Wednesday, October 28, 2009

P. & I discuss patrilineal descent & conversion

Anonymous started it in a comment to this post of mine, asking ""If the C movement officially allowed patralineal descent, would you cease affiliation with the movement?"

Then Julie Wiener got in on the act in this New York Jewish Week article, reporting that "Rabbi Robert Levine of Manhattan’s Congregation Rodeph Sholom . . . argues that matrilineal descent, only codified in Talmudic times, was itself a departure from biblical tradition and was a way of adapting to problems of that era: specifically, challenges faced by Jewish women who bore the children of non-Jewish men."

The Punster said he thought that, just as matrilineal descent was a response to a challenge of Talmudic times, perhaps “equilineal” descent--a policy of considering a person Jewish if either parent is Jewish--might be an appropriate response to the challenge of our own time. He's not so sure that he'd leave the Conservative Movement if it accepted patrilineal descent.

I, on the other hand, accept the logic of my first rabbi after moving to New York, which is that policies that affect the entire Jewish community differ from policies that do not. For example, what I serve in my home doesn't affect the whole Jewish community--what my synagogue serves does. The ordination of women and/or gays as rabbis does not affect the entire Jewish community--some accept such ordinations, some do not. But nobody's going to argue that the child of a (straight or lesbian) woman rabbi is not Jewish. The definition of "who is a Jew" does affect the entire Jewish community. If memory serves me correctly, my first rabbi in New York left the Reconstructionist Movement when it started accepting patrilineal descent.

So, on the one hand, it would be consistent with this approach for me to leave the Conservative Movement if the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voted to accept patrilineal descent.

On the other hand, I have a huge problem--if I became Orthodox, I would have to consider the conversions of some old friends of mine to be null and void.

How can I suddenly decide that an old friend, who's been Jewish for over 25 years, who persuaded her husband, raised a secular Yiddishist, to try synagogue (much to the dismay of his mother), whose kids are Jewish day school graduates, who keeps a kosher home, and who has served on her synagogue's board, is not Jewish just because she was converted by a Conservative rabbi?

How can I suddenly decide that another old buddy who's been Jewish for over 15 years, has served as an officer of her synagogue, keeps a kosher home and is more observant than I am, is not Jewish just because she was converted by a Conservative rabbi?

The Punster feels the same way. Looks like the Conservative Movement is stuck with us and we're stuck with the Conservative Movement.

57 Comments:

Anonymous westbankmama said...

Shira, I was told (I cannot remember by whom) that Jewish law judges a child's Jewishness by its mother because of a very practical reason - you can prove who the mother is, but not the father.

Wed Oct 28, 11:34:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous max ellis said...

I can not fathom why you regard the alternative to affiliating with the Conservative Movement is to "become Orthdox"- what is affiliation any way? Membership in a synagogue? Calling yourself Conservative? What does it mean. The Rabbi of your conservative synagogue appears to be Orthodox- what is his affiliation? It is a loose term. How about saying you will leave membership in your shul unless it gave up being a part of the "United Synagogue" and working with your friends to do that, rather that thinking you have to renounce and "shun" your friends? Anyway they were converted by a Movement & Rabbis who had a more traditional interpretation of Halacha at that time and those were the conditions of their conversions- it does not suddenly go sour. I have been unconfortably 'affilated' with the Conservative movement for over 40 years, and am pretty sure that the vast majority of the folks I daven with would walk from the Conservative movement if it went patrilineal, as well as would my wife (traditional yiddish secularist she), and my sons (radical as they may be on other issues). It would be the Conservative movement that would fall and be disaffiliated by its core membership. Let Ziegler and the West Coast go one way and JTS and the East Coast and Canada stay the course.

Wed Oct 28, 11:45:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

WBM

1) You can't prove who the mother is a generation later, or if you are in a different community in times where long distance communication is difficult.

2) Nowadays with paternity testing you can know who the father is, or at least know who it isn't.

Shira:
R makes up about 40% of affiliated Jews. C makes up another 30%. If C adopted equilineal descent(*) then the majority of the Jewish community would, ipso facto, recognize such descent.

(*)Equilineal descent is a good term because the R movement does not say that the child of a Jewish mother and a gentile father is not Jewish(**). That would be partrilineal descent.

(**) Note that the actual Reform rules are
1) The child of 2 Jewish parents is Jewish
2) The child of 1 Jewish parent and 1 non-Jewish parent is Jewish if the child is raised to be a Jew (and only a Jew - teach your kid that he is both a Jew and a Hindu and in theory R won't accept them(***)).

I suspect that if C does go equilineal, they will do so by blood alone without brining upbrining into it, which means we will have 3 definitions.

(***) I know of more than one child of a Jewish mother and a gentile father who was told they would have to convert before being considered Jewish by the rabbi of their (different) local Reform shuls. In one case the person joined the local C shul, which of course accepted them at once as Jewish, and eventually joined the R shul some years later without a formal conversion.

Wed Oct 28, 11:46:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

Shira:

1) Why does changing your affiliation mean you retroactively annul a conversion you recognize? Just because another "movement" wouldn't recognize the conversion in principle, doesn't mean that you can't treat/accept the person as Jewish in practice. In theory, I reject conversions of non-orthodox rabbis. In practice, I consider several people who converted under the aegis of a conservative rabbi to be Jewish. (assuming mikvah, hatafat dam brit if a man, acceptance of mitzvot.)

2) Larry: Thank you for making clear the reform movement's "official" position. I hate it when people get that wrong.

3) Larry: Have to disagree with you, because you're using affiliation to mean "what Jews think." 70% of american jews may say, if asked "I'm reform, or I'm conservative" but for most of them, that has no real meaning. They are really simply unaffiliated. My sister, before she was married, was "reform" in the sense that she was nothing. Now, she's "conservative" because the shul she never goes to is conservative.

And no matter what, I don't care what percentages "affiliate" as conservative or reform, most of them still look at orthodoxy as "real judaism" in terms of standard-setting.

Wed Oct 28, 01:13:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

WBM, that's pretty much what I've heard as well. From what I heard, the issue arose because of Jewish women being forced into slavery and/or raped by non-Jewish men. Not a pleasant reason for a major change in approach between the biblical and talmudic eras, but . . .

Max, I wonder whether you're right about the majority of Conservative Jews deserting the movement if it went "equilineal."

Larry, at least the Reform are serious about kids being raised to be of only one religion. I'll give credit where it's due.

"Shira:
R makes up about 40% of affiliated Jews. C makes up another 30%. If C adopted equilineal descent(*) then the majority of the Jewish community would, ipso facto, recognize such descent."

