Safra Turner

I am a Jew. True? Don’t bet on it

Based upon a discussion that took place on Jen Maidenberg’s last blog post on The Times of Israel, “Where I come from, I’m a Jew,” I felt it was essential to take the issue of who is a Jew, and put it back into context.

The topic is hot. Opinions vary. And as was explained by one commentator, it is a travesty that converts into Reform and Conservative streams do not know that they will not be accepted as Jews.

I want to add a second travesty, and then put it into context. It is a travesty that Jews born into intermarried families are considered Jewish if their mothers are Jewish and yet non-Jewish if it is their fathers who are the Jews in the relationship. I can only speak from my experience of the US, where the intermarriage rate is over 50%. This means that approximately 25% of Jewish children born in the US are, well, not Jewish.

I am very curious to know the official position of US Jewry on this matter, as through birth, based upon halakhic law, they have lost 25% of an already-dwindling Jewish population.

For now, we will have to make do with Israel’s take on the issue, seeing as the position of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is that which determines the “legitimacy” of Jews, and Israel, as a state, legally stands behind its rabbinate. These above individuals are non-Jews, goyim, if I may. These children, many of whom have a shot at a Jewish identity, could be raised Jewish and Zionist; they may choose to make aliya, and be a lifeline in ensuring the future of the Jewish people; but based on the legal criteria of the Jewish State, they aren’t Jewish.

Here’s another wrench. At portion, albeit small, of those non-Jewish mothers will decide to convert to Judaism through any of the universally accepted streams of Judaism, but for the sake of “simplicity,” let’s limit the discussion to Orthodox conversion.

What is orthodox enough for the rabbinate in Israel? Who decides? I have heard of enough experiences of those who have converted “orthodox” and yet were still not granted the golden ticket to their “Jewishhood” upon making Aliya, by said rabbinate, set to “enforce” Halachic law. Then there are the born and bred Jews, who the Rabbinate decides, just for the sake of complicating things even further, to deny them their Judaism as well. I personally know of three cases, in which 100% pure bred Jews were denied their religion by the Rabbinate, simply because their grandparents were murdered in the Shoah, and their records lost to the ages.

And herein lies the true travesty. These goyim, half- Jews, fake Jews, non-Jews, unable to prove themselves due to circumstances such as the occasional Holocaust; call them what you may, along with the rest of the “acceptable by Israeli rabbinate standards” Jews, are all fair game for anti-Semitism, whether or not the Israeli rabbinate, the only LEGAL governing body on religion in Israel, decides that they are “Jewish enough”. Not only that, but I am willing to go out on a limb and state that they may even be “fairer” game for anti-Semitism. They are heretics, going straight to hell for having turned away from the Christian messiah. Then there are the half breeds” never finding their true place in predominantly Christian societies (for the sake of simplicity, I have kept the discussion solely to Jews living in Christian…er, democratic countries around the world).

The travesty is that many Jews must suffer violence, humiliation, and murder, for being just that — “Jewish.” They must bear the burden of anti-Semitism, and terrorism, often enough, though clearly not the true motivation, based upon the excuses of “Israeli policy” or “Israel’s apartheid.” However, those same Jews that are subjected to anti-Semitism are not actually considered Jewish by the only country on earth that is meant to be a welcoming haven for them.

People talk about the “who is a Jew” question, as if they even have the right to ask who is a Jew. Hitler didn’t ask the 6,000,000 Jews he murdered to prove their Judaism. “You. Your dad was a Jew, but your mother wasn’t? Ok, you’re off the hook, feel free to pick up your luggage and children as you leave the gates of Auschwitz. Sorry for that minor inconvenience of almost murdering you and your kinder. Halakhically, you’re not Jewish.”

Come on, folks. Drop the politics for five minutes. This is existential. These ridiculous policies of cutting out a fair-sized portion of individuals who are just not Jewish enough is equal to physically throwing them to the wolves.

I do not understand why this subject is even allowed to be on the table, and honestly, in cases of mass life and death and quality of life, why is short-sighted public opinion more important than saving our own People (if there is truth to the parallel statement in that discussion following Jen’s post). I am just not following the logic here.

Am I missing something? Is this issue so minuscule that it is allowed to be placed upon the negotiation table?

This is not for a single stream of Judaism to decide. This is not a political issue. This is not a game. This is the existential future of the Jewish People.

About the Author
Safra made aliya in 1997, and has been involved in the Jewish world both professionally and voluntarily throughout her life. She currently resides near Haifa and owns a small translation business. Safra is married and has one son.