Of matrilineality and patrilineality. The controversy around this issue is a smoke screen which helps distract from the jewish consensus that jewishness is heritable – genetic, biological, racial. Jews disapprove of miscegenation with non-jews and the various significant “denominations” are distinguishable, in part, by their attitudes toward mixed offspring. The innermost orthodox, halachic, “religious” core is the most exclusive, the most concerned about racial purity. Beyond this core are progressively more permissive, more tainted layers. Half-jews who aren’t rejected outright are relegated to the margins of jewishness – by jews.
The jews are fundamentally dishonest about this. Their discussions concerning it are conducted more or less in code. The jewish double-talk creates confusion. What follows are some examples which supplement those already provided in Part 1. Note that in many cases the original articles have disappeared and were retrieved using Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. It is no coincidence that the spiked sources contain some of the most revealing information.
The Half-Jew’s Complaint, by Sadie Stein, 9 Jul 2009:
Debates are raging in Israel over whether to let people claim Jewish identity based on either parent. More conservative factions want to stick to matrilineality. Us half-Jews are confused.
Of course, as many a Jew will tell you, “there is no such thing as a half-Jew.” When halfjew.com tried to get off the ground – and, only half-jokingly, wanted to take over Governor’s Island, which just made the whole thing weird – debate became heated: you were either a Jew with a Jewish mother, wrote furious commenters, or a goy. (A few helpful anti-Semites chipped in vaguely for good measure. ) “Half-Jew,” said the more religious, was not a identity.
But, as any of us can tell you, it most certainly is. Certainly growing up in New York, where many of my classmates, like me, had a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, this was a standard form of identification. While a few of my friends’ families “compromised” on Unitarianism or Quaker meeting, many, obviously not terribly religious, raised their kids without a single religion, lighting a menorah in front of a Christmas tree and maybe eating chocolate eggs at Easter before going to a grandparent’s passover Seder. We knew which celebrities were half-Jewish: Gwyneth Paltrow, Lenny Kravitz, Carrie Fischer, Paul Newman. Many of us had distinctly Jewish names that would lead the world to make assumptions, yet understood that to the religious Jewish community, we’d not be considered Chosen unless we converted.
In truth, I’d never thought much about it until arriving at college where, in the way of such things, various religious groups made overtures to incoming freshmen. I remember one guy coming up to me and asking if I wanted to join Hillel House; when I explained that my mother wasn’t Jewish, his face darkened. “It’s people like your father who are ruining the Jewish religion,” he said angrily.
Stein links Opinion: Matrilineality is still best for Jewish identity, by Raymond Apple, Jerusalem Post, 7 Jul 2009:
The writer is emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia.
In recent polling, about half of the Israeli population (but not the Orthodox) advocated allowing Jewish identity to follow either parent. This contrasts with the traditional definition whereby Jewish descent depends on the mother.
Descent is the key word. Descent traditionally follows both parents. What jews have traditionally argued about is how to define and reject those with non-jew descent. As we see here, the argument never ends and involves twisting the meanings of words.
It could be that there was an early stage of fluidity, but when the exiles returned from Babylon they saw the influence of “foreign wives” and encouraged Ezra (10:2-4, 9:11) to make rulings against outmarriage and the easy acceptance of “the daughters of strange gods.”
In the Roman period there were so many conversions and semi-conversions to Judaism that there needed to be a clear definition of Jewish status; otherwise, according to Lawrence Schiffman (Who Was a Jew?, 1985, ch. 2), Judaism would have been swamped by the children of gentile Christian mothers.
Rabbinic Judaism is unyielding in maintaining matrilineality. Lord Jakobovits (The Timely and the Timeless, 1977, pages 198-217) says the certainty of maternity must be set against the possible doubt of paternity. Even in nature the mother’s bond with the child is firmer than the father’s. And the mother has the superior influence on the child’s religious development.
Y-chromosomal Aaron, at Wikipedia, provides some insight into what half-jews and their “religious development” means to the core of jews:
Although membership in the Jewish community has, since at least the second century CE, been passed maternally (see: Who is a Jew?), tribal identity, and membership in the group that originally comprised the Jewish priesthood (Cohen or Kohen; plural: Cohanim or Kohanim), has been patrilineal.
