Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Pintele Yid

Last Yom Kippur, a Rabbi in an upmarket  synagogue told the packed shul about the awe he had for his congregation.  "I only see most of you here once a year.... and yet I am in awe of you - and it is precisely because I only see most of you once a year, that I remain in awe of you.  In spite of the fact that you never come to shul on a regular basis,  you make sure that you are all here for Yom Kippur.  I know without a doubt that on Yom Kippur, every seat in the synagogue will be filled."

Why do Jews bother going to shul once a year?  What brings them back, even if the remaining 364 days are spent doing anything but connecting with G-d?

The pintele yid is described as that tiny part of Jew that never quits - the little spark of Jewishness that is indestructible.  No matter how hard that person tries to leave his Jewish-ness, there is a part of him that just can't get away.  Run to the ends of the earth, and it will still be there.  Announce your non-belief to the world, tell everyone you don't believe, and the 'pintele yid' will still disrupt your plans. 

Dear Rabbi Moss,

Although I was raised in a traditional home, was brissed and barmitzvad (sorry about these spellings) I have never had any faith or “religious” belief. I am now aged 34, and would describe myself as an atheist. I have no wish to be buried in a Jewish cemetery (and my Will has also made this clear) and have married a non-Jew in a civil ceremony.

My question is, can I consider myself officially non-Jewish, by my effective opting-out, or do I need some sort of form or dispensation to be officially no longer Jewish?

Many thanks for your help with what is perhaps an unusual question.

Best wishes,


Dear Edward,

I would like to help you, but I feel there’s nothing I can do.

According to your question, you have done everything possible to negate your Jewishness: in practice you do not keep Jewish tradition; in belief you are an atheist; in family life you have married a non-Jew and thus won’t have Jewish children; and even in death you are determined not to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

One would think that all this would be enough to confirm your un-Jewishness. But no. for some reason, you are still unsatisfied: you still feel Jewish. So much so, you feel you need official dispensation.

And so, being an atheist, to whom do you turn to solve this problem? A doctor? A psychiatrist? The civil celebrant that married you? No…….You turn to a rabbi!!!

I’m reminded of the child who ran away from home, but ended up just going round and round the block because his parents told him never to cross the road by himself.

I’m sorry, Edward. There is nothing more you can do. You are as Jewish as Moses, Woody Allen and the Chief Rabbi of Wales. And you always will be. There is nothing you can do to change it.

In fact, it seems that being Jewish is the most dominant facet of your personality. It is even influencing the place you want to be buried. (Why would an atheist care about where they are buried?)

Edward, Jewishness is not a belief, a feeling, a conviction or a lifestyle. It is a state of being. You have a beautiful Jewish soul. You can either celebrate it or fight against it. But it will always be there. So why not celebrate it?

More questions and answers from Rabbi Aron Moss can be found here:


yaak said...


Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this page! I heard someone mention the The Pintele Yid today and decided to look it up. I'm glad I did. G-d bless you for sharing.