The content on this page is for historical reference.
THE FOLLOWING ARE THE PATRILINEAL / MATRILINEAL / OMNIPARENTAL RELATED MESSAGES THAT WERE SUBMITTED TO THE OR SHALOM EMAIL LIST DURING FEB/MAR 1998.
FROM LEN W. TO REB DAVID:
The questions you answered regarding funerals did not actually touch on the issue of patrilineal descent, but I think it would be interesting for us to hear about this side of things….so a supplemental question:
Would (should?) Jewish cemeteries here accept for burial a son or daughter (by birth or adoption) of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother if this child has never converted to Judaism? In other words, would patrilineal descent be honoured (or would anyone ask)?
ANOTHER POSTING FROM LEN W.
I have read the the Va’ad has split 4-4 on the issue and some recommendations are forthcoming, but I haven’t heard what they are. Unfortunately I was not able to follow the full series of Or Shalom meetings that took place last year to discuss the issue, and I lost track of it until recently. Obviously it’s a pretty difficult issue to deal with, but given the split, I think there is room for a lot more discussion, and this could be one of the places to have that discussion.
Speaking as one squarely in the middle of the issue I have also found it a bit difficult to deal. What follows are some of my thoughts on the subject. They are long enough, but this is not the place to write a whole book, so forgive me if I don’t go into all the necessary detail to back up the points I try to make.
On the one hand I could say, well, if you want to join the club, you have to play by the club rules. The Jewish rules in recent history (geologically speaking) have not accepted patrilineal descent, and as the standard line goes, what’s the big deal about converting anyway if you really care.
But, on the other hand, Or Shalom does not play by all the “Jewish“ rules, and certainly most of its members don’t. So what is the Jewish set of rules… and therein lies the big question. As far as I can make out from all the discussion and references to the Torah so far, there has never been a clear commandment to not recognise patrilineal descent for one’s Jewish heritage. In fact, it seems as though patrilineal descent was the original norm, and somewhere along the way, by doing a bit of creative interpretation, the matrilineal rule was brought in.
Furthermore, Or Shalom continuously claims to be an “egalitarian“ congregation. Certainly, in orthodox eyes we must be in big trouble for allowing women to assume certain roles, and for allowing men and women to mix in Schul. Why does the “egalitarian“ stop when it comes to the issue of patrilineal descent. I have yet to hear a good reason why male/female equality is selectively enforced.
There are only two and a half reasons I can think of to restrict ones view to the matrilineal model.
God Said So
This is one of the standard reasons my Talmud teachers used to throw at me during my years of Hebrew School whenever they couldn’t come up with a good reason for something. Usually, there was no evidence that God ever said anything of the sort, but as we know from many religions around the world, including ours, God is often cited as the source of all sorts of commandments that are questionable. In any event, as I mentioned earlier, there is no explicit statement attributed to God that would prohibit patrilineal descent for Jewish heritage.
The Mother is Responsible for the Upbringing of a Child Early in Life (the half reason)
Is there merit in the argument that since the mother takes more responsibility for raising a child, her background will be the dominant influence on the child? Motherhood comes in all styles, as does fatherhood. Roles have changed a lot in the past twenty years, although not as much as some might like. Realistically, however, while Jewish mothers are more likely to provide the religiously correct background or influence than non-Jewish mothers, there is no guarantee they can or will do so. Furthermore, if orthodoxy is so in awe of the importance of a Jewish mother in religious education, it certainly has not shown so in its non-acceptance of Jewish women as serious participants or leaders in religious matters. If an immature child of a non-Jewish mother, and a Jewish father can be converted at an early age, what make that situation of maternal influence different from that of an immature child that does not go through the conversion process?
We Will Be Outcasts
This, the final reason, is the only one in which I can find a real issue. Nobody likes to be an outcast, and Or Shalom is already seen by some in the Jewish Community as a flaky group, although less and less so. Is there a fear, that if Or Shalom stands on principle–universal, religious and ethical–and recognizes the equality of men and women, as well as the true importance of the Judaism of a father, that we will lose credibility? That some Jews will be afraid to set foot in Or Shalom? I think this fear, while unspoken, is the real force behind the resistance of Jewish communities everywhere in recognizing patrilineal descent, and I suspect it is a large part of the resistance within Or Shalom to changing our rules. That I can say so confidently comes from the fact that I too am concerned about this, and I’m one of the people who would benefit from acceptance of patrilineal descent.
Despite my worries about this last reason, I have come to see the light (so to speak). There is a hypocrisy in Or Shalom’s current policy. I think deep within the hearts of even those who oppose patrilineal descent, there is a worry that such opposition can’t be justified. I would expect that if tomorrow, the Lubavitch movement would decide to accept patrilineal descent, all of a sudden resistance within Or Shalom would evaporate. We just don’t want to be out there on our own.
