David Turner

Holocaust Dialogues 2, In the end, “Who is a Jew” will be defined by a non-Jew

I recently adapted and posted a response in a continuing dialogue with a friend defining “Who is a Jew.” My position is that the question, discussed by Philosopher and myself, and by Israeli Orthodoxy and Diaspora Jewry will, in the end, be resolved only by the perpetrator of the next Holocaust.

I remind, Philosopher, that whether or not you and I ever fully agree, in the end that the ultimate authority regarding “Who is a Jew” will be neither the Rabbinate-inspired “Who is a Jew” legislation nor the Law of Return: the decision will be that of the perpetrator of the next Holocaust. And since neither of us, nor anyone else, can identify where and when (the “where” for me is clearer than the “when”) the event will occur, nor the expressed “ideology” driving the event; while we can be aware of its likelihood, once it is operational we are no more likely than was European Jewry to defend against it: twenty centuries of persecution have transformed us into a dependent and permanent minority everywhere in the Diaspora.

As regards our dialogue, Philosopher, I feel you continue to view me too narrowly. Yes I agreed that in the 1930’s “administrative selection” was as you describe, “based on religious records principally of affiliation with Jewish congregations and of baptizing.” But that is not my view for the 21st century. As I wrote earlier, technology reduces the search for “jew” to microseconds, with virtually no human involvement in the “search.”  Every participant in our blog is aware that a “google” search, regardless of complexity, typically takes less than a second to provide hundreds or thousands of “hits.” An ideologically-driven “search” by a government intending us harm would be no more time-consuming or less provide no less relevant results. In fact, with tools available and currently in use by intelligence and police services around the world the “search” can be easily extended to include telephone and email transmissions, provide access to our computer history and hard drive! There is no longer such a thing as privacy or refuge. So clearly the parameters of 1933 as baseline are too limited for the technology of today.

As you indicate, religious and organizational affiliation will be important, as they were in 1933, in a future “administrative selection.” So too will computer-stored hospital records, job applications, credit card transactions… Does a trip to Israel identify a “Jew,” or shopping at a Kosher on-line food distributor? How about my books on antisemitism purchased on Amazon, or checked out of the library? All are easily available to a government or technologically literate private person or group so interested.

Will that future ideologue take a “liberal” approach to “identity-for-selection,” say eliminating a person “born” Jewish according to Halacha but converted later to Christianity; or someone who is intermarried and unaffiliated? We have several contributors to this blog who are Christian by birth, but whose genealogy is Jewish. Do they live or do they die?

My concern that the definition of “Jew” will likely be determined by a non-Jew intent on our destruction is my reason for insisting on a broad, a Zionist definition of “Jew.” And while the Law of Return and the grandparent amendment may, as you say, be imperfect, it is a good-faith effort by Israel as response to the previous Holocaust. And anyone, wittingly or not, who would reduce the coverage of the Law of Return is not just anti-Zionist, but is guilty of complicity in the future murders of those “amended” out of Zionism’s protection.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.