This is a modern Jewish tragedy. Locally we still have people who take away someone’s personal Jewish connection by telling them that they are not Jewish. Yes, this is a direct commentary to traditional/orthodox thinking. Why is this a problem? The Jewish community is becoming smaller in population. Less people are inclined to join one that limits their acceptance. This combined with interfaith marriage creates more obstacles for those who are not Jewish by halacha (Jewish law). I have seen and heard people in Orange County use this logic and I am astounded with how primitive their thinking is.
It is dehumanizing to take away their religious identity because of who they marry or if their father is the Jewish one. In many cases, even converts are not treated kindly in more observant forums unless they did a “proper” conversion. By proper they mean a conversion through Orthodox Judaism. I see no difference. Both are derogatory. These people identify as Jewish and practice the same, if not more, than much of our community.
A brief and loose history lesson: nationality comes from the father and religion comes from the mother because there were no DNA tests when halacha was created. Now, I know, many of you think we should not challenge rabbis from history as well as current rabbis. Let us remember that we are not the Catholic Church (props to their new Pope who seems to be making strides in progression himself these days!). Rabbis are not ordained by G-d, they are ordained by fallible people who are educated in many ways that we may not be, but Judaism isn’t a hierarchy. Rabbis are to lead our community and we do have wonderful rabbis, but Jewish law is a touchy subject.
Why do we care so much about this particular law? Many Jews, both locally and globally, don’t have a kosher kitchen and may drive their cars on Shabbat. If you don’t listen to these laws, why would we as a community use Jewish laws to discriminate? If the laws weren’t important enough for us to make food decisions, clothing decisions (did you make sure there is not an improper mixing of wool and linen before you dressed?), and shaving why do we use this rational to discriminate?
Speaking of discrimination, I realize that this point is sensitive and I am not trying to undercut tragedy by making this point, but Hitler was willing to kill those of us with one Jewish parent. Hitler was willing to kill converts and those who held any type of Jewish identity. The terms in which we value how we become Jewish has to change as historically we have been persecuted and these parameters have changed our population.
In addition, and on a far more positive note, Birthright also accepts those who identify as Jewish. Many participants do not have a Jewish mother. Israel’s head rabbis do NOT accept these people as Jewish, but they are willing to accept Birthright’s money and tourism to keep their economy going? How contradictory are we being as a globally society? Come, see your Jewish roots in Israel… oh wait, some of your roots, but you don’t have enough roots for US to accept you as Jewish? Please leave your tzedakah in the box. What!?!
Ultimately there is hypocrisy within our local and global community that needs to be addressed. It will affect Jewish marriages, affects the right of return and makes the Jewish community less of a “community.” It is not easy being Jewish in a world full of adversity. If these people want to be Jewish, identify with our community and our religion, I say have at it!