I really appreciated the moving column by Rabbi Ayi Weiss on July 17 about his visit to Emanuel AME Church. He was warmly welcomed to join their weekly Bible class in the same space where Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight others were brutally massacred less than a month earlier.
Though Jewish and Christian participants in the Bible class had different theologies and traditions, at that moment they came together as equal participants to comfort one another and show their common humanity during this time of sorrow.
After the service, Rabbi Weiss needed a ride to a location where he could say kaddish (the Jewish memorial prayer) for his father, who had recently died. A woman at the Bible study was happy to offer him that ride, which Rabbi Weiss gratefully accepted.
Here is where the story takes an ironic twist. This woman would not have been allowed to become an active participant in the kaddish service for Rabbi Weiss’s father. A minyan of 10 adult Jewish males is required for an Orthodox Jewish service. No African-American or even Jewish woman need apply. Rabbi Weiss reported that a Jewish man drove 100 miles to be the tenth at the kaddish service.
This reminded me of being raised in the Orthodox tradition when we stood outside our synagogue on Saturday morning waiting for a gentile to pass. We would then ask this “Shabbas goy” to turn on the lights for us because Jews are not supposed to work on the Sabbath.
When I asked my rabbi why it was wrong for a Jew but not a gentile to do such “work,” he told me that we are God’s chosen people and God holds us to a higher standard than He holds the goyim.
Such views were instrumental in my leaving Orthodox Judaism at an early age, in part because I thought all people should be treated equally. Even as a Jewish atheist, I can still be counted as part of a minyan. However, I presently feel more of a kinship to Emanuel AME church than to Orthodox Judaism.