Larry, I had seriously contemplated the possibility that a change to equilineal descent by all non-Orthodox denominations would permanently split the Jewish People, but concluded that it wouldn't happen for one simple reason: As long as the Orthodox community still considers non-Orthodox Jews to be Jews, they can try to "m'karev" us (bring us back to Orthodoxy) or, in the case of a person with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, convert us. Once they write all of us off as non-Jews, we're lost to the Jewish world--and there so many of us non-Orthodox Jews that the Jewish People simply can't afford to write us off.

JDbub, perhaps your approach is workable: "In theory, I reject conversions of non-orthodox rabbis. In practice, I consider several people who converted under the aegis of a conservative rabbi to be Jewish. (assuming mikvah, hatafat dam brit if a man, acceptance of mitzvot.)" Okay, granted, the acceptance of mitzvot part might be a bit inconsistent from one Conservative convert to another, but people can always change.

Wed Oct 28, 01:54:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Here are some of my own thoughts about trying to accept non-O converts while a member of an O community.

In practice unless the non-O convert is trying to make it difficult (which does happen) this is not much of an issue in day to day life. It isn't your individual decision whether to count the person in the minyan, you can always have mevushal wine when they are guests, etc.

Wed Oct 28, 04:16:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Tevel said...

Jdub, I categorically reject the idea that "most [Conservative and Reform Jews] still look at orthodoxy as 'real judaism' in terms of standard-setting." To any Jew, the only standard comes from the Halachos and how you understand it within your understanding of Judaism.

Keep in mind especially that Orthodox Judaism began as a reaction to the Reform Movement; Conservative Judaism began as a reform on Reform. It would be far more correct to say that Orthodox Judaism positions itself as a reaction to Conservative and Reform practices.

Wed Oct 28, 11:05:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

It DOES come up... but very rarely... When my grandmother passed away, there way a question of a minyan and saying Kaddish (ignoring the fact that none of her children knew how to say Kaddish). My well meaning mother started counting "men" for a minyan, knowing that I wouldn't count the women, ignoring the fact that most of the men she was counting weren't Jewish (Jewish father, and not "raised Jewish" so not Jewish in Reform eyes either).

We kind of changed the subject. Something similar (issue of counting women) came up with my wife's family in the Shiva House. Someone got rowdy and complained that they were all Conservative, why was the minyan requiring 10 men... ignoring the fact that none of them knew how to lead Maariv and were depending on me to muddle through it, if he wanted to lead Maariv, they could have used there egalitarian minyan.

The few times they had a non-minyan minyan, I simply stood by a door and left the room during parts where a minyan was needed... davining by myself in general (and in an apartment/house, standing by a doorway and walking through it doesn't create a scene.

Wed Oct 28, 11:19:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

wow, Tevel, that's an amazing revision of history. Orthodoxy was not a reaction to reform. Before reform there was just Judaism, which was effectively orthodox, even if it didn't have a name. What was Reform "reforming" if not what came before it? For lack of a better word, let's call that Orthodoxy.

You make it sound like Reform is the original and Orthodoxy sprang out of it. That is a version of history I don't think even the most radical reformers would accept.

Thu Oct 29, 08:07:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

History is written by winners, so it is unsurprising that there is a dispute on this topic as no one has won yet.

The Reform movement was a response to the opportunities offered by the haskala. Some groups reacted to the opportunities not just by turning them down, but by growing more rigid and separate in response. The Reformers gave these people the name 'Orthodox', which name was eventually accepted by the Orthodox themselves.

Later, as often happens with revolutionary movements, some of the reformers felt the movement had behaved excessively. These reformers founded the conservative movement. It was a move back towards tradition from the base of the Reformers, not a schism from the traditional Orthodox, nor yet a separate break from the Judaism that came before the Haskala.

IMO every contemporary Jewish movement is a reaction to modernity. The pre-haskala form of Judaism is as vanished as the Judaism governed by the Beit Din Hagadol at Yavneh after the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed.

Thu Oct 29, 09:45:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

Larry:

I think you oversimplify. While there are many differences between Orthodoxy in America and Israel and what predated the Haskalah, I think it's erroneous to claim that the haskalah wiped out everything, and Orthodoxy sprang out from Zeus's head, fully formed.

Orthodoxy is a continuation of pre-haskalah Judaism in Europe. Different? Yes, but America in 2009 is different than America in 1899, yet you wouldn't begin to argue that it's a fully different organism.

Also, compare Orthodoxy among Ashkenazim to Orthodoxy among Sephardim who didn't have the Haskalah or Reform. Many, many similarities. To say that Orthodoxy is a reaction to Reform is simply incorrect. Now, to say that Ultra-Orthodoxy (i.e., Hungarian Orthodoxy and it's spread) was a reaction to Reform may be slightly more accurate.

Also, you greatly oversimplify the Conservative movement by saying it's an outgrowth of Reform. While the "Treyfah Banquet" did cause some to leave the Reform movement, you ignore the other aspects of the Conservative movement that grew out of the Orthodox world, such as R. Zechariah Frankel's seminary in Breslau, R. Solomon Schechter (fully Orthodox, yet a luminary at JTS), and many other critical scholars who found homes at JTS who were, in practical terms, fully Orthodox in observance.

Thu Oct 29, 11:01:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, thanks for the link. I appreciate your efforts to make the best of a challenging situation.

Tevel, you said, "To any Jew, the only standard comes from the Halachos and how you understand it within your understanding of Judaism. You might find this post interesting.

Miami Al, your challenge in trying to lead a minyan according to your own count sounds familiar, and for a somewhat similar reason--ignorance on the part of others. That's why I'd like to belong to a congregation of *serious* Jews. I'm sick and tired of being a member of a synagogue in which, years before our membership shrank to 60, there were already less than half a dozen(male) members capable of leading a service, and only half a dozen members (male and female, total) capable of chanting a haftarah. Yes, the cantor has, for years, offered to teach congregants to chant a haftarah, but, to the best of my knowledge and/or recollection, only one adult has ever taken him up on his offer in all the 25 or so years that I've been a member. This isn't rocket science--or Gemara. I find an unwillingness, on the part of adults, to learn something so basic that even a Bar/Bat Mitzvah student can do it rather upsetting, especially when the result is that my husband is practically chained to our local shul, since he ends up chanting the haftorah practically every other week, if not every week.

Larry and JDub, thanks for the history lesson.

Thu Oct 29, 01:21:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Tevel said...

As much as you'd like to call simplistic or revisionist, Larry's take is far closer to reality, Jdub. as well, you're the only person here claiming that Judaism sprung whole cloth out of the Reform movement.

I saw that post before, Shira. I thought Katrina's point about wanting to live Judaism was quite apt, save one thing: those folks who want to live Jewish lives already are. How they add emphasis to their Judaism might change, of course.

