November 20, 1997
Madonna, Motherhood and Judaism
Is it possible that I saw you at Sinai? The Jewish mysticaltradition, which you have been exploring, teaches that the souls ofall Jews for all generations -- including converts to Judaism --stood at Mount Sinai when our covenant with God was affirmed. Couldthe Jewish soul of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone be trapped in thebody of a rebellious Catholic?
Inside my Madonna file is a collection of little-known Jewishfacts. You have been a paid member of Hadassah, the Zionist women'sorganization, for nearly a decade, thanks to Sandra Bernhard. Yourdancing debut in New York was "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," anadaptation of children's Holocaust poetry. You learned to play guitarin a converted, old Bronx synagogue.
Unlike most American Jews, you have been to Israel. And like manyAmerican Jewish women who visit Jerusalem, you were barred frompraying at the Western Wall by the fervently Orthodox. You haveattended several Passover seders where the spirit of freedom andliberation perhaps were the inspiration for you to speak up againstthe despicable living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza. And youhave been regularly attending Sabbath services with your daughter inLos Angeles, including recently for the Jewish New Year.
Beneath these factoids is an even more compelling picture of anintelligent woman who has been on a spiritual journey, muchaccelerated with the birth of your daughter, Lourdes. The miracle ofchildbirth, coupled with the desire to rear a child within a systemof morals and values that makes sense, often leads new parents toreconsider their religious allegiances. You feel attachedsentimentally to the rich rituals of Catholicism, yet you rejectCatholic dogma.
Judaism offers a comprehensive ritual framework for a progressivebelief system that is more in tune with your inner convictions;Judaism could be a natural ally in raising Lourdes to be thesensitive, politically conscious, happy and questioning young womaninto which you hope she blossoms.
According to the Pope, you have not exactly been a model Catholic.Yet you have the elements of being a good Jew and a great Jewishmother.
* Jews are commanded to have our values reflected in what we eat;you have been a vegetarian, keeping, de facto, the laws of kashrut.
* Jews are commanded to give tzedakah (righteous and obligatorygiving); you have championed AIDS, cancer and other causes.
* Jews are commanded to rebuke society when we see failures; youhave been a ceaseless critic of prejudice and censorship.
* Jews are commanded to delight in sex and to satisfy ourpartners; you have rejected Christianity's puritanical linking of sinand sexuality.
* Jews are commanded not to make or worship images of God; youreject Christianity's imaging of God as a white male.
A trademark of a Jewish worldview is to look critically at societyand to question, challenge and prod status quo ideas, usually to thechagrin of the powers that be. Our prophets are nonconformists; ourthinkers are trailblazers. Baruch Spinoza was first excommunicatedfor his heretical ideas and then later rehabilitated as a genius. Youhave perfected the art of pushing people's buttons, partly out of funand partly out of a commitment to free thinking.
And you have done something Jewish in each step of your publiclife: You have reinvented yourself. The Jewish view of creation isthat we are not doomed to suffer our fate, but are empowered tochange the world and to change ourselves. Each year, we pledge torecreate ourselves, rejuvenating our quest to become closer torealizing the evolving Divinity in ourselves.
According to the Kabbalah, God, like the wisdom inherent in theTorah, has many faces. It is time to affirm that yours was one ofthem at Sinai. Make it official. Give Lourdes a new heritage thatwill bring meaning and a spiritual satisfaction for which her motherhas always longed.