I’m married, so I had to swear to a whole bunch of things…you know what they are…and mostly I have kept those promises. The Mister might question the “honor” part and we left out “obey,” but the rest of it I have done.
When I converted to Judaism, I had to jump through some hoops…a year of study and frequent meetings with my rabbi, and on the official conversion date, a trip to the mikveh (ritual bath), a beit din (questioning by a panel of three rabbis), and a little ceremony by the Torah scrolls, in front of the whole congregation. In that ceremony, the rabbi asked me certain questions, to which the answer needed to be yes:
1. Do you choose to enter the eternal covenant between God and the people of Israel and to become a Jew of your own free will?
2. Do you accept Judaism to the exclusion of all other religious faiths and practices?
3. Do you pledge your loyalty to Judaism and to the Jewish people under all circumstances?
4. Do you promise to establish a Jewish home, and to participate actively in the life of the synagogue and of the Jewish community?
5. Do you commit yourself to the pursuit of Torah and Jewish knowledge?
6. If you should be blessed with children do you promise to raise them as Jews?
I swore to all of it, left the land of my people and pledged allegiance to another people.
It occurred to me later: nobody asks those questions of someone who is born Jewish. Among my born-Jewish friends, I can count atheists, JuBu’s (Jewish Buddhists, and there are also BuJu’s), inter-married folks who are raising their kids to be Christians, people who have nary a mezzuzah or menorah in their houses, people who come to temple twice a year – and some who never come – never crack open a chumash (book of Torah), and are not involved in the “life” of the synagogue in any meaningful way. Many, many of the members of my new tribe don’t give a rip about Israel, our ancestral home.
A friend of mine is about to take the oath of citizenship to become an American. He left his home half a world away and has lived here for a decade with no family. This year, he took a test, and he took a vow. It goes like this:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
As an American, I’ve never had to swear to all that, or even to think about it. Why not? What if we all had to? How exactly would I support and defend the Constitution? Does that mean the whole thing, or just the parts I agree with? Do I support and defend all the laws of the United States? No. I continually break the speed limit and regularly denounce the American president responsible for the Patriot Act. I also do not support any laws preventing people from marrying each other. Would I take up arms for America? Not for the two immoral wars we’re currently waging. But my friend has to swear to if he wants to be one of us.
You see, my friend is an Arab, from Palestinian stock, and a Muslim. He also happens to be gay. He left everything he knew and moved to come be an American. He has worked like crazy, saved his money, and bought a business. He learned English and pays his taxes. He has a lovely home and terrific friends. So when I hear people around me bashing immigrants, Arabs, Muslims, and gays, it makes my blood boil. If the only place in the world you could be yourself and be a success was half a world away, would you go? Could you learn a whole new language? Live alone, make new friends, build a life, buy a company?
Really. Swear to it.