Dear Ask-The-Rabbi,

Last week these dudes in fedoras pulled a bar mitzvah on me.

I’m twenty years old. I never had a bar mitzvah. Simple reason: I’m not Jewish. My dad’s not Jewish. My mom’s not Jewish. But I let out to these guys that my mom’s mom is Jewish.

Next thing I know, they wrap out these black leather straps and boxes on me and tell me I’m getting bar mitzvatized.

So I protest. I don’t believe in Judaism, I tell them. I don’t even know anything about it. If I don’t believe, how can I be Jewish?

Besides, I really don’t look Jewish.

—Ryan Ching

Dear Ryan,

I can sympathize. I mean, nobody’s going to tell you that your Buddhist grandmother makes you a Buddhist. As far as I know, the same applies to any religion. If you don’t believe in it, how can you be a part of it?

Neither does one Irish grandmother make you Irish.

But being Jewish is not about religion, Being Jewish is not about religion, or about nationality. It’s more like being born into a tribe.or about nationality. It’s more like being born into a tribe. And this tribe is heavily matriarchal.

That’s how the rules of the tribe work: Since your mother’s mother was a member of the tribe, that makes her Jewish, too. Which, in turn, makes you Jewish.

Escape Is Futile

So now you’re thinking, “How do I get out of the tribe.”

You can’t.

You see, this is a covenantal tribe. It started off as a family of descendants of a man named Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, some three and a half thousand years ago. But then, the people gathered at Mount Sinai and made an eternal covenant.

From that point on, it became a one-way street. You can get in, if you join the pact. Or just by being born into it. But there’s no way out.

That may not make much sense to you, but there’s deeper stuff going on here. A person is not just a bag of meat wired together with neurons and programmed by DNA. There’s something more inside, something mysterious and unpredictable. Something we often call a soul. And souls come in different flavors. You may not look Jewish from the outside, but on the inside, you have a Jewish soul.

There's Money in the Bank

What does that mean for you?

Think of it as something like being told that your poor old grandma left you a hefty trust fund,Think of it as something like being told that your poor old grandma left you a hefty trust fund. and all you need to do is drop into the bank and take out the cash. Lots of cash.

If that happened, you might say, “Well, I don’t really believe that my grandmother had any cash to leave me, so I’ll pass, thank you.” Right?

I doubt it. My guess is that you would at least risk a visit or two to the bank to ask some relevant questions.

In this case, your grandmother has left you a heritage of timeless wisdom, a great history, and a lifetime membership in the oldest and most amazing worldwide tribe, spread over the entire globe. And a Jewish soul.

There’s a good chance your Jewish soul will resonate with that wisdom. There’s a good chance the history will be meaningful to you. There’s a good chance the rituals and holidays will enrich your life. And you might find it cool to be a bonafide member of a global community that accepts you unconditionally, just because you’re a member of the tribe.

Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s worth a try. Maybe start here.