Well, sometimes, if something is right, you have to be out there on your own, and our own tradition teaches us that repeatedly. The Tanach is full of stories of Hebrew heroes and prophets being out there on their own with the force of God behind them, trying to change the ways of those around them. I’m not saying we know God is with us, only that there are a lot more direct lessons in our tradition about taking a lead in change than we would like to acknowledge.
It is absolutely true that the Orthodox Jewish world would never accept a patrilineal descended Jew even if we were to do so. However, neither will it accept our conversions, nor any life cycle event that flows from them, so we would not exactly be breaking new ground. As for other segments of Judaism such as Conservative and Reform, who knows? They made their own break with orthodoxy decades ago. A move on our part might make it easier for them to follow.
In recognizing patrilineal descent, we certainly wouldn’t be the first Jewish community in the world to do so, but neither would we want to be one of the last.
So everybody, what do you think?
FROM AZIMA B.
When egalitarianism is a reality rather than a struggle, when the language of spirituality is non-gendered, when our prayer books include the names of Sarah, Rachel Rebekkah and Leah, when women are truly honored, then I will be comfortable in giving up the one place in Judaism where women’s power is clear.
FROM LEN W.
Someone asked about the perspective of the mothers, and I would like to offer the following:
While I can’t speak for all mothers, there was a forum on patrilineal descent that featured a panel of mothers, some Jewish and some not. The non-Jewish mothers who spoke were unhappy that their children of Jewish fathers were not accepted as Jewish.
I think there is a problem with the notion of “declaring children as Jewish“. This implies that someone, or some organization is claiming children as its own. I think this is a problem with many religions and ethnic groups. Does anyone really have the right to claim possession of a human being, other than perhaps the parents of an under age child?
I would hope that the issue would be seen not as claiming, but as accepting. Because a child is accepting as being Jewish does not mean it will necessarily decide, upon growing up to in turn accept Judaism. There are certainly many people, born Jewish by the current standards, who have ending up following to other religions, or assimilating themselves into other ethnic groups.
From some of the comments I have heard, both on and off the public e-mail, it seems some see this as a tug or war over who gets possession. Within a family, the parents will decide how they want to raise their children, regardless of what Or Shalom or any other church or organization decides. It is hard to imagine that just because Or Shalom were to accept a patrilineal Jew, the mother’s rights will have been diminished. In fact, among at least some families I know who are dealing with this issue, it is the non-Jewish mothers who are the most upset that their children are not accepted as Jewish.
The questions is simply, will the members of Or Shalom accept the child of a Jewish father, as readily as the child of a Jewish mother?
On another matter, I have recently heard another explanation for the origin of matrilineal descent as the test of Jewishness, and I would like to know if this explanation has any validity. The explanation I heard was that during a period of frequent pogroms a long time ago, many Jewish women were raped by non-Jewish attackers, leading to many “illegitimate“ children. In order to avoid having to declare so many children of Jewish mothers as being illegitimate and non-Jewish, it was decided that any child of a Jewish woman would be accepted as Jewish automatically. Is there any truth to this?
FROM LEN W.
In response to some of my postings on patrilineal descent, I have been receiving some extraordinary private mail from a person who has been deeply touched by this issue. I asked why the person doesn’t post publicly, but it is too painful for him or her to let his or her identify to be known. I offered to act as an intermediary so he/she would be able to post anonymously. There is too much to post all at once, so I’ll break it up. It might help to have a pen name for this person so I will use the name “touched“ which seems appropriate.
>>>FROM TOUCHED, FEB 13, 1998:
“What you would hate, don’t do to someone else: that is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary, go and learn it.“ (B. Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Do you remember the story of Ruth? Every little child knows the story. How Elimelech the rich farmer from Bethlehem had left Israel during the famine so as not to share his wealth with the many poor. How he and his wife, Naomi, and two sons had settled in Sodom. How the two boys had intermarried with girls from the hated Moabites, the people G-d had told the Israelites NEVER to marry because they’d denied them bread and water when they were hungry and thirsty in the desert. How Eli and his two sons had died, and how Ruth, the Moabite daughter-in-law, daughter of the king of Moab himself, refused to leave the widowed Naomi, declaring: “Wherever you go, I’ll go. Your people will be my people, Your G-d my G-d.“ How Ruth had married Boaz, Noami’s relative, and became King David’s grandmother…
– Why King David had to have a grandmother who was not ONLY A CONVERT, but the daughter of the hated king of Moab himself, known for his selfishness and cruelty? Why had G-d arranged it that way???
– Even in the cruel king of Moab there was a small spark of kindness, of goodness. G-d had wanted to redeem that spark, to carry it on before it was extinguished completely, by bringing it into a people know for their compassion. Ruth carried that spark, that gene. She brought it into the Jewish people, she passed it on to her children, and their children. That spark gave King David, the Psalms, King Solomon. And one day it will bring the Messiah himself. It was all God’s will.
COMPASSION. The whole Torah is filled with compassion., with love for the misfit, the stranger. How could a society built on that Torah, on those laws, be unjust, unfeeling?
