The origins of the joke are uncertain, but its punchline has become a common figure of speech. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded by hostile Native Americans. The Lone Ranger turns to his trusted sidekick and says, “Tonto, it looks like we’re going to die.” Tonto saunters over to their captors and says to the Lone Ranger, “What you mean ‘we,’ kemosabe?”
In recent weeks, we’ve explored some of our tradition’s more troubling passages. This Shabbat, I’d like to explore yet another, a text that seems to have the same punchline as the joke above. For background knowledge, the Torah portion Ki Tavo begins with the laws of Bikkurim, and includes the verbal declaration each Israelite farmer is to make upon bringing those first fruits of the harvest. “Arami oved avi–my father was a wandering Aramean” is a condensed personal history of the People of Israel. The Mishnah emphasizes that personal component and extends it to a later way of articulating one’s Jewishness–through prayer.
“The convert brings but does not recite, because he cannot say (Deuteronomy 26:3), ‘which the LORD swore to our fathers to give to us.’ But if his mother was an Israelite, he brings and recites. When he prays privately, he says, ‘the God of the fathers of Israel.’ But when he is in the synagogue, he says ‘the God of your fathers.’ But if his mother was an Israelite, he says ‘the God of our fathers.'” (Bikkurim 1:4)
What makes this text so troubling is its suggestion that a convert to Judaism is less Jewish than those who are born into the tradition. Is lineage that which brings us together? Does the Mishnah’s ruling carry the day? We’ll address these and other questions Shabbat morning.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise