He’s black, he’s gay, he’s a bass – and he sings in Yiddish

Meet Anthony Russell. Or, as he’s now known, Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell.

An Afro-American Christian, he found a rabbi boyfriend and became a Jew.

The turning point in his life was seeing the Coen Brothers’ film, A Serious Man.

Read all about it here.

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  • I thought it was impossible to BECOME a Jew, you were or weren’t. Muslems appear to have an inverted taboo, you can’t un-islamatize yourself. But Christianity is are like a revolving door, you can get in and out by choosing a part of it and nobody really cares. The atheist faith is very strict however, if you leave the community you loose all credibility as a thinking person and your children are pointed at in the streets.

    • Depends on which branch of Judaism you ask to be admitted. And I do personally know two Muslims who became Catholic Christians and one other in the Church of England. But each to his own. Whatever gives you a purpose in life …

      • Agreed. The Indian mystic Rabindranath Tagore explained the presence of so many different religions thus: humanity is a building with many rooms, and each room has a window with coloured glass through which the light of spirituality, or of God, enters the building. So it is crazy to claim that your own window is the only real one – the glass of the human mind breaks the light into something specific…. so it is still there, but coloured by the human mind. Atheism is a room where they closed the shutters and where people enjoy themselves by their own light: an electric bulb.

        • Atheism is choosing NOT to close yourself into a room and see the world only through that window… it’s going out, exploring, and seeing the TRUTH of the world as it is, not as it was described by superstitious cave-dwellers thousands of years ago.

          You insult atheists by mockingly referring to it as a “faith”. it isn’t. It’s the complete absence of faith in a supernatural being.

          Do you believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? well, being an atheist is the same thing, except add to that list the concept of “god”.

          • Since we don’t know what we don’t know, claiming ‘truth’ in this life can only be provisional. Atheists always seem to me particularly narrow-minded and insensitive to a bit of common sense philosophy.

        • ‘Atheism is a room where they closed the shutters and where people enjoy themselves by their own light: an electric bulb’
          Please spare us with such nonsense. Atheism closes nothing. Its the consequence of enlightenment and includes an open awareness of matters in human sciences that fundamentalist religions are simply ignoring. Atheists are open-minded and deny fundamentalism. If they believe in anything, than its truth, science, reason and morality. Anyone interested in the basics of human perception or in sciences as anthropology, neurobiology, phenomenology, etc. must necessarily deny religion any other worth than a cultural and spiritual one. But it is no longer the force and all-defining concept that it once was.

          • Of course not. There is a difference between religion and spirituality. But Tagore meant spiritual awareness. Atheism is based upon the idea that only things that can be proven do exist. Which makes it quite difficult to justify justice, love, or classical music.

            And, by the way, neurobiology often suffers from philosophical limitations, like thinking that the mechanics of the radio set explains the programme.

        • I believe that Friedrich von Hügel used a very similar metaphor: a lamp that has panes of glass of different colours, each offering a different perspective on the same source of light within.

    • “Atheist faith”? I thought atheism meant denial of belief in a deity. As for becoming Jewish, it’s as universal a faith as any other such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Bahá’í and others. I have heard that if a non-Jew wishes to convert, one has to try several times in order to show one’s seriousness in commitment. As for apostates from Islam, do you honestly think that, here where Freedom of Religion is a fundamental right, should anyone abandon the Islamic faith, he/she will automatically be stoned to death? This is America, not Saudi Arabia, Iran or Taliban-occupied Afghanistan.

      • I know, but muslems in the West practice their religion in another way, exactly for that reason. Since there is no single formulation of islam that covers all practices, people make their own interpretation. First, there is the religious instinct, second, this is formulated – given form – in some sort of religion, not the other way around.

  • Dear John
    and Una,
    Yes, you can become a Jew in any of the “branches,”
    though they each have different requirements. However, once you become a Jew through birth or conversion, there is no going back. You may not have heard much about conversion because Judaism is not a proselytizing faith.

    • This website needs an upvote feature in the comments, so that the most informed/relevant comment can move to the top, not the one that was simply posted first (which very often is just garbage).

    • “No going back”? Who is going to stop you from leaving Judaism if you came to it as a convert? What is the mechanism that keeps you chained to Judaism if you decide to leave it? If you are born into a Jewish family that’s one thing, but non-Jews are free to come and go as they wish, not being of the Jewish “race.”

      • What Lori means (I think) is, you can decide to leave Judaism, and even decide that you’ve left it, and even convert to something else, but Judaism doesn’t acknowledge such a thing as a “former” Jew.

        When my husband left the Methodist church years ago, he had to sign some paperwork and then his departure from Methodism was official. After awhile of being spiritually homeless, if you will, he converted to Judaism. If he ever wants to convert back to Christianity, I guess he can do that as long as they’ll take him (depends on the denomination), and he’d have to go through whatever conversion process they have; but if he then wants to go back to Judaism again, all he’d have to do is show up and say hello — he wouldn’t have to re-convert.

        • I appreciate the clarification (“no going back” is unfortunate language).

          However, as for Christianity, you don’t have to rely on any denomination to “take you.” Conversion is extremely simple and only involves your own decisionmaking.

          • Oh really? My husband became very interested in the Greek Orthodox church, only to be told “we don’t take gay people.” I guess he could have considered himself Greek Orthodox regardless…?