Am I judging the halacha by my fears? not trusting in either one’s justice or compassion? Where’s this Compassionate People the Law was trying to …
If people are truly G-d-fearing, if they love the halacha, they will accept the blameless, legitimate, and the misfit. (BUT NOT THE GOY?)
Talmud Chullin, Resh Pay Heh
“An ox or a sheep, you shall not slaughter father and son on the same day. How do we know who is the father? And who is called a son? He who clings to his father, who walks in his footsteps. . . .“
“A son is born to a man and his wife. And we shall nor harbor any suspicions that the woman has strayed and borne to another. Her husband is the father of the child… And even if evil gossip slanders the woman, and everyone speaks vilely of her, still, the husband is the father of the child… And even if the woman is the most promiscuous of all women, still her husband is considered the father of the child. . . . “ This is the halacha.
I’m not sure of the Sources, as I read a translation of Chullin.
THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE WAS RECEIVED FROM TOUCHED IN RESPONSE TO MY QUESTION ABOUT HIS/HER IDENTITY:
Feb. 15, 1998
(Touched) is one of those OUTCAST by an accident of birth/fate. I’m one of those who must stand in the middle of nowhere. Do you have an idea what it’s like to be an outcast? Do you have an idea what it’s like to live with a stigma? Do you have an idea what it’s like to study without a friend? Do you know how much I miss my father on this journey into time, history, and memory?
“For some people laws are walls. For some people walls are laws.“
Everybody knows this law was man-made but still, they stick to it anyway. “If I were born 10 years earlier in Eastern Europe, I would have been Jewish enough for a very special treatment.“ I know “the definition of a Jew by a Nazi isn’t the same as by another Jew“. You’re right. The Nazis would have killed, exterminated, murdered me; the Jewish people simply don’t let me live.
Here’s one [among many others] story about Rabbi Akiva. He noticed a stoneat a well that had been hollowed out by drippings from the buckets and said, “If these drippings can, by continuous action, penetrate the solid stone, how much more can the persistent word of G-d penetrate the pliant, fleshy human heart, if that word but be presented with patient insistency.“
FROM GEOFFRY S.
I have not paticipated much in this debate or any others for that matter but have followed them with interest.
There are many laws within Judaism that I do not understand or that may be unpalatable to me either because they do not suit my lifestyle or because I dont trust the source of their explanation. I have leaned through many challenges of explanations of laws and sources that for the most part the rabbinical sources are thorough and accurate. There are many laws that I choose not to observe or keep though I am striving towards keeping This in my mind does not invalidate them.
We as Jews have survived over the centuries because we have maintained a consistent commitment to laws that I believe came from GOD. I think that this is at the core of many of the debates that I have followed on this listserve.
A. Do we believe that the Torah and its resultant laws are divinely inspired
B. How do we find a way to reconcile these laws with the modern world and our own perceptions without destroying their essence.
The one thing that I am really clear about is that being Jewish is not an easy thing or a relationship of convenience to be maintained when an if it suites us. I believe that if we do not commit to consistent standards we will surely disappear as a people.
Now that I have said my peace. In poking around on the internet I found the following on the issue of patrilineal descent
>>>> question — Where does the law of Matrolineal descent originate from. Please can you provide me with some sources on this issue.
Matrilinial descent is something that dates back to Sinai and the giving of the Torah. The Mishna and the Talmud are full of cases that prove that one’s “Jewish genes“ are transferred from the mother. The Torah itself also alludes to this point, see Leviticus 24:11.
The Mishna in Kiddushin 66b states that if a child’s mother is not Jewish, then the child is “like her,“ (i.e., not Jewish). This Halacha is codified in the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 8:5, without mention of any dissenting opinion. No source in the Torah teaches otherwise, and this question has never been raised in any classical Halachic text. It is an obvious and accepted axiom given to us at Sinai.
You might want to study the following sources for an in-depth understanding.