Thu Oct 29, 10:16:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tevel, I think you're getting Larry's comment and JDub's confused, but, at this point, so I am. :)

I think there's some truth in Larry's point that "IMO every contemporary Jewish movement is a reaction to modernity." Certainly, the Judaism of the days of the ancient yeshiva at Yavneh are long gone, and surely the opening of higher secular education to Jews at the time of the haskalah/"enlightenment" had an impact on, at least, Ashkenazi Judaism. (Methinks secular education had already been open to, and influencing, the Sefardi Jewish community at that point--I've heard that the Rambam/Maimonides was influenced by Greek philosopy.)

I think there's also some truth to JDub's point that "you ignore the other aspects of the Conservative movement that grew out of the Orthodox world, such as R. Zechariah Frankel's seminary in Breslau, R. Solomon Schechter (fully Orthodox, yet a luminary at JTS), and many other critical scholars who found homes at JTS who were, in practical terms, fully Orthodox in observance." I had completely forgotten about that part of Conservative Jewish history--thanks for the reminder, JDub.

"those folks who want to live Jewish lives already are. How they add emphasis to their Judaism might change, of course." Tevel, I would say that my "Jewish life" is a work in progress.

Fri Oct 30, 11:41:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

While R. Frenkel and R. Schechter are interesting historical footnotes in this discussion, they are not really relevant. It's unlikely Frenkel would ever have considered himself "conservative". His distinction was purely theoretical -- embracing the "scientific" study of judaism and its critical analysis, along with the positive historical approach to that analysis. At that point, and even slightly later with Schechter, there was no more meaningful difference in observance. Its only in the last fifty to sixty years that we see the critical analysis approach used for quantum leaps in halachka.

Fri Oct 30, 01:52:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"It's unlikely Frenkel would ever have considered himself "conservative". . . . At that point, and even slightly later with Schechter, there was no more meaningful difference in observance."

Thanks, Steve. I hadn't really thought of that. It may very well be true that, early in the formation of Conservative Judaism--perhaps before anyone thought of it as a separate denomination--the folks promulgating these views weren't distinguisable in observance from those whom we'd now label Orthodox.

Fri Oct 30, 01:59:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two comments:

1) Recent posts include lots of assumptions about “how Jews observed” prior to the Reform movement’s innovations. It’s really not clear: there were so many Jewish communities, in different countries, with various levels of literacy, over many centuries. Other than specific halakhic rulings about specific questions from specific community leaders, there is no documentation that can lead to sweeping conclusions about our ancestors’ observance patterns. To say “everyone was basically Orthodox” is simply wishful thinking from one group of Jews whose theology doesn’t allow them to recognize that Judaism evolved.

2) Even if matrilineal descent was a reaction to a particular phenomenon, it has now been “on the books” for many, many centuries. That has legal power.

Sat Oct 31, 09:15:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

I think that it is fair to say, that the Judaism our fore-bearers didn't follow has little to no modern equivalent...
The Judaism our ancestors routinely violated didn't look a THING like Modern Orthodoxy (with education, involvement with the neighbors, and Shabbat observance), it certainly didn't like a thing like Yeshiva Judaism with it's Jewish houses of learning, and the Hassidism wouldn't invent their new religion for a few centuries.

Do Ashkenazim and Sephardim have similarities? Where the practices overlap, there was no doubt a pre-Enlightenment Judaism that followed it. However, Orthodoxy, with it's tomes of rulings and stringencies certainly didn't exist back then, you needed the events of the Enlightenment to spread Jewish learning.

The Judaism of Europe from that era? A hidebound, superstitious lot, busy making rulings in each town to buy peace with the nearby gentile ruler. Lot's of poor farmers relaxing on Shabbat at the end of the week, with a few rich butchers who have worked with the local Rabbis to control the meat market.

The white washed world of Jdub, a wholesale invention by the 20th century Yeshiva world.

Note: causes given for the first exile includes not keeping Shmittah years. Jews routinely and communally violating Tanakh and Halacha? Predates the codification of the Mishnah... not an invention by the Reform movement.

Sun Nov 01, 05:46:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"The white washed world of Jdub, a wholesale invention by the 20th century Yeshiva world." That's rather bluntly put, Miami Al. Do you really hold the 10th-century Yeshiva world responsible for creating a false impression of pre-World-War-II observance?

Mon Nov 02, 12:48:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Er, 20th-century.

Mon Nov 02, 01:01:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Do you really hold the 20th-century Yeshiva world responsible for creating a false impression of pre-World-War-II observance?
A case can certainly be made. Here's an excerpt from an edah.org article:
The late Rabbi Shimon Schwab presented the most effective exposition of this view:

There is a vast difference between history and storytelling. History must be truthful; otherwise it does not deserve its name. A book of history must report the bad with the good, the ugly with the beautiful, … the guilt and the virtue. …It cannot spare the righteous if he fails, and it cannot skip the virtues of the villain.

[End Rabbi Schwab quote. Article continues]
And this, of course is the problem. Only a prophet, speaking in God’s name, says Rabbi Schwab, has the right to record the embarrassing truths of history. Citing the example of pre-Holocaust Germany, he points out that a factual history would have to report uncomplimentary things about the community and its leaders. This would violate the prohibition against lashon ha-ra and, furthermore, would serve no ethical purpose. Instead of the naked truth, he proposes that we teach our children “the good memories,” tell of the good people, their faith, honesty, charity, and reverence for Torah – not their inadequacies and contradictions:

Every generation has to put a veil over the human failings of its elders…that means that we have to do without a real history book…. We do not need realism; we need inspiration from our forefathers in order to pass it on to posterity.


This certainly provides halachic cover for any sort of re-imagining of pre-churban Europe you can imagine.

Reading the novels of Shalom Aleichem also give a hugely different picture of pre-churban urban Poland and rural Russia than we get from contemporary Orthodox sources.

Mon Nov 02, 01:11:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, this attitude accounts, may I assume, for the ban against Making of a Godol, a factual book about the lives of, among others, the author’s own father?

Mon Nov 02, 01:47:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Shira, absolutely. You might also consider it the source for the ban against Slifkin for printing lashon hara about Mother Earth. :>)

Mon Nov 02, 01:56:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

:)

Mon Nov 02, 03:36:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

Larry, thanks for the link. I disagree with the Rabbi, we DO need realism. Inspiration is important, it inspires one to dream about what one could be. When becoming observant, the story of Rabbi Akiva always spoke to me, who reached adulthood unable to make a simple Bracha (blessing) who became the leading scholar of his era... I liked to think of him as the first BT religious scholar. :)

However, inspiration is wonderful, and fables and myths are important to any culture. They motivate children and inspire adults, that is VERY important.

However, when you look at a community like observant Judaism, there are real people making real decisions about real children. You can be inspired by myths, but you need to base decisions on reality. Two generations raised on the whitewashed world of pre-WW2 Judaism has led to a series of economic decisions that are heading towards catastrophe, and nobody is ready to confront them, because they claim "this is always what it was, there must be a way." You can reach for ideals, but you must deal with reality.

