I completely understand your upset at watching non-Jews take on Jewish practices. In fact, Jewish law would not allow non-Jews to do certain things -- to say the blessings surrounding the Torah reading, for example, to count as part of a minyan, or to lead Jews in prayer. With regard to other Jewish practices, the law is less clear. May Jews legitimately object to non-Jews who, for example, decide to wear a kippah, or wear a Star of David around their necks, or who decide to eat bagels and lox on Sunday mornings? Probably not. In some cases, what we see as Jewish practices are also the practices of another religion -- keeping Sabbath restrictions on Saturday, for example, as Seventh Day Adventists do, or dividing men from women in prayer, as Orthodox Jews do and as Muslims do. So one has to be careful in deciding which Jewish practices are objectionable, and which are not.
I do a lot of interfaith work with Catholics, and many Catholic schools schedule mock Passover sedarim. I tell them that that is fine if a knowledgeable Jew is running the seder, for then that person can explain the Jewish meanings involved. If a Cathoic is running it, however, students are all too likely going to see the Last Supper in the seder and give it a completely Christian meaning, thus distorting Judaism badly. Catholics who schedule such sedarim are genuinely trying to teach their students about Judaism, and that is a good thing, but they need to know how to do it so that authentically Jewish messages are conveyed.
Another arena where we often see Jewish practices taken on by non-Jews is in the media. My wife, a Jewish educator, cringes every time a movie or television show portrays a Jewish ritual or theme because they often get it wrong. Here again, the (probably Jewish) writers are probably trying to say something positive about Judaism,but they need to get it right.
In sum, then, there are those Jewish practices that non-Jews take on as a mark of real love and respect for Judaism, and Jews need to appreciate that love and respect. On the other end of the spectrum, some anti-Semites pretend to do something Jewish to mock Judaism and Jews. To that we must object with all the force at our disposal. In between are a host of practices that non-Jews may do with good intentions but with distorted forms or meanings, and then we need to thank them for their interest in Judaism but teach them what is, and what is not, appropriate as a symbol of that interest and respect for our tradition.
Recently I learned that Justin Bieber recites the “Shemah” before each performance.He is not Jewish, but still finds strength and comfort in this prayer.Apparently he heard his Jewish manager, Scott Braun, recite it and asked him to teach it to him.I have to say I kind of felt proud and couldn’t wait to share this information with the high school students I teach.
In my opinion, if we Jews are truly an “Ohr Lagoyim” it would seem to me that we should take pride in gentiles performing Mitzvot which we find meaningful.In actuality the Rambam (Maimonidies) believed that a gentile, who performs a Mitzvah, though not receiving the same reward as a Jew, has still acts meritoriously and gains some reward.Admittedly there are Talmudic sages who believe we should not teach Torah to a gentile.However, the concern against teaching Torah was at the time when few gentiles could gain access to it and seemed to flow from the historical fear and reality that some gentiles used their Torah study to misinterpret the text in order to attack the Jewish community.Since today Torah study is available to all, we probably should be teaching Torah, so that it is understood correctly and those who wish to harm us through misinterpretation will have a much more difficult job.
Feeling offended is neither right nor wrong as feelings should not be morally judged.However, since our Rabbis proclaimed “Shelo Lishmah, ba Lishmah” (even if someone performs a Mitzvah for the wrong reasons, the very performance will bring him to perform it for the right reasons), they just might have looked favorably on an influential gentile teenager who gained courage in front of thousands of teens (many of whom were Jewish) by previously proclaiming the oneness of G-d in Hebrew.
As in so many of life’s questions, context is important. For example, if a non-Jew comes to synagogue on Shabbat as a guest or visitor, and sees people donning kippot and talitot (yarmulkes and prayer shawls), he may put on a kippah and talit, thinking it the custom for everyone and wanting to be respectful and do the right thing. If he asked me first if he should or had to wear a kippah and talit, I would say no, it’s only something for Jews to do (see CCAR Responsum 5765.5 May a Non-Jew Wear a Talit?.http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/respdisp.pl?file=5&year=5765)) But if he did it without asking, I wouldn’t ask him to take it off, not wanting to embarrass him. On the other hand, if a non-Jewish friend put a mezuzah on their door, I would gently and politely explain that a mezuzah is not a decoration or a good-luck charm, but a reminder of the 613 commandments that are incumbent upon Jews, but not non-Jews, and that a mezuzah is a symbol and signal that this is a Jewish home where Judaism is observed. Since that would not be case with my non-Jewish friend, it would not be appropriate for him to have this on his doorpost. I am sure that, given that explanation, he would understand and remove the mezuzah.
I believe there are two key factors at play – boundaries and identity - in addressing questions of whether and when it might be appropriate for non-Jews to participate in Jewish rituals. Jewish ritual and practice is what sets us apart and creates our self-identity as Jews. To see a non-Jew take on a Jewish ritual is to overstep the boundaries and blur identities. Again, context is important. It would not feel strange to us to invite non-Jewish friends to attend our seder and to participate in the reading of the Haggadah. But we would not have them lead the brachot in the seder, as these are particularly parts of the seder that the seder leader is doing as a Jew, and on behalf of the other Jews. It is clear, in this context, that the non-Jews are there as guests, and not as someone who is commanded to observe and perform the blessings and rituals of the seder. Similarly, a non-Jewish relative of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah might read a psalm or other inspirational passage in the service, but would not recite a blessing that is particular to Jews and is done in the service on behalf of the Jewish congregation. So, again, those rituals and prayers that are particular to us as Jews, that identify us as Jews, that are incumbent upon us to observe as Jews, would not be appropriate for non-Jews to observe. But for non-Jews to participate as guests in those areas that are more universalistic or not done on behalf of the congregation, would be fine.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform Movement’s rabbinical organization, has had these types of questions addressed to its Responsa Committee at various times, concerning non-Jews’ participation in Jewish rituals. It has fairly consistently come down on the side of reserving to Jews those rituals and practices that are specific to Jewish identity and boundaries. In addition to the responsum cited above, see also a responsum on a non-Jewish synagogue member observing shiva for a parent, http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/respdisp.pl?file=4&year=5760, and non-Jewish members participating in a ritual writing of a new Torah scroll, http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/respdisp.pl?file=1&year=5765.
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