You Shall Pursue

May 4, 2012

Thoughts on Patrilineal Descent: Jewish, but not Jewish Enough

Filed under: Patrilineal Descent — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 7:28 pm

So there was an article in the Huffington Post recently, written by a young Orthodox woman named Rivka Cohen. Her mother converted to Judaism through a Conservative beit din, and her Modern Orthodox community at school now insists on treating her like a Shabbas goy. This article encapsulates perfectly the problems that the contemporary Jewish community faces when dealing with intermarriage, and the miles it has left to go.

In my time at the Jewish Outreach Institute, I have realized that there is a true paradigm shift happening in American Jewish culture. More and more synagogues, JCCs, and other Jewish institutions are reaching out and looking for ways to welcome and actively include interfaith families. These families are increasingly able to shape the Jewish community through their participation and leadership, and I am grateful to see this.

That being said, the offspring of interfaith couples still have tremendous hurdles to clear to acceptance. As religious leaders work to integrate interfaith families, there is still the assumption that issues of dual heritage only apply to children in their religious school, and not to adult members. While the concept of “Jewish family” is beginning to widen, the concept of “Jewish leader,” ironically, has not (note that it doesn’t sound like Cohen’s parents were treated particularly badly by their home shul, which is modern-Orthodox). Intermarriage has been prevalent in the Jewish community for decades, and more and more children of intermarriage are becoming Jewish leaders in their own right.

Setting aside the question of whether or not Cohen should have to convert, when the Jewish community treats someone who has a fully Jewish identity as a non-Jew, we essentially shoot ourselves in the foot. I know of dozens of young, dedicated Jews like myself and Cohen (several of whom will be my future colleagues, students at RRC and HUC). We care deeply about our heritage, and our faith. We get up early on Saturdays to go to services. We give up bacon. We fast. We study. We talk (argue, scream, plead, whisper) to God. Judaism is in our soul and in our blood. And our halakhic credentials are not flawless. When it comes to chuppah or aliyah we are treated like nonentities, with no respect and no consideration. And it makes some of us angry. And it drives some of us away from Judaism all together.

This is not a call to change halakhah (I’m going to wait on that one until I’ve spent more time elbow-deep in text. Hurray for independent projects when I have access to a beit midrash!) Rather, it is a call for a little human decency. It costs us nothing as a community to treat challenging situations like Cohen’s with respect, and not ask people like her, like me, to carry your bags of food on Shabbat.

1 Comment »

  1. That article made me painfully sad (and of course knowing some of the things that you’ve gone through has made me sad and then VERY VERY ANGRY that anyone would treat you that way).
    I can understand wanting to safeguard a small culture, but that’s not a reason for being so disrespectful of someone’s deeply held religious beliefs. 😦

    Comment by KatieJ — May 7, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

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