I fear that Orthodoxy has hit it's high water mark. It built a committed observant world the Jewish world has never seen before, but allegiance to economic myths have it heading toward a cliff, an avoidable cliff if the leaders had real historical records to follow instead of myths.

The generation that called for white washing the past NEVER dreamed of a world with 2 million Shomer Shabbat Jews, so it wanted myths to encourage their children. We now have more Shomer Shabbat Jews than probably ever before, and no clue how to build a society for them, out of allegiance to a non-existent ideal.

Tue Nov 03, 12:15:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Miami Al

I'm coming from the same place you are. My teachers taught me that Avraham Avinu, Moshe Rabbenu, and all our other great ancestors were great human beings who had flaws. Avraham jeopardized Sarah twice to avert a potential threat to his own life. Moshe Rabbenu had what we today would call an anger management problem (perhaps caused in part by his great humility?).

When I learned these stories I said to myself "My ancestors were great, but they were flawed. I'm already flawed - I'm halfway to being Avraham Avinu, even at my age!".

I've talked with day school and yeshiva educated people about how the Avot can be role models for them, when the Avot were described as being at a level they have no chance of attaining themselves. It isn't as big a problem from them as it for me apparently - most of them thought that while Avraham was far holier than they could ever be, they could still learn from his life lessons they could apply on their lower level.

Tue Nov 03, 12:45:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry and Al, I think it would be reasonable to say that Judaism cannot survive without *both* inspiration and realism. The trick lies in finding a good balance, probably more toward the inspirational for the young kids and more toward the realistic for teens and adults.

Tue Nov 03, 01:06:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

Shira, you're 100% on target.

As a child, we learned about George Washington and the Cherry tree... Young George cuts down a tree and is confronted about it, he admits it saying, "I cannot tell a lie, I did cut down the cherry tree." That story, which never happened, is part of the American mythos about the "father of our country."

As a teenager, you learn about General Washington and the sacrifices he made to keep his troops fed, with boots, etc., and the struggles.

The inspirational story helps children, but reality is never black and white.

In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Christopher Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue. He wasn't seeking discovery, he was looking for a financially beneficial trade route, and his actions brought plague, death, and enslavement upon the inhabitants. As children get older, more details serve a purpose.

Holy and perfect Avraham Avinu is important for little children to understand the goal. The story of his father's idol shop is a cute story to tell children. However, the realities of his struggles is a better example for adults.

I think for the Day School kids, they are being truthful that they have lessons to learn, but I think by learning immortal men instead of real men, they don't appreciate the risks and sacrifices. The childish view of history that has been chosen appears to me to create a scared and nervous Jew, worried about the outside world, because they only see the good, not the bad.

The OTD percentages are quite high, probably because they are told of the gentile world from those that know nothing of it, and when they get out there, they learn that the world isn't filled with evil goyim out to convert them, which undermines their entire education to date.

Tue Nov 03, 04:26:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Al, I think that, in the long run, the Jewish community pays for not telling the (whole) truth about the Jewish and general worlds. One has to be able to trust what one has learned and the persons from whom one has learned it. Otherwise, why continue to be a part of the community?

Thu Nov 05, 11:02:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Shira, I think we need to be careful about how the whole truth is exposed. This is actually easier in the liberal Jewish communities - you can say "Yes, there were these distasteful things said by great scholars and rabbis, but we don't believe them anymore". That is harder to deal with in the O community, where there is a great deal of reluctance to criticize those who came before us.

Specifically, when you expose the whole truth, frex, of some of the nastier halachot of Jew/Gentile relations you have to be sure to show a) there were other contemporary views that opposed the nasty ones, b) the nasty opinions are not considered the valid ones today by our authorities, c) perhaps give some of the context which makes such rulings understandable, if still not acceptable.

Thu Nov 05, 12:31:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

" . . . in the liberal Jewish communities . . . you can say "Yes, there were these distasteful things said by great scholars and rabbis, but we don't believe them anymore". That is harder to deal with in the O community, where there is a great deal of reluctance to criticize those who came before us."

So I've noticed, Larry. That's one of the reasons why I’m not Orthodox. As I've said, I'm a blunt speaker by nature--I call them as I see them. To be honest, I'm not the least bit fond of the concept of "yeridat ha-dorot," the so-called decline of the generations, the notion that the scholars of previous generatons were superior to the scholars of current times. The dorot, generations, of Talmudic times couldn't rule on technology that didn't exist in their day, nor can anyone avoid being influenced by the current that surrounds him/her. (Hence, the sexism of many of our sacred texts, coming from eras in which women's inferiority was considered so natural that an egalitarian approach would never have occurred to scholars of those times.) I see no reason to value the opinions of ancient rabbis automatically over those of current ones. I'll take Rav Riskin (an advocate of Women's Tefillah Groups and the education of women as Jewish scholars) over Rav Sheshet ("Rav Sheshes said: Why did the Torah count outer ornaments with inner ornaments? To tell you that anyone who looks at the small finger of a woman is as if he looked at the obscene place." [Berachos 24a]--quote copied from here) any day.

Fri Nov 06, 11:02:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oops, missed an explanatory link: Women’s Tefillah (Prayer) Groups.

Fri Nov 06, 11:11:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I've written a few times on the Decline of the generations. The linked post is the easiest one to find, as the others were on other people's blogs and livejournal communities.

The current generation of gedolim seem to me to be working very hard to show that the doctrine of yeridot hadorot applies to them, :<(

Fri Nov 06, 11:49:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, thanks for the link. One of the interpretations of yeridat ha-dorot that you list reminds me of one of my rabbi's jokes: "Rashi didn't have to learn Rashi."

I think one can argue yeridat ha-dorot both ways--on one hand, it's difficult to learn all Jewish sacred texts in depth because there's so much more text than it was in Akiva's time, but, on the other hand, the breadth of knowledge of the later generations would be quite breathtaking to the earlier ones, if they could see us now. Isn't there a midrash about Moshe Rabbeinu/Moses our Teacher being granted the privilege, long after his death, of sitting in on Rabbi Akiva's (or another sage's) class and having no idea what they were talking about, but being glad that the students attributed what they were learning to him?

"The current generation of gedolim seem to me to be working very hard to show that the doctrine of yeridot hadorot applies to them, :<(" How sad that that often seems true.

Sun Nov 08, 07:15:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Shira, the story of Moses and Rabbi Akiva is one of the more complex aggadot in the talmud, IMHO. Depending on where you choose to stop reading the aggadah the point of the story is entirely different. It could be a story about the fundamental inability of man to understand Hashem's plan, or it can be a lesson in either the power or the limitations of the sages in understanding/defining halacha.