Genesis 24:3-4 & 28:1
And I shall have you swear by the L-rd, G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites amongst whom I dwell. Rather you shall go to my country and my birthplace and find a wife for my son Isaac there. And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and commanded him; and he said to him “Do not take a wife from the daughters of the Canaanites.“
“And when a convert lives amongst you in your land do not oppress him. The convert shall be like one of your citizens and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt, I am the L-rd your G-d.“
“And the son of the Israelite woman, who was the son of an Egyptian man, went out in the midst of the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and the Israelite fought in the camp.“
“When the L-rd your G-d brings you to the land that you will inherit, many nations will fall away before you; the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Prizites, the Hivites and the Jebusites… And you shall not marry with them; do not give your daughters to his sons and do not take his daughters for your sons. For he will turn your son away from me and they will worship other gods…“
“Do not despise the Edomite for he is your brother, do not despise the Egyptian for you were strangers in his land. The children that are born to them in the third generation shall enter into the community of G-d.“
“…we take an oath and a promise to walk in the ways of the Torah of G-d that was given by the hands of Moses, the servant of G-d, and to guard and do all the commandments of G-d, our Master, and His judgements and His statutes. And that we will not give our daughters to the people of the land and their daughters we will not take for our sons.“
Yalkut Shimoni, Yitro 268
“I am the one who drew Yitro near and did not repulse him. You also, when a person comes to convert and does this for the sake of heaven, draw him near and do not repulse him.“
Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Relationships, 13:1-4
“The Israelites entered into the covenant with three things; circumcision, immersion, and sacrifices. Circumcision was performed in Egypt, as it is written “and all uncircumcised (males) shall not eat of it (the Paschal lamb).“ Immersion (purification) was performed in the desert before the giving of the Torah as it is written “and you shall sanctify yourselves today and tomorrow.“ And at this time sacrifices were also brought… So also for all generations a gentile who wishes to enter into the covenant, to find shelter under the wings of the Shechinah and to accept upon himself the yoke of Torah requires circumcision, immersion and acceptance of a sacrifice.“
Best regards from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
The above answer was researched by the Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions, Jerusalem
FROM ARIE C.
The poetics of Touched’s communication is dramatic and beautiful. It is the psychology that concerns me. Touched speaks of being friendless and alone. These are issues that will not be addressed whether or not the Bayit adopts patrilineal or matrilineal as the basis for Jewish citizenship.
Ohr Samayach is amazing. I am grateful to Geoffrey S for presenting them in this forum. Often the Orsahlom listserve is a bastion of uninformed commentary.
I disagree totally with Rav Lauffer.
I have not checked the prooftexts. I accept them at face value because I am frum and i believe Rav Lauffer’s use of them is appropriate to his understanding of halacha.
His understanding and mine differ.
I subscribe to Ohr Samayach lists for Ask The Rabbi and The Weekly Daf. An individual recently questioned the staff regarding the kashrut of Pyrex. The questioner requested a “Sefardic“ answer. OS responded by quoting the opinion of Ovadia Yosef shlit“a that Pyrex is glass and not subject to tuma impurity. Then OS cited the Rema zitsal who is of the opinion that glass is subject to tuma. Ashkenazim follow the Rema. Ovadia Yosef is the former rishon letzion. This is the senior of the two national Chief Rabbinates in Israel.
There was a time, quite recent, that responses to tradition depended on where you lived. The more recent response to tradition is when you live. This is the response of the positive-historical school, the philosohphy which informs the conservative movement. It is no less valid an approach than geography. It merely adds the dimension of time to that of space in answering questions of halacha.
Rav Lauffer is not wrong in his opinions or prooftexts. And Or Shalom would not be wrong in making an halachic decision that contradicts Rav Lauffer’s understanding of halacha.
Or Shalom’s enduring problem is the instutionalised ignorance it passes off as responses to tradition. But that is another discussion.
FROM AZIMA B.
After a lot of thought, I still feel most comfortable in maintaining a matrilineal position. This intuitively feels right for me both on a practical level and an arechetypal level.
But what I really want to address here is the feelings of non-acceptance and pain which this stance seems to bring about. I do not in any way want people to feel not accepted at Or Shalom. Acceptance on a human level and being seen as a Jew are two different issues. I have no “you’re not one of us“ attitude at all towards people who are not Jewish. The choir I belong to is about 70% Jewish and there is no sense of in group or out group. I would hope that the same would be true at Or Shalom.
I think this sense of exclusion is the issue more than whether ot not someone is Jewish. There is always the option of converting. It seems that the argument asks why people whould have to convert who already consider themselves Jewish? I don’t have a good answer, all I can offer is an analogy … I considered myself a counsellor before the 8 years of university I underwent to be recognized as one, but it wasn’t until I had gone through my “academic initiation“ that I was afforded that recognition by the larger community.
I don’t know how this issue can be resolved. In some ways it seems like we will have to agree to disagree becuase I doubt that we will form a unified voice around this issue. So then it is a matter of making a decision. It seems to me that issues which are so profoundly connected with halacha need to have input from the community but ultimately decided upon by our community rabbis – I think David and Hillel and soon Dina Chasida are the only ordained rabbis. Could they work together? Could they be part of a small sub-committee of people well versed in Judaica to make this decision, taking into consideration the wishes of the community?
FROM LEN W.
In response to Geoffrey’s comments on patrilineal descent:
>There are many laws within Judaism that I do not >understand or that may be unpalatable to me either because they do not >suit my lifestyle or because I don’t trust the source of their explanation. >I have leaned through many challenges of explanations of laws and >sourcesthat for the most part the rabbinical sources are thorough and accurate >There are many laws that I choose not to observe or keep though I am >striving towards keeping This in my mind does not invalidate them.
Geoffrey has hit the nail on the head with his comments about patrilineal descent. It is precisely because the greater mass of Jews including rabbi’s have abandoned the development of halacha hundreds, if not thousands of years ago rather than engaging in it, that we have many of the contradictions in today’s variety of Jewish practice.