This Wikipedia page also contains a diagram illustrating the genetic relations between the jewiest of jewish bloodlines. Among the surnames listed are those most recognizable even to non-jews as jewish exactly because they correlate with the (most “religiously” pure) genetic core of jewry. Sephardic surnames include: Cohen, Shapiro, Levy. Ashkenazic surnames include: Cohen, Coyne, Cowan, Kaplan, Kahan, Katz, Kagan, Kovacs, Garfinkel, Kohn.
Patrilineal Descent, at Jewish Virtual Library, reflects the layered jewish attitudes towards half-jews:
In March 1983, the Reform movement broke with the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish sects – and with Jewish law – and declared that a child born of one Jewish parent, whether it is the mother or the father, is under the presumption of being Jewish. This patrilineal descent resolution went on to state that a person’s Jewishness is not, however, automatic, but must be activated by “appropriate and timely” Jewish acts. It is not enough to simply be born to a Jewish parent. The Reform movement also notes that in the Bible the line always followed the father, including the cases of Joseph and Moses, who married into non-Israelite priestly families.
The Reform decision to regard a child as Jewish on the basis of patrilineal as well as matrilineal descent has prompted a bitter controversy. In the future, traditional Jews who wish to marry a Reform Jew will have to examine their prospective spouse’s background to ensure that he or she is Jewish according to Jewish law. In truth, however, the Reform movement’s change is not nearly as great as it first seemed. Had the Reform rabbis maintained the traditional definition of a Jew, and insisted on converting children of non-Jewish women married to Jewish men, Orthodox Jews would still have considered the conversions invalid, since they reject the validity of Reform. (It should also be noted, however, that in the case of a child born to a Jewish father but to a non-Jewish mother, most Orthodox rabbis will relax the stringent demands normally made of would-be converts.)
Within the Reform movement, a significant number of rabbis opposed the ruling, and a few have agitated to have the decision rescinded. That might occur only if the Orthodox rabbinate agrees to accept the validity of Reform conversions. Since no such agreement seems to be forthcoming, the Reform decision — apparently passed in large measure to accommodate and reassure the tens of thousands of intermarried couples who belong to Reform synagogues — will undoubtedly remain in force.
Within the Conservative movement, a minority attempt to define Jewishness on the basis of paternity as well as maternity has been soundly defeated.
More half-jew confusion. Patrilineal Jews Still Find Resistance, by Naomi Zeveloff, The Jewish Forward, 2 Apr 2012:
Rachel Brook, a 29-year-old vocalist living in Brooklyn, was born to a Jewish Israeli father and a non-Jewish mother. After her parents divorced when she was 3, Brook was raised by her father as a Jew in a Reform synagogue. Last year, she decided to apply to cantorial school at the Academy for Jewish Religion, but because AJR doesn’t accept students with only a Jewish father, Brook was told she would have to convert.
“It was hard for me to accept on many levels,” she said. “I felt I lived a recognizably Jewish life. I’m part Israeli. Never would it have occurred to me that others might not view me as legitimate.”
Accepted by the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, patrilineal Jews like Brook find themselves in limbo when they venture beyond their denominational walls. Nearly three decades after the Reform movement’s landmark 1983 decision to accept patrilineal Jews, the standard has yet to catch on with Conservative or Orthodox Jewry.
Now, as the first children born since the decision are beginning to have families of their own, patrilineal descent remains one of the most controversial decrees in American Jewish history. As Jews today gravitate away from movement-based worship and toward pluralistic venues, the resolution appears to be taking on new urgency. In communal settings like Taglit-Birthright Israel, JDate and Hillel, patrilineal Jews find themselves intermingling with people who question their Jewishness. “Dissent over descent” has reached a fever pitch.
The most telling paragraphs:
Officials in the Reform movement, now the largest denomination in America, say that their decision opened the door for mixed marrieds who were intent on raising their children as Jews. But critics from the Orthodox and Conservative movements, and even from within Reform Judaism itself, say that patrilineal acceptance has diluted the Jewish community beyond recognition, giving rise to a generation of half-Jews with tenuous religious ties.
Furthermore, they contend that patrilineal acceptance drove a wedge through the heart of the Jewish community, creating competing definitions of what it means to be a Jew. Whereas at one time, Orthodox parents might have allowed their child to marry a Reform Jew, the patrilineal decision caused traditional Jews, wary of Reform bloodlines, to question that acceptance.