In addition, like the story of the oven of Akhnai the lessons learned vary wildly depending on the preferences of the reader.

Mon Nov 09, 01:02:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So, Larry, the interpretation is all in the eye of the beholder? Who'd-a-thunk? :)

Mon Nov 16, 03:27:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Coyote said...

I'm confused about something--you're saying that patrilineal descent affects the entire Jewish community. At the same time, though, just how exactly is patrilineal descent meaningfully different from conversions to Judaism that aren't universally recognized? I mean, in both cases one Jewish movement could consider someone to be Jewish but not another Jewish movement. The people who are concerned that embracing patrilineal descent will divide the Jewish people already ignore the fact that Conservative and Reform conversions to Judaism sometimes and maybe even often aren't recognized as halakhically valid by Orthodox Jews and thus there are already some people whom Conservative and Reform Judaism consider to be Jewish but who probably won't be viewed as such by Orthodox Jews. So, just how exactly is patrilineal descent meaningfully different from this?

Also, as a side note, Conservative Judaism might not be able to avoid this issue indefinitely. After all, we could eventually be able to make artificial sperm with women's DNA and artificial eggs from men's DNA as well as to make genetic males (trans women and/or cis men) pregnant through a uterus transplant. We could also eventually see artificial wombs be developed. So, eventually, Conservative Judaism is going to have to make decisions in regards to new developments in regards to this--such as whether a child that has two genetic fathers and no genetic mothers and who was carried to term either in the body of one of these genetic fathers or in an artificial womb would actually be considered to be halakhically Jewish or whether such a child would require a conversion in order to be considered Jewish.

Sun Dec 29, 05:47:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Coyote said...

"WBM, that's pretty much what I've heard as well. From what I heard, the issue arose because of Jewish women being forced into slavery and/or raped by non-Jewish men. Not a pleasant reason for a major change in approach between the biblical and talmudic eras, but . . ."

As for this part, please keep in mind that males can be rape victims as well. Indeed, females can certainly rape males. Imagine how offensive it would be to tell the child of a Jewish male rape victim (and a non-Jewish rapist mother) that they're not actually considered Jewish because their rape victim parent is of the wrong sex!

BTW, in regards to patrilineal descent, even if Conservative Judaism will indeed eventually embrace it, Orthodox Jews would, you know, have the option of continuing to reject it. Of course, from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, it might not actually matter that much whether or not the Conservative Movement actually embraces patrilineal descent because Conservative conversions to Judaism might not be recognized as being halakhically valid by some/most/all Orthodox Jews. So, whether a patrilineal Jewish child is viewed as being automatically Jewish by the Conservative Jewish movement or whether such a child will feel compelled to undergo a Conservative Jewish conversion might not make any difference in some/most/all Orthodox Jews' views of this child; in their view, in both of these scenarios, this child would still be a non-Jew.

Sun Dec 29, 05:53:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Coyote said...

@Larry Lennhoff: Frankly, this is what I dislike about Conservative Judaism's stance in regards to patrilineal descent. Basically, people are being treated differently based on the single fact of which of their parents is Jewish. Some people might compare Jewish membership standards to membership standards for being a lawyer or whatever, but it's worth noting that everyone has to take the bar exam before they can actually become a lawyer; indeed, there is absolutely no preferential treatment in regards to this to my knowledge. Had some people been exempt from taking the bar exam or could pass the bar exam with a lower score than other people based on some arbitrary characteristic of theirs, I would certainly imagine that there would be a whole lot of outrage among many people in regards to this.

Sun Dec 29, 05:57:00 PM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"The people who are concerned that embracing patrilineal descent will divide the Jewish people already ignore the fact that Conservative and Reform conversions to Judaism sometimes and maybe even often aren't recognized as halakhically valid by Orthodox Jews and thus there are already some people whom Conservative and Reform Judaism consider to be Jewish but who probably won't be viewed as such by Orthodox Jews. So, just how exactly is patrilineal descent meaningfully different from this?"

Good point, Coyote. I hadn't thought of that, but I certainly should have--it's even more obvious now (in 2020), when the Rabbanut HaRashit (Israeli Chief Rabbinate) rejects even some *Orthodox* conversions.

Thu Jun 18, 09:30:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

Yeah, if one is a Conservative Jew and genuinely serious about not dividing the Jewish people, then the only logical position for such a person would be to only perform conversions to Judaism under the strictest possible standards (maybe they could look to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for inspiration in regards to what kinds of conversion standards they should have) so that no one will ever question the Jewishness of any of the people whom one's movement (in this case, the Conservative Jewish movement) will convert to Judaism. If someone is unwilling to convert to Judaism under such strict standards, then there should be no conversion to Judaism at all for this person since from a "Jewish unity" perspective it's apparently better for someone to be universally viewed as a non-Jew than for someone to be viewed as a Jew by some Jewish movements but not by other Jewish movements.

If, on the other hand, one believes that there are things that are more important than Jewish unity--such as getting more people to be a part of any Jewish community (even if these people's Judaism is not going to be universally recognized)--then it makes perfect sense for different Jewish communities to have different standards for conversion to Judaism and also makes sense for different Jewish communities to have different standards for determining who exactly should acquire automatic Jewish status at birth. After all, the logic here is going to be that it's better for some Jewish movement to embrace less stringent conversion standards and/or to embrace patrilineal descent and thus to get more Jewish members for itself than it is for this Jewish movement to embrace more stringent conversion standards and/or to reject patrilineal descent and thus to push people who might have otherwise been interested in becoming a part of this Jewish movement anyway from this movement and perhaps even in some cases completely away from Judaism altogether.

Indeed, what do you personally think is more important, Shira: Having a smaller Jewish community but one where it's crystal-clear among everyone who is a Jew and who is a non-Jew, or having a larger Jewish community but one where the lines between who is a Jew and who is a non-Jew become more blurred due to different Jewish movements having different criteria for determining Jewish status (whether from birth or through conversion to Judaism)? Serious question, by the way. I think that if one prefers the first answer to this question, then one should reject patrilineal descent but that if one prefers the second answer to this question, then one should embrace patrilineal descent. After all, let's face it--if halakha can change in regards to other aspects (for instance, gay rights or allowing a cohen to marry a convert or a divorcee), and if there is no compelling reason to keep matrilineal descent (and there isn't one as long as Conservative Judaism will continue to perform conversions to Judaism that won't be universally recognized and thus will continue to divide the Jewish people), why exactly can't halakha change in regards to this as well? If a standard is arbitrary and unfair, why not change it? After all, better late than never, no?

