towards the Jewish people and Israel
intensified a lot. I am looking at perhaps a conversion to Reconstructionist
Judaism in the future so I am interested in the process of applying and
going through the Online Courses offered by PJV.  

Thank You

PS, I know according to the Halakah a convert has to be dissuaded three
times before being accepted into the course. It's a test of not taking no
for an answer and after all one is not going to be a good Jew without some
Chutzpah :)....

Rabbi Jonathan asked David for further details:

Hi David,

Ellen has passed your enquiry about the on-line Introduction to Judaism course to me as I am the course Supervising Rabbi.  Thank you for your interest.

If you decide it is for you, we will extend a very warm and hearty welcome.  Be reassured that, if you do proceed, and if you do ultimately apply to convert, we will not send you away three times, despite the halacha!

We are delighted when intelligent adults come to the conclusion that a Progressive Jewish approach offers a meaningful and stimulating spiritual framework for their lives.  If only many born Jews realised what a treasure they had inherited!

Reconstructionism, as you seem to be aware, has less emphasis on a 'personal, responsive God', and more on culture and 'peoplehood'. Since we believe in 'Educated Choice' and that everyone's journey and experience is different, we have no problem with this, and indeed the Reconstructionist Movement has for years now been a part of the 'World Union of Progressive Judaism', our global body. Our colleague in Adelaide, Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky, who was until recently the Chair of our Rabbinic Assembly, graduated from a Reconstructionist Seminary in the US.

Can I ask for a bit more background to understand your situation - where you are living? Have you spoken to a Rabbi about your interest up to now? Have you attended Shabbat services?

I look forward to hearing back from you,


Dear Rabbi,

I live in Hobart and have consulted with the local Progressive Jewish community. I have not attended their Shabbat services but I have had Hebrew lessons there and experienced Shabbat in Israel when I went over there in January. I have not yet have had a serious discussion with a Rabbi that is representative of any community regarding my intentions to study Judaism and maybe convert. (Apparently the Progressive Community in Hobart does not have a progressive Rabbi and they have joint services with Modern Orthodox congregations). I do have a vague understanding of the process, study period, Beit Din and The Bris Milah + Mikvah ceremonies. This is why I am contacting Progressive Judaism Victoria. 

Rabbi Jonathan responded:

Thanks David.  With regard to Hobart, you are slightly incorrect - although the orthodox and Progressive are both members of the same community and have social and other events together, they do hold separate orthodox and progressive services.  This is very important, especially if you wish to go on to convert, as it will be necessary to attend services regularly, including the main ones of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.  

By the way there is also a Progressive Consulting Rabbi attached to the community who visits at least annually.  If you do decide to go ahead with the conversion after the Intro course, I would be willing to be your Sponsoring Rabbi in the absence of a permanent Progressive colleague being there.  

You have not told us what your work is, what age group you are and what your family situation is, all of which are useful to understand more your needs and expectations and how best to support you, so please let me know.

I suggest that the next step is to review the on-line course for which you will find details at: http://pjv.org.au/education/introduction-judaism-course-online-course#overlay-context=education/introduction-judaism-course-online-course

There are materials and questions for two free introductory sessions.  Please do those and submit them to tutor1@pjv.org.au, and we'll take it from there.


Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Rabbi Jonathan:

To give a brief introduction of myself, I am Chinese. I grew up in a multicultural background. In terms of religious background my family is pretty mixed, most of them live in China. My dad is a devout Tibetan Buddhist, whilst my mum's theological beliefs are eclectic. My aunt is a devout Christian who started her own church and my grandparents are/were atheists brought up under an era of communism.  However ever since I was in my teenager years, I have been fascinated by Judaism, Zionism and the State of Israel, especially whilst others seem to have an unwarranted and naive bias against Israel. I greatly sympathize with Israel and the Jewish people, especially their tremendous society (it's not easy to be a democracy when everybody around wants to murder you) and scientific achievements. The connection I feel for Israel only intensified when I visited Israel earlier this year.

As for my occupation, I work in international relations.  This has had a substantial impact on my decision to convert to Progressive/Reconstructionist Judaism. I am not biased against Hasadic and Orthodox Judaism: in fact the Chabad's holy book, the Tanya, and its description of the Human nature in the Tzaddik (yetzer HaTov/Good spiritual inclination) and Rasha (Yetzer Ra/bad inclination) along with various other concepts had a dramatic impact in sparking my interest in Judaism. In question of my religious beliefs and my feelings towards the Torah and other academic items, I am a believer in both Baruch Spinoza (Very famed Jewish Renaissance philosopher... a pioneer of panenthiesm/Pandeism) and Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionism. If I am not mistaken, Rabbi Jonathan, being a panenthiest/Pandeist who has a more rationalist approach to God and who accepts the Torah/Halakah on a contextual folklore basis should not disqualify a person from converting, right???  Although Spinoza and Kaplan are somewhat too modern, even the famed Hasidic Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer did have some panenthiest theological principles..... 

My belief in Progressive Judaism also stems from the fact that when I read the Torah, I do not see it as a divine originated historical document but a very wise ancient text on human nature and morality written by divinely inspired individuals.

To which Rabbi Jonathan responded:

Thanks David,

I'd be a bit wary about describing/thinking of yourself as panetheist/pandeist.  Although we don't need to narrow God down into the biblical/Michaelangelo 'super-man' image (old man, long beard, on a cloud!), it is a fundamental belief of Judaism that there is 'one universal creator' (Sh'ma - Listen up you Jews, Our God is Eternal, the Eternal God is ONE).

Though there are doubtless atheist Jews and Buddhist Jews and even pantheist Jews, once one is a Jew, we can't stop anyone from believing whatever they want ('ortho-dox' is a misnomer as one does not have to have one - equal - belief, just a standard [set of] practice).

Generally, 'joining the club' may require beliefs and understandings that those who are already members of the club may not fully share!  And I am probably more liberal and accommodating in this area than some of my colleagues!

However a Progressive Jewish understanding of Torah absolutely coincides with yours.  We are not expecting you to believe that God gave Torah!

Hope that helps,


Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Rabbi Jonathan,

I am by no means a polytheist at all!  I see God as a singularity - an all-powerful form of sentient energy that encompasses the working laws of the natural universe - there has to be a singular intelligent all powerful force behind it to make all the delicate conditions for life. 

To which Rabbi Jonathan responded:

Great response,
Thanks David, I look forward to working with you!

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