          • Bruce, I believe that the distinction being made is between, on the one hand, becoming a Christian and, on the other hand, being accepted as a member of a specific Church/church and/or denomination. One becomes a Christian simply by giving intellectual assent to the fundamental teachings of the Christian religion. To become a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, however, would involve going through a ceremony of initiation, which I assume can only happen following a period of instruction, after which the priest presumably is required to vouch for the prospective convert’s understanding of the doctrine of the Orthodox Church and his seriousness about his intention to live the life of an Orthodox Christian to the best of his ability. While there doubtless must be lesbian and gay people who are members of the Greek Orthodox Church (and other Orthodox Churches), it does not surprise me that they would be wary of admitting to the Church somebody who is openly living in a same-sex marriage, since this is obviously incompatible with the teachings of the Orthodox Church. I have sympathy for you and your husband, but also with the Greek Orthodox Church. The reason for this is that I was myself at one time a convert to the Catholic Church, and quite enthusiastically so, as converts often are. However, over time I realised that my beliefs and practice were incompatible with the teachings of the Church. One of the main reasons for this was my opinion of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Church’s main teaching document on artificial contraception, which I consider to be intellectually flawed. I was told by my priest at the time that if I did not signify my assent to the teachings of this document, and my intention to live my life according to those teachings, I could not be married within the Church (and could not live within the Church were I to be married outside of it). I saw that my only options were to live dishonestly within the Church or honestly outside of it. It is not an easy decision to have to make, but I no more bear ill will towards the Catholic Church for holding teachings with which I disagree than I hold ill will towards Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or Sikhs for holding teachings with which I disagree and which prevent my belonging to those religions too.

          • Bruce, back in the ’80s, a significant portion of the “anglo” (for lack of a better word) converts to Eastern Orthodoxy in the US were gay men. I knew a number, including more than one icon painter.

            (Sample quote, about an icon that was said to be weeping: “I know the queen who painted that icon, and I guarantee you he’s standing behind it with a syringe.”)

            But those men generally joined the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) rather than one of the immigrant-community-based churches, for what that’s worth. And they were expected to maintain a certain level of discretion and plausible deniability (even if the plausibility level was low.)

            But I agree with Alexander Davidson for the way things are now (although I do recommend to him paragraph breaks). Now that American society and law have changed enough that gay men can live openly as legally married couples, there’s no reason to maintain “plausible deniability” – and it’s no good expecting Orthodox churches to accept converts who live in open contradiction to the church’s teachings.

            We wouldn’t be surprised to see an Orthodox church turn away a hetero person who was living openly in an adulterous relationship, let alone, say, a bigamous one – so we shouldn’t be any more surprised to see it turn away someone living openly in a same-sex marriage.

      • of course not 🙂 , but taking into account some socio-cultural trends in some countries ( and political too) everything is possible ….

        • “[T]aking into account some socio-cultural trends”, ‘Black’, ‘Gay’ and ‘Jewish’ are virtually synonymous with ‘ultimate vote loser’ in Mr. Russell’s home-country (as well as in a fair few other countries).

    • There has been a black president.
      There has been a bass president (surely).
      There has been a gay president (Lincoln and his bedmate, it’s true!).
      But there has never been a Jewish president.
      There’ll be a woman, Latino president before there’ll be a Jewish president.

      What does that say about America? Trump’s own daughter is a (converted) Jew, yet he cavorts with the alt-right un apologetically.

      • Opinions still differ on whether or not Abraham Lincoln was bisexual, let alone gay. (The man did have a wife and kids, after all.)

        But there is consensus that Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan, was gay. He was a lifelong bachelor, and he lived for a number of years with a senator from Alabama. (Evidence here.)

        However, the consensus is also that Buchanan was the worst President in U.S. history. His nearest rival is Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, who was impeached by the house and escaped removal by the Senate by a single vote. (He is said to have traded that vote for an agreement to remove Federal troops from the vanquished South – thereby removing protection for freed slaves from Southern whites.)

  • I have had two previous occasions to explain to John on this site that it is indeed possible to convert to Judaism. [It is remarkable that this subject has arisen even once on a classical music blog…] He seems to be somewhat reluctant to assimilate that information. There is probably not much point in going through the process again.

    • my understanding is that some sects of Judaism won’t recognize a conversion unless it is done by a Rabbi of a certain “pedigree”? I don’t know if this is still true.

    • Sorry about that….. my PA had shelved the information far away at the back of the library because she did slightly disapprove of it.

  • Yeah I like the metaphor used above, about the stained glass in various rooms of a single building. I’d add that the light as its changed into various colors and designs upon the receiving surfaces may be pretty and curious, but they are nonetheless DISTORTIONS of the natural light. Atheism would be living outside and seeing how the natural light ACTUALLY affects the world—-without any unnecessary filtering.

        • That does not surprise me. Balconies should be outside the building, connected to the façade. But I have noticed that too: a balcony inside the building sets atheists apart from the believers, on whom they can look down from their elevated position.

          • It has been my experience that the balconies inside are usually occupied by the believers, so that they can look down from their elevated position.

  • What struck me right away on watching the video and hearing Russell sing was that he’d be absolutely perfect for Russian art song. American art song, too, for that matter. And why not German lieder? Thing is, you can’t make a living singing that rep in the U.S., no matter how good you are.

    I hope he hasn’t given up opera entirely, though. I expect there are some composers working now who’d be happy to write for him.

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