Sun Jun 21, 06:35:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

Basically, what patrilineal Jews don't like is having to undergo a conversion to Judaism while matrilineal Jews don't actually have to undergo such a conversion simply because their (as in, patrilineal Jews') wrong parent was Jewish. This would be similar to some club for black people giving automatic entry to some overwhelmingly white person with black/African mitochondrial DNA (due to him having a distant black/African maternal-line ancestor) while refusing to give automatic entry to an overwhelmingly black person but one who lacks black/African mitochondrial DNA due to them having a non-black maternal-line ancestor sufficiently far back down the line--with this club telling this overwhelmingly black person that he needs to go through some additional hurdles before he can actually become a member of this club. Well, the fact that this overwhelmingly black person with non-black/non-African mitochondrial DNA needs to go through these additional hurdles--even if they will be extremely easy to overcome--in order to become a member of this club for blacks while an overwhelmingly white person with black/African mitochondrial DNA doesn't need to go through these additional hurdles to become a member of this club for blacks is likely to generate a lot of resentment among this overwhelmingly black person due to the fact that he has to prove his blackness whereas the overwhelmingly white person doesn't simply because he has non-black/non-African mitochondrial DNA even though in the grand scheme of things he is objectively much more black/African by ancestry than this overwhelmingly white person (who has a distant black maternal-line ancestor but other than that has all white ancestors) is.

Do you see and understand the point that I am making here, Shira? Rabbi Alana Suskin previously defended matrilineal descent on the grounds that all groups need to have standards--whether lawyers, doctors, or Jews. However, what she neglected to mention is that membership standards need to be fair, reasonable, and non-arbitrary. If there were different criteria to become, say, a doctor or a lawyer for blacks and for whites--or, alternatively, for women and for men--then I would certainly imagine that no one would actually be willing to tolerate this and would instead be willing to push to change these criteria to make them much fairer even if, purely hypothetically, these criteria would have existed in such a(n unfair) way for thousands of years by now!

Sun Jun 21, 06:43:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

I realized that I made a typo in one of my posts here above; so, here is the corrected sentence:

"After all, the logic here is going to be that it's better for some Jewish movement to embrace less stringent conversion standards and/or to embrace patrilineal descent and thus to get more Jewish members for itself than it is for this Jewish movement to embrace more stringent conversion standards and/or to reject patrilineal descent and thus to push people who might have otherwise been interested in becoming a part of this Jewish movement *away* from this movement and perhaps even in some cases completely away from Judaism altogether."

(The word that I previously wrote (by mistake) was "anyway" but I meant to write "away" instead.)

Sun Jun 21, 11:44:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Coyote, I will eventually get around to posting a review of Dr. Jack Wertheimer's 2018 book, The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice Their Religion Today. One of his points is that accepting patrilineal descent solves one problem but creates another. We might forget that patrilineal descent is a result of trying to deal with rampant intermarriage, though intermarriage can also create halachically-Jewish children if the Jewish parent is the child's mother. What we ignore, at our peril, as Dr. Wertheimer points out, is how, exactly, a congregation/minyan/alternative Jewish community is supposed to deal with having a large percent of members who are not Jewish by *anyone's* definition. To phrase this my own way, who do you count for a minyan? To whom can you give an aliyah? How much of the service might some folks want to have in English so that non-Jewish spouses will feel welcome? Where do you draw the line, or do you just decide that there's no line and stop asking people who are applying for membership whether they're Jewish, as some synagogues have done?

Mon Jun 22, 02:57:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

Frankly, this is an issue/problem that various Jewish denominations with intermarried couples are going to have to deal with regardless of whether or not these denominations are actually going to adopt patrilineal descent. So, I don't see the direct relevance of patrilineal descent to this issue/problem. If you're going to argue that patrilineal descent will encourage male Jews to intermarry, well, they're already doing a lot of that right now and, in any case, one can argue that matrilineal descent encourages female Jews to intermarry since their kids are going to be Jewish regardless of whom they will marry and thus they have nothing to lose by intermarrying.

As for the issue/problem that you raise, well, what about allowing non-Jews to become synagogue members (like Conservative Judaism is apparently already doing) but preventing them from doing certain Jewish things--such as participating in a minyan or giving an aliyah? Would that work? Of course, this proposed solution would work just as easily with or without the adoption of patrilineal descent, no?

Mon Jun 22, 04:40:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

By the way, Shira, how exactly do you think that Jewish status is going to be determined once we will be able to create artificial sperm out of women's DNA and artificial eggs out of men's DNA and also once we will be able to make genetic males (cisgender men and/or transgender women) pregnant and/or create artificial wombs and gestate embryos and fetuses inside of them? For the record, it is unlikely that this will remain a purely hypothetical question in the long(er)-run:

https://leapsmag.com/top-fertility-doctor-artificially-created-sperm-and-eggs-will-become-normal-one-day/

For instance, if there is a lesbian couple where one woman is Jewish and another woman is non-Jewish, and if the Jewish woman provides the egg and gestates the zygote/embryo/fetus to term while the non-Jewish woman's DNA is used to create artificial sperm to fertilize this egg and thus to create a zygote/embryo, would the resulting child actually be considered Jewish according to halakha? On the one hand, the egg that was used to produce them came from a Jewish woman and they were likewise gestated in a Jewish womb. On the other hand, though, the (artificial) sperm that was used to produce this child came from a non-Jewish *woman* as opposed to from a non-Jewish man.

Similarly, if one non-Jewish genetic male will provide sperm while a Jewish genetic male's DNA will be used to create an artificial egg that this sperm will fertilize, and if this Jewish genetic male will subsequently carry this zygote/embryo/fetus to term inside of their body as a result of a uterus transplant, would their resulting child actually be considered Jewish? On the one hand, the person that the egg that was used to produce this child came from was Jewish; on the other hand, though, this person was genetically male as opposed to genetically female--with their male DNA being used to produce an artificial egg. Likewise, this child was gestated inside of the body of a Jewish person, but again, the Jewish person that this child was gestated inside of was genetically male as opposed to genetically female. So, would such a child actually be considered Jewish? Also, would it depend on whether the uterus transplant that this child's genetic male "mother" received actually came from a Jewish uterus donor?

Similarly, would children that have a genetic Jewish mother but who were gestated in an artificial womb be considered Jewish at the time of their birth?

Any thoughts on all of these questions of mine, Shira?

Mon Jun 22, 04:52:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Coyote, hab rachmones/have mercy--I'm just a layperson blogger, not a rabbi! I'm not in a position to comment on most of your speculation.

" what about allowing non-Jews to become synagogue members . . . but preventing them from doing certain Jewish things--such as participating in a minyan or giving an aliyah? Would that work? Of course, this proposed solution would work just as easily with or without the adoption of patrilineal descent, no?"

That still leaves the congregation in the delicate position of not being able to allocate honors to all of their members, and requires anyone giving out honors to know exactly who is Jewish and who isn't Jewish among the spouses. It can also affect how the synagogue operates, e.g., how much English they use in their services. Does a congregation with a large non-Jewish membership change their services to make them more accessible to those who can't read Hebrew and may or may not know anything about Jewish tradition? Mixed congregations are not without consequences.