>The one thing that I am really clear about is that being Jewish is not an >easy thing or a relationship of convenience to be maintained when an if >it suites us. I believe that if we do not commit to consistent standards we >will surely disappear as a people.
I agree there should be consistent standards, but what should those standards be, and who should set them? The standard of exclusive matrilineal descent was actually a change from the original standard of exclusive patrilineal descent. Neither of these standards meet what today would be a higher standard which is equality of the sexes. If the standard was changed once because of the culture of the times, should it not be open to change again with a change in our culture? One of the most important aspects of Hebrew life, as described in detail in the Torah is the offering of sacrifices. Are there many Jews today who would advocate returning to that standard of measuring Jewish devotion?
>We as Jews have survived over the centuries because we have maintained >a consistent commitment to laws that I believe came from GOD.
Some would argue that Jews have survived IN SPITE of adherence to laws that they BELIEVE came from God. Both this statement, and the opposing one from Geoffrey are broad brush statements that needn’t be a part of this debate. I prefer to believe that Jews have survived because they feel there is something important about being Jewish that revolves around being a light unto the nations, and Tikkun Olam.
Geoffrey’s message goes on to quote Rabbi Reuven Lauffer’s reference to research by the Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions, Jerusalem. I don’t honestly think that this issue should be resolved by using competing quotations from the Torah, Mishna and Talmud, but I would like to comment on some of the ones that Rabbi Lauffer offers. I hope you will forgive me if some of my own commentary seems a bit simple. It’s about 30 years since I used to do my arguing in my talmud classes.
>Matrilinial descent is something that dates back to Sinai and the >giving of the Torah. The Mishna and the Talmud are full of cases that >prove that one’s “Jewish genes“ are transferred from the mother. The >Torah itself also alludes to this point, see Leviticus 24:11.
>Leviticus 24:10 “And the son of the Israelite woman, who was the son of an Egyptian >man, went out in the midst of the children of Israel; and the son of >the Israelite woman and the Israelite fought in the camp.“
I’ve looked at Leviticus 24:10 to 24:16. It seems to have nothing to do with matrilineal descent, but is illustrating that no one should blaspheme the name of God. It is about the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father who blaspheme’s the name of God and is stoned to death as punishment. If any thing is to be drawn from this, it would seem to be the matrilinealy descended Israelite leaves something to be desired, not the patrilineal one.
>Genesis 24:3-4 & 28:1 And I shall have you swear by the L-rd, G-d of the heavens and G-d of >the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters >of the Canaanites amongst whom I dwell. Rather you shall go to my >country and my birthplace and find a wife for my son Isaac there. And >Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and commanded him; and he said to >him “Do not take a wife from the daughters of the Canaanites.“
The above passage also seems to have no bearing on the matrilineal/patrilineal debate. Isaac seems to have had a problem with the Canaanites. He is not telling Jacob to only take a wife from believers in the God of Abraham.
>Deuteronomy 7:1-5 “When the L-rd your G-d brings you to the land that you will >inherit, many nations will fall away before you; the Hittites, the >Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Prizites, the Hivites >and the Jebusites… And you shall not marry with them; do not give >your daughters to his sons and do not take his daughters for your >sons. For he will turn your son away from me and they will worship >other gods…“
>Nechemiah 10:30-31 “…we take an oath and a promise to walk in the ways of the Torah of >G-d that was given by the hands of Moses, the servant of G-d, and to >guard and do all the commandments of G-d, our Master, and His >judgements and His statutes. And that we will not give our daughters >to the people of the land and their daughters we will not take for our >sons.“
Aside from the modern interpretation of the above passages as being another case in history where women are treated like men’s property to be given and taken, the passage is equally strong in advising against intermarriange of a Hebrew woman or a Hebrew man with one of the other peoples mentioned. There is no obvious inference that the child of either anintermarried Hebrew woman or intermarried Hebrew man will be considered more or less Hebrew than the other.
The rest of Rabbi Lauffer’s references have to do with allowing conversion, and say nothing about matrilineal or patrilineal descent.
I certainly am not a scholar of the Torah or Talmud, but it seems to me that some of the traditional sources being cited as proof of the matrilineal model do not make an open and shut case for that model.
FROM LEN W.
As I mentioned in a previous message, a person unknown to me has been following the patrilineal debate and is very TOUCHED by it. This person has been sending me commentary, but finds it too painful to reveal his/her identity publicly, so I have been acting as a relay station for the messages. What follows is the next in a series by the person I will refer to as TOUCHED.
The following is TOUCHED’s response to a question I asked about one theory of the origin of the matrilineal model.
