Becoming a Jew... and remaining a Witch
The idea of becoming a Jew started entering my thoughts a few years ago. I dismissed it each time it arose, because it didn’t make any rational sense. Why would I want to become responsible to and for a global population of millions (Jews), when I have a hard enough time being responsible to and for a global population of hundreds (Feri Witches)?!
However, it had become more and more apparent to me that the fundamentals of theology, the role of Lilith, and the understanding of the nature of the soul I was taught as part of Feri Witchcraft were in some respect drawn (if not in fact lifted wholesale) from Judaism. Add in to that just how much of general Witchcraft and broader Western Occult theory and practice are drawn from Kaballah, an indisputably Jewish tradition, and you see why I might have felt a want or need to draw closer to that source. But I worried that the growing idea of becoming a Jew was a less than laudable desire to sidestep the ethical implications of spiritual appropriation.
However, my heart and soul had other ideas.
In February this year, at the beginning of the Jewish month of Adar, I had a dream that led me to believe my subconscious / my soul was convinced I was in fact Jewish, which led me to ask Jewish friends for their thoughts, and suggested reading. I also realised I was already following a lot of vocally Jewish people on Twitter (to be filed under, “things that make you go, hmmm… 🤔”).
I let things lie for a while, but in May, on the eve of the Jewish month of Sivan, a few things happened simultaneously: I read an account of a convert emerging from the mikvah as if (re)born a Jew, and I felt a huge rush of vicarious relief and longing to belong; I refound Dori Midnight's blog (seeking her interpretation of Birkot Hashachar) and read her thoughts on Sivan and Shavuot; and I finally bought the books my friends had recommended and began to read them.
My heart grew warm and resonant. My soul joined in, with a very firm, “We’re doing this!” As my experience has been that things don’t go well for me when my rational mind tries to resist that kind of blood-and-bone deep spiritual certainty, I swiftly got all of me in line and began searching in earnest for routes to convert. All within 24 hours.
I am now four months into my official conversion journey with a Liberal Jewish Rabbi and congregation, and finding nourishment in services and in home-based Jewish practice, as well as broader online community and learning.
But surely, this means I need to give up being a Witch? Not necessarily: there have been Jewitches for decades who have circled this square before me*. My own answer rests on two things: my interpretation of Jewish law on idolatry, and what it means to me to be a Witch.
Being a Witch for me is founded in an animistic outlook on day to day life, i.e. that everything has some degree of personhood, whether it be a human animal, a non-human animal, a plant, a rock, water, etc. This also applies to beings that are non-corporeal, whether they be land spirits, sidhe, deities, egregores, ghosts, etc. When I experience everything as alive, and as having personhood, it is simply rude not to treat each being with courtesy, as my neighbours, as members of my local community, and, in some cases, as my friends.
The foundational Jewish law on idolatry is the first of the ten commandments revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai:
You shall have no other gods besides Me.
This seems like a pretty clear and plain statement, which at least might mean that HaShem** requires me to give up relationships I have with various deities, if not with other kinds of non-human beings.
However, the verses that follow this plain statement give further context:
You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
It appears from these verses that it is not relating with any part of HaShem's creation that constitutes idolatry, but, firstly, separating out part of creation from the whole as different and special, and, secondly, bowing down to it or serving it. The idolatry is not in the relating to creation rather than Creator, but in the refusal to relate to creation as it is, separating a part of creation from its context and from its Source, and projecting the power of the Source onto the separated part.
In this light, idolatry is a fundamental confusion about the nature of what exists. No wonder an injunction against it is the first commandment! If we are confused about the nature of what exists, how can we hope to do anything of value or sanctity, anything worthy of honouring Life and its Source, or indeed anything at all?
My Witchcraft does not involve separating out any part of creation and treating it as other than what it is, nor confusing a part of creation with the whole, or with its Source; in fact, it is just the opposite. My Witchcraft is founded on maintaining appropriate relationships with non-human as well as human persons; it involves being aware of the flow of power, of Source, in, through, and beyond all; it means opening myself to and riding this flow in specific ways, in the service of Life; and it requires responsibility for myself, my decisions, my actions, and their consequences.
I see nothing in this which contradicts the first commandment against idolatry. Do you?
** HaShem is a transliteration of the Hebrew for 'The Name', and is a respectful way of referring to 'God' outside of the context of worship or prayer.