Mon Jun 29, 04:09:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

"Coyote, hab rachmones/have mercy--I'm just a layperson blogger, not a rabbi! I'm not in a position to comment on most of your speculation."

Well, can you ask a rabbi about these questions? It would certainly be interesting to hear what exactly they will think in regards to this.

"That still leaves the congregation in the delicate position of not being able to allocate honors to all of their members,"

Well, what's the alternative? Denying synagogue membership to non-Jews completely? Is that actually better, in your honest opinion?

"and requires anyone giving out honors to know exactly who is Jewish and who isn't Jewish among the spouses."

Yes, but what exactly is the problem with this?

"It can also affect how the synagogue operates, e.g., how much English they use in their services. Does a congregation with a large non-Jewish membership change their services to make them more accessible to those who can't read Hebrew and may or may not know anything about Jewish tradition? Mixed congregations are not without consequences."

Maybe each congregation should have a vote in regards to this? The more traditionally-minded congregations can continue to use a lot of Hebrew and minimal (if any) English whereas the more modern-minded congregations can use more English. Anyone who doesn't like how their congregation voted can go and join a different congregation.

Sounds fair and reasonable, doesn't it?

Tue Jul 14, 02:47:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

" can you ask a rabbi about these questions?"

Coyote, my husband is the "acting rabbi" of a congregation hasn't had a rabbi in about nine years.

"That still leaves the congregation in the delicate position of not being able to allocate honors to all of their members,"

Well, what's the alternative? Denying synagogue membership to non-Jews completely? Is that actually better, in your honest opinion?"

I believe that denying synagogue membership to non-Jews is the policy of the Conservative Movement. A former rabbi of ours once compared being a Jew to being a citizen. Non-citizens can't vote. Non-Jews are not citizens of the Jewish people. If they're allowed to become members of a synagogue, they get to vote on matters that they may not even understand. Here's a quote from a much more recent post of mine: " Wertheimer tells the true tale of a person showing up for a Hebrew School committee meeting on the day of the Roman Catholic observance known as Ash Wednesday with an ash cross on their forehead. No one had the nerve to say anything. Really, once you've accepted non-Jews as full members, what is there to say?" [See http://onthefringe_jewishblog.blogspot.com/2020/07/book-review-new-american-judaism-how.html]

"and requires anyone giving out honors to know exactly who is Jewish and who isn't Jewish among the spouses."

Yes, but what exactly is the problem with this?"

Do you expect a Conservative synagogue to think it's acceptable for a non-Jew to have an aliyah?

"Anyone who doesn't like how their congregation voted can go and join a different congregation."

Nice. Now a person who's been a member of a synagogue for 30 years has to go find another synagogue? I can't really talk, though--I tried to get my current synagogue to go egalitarian for something like 20 years, and *I* was the newcomer.

Sat Aug 01, 11:32:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

"Coyote, my husband is the "acting rabbi" of a congregation hasn't had a rabbi in about nine years."

So, you can ask him these questions?

"I believe that denying synagogue membership to non-Jews is the policy of the Conservative Movement. A former rabbi of ours once compared being a Jew to being a citizen. Non-citizens can't vote. Non-Jews are not citizens of the Jewish people. If they're allowed to become members of a synagogue, they get to vote on matters that they may not even understand. Here's a quote from a much more recent post of mine: " Wertheimer tells the true tale of a person showing up for a Hebrew School committee meeting on the day of the Roman Catholic observance known as Ash Wednesday with an ash cross on their forehead. No one had the nerve to say anything. Really, once you've accepted non-Jews as full members, what is there to say?" [See http://onthefringe_jewishblog.blogspot.com/2020/07/book-review-new-american-judaism-how.html]"

Interestingly enough, the Conservative Jewish movement has apparently recently become willing to allow its synagogues to make non-Jews members if they so desired:

https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/news/conservative-jewish-assembly-votes-allow-non-jewish-synagogue-members

Am I understanding this article correctly? If so, this would certainly be a strange position for Conservative Judaism to hold--as in, a non-Jew *isn't* actually good enough to marry a Jew (in the eyes of the Conservative Jewish movement, at least) but nevertheless *is* good enough to become a member of a Conservative Jewish synagogue. How exactly this circle is supposed to be squared is a mystery to me.

"Do you expect a Conservative synagogue to think it's acceptable for a non-Jew to have an aliyah?"

No, I don't. When I asked 'Yes, but what exactly is the problem with this?', what I meant was 'What exactly is the problem with having a list of a synagogue's/congregation's membership to determine who is and isn't Jewish?' I never said or implied anything about the permissibility of non-Jews to have an aliyah here.

"Nice. Now a person who's been a member of a synagogue for 30 years has to go find another synagogue? I can't really talk, though--I tried to get my current synagogue to go egalitarian for something like 20 years, and *I* was the newcomer."

Well, what exactly are you proposing? No changes at all? I mean, isn't that (as in, leaving this congregation) what has historically happened when a particular synagogue/congregation made a particular change that its members didn't like--whether women rabbis, same-sex marriage, or something else? Indeed, what exactly are you proposing as an alternative to this? I think that, like in a democratic country, a synagogue/congregation should make its decisions democratically and if certain members don't like these decisions, then they can either suck it up, push to change these decisions, or go and seek to join a different synagogue. What other options are there, after all? What exactly am I missing here? Is a synagogue/congregation supposed to be run differently from how a democratic country is run?

Sun Aug 16, 07:20:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

By the way, as a side note, I personally don't think that a Conservative Jewish synagogue/congregation can genuinely be "egalitarian" if it doesn't recognize bilineal descent in regards to passing on Judaism. Of course, maybe the most optimal solution would be to reject hereditary Judaism altogether and make everyone convert to Judaism just like we force everyone to take the bar exam before they can actually become lawyers. That said, though, as long as we are going to maintain hereditary Jewish status--and things such as hereditary national citizenship, for that matter--it only seems fair to allow either parent to pass on their Jewish status onto their children, don't you think?

This is especially true for Jewish movements which, as I previously said, are already performing conversions to Judaism that aren't universally recognized by other Jews and Jewish movements and thus are already dividing the Jewish people right now. For such Jewish movements, it seems awfully hypocritical to say that it's acceptable to divide the Jewish people in regards to the necessary criteria for conversions to Judaism but not to divide the Jewish people in regards to the question of who exactly should inherit Jewish status from the time of their birth.

Mon Aug 17, 03:27:00 AM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Coyote, my husband is the "acting rabbi" of a congregation hasn't had a rabbi in about nine years."

So, you can ask him these questions?"