>>ON A PREVIOUS MESSAGE YOU WROTE – AND ASKED: “On another matter, I have recently heard another explanation for the origin of matrilineal descent as the test of Jewishness, and I would like to know if this explanation has any validity. The explanation I heard was that during a period of frequent pogroms a long time ago, many Jewish women were raped by non-Jewish attackers, leading to many “illegitimate“ children. In order to avoid having to declare so many children of Jewish mothers as being illegitimate and non-Jewish, it was decided that any child of a Jewish woman would be accepted as Jewish automatically. Is there any truth to this?
MY ANSWER: (From TOUCHED)
I hear about it, and I know also 2 other explanations. Sorry I CAN’T tell you exactly the source for the 1st one, and I hate to quote without mentioning the provenance.
1st: In Hebrew, the words WOMB-UTERUS and MERCY-COMPASSION have the same root; womb: [REchem] Resh Chet Mem (sofit) compassion: [rachamaNUT] Resh Chet Mem Nun Waw Taf
2nd: From the Passover Haggadah, “as for the one who does not know how to ask“, begin by explaining, as we are told: “You shall tell your son on that day, […]“ Because the pronoun “You“ in the verse, “You shall tell your son“ is aht, feminine, it has been INTERPRETED that it is the mother who shall impart the first instruction to the child.
The next message from TOUCHED was a list of references supporting the patrilineal model. It is interesting when comparing them to the references offered by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer to support the matrilineal model. Those from TOUCHED seem much more to the point.
Let me quote again, from my favourite book, the one I read every single day of my life, the only one I call the Book of Books:
“Distribute the land to the PATERNAL tribes.“ (Numbers/BeMidbar, 33:54)
“They assembled the entire community on the first day of the second month, and all (the people) were registered by ancestry according to their paternal families.“ (Numbers/BeMidbar, 1:18)
“For the descendants of Simeon: According to the records of their paternal families, […]“ (Numbers/BeMidbar, 1:20)
“For the descendants of Gad: According to the records of their paternal families, […]“ (Numbers/BeMidbar, 1:22)
“For the descendants ……… (Numbers/BeMidbar, 1:24 – 1:42)
FROM LEN W.
Yes, this is a difficult issue to resolve (patrilineal descent), but I don’t think it can be resolved by simply having a group of “community elders“ or the board come up with a decision–at least not just like that. First there has to be a lot more discussion because it becomes clear to me that it takes time for all of us to begin to understand the issues. Let me illustrate.
Although my daughter is one who would benefit from a change of policy on no patrilineal descent, I was not actually one advocating change–to begin with. I too thought, well, if it’s easy enough to convert, why rock the boat. It was after listening to the stories of others that I realized I was being too complacent about it, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is no way Or Shalom could reconcile its stated beliefs in equality with acceptance of only the matrilineal model.
How can I justify to others, that Or Shalom makes optional or outrightly rejects many of the most serious teachings of halacha, and makes a point of advertising its egalitarian policy, yet will adhere to an anti-egalitarian observance of the halachaic ordinance of matrilineal descent, an ordinance which itself has the most dubious origins.
Azima, in her previous posting says:
>It seems that the argument asks why people would have to >convert who already consider themselves Jewish? I don’t have a good >answer, all I can offer is an analogy … I considered myself a >counsellor before the 8 years of university I underwent to be recognized as >one, but it wasn’t until I had >gone through my “academic initiation“ that I was afforded that >recognition by the larger community.
The above example is a good one, for it shows the insuportability of the current matrilineal-only model. In order for Azima to be recognized, she had to pass her university courses. She would not have been recognized simply because one or both of her parents might be counsellors themselves. Even worse, imagine if recognition as a counsellor were automatic if her mother were a counsellor, but if her father were a counsellor she would have to go through the eight years of university. It would be unthinkable (and I’m not even going to mention the possibility of a requirement of circumcision).
It doesn’t appear to me as though there is much hope that a successfuldefence of matrilineal exclusivity can be based on reason, morality or even what is written in the Torah. The defence will inevitably be an emotional one. We have lived with a certain model for hundreds of years, and there is a fear of change. Perhaps what this means is that we have to discuss the fear of change, rather than the actual merits of the matrilineal model.
Let me open this discuss of the implications of change with a simple statement. I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that if Or Shalom accepts either matrilineal or patrilineal descent that all, or most other parts of the Jewish community would accept that. Any patrilinealy descended Jew would be advised openly that though Or Shalom accepts him or her as is, Or Shalom has no control over that person’s acceptance elsewhere, and a conversion would probably be required at some time to ensure that acceptance. This is no different than the situation with other life cycle events currently taking place or contemplated at Or Shalom. Our conversions, unless I’m mistaken, are not accepted by the Orthodox authorities in Israel. In the past, I believe, it has been inferred that gay/lesbian marriage ceremonies might take place at Or Shalom. Of this I am not sure, but if this were indeed the case, that union would not be recognized in most other Jewish jurisdictions.
I want to get back to one of my opening statements in this whole debate. Or Shalom by itself will not change the world, Jewish or otherwise, but it has a role to play in any kind of positive change. Do we want to take up that challenge to be a force for positive change?
