Who decides if you are Jewish?

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by Principessa, Mar 4, 2008.

  1. Principessa

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    How Do You Prove You’re a Jew?
    By GERSHOM GORENBERG

    One day last fall, a young Israeli woman named Sharon went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. They are not religious, but there is no civil marriage in Israel. The rabbinate, a government bureaucracy, has a monopoly on tying the knot between Jews. The last thing Sharon expected to be told that morning was that she would have to prove — before a rabbinic court, no less — that she was Jewish. It made as much sense as someone doubting she was Sharon, telling her that the name written in her blue government-issue ID card was irrelevant, asking her to prove that she was she.

    Sharon is a small woman in her late 30s with shoulder-length brown hair. For privacy’s sake, she prefers to be identified by only her first name. She grew up on a kibbutz when kids were still raised in communal children’s houses. She has two brothers who served in Israeli combat units. She loved the green and quiet of the kibbutz but was bored, and after her own military service she moved to the big city, which is the standard kibbutz story. Now she is a Tel Aviv professional with a master’s degree, a job with a major H.M.O. and a partner — when this story starts, a fiancé — who is “in computers.”
    This stereotypical biography did not help her any more at the rabbinate than the line on her birth certificate listing her nationality as Jewish. Proving you are Jewish to Israel’s state rabbinate can be difficult, it turns out, especially if you came to Israel from the United States — or, as in Sharon’s case, if your mother did.
    By now, though, Farber had phoned the Marathon County Register of Deeds, seeking Suzie’s mother’s birth certificate. The request, he was told, had to come from an immediate relative. Fortunately, Danson offered to help, and Suzie sent him the necessary information by e-mail. By Friday morning — five days after Suzie first called Farber — Danson was at the Wausau courthouse with the papers and $20 of his own money. Belle Mersky’s birth certificate, faxed to Farber’s home, showed that her mother’s maiden name was Rose Reuben.

    Suzie’s niece visited the Jewish cemetery in Minneapolis where her grandparents were buried. The tombstones, originally placed flush with the ground, were now covered with grass and sod. She went home, returned with a shovel, and uncovered the evidence. In the photo of the gravestone that she sent by e-mail, above the name Rose Mersky in English was Hebrew: “Rachel, daughter of Moshe,” with the date of death, the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Elul, in the year 5714 (1954).

    A week into the search, evidence was coming together. In a school project her son once did, Suzie found a family photo of her grandmother’s grandfather, Mikhael Ludmersky, an archetypal 19th-century Eastern European Jew with a white beard and black cap. From her family’s Conservative congregation in Minneapolis she received yahrzeit cards for her grandparents — records used to remind relatives of the anniversaries of their loved ones’ deaths, when the kaddish prayer should be recited. Even given the source, it was supporting evidence.


    Farber arrived at the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court about two weeks after Sharon’s first visit. He’d called and arranged with a judge to be squeezed in before the day’s docket of divorces. He had power of attorney, so Sharon didn’t need to appear. He wore a black suit and a gold tie, and his face was narrow and taut. “Now I’ve moved up from detective to lawyer,” he said. He was ushered into a tiny courtroom, where three rabbis, dressed in the black coats of the ultra-Orthodox, sat at a raised bench. Farber approached and made his case to one. He showed the series of birth certificates of Sharon’s maternal line, with the surnames Goldstein, Mersky, Reuben. “These are all clearly Jewish names,” he said. He presented the picture of the tombstone of Rachel, daughter of Moshe, and the photograph of Mikhael Ludmersky in his black cap, and the rest of his exhibits. The judge said to wait outside.
    Twenty minutes later, a clerk called Farber in and presented him with a one-sentence judgment stating that Sharon is a Jew.

    Gershom Gorenberg is the author of “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977.” His last article for the magazine was about the construction of Israel’s security barrier through the West Bank.
     
  2. vince

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    I guess the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court decides.

    What point are you trying make here?
     
  3. basque9

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    What a startling contrast to the effort that went into proving that one was Aryan and not Jewish in Europe before and during the Second War! The procedure was similar, often being either arbitrary or involving court decisions , but the consequences were far more serious: could be life threatening or life preserving, depending on the outcome!
     
  4. prepstudinsc

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    What a horrible time that poor girl must have had.

    I have two friends who have Jewish lineage on their mothers' side, but are Christians. One of them told me that the only thing Jewish about him is that he's circumcised. LOL My other friend is descended from Ethiopan Jews, but was raised in a Pentecostal church. Instead of sending a Christmas card and present I sent him a Hanukkah card and present. He thought it was the funniest thing!
     
