Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Writing as a Quaker with a Jewish wife and children, I have to say that I think there are some fundamental questions that you need to consider. While it is certainly possible to create a spiritual practice that incorporates elements of Quakerism and Judaism, there are practical and theological barriers to being a full, converted practitioner of both at the same time.
One basic issue is that most, if not all, Quaker Meetings won't find you clear for membership while you retain or seek membership in another religious organization. At the same time, I doubt very seriously that you could find a rabbi willing to take you on as a student for conversion while you professed a conviction that you are, and would remain, a Quaker.
Beyond that, while there are many ways in which Quakerism and Judaism intersect nicely, such as valuing individual learning and study and a commitment to bettering our whole world as an article of faith, there are some core values of the two religions that are diametrically opposed, so that I'm not clear how one could profess to be a full member of both at once. I'm thinking here of the place and value of religious ritual, pacifism, and gambling, among others.
Hello, Paula and Jess,
Perhaps Thomas is speaking to actual membership in two bodies, rather than feeling certain leanings within Friends meeting. Our meeting has Jewish Quakers (member of meeting? I'm not sure). I have a fFriend from another meeting who is a birthright Friend but has Jews in her background, and therefore feels uncomfortable with too much "Jesus talk." Our meeting also has everything from atheists to Buddist Quakers to Christian Friends (verging on Conservative).
Therefore, Jess, based on my experience as a member of a liberal meeting, I believe you would be welcome. But if you are talking about converting to Judaism, Thomas's remarks are a better guide.
If you feel like reading about someone else's experience, there was an article entitled "Dual Lights: On Being a Jew and a Quaker," by Ernest Rubenstein. It was published in Friends Journal, September 2005, beginning page 26. It isn't available online, but a local library might have it. Or, you can purchase the back issue. See
This issue really speaks to my heart. I am Jewish, but attended Quaker school, and now send my son to Quaker school. I also attend Wilton Monthly Meeting, and consider myself a Jewish Quaker, though I've not yet pursued membership.
I still attend synagogue with my family now and then, but that's really so that we can do things as a family, not because I find the religious practice in any way spiritually meaningful.
The choosing is a real issue if one is hoping to convert to Judaism. You are unlikely to find a rabbi willing to allow conversion while you are practicing another religion. Conversion to Judaism is purposefully difficult.
Having said that, you may want to think about what these identities mean to you. For me, the issues of identity are more difficult to contend with than the issues of faith or belief. You can attend synagogue and Meeting without membership in either. It can be difficult to determine if you are truly being led to both simultaneously, or if you want the identity that these can bring you.
As for me, I suspect I'll one day ask my Meeting for membership, but for now, I'm awfully happy attending both Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Business, and doing the work involved with our Quaker school, all the while just being an "attender".
Jess, this question speaks to one of the basic issues in modern liberal Quaker identity: Is "God" involved in the Religious Society of Friends or not? Individual Quakers are allowed to answer this question for themselves, but meetings have usually found it very difficult to settle the matter. This ambivalence about identity has completely realigned liberal Quaker meetings over the last few decades through the clearness process for membership: meetings consistently find themselves clear to admit to membership anyone who feels right to them, regardless of whether they have any relationship with "God" at all, let alone caring which god they actually worship.
Both traditional Judaism and traditional Quakerism have their own gods and they aren't the same. So I guess the question comes down to, do you have a relationship with God and if so, who is that God? It is an essential tenet of Quaker faith that God calls each of us to a direct, personal, unmediated relationship, so, presumably your God is calling you home somewhere. A properly conducted Quaker clearness committee for membership would help you discern where that home is, and, of course, it might not be a Quaker meeting—and it might not be a synagogue, either. However, getting a properly conducted clearness committee is, in my experience, the luck of the draw.
On the other hand, maybe you are not a theist in the sense implied above. Maybe you do not conduct your spiritual life as a relationship with a god. I think that describes a lot of Friends. They align their religious lives in other ways. If that's your situation—if it's mostly a matter of culture, or values, or just self-identification—then you would probably find that you have many companions of like mind in the meeting you join and perhaps even other Jews have come to the same conclusion. My meeting also has a couple of Buddhists who feel the same.
For the meeting, I think the consequences of admitting into membership such a wide range of religious identities deserve more attention than they get. How do you arrive at a coherent, meaningful corporate identity as a community, one that you can articulate without complicated disclaimers, one that you could explain to your children, for instance, when your members are all over the place? If there us a spiritual reality to the experience of Quaker meeting for worship, how does it work when people are worshipping or communing with different gods, and some reject the idea or spiritual reality of gods in the first place? We are systematically deconstructing our own identity.
There's consequences for the spiritual dimension of our corporate religious life, too. If we respect the reality of each other's religious experience—if we're going to accept each other's testimony about our experience on its own merits, without trying to redefine it or translate it into terms we think make more sense to us—then we have to assume that Christians testify to a god who really exists—that's what they say. We have to assume that Jews know a god who really exists—not just for them, but in spiritual reality itself—that's what they experience. So, also, for the pagans, the Buddhists, and all of us who have really unorthodox experiences. Are all these gods hanging around the meeting for worship? I'm not trying to be glib. Our basic principle of "what canst thou say", of honoring each other's religious experience, demands that we take the spiritual dimension of each other's experience seriously. If we don't, or if we actually don't believe there is such a spiritual dimension to our worship in the first place, then we are a Society of Friends organized around an undefinable set of ideas and a slightly more definable set of values—and not a religion.
I'm not trying to dissuade you from applying for membership in your local meeting. They will probably be very glad to have you on your own terms. And we're all here because we've discovered we really want religious community and that this one feels like home, whatever our experience is. I just wish that our meetings and membership process were more conscious of the consequences of accidentally de-identifying ourselves by admitting anybody who feels like they will fit in. I wish we were more willing to actively seek new ways to deepen our religious experience and identity, given this new and complex spiritual reality we have created. Obviously, I believe in this spiritual dimension of our worship, and that's because I've experienced it. And I bring my own "god" to the meetingroom with me. I am part of the problem I'm describing. I've just never been comfortable with our inability to deal with the problem of multiple gods in a religious community. I guess I'm looking for a dialog about what our de facto Quaker polytheism means, how it works, how we want to recraft the Quaker message in accordance with the testimony of integrity—that is, a message that honestly expresses our polytheistic reality. Not to mention our considerable nontheistic elements, which challenge the very foundation of religious community itself.
I don't claim to give weighty advice, just my 2 cents. I think people respond to a question like this based in part on their temperament. For some, the theology that informs a religion is the most important thing about it. "Do the teachings conflict" is therefore the thing you have to discern. For others, the personality of a religion is most important. What is the character? How do the people behave? What is the feeling of the place or the history? Since I fall into the latter group, I find it easier to understand how you could be strongly drawn to both of these traditions.
I see you put "confusion" among your tags. I often feel confused about what ideas I should believe about God. My experience has been that no religion really "leads to the Almighty" in the sense of guaranteeing access or truth about God if you practice it. Instead, God dwells within us already before we join any group. A good religious community can help us attend to that inner Teacher and follow or discern that voice if we haven't been able to yet. In other words, no religion is the path. The light within is the path, the way and the truth and the life.
Blessings on your search,