Friday, November 10, 2006

(Not even) Half Right

Those who regularly read this blog know my feelings on intermarriage and Jewish identity, but for clarification's sake: a Jew is a person who self-identifies as a Jew. Halakha and certain segments of our community may disagree with my definition and they have the right to do so. In the interest of fairness to all sides, I have presented two opinions different from my own, below.

Reb Chaim HaQoton has some very definitive opinions about who is Jewish and who is not. And he should. He is considering the issue from an Orthodox halakhic perspective and traditional halakha has a definitive opinion on who is Jewish:

…the Mishna in Kiddushin 66b states that if a child's mother is not Jewish, then the child is "like her"—that is—not Jewish. This Halacha is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer §8:5), without mention of any dissenting opinion; no one argues… Despite all the pilpul, in practical Halacha, a child whose mother is Jewish is Jewish and a child whose mother is not Jewish is not Jewish, regardless of the status of the father. A popular, yet controversial, term amongst the more assimilated sects of world Jewry is “Half-Jewish”; however, such a term is both meaningless and baseless. One is either a Jew or not a Jew.

He then goes on to clarify in what ways intermarriage is wrong, according to rabbinic literature. Newsflash: rabbinic literature does not approve of marrying non-Jews. Shocker.

The rabbi at differentiates between being Jewish halakhically and acting Jewish. He says that it’s not enough to feel Jewish; you must also be Jewish (according to traditional halakha), which means, “that one has a spiritual-karmic link to the Torah that was instilled on the nation at Mt. Sinai.” How do you obtain that spiritual-karmic link? You guessed it: either you’re ma is Jewish or you convert. Furthermore, “those who believe that being Jewish means a spiritual reality with specific parameters are not able (and, honestly, not inclined) to “change our minds,” because we believe that this is what the Torah stipulates.” In this case, “we” means Jews. Because claims to speak for all of us. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

So you half Jews out there? You do not exist. Those feelings of splintered identity and confusion? “Baseless and meaningless” because you are either a Jew or you’re not. There’s no confusion. That means you, JewishyIrishy, and all the contributors to Half/Life have written a book about nothing. Sad to waste all that ink.


Anonymous said...

There is a difference between being halachicly Jewish, being a part of the Jewish community, and being a Hebrew.

I would note that there have always been non-Jews in the middle category, and non-Jews with a Jewish father in the last two categories.

Even the super frummies have to admit that a half-Jew has genetic similarities and cultural influence from his father's side, and personal family ties.

Laurel said...

Ah, but I made a conversion when I was 18... so I'm all Jew... however I may plany with semantics.

Sorry to rain on your parade.

harley said...


I mostly wanted to get people to your website and aware of your work. I loved the book and think everyone would benefit from reading it. I hope my tone revealed that, far from raining on my parade, you address issues I think are essential to opening the Jewish dialogue and become an inclusive community.

Naomi said...

We can't make everyone happy all the time. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and that's the halacha. No one, however, should make fun of or look down on those whose fathers are Jews, especially when there are clear Jewish intellectual and social influences that are apparent. We can argue over the benefits of left/right ashkenaz/sephard or secular/religious, but there needs to be a clear boundary as to who a Jew is. We cannot live in this ambiguity. If people want to convert even after understanding how difficult being a jew is, then welcome.

There was a sweet woman in my office who used to wear a large gold Jewish star each day, when she finally told a bunch of us jews she was not Jewish but strongly resonated with the Jewish identity. While I did not say anything, there was then a heated but polite debate about this, and she never wore it again after that. Was it unfair to her? In her mind, yes. But this jew identity thing is not to be played with. We have suffered and have been resilient for too long to allow for maybe-maybes.

Anonymous said...
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Naomi said...

Thanks, anonymous,

You are so sweet. Wanna have coffee?

Naomi said...

Oh, and "anonymous"? If we're going to go for coffee, I'd like to know your name. You see I'm not afraid to put my name behind my opinion, unlike yourself. Throwing epithets at people you don't know anything about is pretty petulant and rather telling. Thanks, big boy.

AnnieGetYour said...

Guys, at the risk of sounding like a kindergarten teacher, can we keep this civil? It isn't fun to have people trash you personally, and not your arguments.

Anonymous said...

Dear Naomi,

Sorry for posting that nasty comment. Your comment struck a nerve with me. I hate religion, and I think that identities like "Jew" or "Christian" are arbitrary and meaningless. They are only meaningful to the extent that these people are persecuted; however, one has to admit that, by nature of forming an exclusive community, people who belong to one or another religion are complicit in their own persecution. So I had two problems with your post, one practical and one more academic. On a practical level, if the Gestapo ever comes back (which it won't, stop being so paranoid), they are not going to care about halacha rules (I don't even know if that makes grammatical sense). My academic criticism is that Jews would no longer be persecuted if there were no such thing as Jews, and so by writing things like "there needs to be a clear boundary as to who a Jew is," you are actually contributing in an indirect way to any potential persecution that people, as "Jews," might suffer.

Once again, sorry for the mean-spirited comment.


Anonymous said...

P.S. Sorry for writing, "stop being so paranoid." I meant to edit that out before I published. Don't take it personally. I am incapable of talking about anything religious without my blood boiling. It has nothing to do with you. I'm sure you're a lovely person, but I despise religion.

Naomi said...

Thank you for your apology. I will not attempt to counter-argue your points. I have no interest in this type of debate with you, and like annie said, this is not grade K. I just ask that you watch your language in the future. I am sure if you met me, you would indeed find that I am a "lovely" person. I am also religious, though if I didn't respect others' opinions I wouldn't visit sites like this. I love people and the diversities that make us unique. My whole job at work is devoted to listening to others.

But thanks for your apology, and the second one. I think all people can be respectfull regardless of what side of the spectrum they are on.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

huh. I just wrote a post on this issue here.

al said...

I have really secretly struggled with being half Jewish for years. I am older my grandparents were immigrants from Russia. My Father one of 4 sons all became Pharmacists. My Father married a Christian. She converted but not in her heart. This was at a time when it was a great disgrace for a family to intermarriage. My Grandmother treated me well but you always knew you were on the outside. I attended Passover at grandma house and such. My Father passed away and his side of the family moved away. I have been to conversion class, I spent 9 months there. I never made any final step. I still feel on the outside. I read the Torah portion daily. I have read many of Heschels works as well as many others. I love Israel but have never made it over the hump. I just wanted to say this.

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