  5. Principessa

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    I wasn't trying to make a point at all. I just thought it was interesting, as I didn't realize it was this huge a deal. If a person tells me they are Jewish I believe them I don't ask to see papers certifying their ancestors fought at Masada. :cool:
     
  6. midlifebear

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    Which leads to the inevitable tasteless joke:

    How Do We Know Jesus Was a Jew?

    1. He lived with his family until he was 30.
    2. He went into the family business.
    3. His mother thought he was a god.*


    *As told to me by my first lover, Saul, a nice Jewish boy from Westchester County.
     
  7. drumstyck

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    "I'm an atheist, I don't believe in God, so therefore I would think that I can't be Jewish, basically because ... Judaism is predicated on a belief in God. So if I don't believe in God then clearly I can't be Jewish right? But... no... you can't. Judaism is the only religion that does this, it came up with this bullshit, arbitrary rule, that if your mother's Jewish, then you're Jewish. So it doesn't matter what I believe in, just Jew for life."

    David Cross: But I'm an atheist. How can I still be considered a Jew?
    Rabbi: Let me ask you one question, you say this now, but, uh, was your mother's vagina Jewish?
    David Cross: Yes.
    Rabbi: Then you're a Jew. Thank you, move along.


    (David Cross, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! 2002)
     
  8. simcha

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    OK, it's not bullshit and let me tell you why.

    This law of ours that states that your maternal line determines your Jewishness goes back to the beginning of our people. In many ancient cultures, one was only sure who mothered a child. The only reason why you were sure? Well, you guessed it, you pop out of your mother. The father could be anyone, really...

    So, since determining Jewishness was of such importance to the Hebrew People, they made sure they set their law on the only thing you could be sure about, "Who's your mama?"

    Your Father's line determines your tribe. So, in order to be a Levite or a Cohen, you must have a Father who is a Levite or a Cohen (both of the trive of Levi). All of the other tribes have mixed to become "Klal Yisrael" or "The People of Israel."

    To the ancients this made sense since they didn't have paternity tests or genetical testing like we do today.

    So, while this might seem very antiquated, it does make sense if you think about it.

    The Orthodox around the world are the only ones who are as strict as this when it comes to answering, "Who is a Jew?" It's one of the most difficult questions that has plagued Judaism throughout the millenia because there are exceptions that have been passed down through the Talmud and other Law.

    And the other movements of Judaism which are: Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist, have varying ideas of what makes a person a Jew. The one idea all movements have in common is this "matrilineal descent." The Orthodox are the only ones who are strict interpreters of the Law who exclude anyone who isn't of matrilineal descent or hasn't had an Orthodox conversion (and if you're male you must have a bris in order to marry).

    Also, in Israel, things get even more strict because the Ultra Orthodox have a strangle-hold on marriage there. They must also verify whether or not the relationship would be allowed under Torah. One must make sure that your spouse to be isn't a mamzer. Read the link about mamzerim, it will make your head spin. The laws of the mamzerim and matrilineal descent or Orthodox Conversion apply to religious and non-religious Israelis alike.

    They don't have separation between church and state in Israel like we do here in the USA. We are quite fortunate in the US, in my opinion.

    The other movements will not inquire into mamzer status at all. Thus when an Orthodox Jew marries a non-Orthodox Jew, say a Reform Jew or a Conservative Jew, there can be problems because an Orthodox court could block the marriage.

    It's among the Orthodox, which are now only 5% of world Jewry that these things are such a grand problem. The rest of us define a Jew more loosely and don't discriminate on the basis of mamzer status.

    I know, it's as clear as mud. :redface:

    Oh, and Judaism isn't a religion about belief per se. Christianity is. Judaism is a religion about what you do (action). It's a very different set of rules. One can most definitely be an athiest Jew.

    Also Judaism is about peoplehood and nationhood.
     
  9. Northland

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    And this is what is most frightening. Has nothing been learned from history? Is this the first step towards repeating the past? I am aware that history does indeed repeat itself; I was just hoping it would take a longer time to do this particular one.
     
  10. _avg_

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    I didn't know religious beliefs were passed through the pussy. Though that might explain why I shout "Oh God" during sex....
     
  11. erratic

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    I dated a bunch of Jewish guys, and one of them was convinced at first that I was Jewish and that his "Jewdar" went off the moment he saw me. You know why? My nose. I was totally offended on behalf of Jewish people everywhere, called him on it, and he was like "Don't tell me what to say, I'm Jewish!"

    Then I was like "You just said I was Jewish like two seconds ago!"

    Fitting in can be so complicated.
     
  12. Love-it

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    Yo' Mama! Judaism is matrilineal.
     
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