FOM AZIMA B.
Leonard’s logic is impecable, I must say… My intuitive felt sense doesn’t change but I can’t explain that with logic. What I do know is that if I’m ever on a debating team, Leonard will be the first person I would ask to come on board. I totally appreciate how well thought out your arguments are… In the mean time, I’d love to hear from other folks who are more knowledgeable in Jewish matters than I about this – David, Hillel, Dina Chasida, others? Any comments?
FROM BARRY G.
Of course the discussion/ debate will continue…
“though Or Shalom accepts him or her as is, Or Shalom has no control over that person’s acceptance elsewhere,“
This point made by Len W is perhaps one of the keys to this very complicated puzzle. Are we interested in accepting ourselves and each other or do we play by the rules set up by others? Are “non-jews“ (whether defined by ourselves or others) turned away at the door? I certainly hope not, because it is a door that I won’t walk through. I have met some so called non jews who are closer to judaism then other “I am so jewish jews“ . A quick glance at Ve’ Ahavta brings back my perspective.
My Jewishness by birth allows me to be accepted in some places where others are not welcome. Some would say since I don’t know certain prayers I’m not as Jewish as others. People see through their personal filters, we will not change this.
What are the benefits and responsibilities of being Jewish? For me, simply put, to do Hashem’s work and live righteously.
In the end, no matter what you say you are or what others say you are, you are who you are by the virtues of your deeds in the four worlds.
FROM GLORIA L.
First, a hearty Yasher Koach to Len W.
About Halacha–The Jewish spiritual renewal movement has taken the position that Halacha is not derived from G-d but rather it was man made and is open to change. The issue is on what basis do we have the right to change it. One of the bases for change is, if it violates a higher principle. In today’s world with our increasing understanding of a comprehensive meaning of gender equality, it makes absolutely no sense to negate patrilineal descent.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that Judaism is both a religion and a peoplehood. Can you be a Jew and an atheist? By the concept of peoplehood, the answer is “yes“. Certainly, by the premise of religion, the answer is “no“.
One of the reasons we are confronting this issue is because the issue of Jewish continuity in our free pluralistic society looms very large. Who is entitled to membership in the club is not what will ensure Jewish continuity. Having children who are born technically Jewish, ( matrilineal descent) but who have no knowledge or commitment to our rich heritage does not ensure continuity. In, at most, 3 generations it is gone. We must raise our kids to know and love the Jewish people and things Jewish: history, music, philosophy, literature, life cycle events, holidays, etc. To confer status on individuals purely because of an accident of birth leads to extraordinary paradoxes such as considering Madeline Albright Jewish. These laws were written during times when race or ethnic origin was of prime importance. What fundamental principles are we upholding? And more importantly, what fundamental principles are we contravening?
From a point of justice, fairness, and love, we need to recognize patrilineal descent.
However, like most principled positions the Jewish spiritual renewal movement has taken, there is a price to pay! The parents of those offspring need to be made fully aware of potentially serious consequences from the orthodox community for their offspring who are not converted.
One could argue that the principle of Jewish unity supercedes the ones of gender equality and fairness. We need to recognize that the decision is divisive in the Jewish world and that Jewish unity is being stretched to its limit. However, it did not deter us from taking a stand on women being counted in a minyan, layning Torah, etc. Because we knew in our hearts that it was the right thing to do!
For a long time I felt like Azima. I didn’t know why but I had a deep-seated attachment to matrilineal descent. The weight of historical reality, I think. I think this an issue that cries out for redress. It is morally and ethically wrong to have 2 different standards for gender equality. In spite of the pressure from the Jewish community at large, I believe Or Shalom should be strong and stay with its avowed principles.
FROM HELEN W.
I fear to enter the fray on patrilineal descent, given my limited knowledge of “the rules“, but I’m delighted with the way that Len has re-opened the discussion. Our ability to discuss pros and cons is a major part of what makes Or Shalom such a unique community. Our willingness to examine the rational as well as the “traditional“ underpinnings of our actions and positions is also a part of what makes Or Shalom a force for good in the world. We take seriously our role as Hashem’s agents, as the tools through which action occurs.
And therein, perhaps, lies the answer for our co-chairs. Given sufficient time and sufficient opportunity to absorb both sides of the argument, positions will shift (c.f.Gloria’s recent letter), consensus will emerge and the right answer will become clear. For me, it already has. Having attended as many of the public sessions of the Va’ad as possible and having borrowed the tapes for good measure (they are very powerful when listened to in the silence of one’s home, with no pressure to take a stance over tea and cakes), I found myself profoundly moved by the real pain being experienced by those whose children were somehow “lesser than“ or “other than“ or whatever language of exclusion one cares to use. Because so many of us have been working to create a more inclusionary society within the Canadian context, I found the labelling and double standard within my own community absolutely abhorrent, but could not find the justification for my position until the evening when Cecil H. reminded us that when we don’t know what’s right, above all we must remember to “do no harm“.
