You Shall Pursue

August 21, 2012

Thoughts on Patrilineal Descent: All My People in the House!

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Patrilineal Descent, Rabbinical School — marleyweiner @ 7:54 pm

So, I sort of disappeared for the last month… oops. But! It was for a very good reason! I now have a place to live, and a car, and a bed to sleep in, and jobs! That took a lot of time and effort, and now I’m ready to start putting time and effort into writing again.

I’m renting a house by school with three other women; two of them are fellow rabbinical students and the third is a good friend from High School. All of us have Jewish and non-Jewish ancestry, and the three future rabbis are all straight up patrilineal Jews. And we are not alone at RRC. There are several others in our incoming class alone. This is really really really cool.

I spent some very formative years in terms of Judaism at a school that was hostile to my desire to embrace my halakhic ambiguity. I cannot tell you the number of former professors, rabbinic mentors, etc. who have offered to set up a beit din for my conversion, which I know comes from a place of love, but it bothers me that I would need outside affirmation and confirmation of something that I know to be already true and fundamental to me as a person.That leaves deep marks, psychically. On the one had, it strengthened my desire to be a role model for other Jews from interfaith backgrounds, to show them that they can have a home and even a leadership position in the Jewish community. On the other hand, it left me a bit defensive. Being in a learning environment where a significant chunk of my peers is dealing with some of the same challenges as me is hugely freeing.

That is not to say that we are all on the same page in regards to our patrilineal Judaism and what to do about it. Some of us are thinking about mikveh, others are not, and I am adamantly against it. But we are already starting to have the conversations amongst ourselves. How we relate to our halakhic status. How our mothers’ cultures influenced our Jewish journeys. How we all feel about Christmas (and whether or not to have a tree in our house this year). It is nice to talk to other future Jewish leaders, people who have strong ties to Judaism and have thought very deeply about these issues, and who really get it.

More importantly, I no longer feel the need to be a “model Jewish leader from an interfaith home.” There are so many of us within the student body grappling with these issues, either for themselves or for their children. Instead of needing to speak for all Jews from interfaith backgrounds everywhere, my voice can be just one of many opinions (and I will admit pretty freely that I am not a centrist when it comes to this question).

The broader Jewish community needs what is going on at RRC, and not just along axes of interfaith. When there are few or no Jews from interfaith families, or Jews of color, or QUILTBAG Jews, or Jews from poor or working class backgrounds in communal leadership positions, those who do have those experiences become tokenized, and their opinions and feelings must stand for the feelings of ALL Jews coming from that position. However, it is incredibly difficult to both speak freely and stand as THE representative from one group to the broader community. It is only by opening ourselves up as a community to diversity rather than tokenization that we will really begin to see these traditionally marginalized groups as consisting of people who relate to Judaism in a variety of complex and often conflicting ways.

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