“Jewish movements’ attempts to tamper with the definition of Jewish status obviously carried the seeds of terrible disunity for Jews as a people,” wrote Avi Shafran, spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox advocacy group Agudath Israel of America, in an email to the Forward. “This is why the first embrace of ‘patrilineality’ was strongly condemned by Jews who valued Jewish unity — that is to say, the maintenance of a single entity called ‘the Jewish people.’”
Reflecting on nearly 30 years of patrilineal descent, Reform leaders say that individual cases like Brook’s were the rationale for shifting the definition of Jewish identity, one based on blood lineage, to one based on Jewish commitment. “We had to get rid of a dissing approach that was inherent in Judaism,” said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “We had a lot of individuals who feel good about their Jewishness, and who even had agreements with their partners to have a Jewish lifestyle, and there was no mechanism in Judaism to deal with those families.”
What we see here are the various layers of jews arguing about who’s really a jew and what’s really best for the jews. The coding is minimal, and the jewish concern about bloodlines and peoplehood is plain. To the extent this is a debate over “religious” doctrine, it indicates that the core, the ultra-orthodox, the rightest and truest believers, the jewiest of the jews, are naturally those who most stringently reject mixing.
The patrilineal descent decision may not have brought intermarrieds into the fold en masse, but it didn’t encourage intermarriage, either, as many of its early critics had warned would result. According to Cohen, the Reform movement’s 1983 resolution had a negligible impact on the intermarriage rate, which had been rising steadily since the 1960s and then tapered off at around 47% in the early 2000s. “I believe it had a small impact upon group boundaries and the boundaries were melting and weakening anyway,” he said. “The whole world of American religion has moved to nonexclusive identities, toward hybridity.”
In Cohen’s opinion, Reform Judaism’s decision to accept patrilineals makes sense as a way to accommodate the children of intermarrieds. But he also applauds the Conservative and Orthodox movements’ refusal to admit patrilineals without conversion. The approaches work together to send a potent mixed message to American Jewry — warning individuals against marrying outside the faith, but reassuring them that they’ll be accepted in some circles if they do.
Even so, the varying definitions of what makes a Jew a Jew have riled the Jewish community at large. Patrilineals from the Reform and Reconstructionist movements say they feel excluded when they bump up against more traditional notions of Jewish heritage. On a Birthright trip last December, for instance, Dartmouth University sophomore Patton Lowenstein, whose mother is a non-Jew, was chagrined when a rabbi at the Western Wall refused to wrap tefillin with him.
The second paragraph above acknowledges the jewish double-talk and its pragmatic purpose: to appease the half-jews most likely to make a stink about being rejected, while at the same time protecting the core of “the faith” from genetic taint.
More partial-jew confusion (a product or example of jewish double talk) and another “really interesting” broken link (saved by the Wayback Machine). Who is a half-Jew?, by Brad A. Greenberg, Jewish Journal, 13 July 2007:
There is a really interesting story in today’s Jewish Journal about the growing number of “half-Jews” fighting for acceptance. Jewish denominations differ on conversion requirements and whether the Jewish lineage comes from the mother or father, but each agrees that there is no such thing as a half-Jew—either you are or you aren’t.
The broader question—Who is a Jew?—is one of the most vexing for world Jewry and me personally. Both my grandmothers were Jewish and so was one grandfather; I look like a Jew, walk like a Jew and quack like a Jew—must be a duck—but I believe in Christianity, which is anathema to Judaism. So am I a Jew?
The Jewish world has a problem with the way Renee Kaplan defines herself: half-Jewish. Kaplan, a television producer in her mid-30s, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother who was raised Jewish.
“I’ve had endlessly to defend my half-Jewishness: resist rabbis who wanted to convert me, resent Jewish men who didn’t want to date me,” she writes in “Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes” (Soft Skull Press, 2006).
Kaplan says she rejects anyone who deems her dual identity inauthentic.
Many children of intermarriage say they simply cannot turn their backs on the non-Jewish half of their identity. Their rabbis may say they are Jewish, but in their hearts they are also whatever grandma and grandpa are.
