There has been a robust response to my sermon from this past Shabbat about being a Member of the Tribe. I’ve written before about where sermon ideas come from, and there are essentially three places. First, from something that has happened in the news during the week. Secondly, from a personal experience, anything from standing in line at the bank to a hospital visit and everything in between. And thirdly, from the text itself, looking at the Torah or haftara portions that will be read and finding in them something that stirs an idea.
I realized as I posted the ‘MOT’ sermon online that by the time I actually delivered the remarks the original impetus for the sermon had entirely dropped out of the text. I got interested in the idea because of the recent discovery that the mother of Cardinal Joseph O’Connor was actually a Jew. O’Connor was the Catholic Church’s chief New York City official for close to 20 years. It turns out his mother was born of a Jewish mother, and most of her family is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Connecticut. By the time she was young she was already living as a Catholic, and did so faithfully for the rest of her life. But technically, with a Jewish mother, the Cardinal’s mother was Jewish, which – technically – means the Cardinal was as well. The Cardinal’s sister is still alive, and in the article she was quoted as saying “The basic fact is, my mother was Jewish. That means my two brothers were Jewish, my sister was Jewish and I am Jewish. Of that I am very proud.”
This gets to the heart of the ethnic/tribal sense of Jewish identity. There is a long established principle in halachah, Jewish law, that Jews who convert out and live their lives in another faith tradition can still be buried in a Jewish cemetery. In a way, they are still ‘Jewish’ because ethnically they retain a Jewish identity, like a person who is Italian or Irish or French. It was the article about the Cardinal and his family that spurred the idea for the sermon, even though in the end I never mentioned it when I put the text together. You can read the article at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/nyregion/cardinal-john-joseph-oconnor-jewish-mother-genealogy.html?_r=0