No! My whole point in describing him as "acting rabbi" is that he *isn't* a rabbi. He never even went to a Jewish day school or yeshiva, much less rabbinical school, and doesn't even pretend to be able to answer all halachic questions.

[See http://onthefringe_jewishblog.blogspot.com/2020/07/book-review-new-american-judaism-how.html]"

Seriously, read my post about Dr. Jack Wertheimer's "The New American Judaism," or better yet, read the book. It will help answer your comment below:

"Interestingly enough, the Conservative Jewish movement has apparently recently become willing to allow its synagogues to make non-Jews members if they so desired:

https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/news/conservative-jewish-assembly-votes-allow-non-jewish-synagogue-members

Am I understanding this article correctly? If so, this would certainly be a strange position for Conservative Judaism to hold--as in, a non-Jew *isn't* actually good enough to marry a Jew (in the eyes of the Conservative Jewish movement, at least) but nevertheless *is* good enough to become a member of a Conservative Jewish synagogue. How exactly this circle is supposed to be squared is a mystery to me."

Here's a quote from page 118 of (the hardcover version of) "The New American Judaism:"

". . . there is little critical talk at all about the consequences of having integrated so large a population of non-Jews and their families into Reform synagogues. . . . the movement has been silent on the need to maintain an unambiguously Jewish orientation within the family so as to minimize confusion among the children and foster their strong identification with Judaism."

The same problems--in the home and in the synagogue--will impact the Conservative Movement.

Thu Aug 27, 09:13:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

Shira, have you ever considered that someone who is not raised in an unequivocally Jewish home but who nevertheless identifies with the Jewish people has a stronger connection to Judaism than someone who was raised in an exclusively Jewish home and who didn't have much exposure to any other religions? Frankly, I don't see a problem in not raising children exclusively in Jewish homes. If the will be exposed to Judaism (albeit not exclusively) and Judaism will appeal to them (which, BTW, could be less likely for patrilineal Jews considering that the Conservative Jewish movement rejects them), then they could identify as Jewish in spite of them not being raised in an exclusively Jewish home. This could, of course, result in a somewhat smaller Jewish community but also in one that's more committed to Judaism and one whose members have a greater exposure to other religions and religious traditions as well--thus making them more cosmopolitan Jews, if you will.

I'm wary of exclusive religious households because this might mean that children's religious identity might be less secure because they would have had less exposure to other religions and thus might be more vulnerable to reconsidering their religious beliefs in the event that they will ever get exposed to other religions. In other words, remaining Jewish when you're inside of a bubble is easy, but I especially admire those people who went outside of the Jewish bubble and nevertheless kept or returned to their Jewish identity.

Honestly, intermarriage isn't the end of the world. I mean, my Jewish paternal grandfather intermarried and so did my half-Jewish father, and yet I identify as an agnostic Jew in spite of me being only 1/4 Jewish by ancestry.

Sun Sep 06, 11:43:00 PM 2020  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can identify as what ever you like. That doesn't make it so. Judaism has rules. Consider it like citizenship in the US. To be a US citizen you either have to be born on US soil (birthright citizenship), born of US citizen parents (with some other attendant rules), or naturalized.

Someone who has one American great-grandparent whose parents didn't have citizenship for whatever reason may feel like an American, but they're not. I qualify for Irish citizenship by dint of my grandmother being born in Cork, but that doesn't make me Irish if I don't do anything about it.

In halachic Judaism, the rule is the mother has to be Jewish or the person needs to convert halachically. The fact that you have a paternal grandfather who is Jewish doesn't qualify you. Full stop. You might feel like a better Jew than people who are halachically Jewish, but that doesn't make it so. I'm not a better Irishman because I like Guiness and Jameson's and traditional Irish music.

Jdub (from above)

Mon Sep 14, 12:20:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

Technically, I might very well be considered Jewish by the US Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements, so saying that I'm not Jewish isn't completely accurate. Now, you could say that my Jewishness isn't universally recognized, and that's a fair enough point, but the same could also be said for Conservative Jewish converts whose conversions aren't actually recognized as being valid by at least some more devout and traditional Jews and Jewish movements.

I'm well-aware of how US citizenship rules work, thank you very much. I'm a naturalized US citizen myself (I was naturalized at age 17 back in 2010), so I'm not oblivious to this. However, while there are certain rules that one must follow in order to become a US citizen, it is nevertheless perfectly legitimate for people--including non-citizens--to use their power of free speech to advocate for a change in these rules if it considers these rules to be unfair for whatever reason. Ditto for advocating a change to Conservative Jewish rules in determining who exactly should be considered Jewish; anyone should be able to use their power of free speech to advocate in favor of such a change, including people whom the Conservative Jewish movement doesn't actually consider to be Jewish.

And by the way, I don't actually plan to associate with any Jewish movement that doesn't actually already consider me Jewish. Conversion wouldn't really solve this problem considering that it would be insincere on my own part (I will remain an agnostic, after all) and considering that it still wouldn't eliminate the issue of sexism in preventing males such as myself from passing on their Jewish status to their offspring in the eyes of the Conservative Jewish movement even if this movement did in fact recognize us as Jewish, such as post-conversion.

Tue Sep 15, 02:37:00 AM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

My own issue with the Conservative Jewish movement is that it claims that halakha can evolve in regards to various other aspects, just bizarrely not in regards to either intermarriage or patrilineal descent without actually providing an adequate justification for this distinction. Klal yisrael can't be used to justify this distinction since the Conservative Jewish movement already performs conversions to Judaism that aren't universally recognized by all Jews and by all Jewish movements--something that it would not do if it was actually serious about Jewish unity. After all, using Shira Salamone's own logic, the Conservative Jewish movement should NEVER do ANYTHING that undermines Jewish unity in ANY way.

Tue Sep 15, 02:43:00 AM 2020  
Blogger Coyote said...

I just realized that I made a typo in one of my previous paragraphs here:

"Shira, have you ever considered that someone who is not raised in an unequivocally Jewish home but who nevertheless identifies with the Jewish people has a stronger connection to Judaism than someone who was raised in an exclusively Jewish home and who didn't have much exposure to any other religions? Frankly, I don't see a problem in not raising children exclusively in Jewish homes. If *they* will be exposed to Judaism (albeit not exclusively) and Judaism will appeal to them (which, BTW, could be less likely for patrilineal Jews considering that the Conservative Jewish movement rejects them), then they could identify as Jewish in spite of them not being raised in an exclusively Jewish home. This could, of course, result in a somewhat smaller Jewish community but also in one that's more committed to Judaism and one whose members have a greater exposure to other religions and religious traditions as well--thus making them more cosmopolitan Jews, if you will."

I replaced the word "the" in one of my paragraphs here with the word "they"; I initially meant to write "they" but wrote "the" instead.

Wed Sep 16, 10:06:00 PM 2020  

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