The debate about simplifying conversion (giyur) for non-Jewish women is bizarre: there is no such conversion in the first place. The Torah is completely unconcerned about mothers: “God of your father” is an idiom, but not “of your mother.” Hebrew tribes descended even from slave women, such as Jacob’s concubines, whom he did not bother to marry. They were “given him” by his wives.

All foremothers were originally pagan; none has formally converted. Rachel practiced idolatry after marriage: she stole Lavan’s idols. The explanation that she took them away from Lavan to stop his idolatrous practice is mistaken: why would she risk hiding the idols instead of burning them?

Rabbis try to read conversion into the words of Ruth, King David’s grandmother, who said, “Your God is my God,” but that is self-defeating position. For if Ruth the widow converted thus in front of Naomi, then she had not converted before, and had been pagan when she married Naomi’s son.

Talmud establishes no specific giyur procedure for a reason: no one cared to ask the woman. She was married to a Jew in a Jewish ceremony and led a Jewish life. She had a pre-marital mikveh immersion—and she is Jewish.

Rabbis invented female giyur about a century ago when secular families became common, and marriage to a Jew ceased to automatically mean a Jewish life. Nominal conversion did not change the facts: those families were not Jewish and their grandchildren rarely identify with Jewish people.

This is the point: gentile women can lead Jewish lives and give birth to Jewish children, but never themselves become Jewish.

Rabbis have postulated the existence of a peculiar Jewish soul, but what about converts? It defies credulity to imagine that they acquire a new soul upon conversion; it smacks of baptism and the dove, if you know what I mean. Rabbis solved the paradox by postulating that converts had a Jewish soul from birth, but it has been latent. Doubtful, to say the least.

Jewishness, like any nationality, is a matter of blood, among other issues. I’m not prepared to recognize black or pug-nosed converts as Jews. More importantly, Jewishness is a matter of common history and experience. Someone whose parents helped to herd my relatives to Auschwitz cannot be a Jew. When my people walked the death march, his people were laughing at them. A hundred conversions won’t change a simple fact: his dear ones were murdering my dear ones; we’re enemies.

I find it very hard to identify with all Jews. The revered Rabbi Kahane is alien to me; my culture is Vladimir Zhabotinsky’s. Meir Kahane grew up free of fear; he knew anti-Semitism but not persecution. He had never experienced the glaring feature of Zhabotinsky’s or my own Russian life—pervasive fear, such that you have to garner all your strength and will to walk without bowing your head. For Meir Kahane, anti-Semites were inherently wrong and legitimate targets; for me, and I’m sure for Zhabotinsky, they were in their own right. Their country belongs to them, the establishment sanctions them, and we Jews exist only insofar as the government prevents them from killing us. For Kahane, confronting anti-Semites was an act of justice akin to resisting a robber. For us, it was a revolt on par with the Maccabean war. Most Jews did not want the hassle and assimilated. Some chose to ignore; they accepted insults and offenses from anti-Semites and closed themselves into a micro-society with tolerant gentile friends. Even the worst anti-Semites befriended some Jews. A few of us strangled the fear and stood tall; every vile Jew-hater we did away with paralleled the battles won by Zhabotinsky’s inept but suicidally brave Jewish Legion. What convert can understand, let alone adopt, this experience of standing up daily against all odds? The experience of insults and sufferings met with bravery and steadfastness which sculpts a totally different man? Truthfully, the man is no different: it is the same ghetto Jew with a generations-deep wariness of gentiles, but this time he’s clad in layers of moral Kevlar, with a great degree of self-control. He is not brave, but he has learned to squeeze his fear; no impulses, only “you must.” This is second-nature, from your earliest childhood memories when you learned that you’re not like everyone else, and you must be better than all of them in order to survive, and every moment you strive to excel in everything lest they trample you.

I was spared the experience of the death camps by a very short period, but I readily understand the survivors’ accounts when they speak of the immense gratitude they felt toward the rare Germans who did not kick them. I too, have caught myself many times being grateful and well-disposed toward people just because they avoided anti-Semitic allusions in situations which suggested them. I recall the childhood experience in Russia when I came to like the Armenians, whom I did not know at the time, because they were rumored in the Jewish community not to be anti-Semites. For us, anti-Semitism was a norm, the world was divided into “us vs hostile them,” and hatred and isolation were the natural order of things. The Holocaust, so incomprehensible for everyone else, was merely an oddly brutal continuation of that norm. For ages, Jews expected to be killed. In the face of massacres, our urge was to remain steadfast rather than revolt without hope. What convert can internalize that?

A Westerner can settle in sub-Saharan Africa but never become a native. His childhood memories and his life experience would remain drastically different from that of the blacks who strove to survive. Likewise, gentiles can join the Jewish nation, but never become Jews.

We welcome gentiles into Judaism. They bring us normality; they are fearless because they experienced no fear of the kind we did. They can bring up good Jewish children. But let’s not deceive ourselves by calling them Jews.

forget giyur