This openness to multiple identities is particularly true among college students, according to Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst, who interviewed hundreds of students for “The Half-Jewish Book” published in 2000.
Klein says those who call themselves half-Jewish “feel they are a combination, they are an amalgam, they are bicultural.”
A 2005 survey by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life found that 48 percent of college students who consider themselves Jewish come from intermarried homes. It’s from this population that a new subculture is emerging of “people who draw from both sides of their heritage and synthesize their cultural halves into a remarkable new identity,” the authors write.
It’s something to celebrate, not hide, they argue.
Klein says his 27-year-old daughter considers herself half-Jewish, though he and Vuijst raised her as a Jew. She dedicated her bat mitzvah speech to her Dutch grandparents, who were honored as “Righteous Gentiles” for saving Jews during the Holocaust.
But her divided identity also causes her pain. In Israel on a visit, “everyone said she wasn’t Jewish,” Klein relates. At college she was kicked out of the kosher food line.
Some who use the term are conflicted.
Some self-proclaimed half-Jews feel anger, as they struggle for a sense of belonging in Jewish denominations that reject their dual identity.
“We’ll be the majority of Jews in this country by 2030,” [founder of half-jewish.net Robin] Margolis says. “Then the playing field changes. If we’re the majority, we’ll decide who’s a Jew.”
No, they won’t. What half-jews either don’t understand or won’t accept is the fact that the core of jewry always has and always will determine who is or isn’t a jew.
Here’s a half-jew who gets closer to the truth but still can’t accept it. Of Mischlinge and Mamzers, The Holy Halfbreed (“for descendants of intermarriage exploring jewish heritage”), 7 Feb 2010:
If we want to find each other, what can we call ourselves that won’t upset anyone? In the aftermath of yet another numbing debate (Robin’s latest article on Jewcy and ensuing discussion) and the binary world-view “you’re either Jewish or you’re not,” with a little “we don’t let Nazis decide who is Jewish” thrown in, AND the apparently hot-button issue we “halfies” have inherited due to the simple audacity of having been born, I wonder why Jewish communities should do outreach to us as a demographic if they don’t feel like it. I would have thought, based on logic, that it would serve them to do outreach to us because we are members of their extended families. There is a great deal of concern about Jewish continuity and assimilation, correct?
This article on the controversial subject of Who is a Jew describes what I often observe and others often deny.
The link is below.
It has been difficult for me to understand the matrilineal descent rule as anything other than an artificial construct. It has a creepy similarity to being “raced” (to use Lani Guinier’s term) by Nazis. Even though it is tribal, I can’t wrap my brain around why ancestry should matter in determining who belongs and who doesn’t, particularly today when we are mobile and often end up living far from where we were born. People adapt, after all. People convert to Judaism. So-called “intermarriage” is a fact of life. Intermarried couples who choose Judaism often receive grudging acceptance at best.
The Matrilineal Principle and Jewish Identity, Halakhah Think Tank, 16 Jul 2009:
This approach is crystallized in a clear rulingin Mishnah Kiddushin, which states that a Gentile woman produces Gentile offspring. Even this ruling met with some popular resistance, however. A few centuries later we have evidence of some in the Jewish community of Tyre wanting to circumcise such children on Shabbat, revealing their sense that “patrilineal” Jews ought to have been a part of the Jewish community. The rabbinic repsonse is fierce and clear: Such a child is a Gentile, in keeping with the Mishnah’s ruling. We will see however, that the feeling that patrilineal Jews are not identical to other Gentiles resurfaces later on.
On the question of the children of Gentile fathers and Jewish mothers, classical rabbinic sources are divided, and a debate persists for centuries. Some sources–including the Mishnah–argue that such a child is a mamzer, a Jew, fully obligated in mitzvot, but forbidden from marrying Jews of untainted lineage. (A mamzer can legally marry only another mamzer or a convert, who also lacks pure Jewish lineage.) Others maintain the Jewishness of said matrilineal child, while either lowering the level of lineal taint–such as forbidding a daughter from such a union to marry a kohen–or claiming that no taint exists whatsoever.
(Correction: In the podcast I mistakenly identified Mishnah as part of the Torah rather than the Talmud.)
The podcast will be broadcast and available for download on Tuesday at 9PM ET.