The experience of many of our members is that very real harm emanates from the matrilineal descent stance. Nor can I, despite my strong feminist position on so many issues, take comfort from Azima’s argument that “it feels right“ to hang on to one of the few “privileges“ conveyed upon us as women. Two wrongs can never make a right.
As Gloria wrote: it is morally and ethically wrong to have two different standards for gender equality. For me, the need to act ethically by far supercedes other obligations. I agree that from a point of view of justice, fairness and love, we need to recognize patrilineal descent. I also have every confidence that in due time, Or Shalom will do so in the same principled yet loving way that it has always embraced change.
FROM SALLY T.
I found myself thinking a lot about the messages from Barry G and Reb David and how this discussion seems to be shaping out. And I think Barry hit on an important message in all of this. It seems to me that we need to deconstruct the way we are using “the pain argument“ in all of this analysis.
No doubt, as Len W’s messages make apparent, there are people in great pain because of matrilineal descent. And being caring folk, we get tugged into considering that to be a compelling reason to try to make a change. But lets rethink this for a moment. As a co-chair of the membership committee, I know that Or Shalom takes great steps toward assuring people that FULL membership is open to Jews-by-birth, Jews-by-choice and friends of the Jewish community (code for non-Jews). Further, it has been my experience that our processes and “culture“ work incredibly well to create a space of acceptance for all of these people. In fact, most of us don’t really know who does and doesn’t have formal “credentials“ or how kosher those credentials would be if we launched a full inquisition. Our members are valued and loved whether they are proficient in Hebrew, skilled at davvening, from a “good family“ or not, and I am confident that it will always be this way. And this seems to me to be the place we ought to be focussing when we hear the pain arguments — to create and sustain the kind of community in which a Jew-by-affinity, regardless of his or her heritage, skill, wealth, or education, will be able to grow into the kind of “real“ membership that evolves when our community works its magic and allows people to blossom. So lets really try to be vigilant about how we are using “the guilt card“ and letting the fact that there are people in pain shape our sense of what our collective future ought to be in this issue. If we were to decide to challenge the status quo and move toward patrilineal descent, I would hope it would be for far more thoughtful reasons than the fact that some people have pain.
And while I am at it (my rant) I can’t escape the irony that, in the context of discussing the pain of some people, we sometimes inflict pain on each other. I want to go on record as saying that, in my opinion, Or Shalom’s “rabbinical leadership“ on this issue has traditionally been and remains exemplary in creating the accepting space I described above. If each of us took our own place of private pain and demandedthat the rabbi somehow acknowledge or deal with it directly in our services, activities or policies, we would soon lose the core of integrity that we all love within the community. Or Shalom cannot take responsibility for the fact that there is private pain in the hearts of some people, but it sure can be a place where people are welcomed and supported in their work toward healing their own pain.
FROM DINA HASIDA M.
As requested, a position on the current debate:
My understanding of the Reform position on patrilineal descent is that the child in question must be raised Jewish and attend Hebrew school. Then, prior to bar/bat mitzvah the child undergoes a ’commitment’ ceremony very similar to the experience of a traditional ceremony of conversion. I am quite certain that Patrilineal Descent in the Reform tradition doesn’t mean ’my dad’s Jewish so I’m Jewish.’
So…I don’t believe there is a major branch of Judaism which accepts outright the position: ’my dad’s Jewish so I’m Jewish’ while they all accept ’my mom’s Jewish, so I’m Jewish.’
I don’t think that is is fair or just, but it definitely is the status quo.
Yes, Or Shalom could decide to adopt ’one of my parents is Jewish, so I’m Jewish’ and I would hope that all manner of nurture and support would be extended to all persons affected. And those persons affected could be very happy at Or Shalom and elsewhere in the Jewish world until somebody breaks the news that ’you’re not really Jewish.’ It always happens and it can be pretty painful. There is also an obligation to prepare folks the best we can for the slings and arrows of the world.
Pirke Avot, “Chapters of the Fathers,“ despite its patriarchal title, includes a phrase dear to my feminist heart:
“You are not required to finish the task, but neither are you are excused from at least beginning it.“ In this spirit, I encourage Or Shalom to be courageous and outrageous. Here’s ..
My favorite solution..
…. is borrowed from other faith traditions which require each adult to publicly commit: Require every adult to publicly choose Judaism, meet with a bet din (rabbinic court) and (less publicly) immerse in the mikvah. Men who had a bris would not need to undergo the ’drop of blood’ bris, but men who hadn’t..sorry guys, but bris is covenant as outlined in the Torah. Everybody gets a certificate from the bet din and nobody is hard-done-by on account of their parentage. Anyone who moves into a more conservative or orthodox Jewish setting has undergone the traditional procedure and has the right papers (even though there are orthodox groups which don’t accept even some other orthodox conversions!).
People in this discussion have mentioned woundedness. You are so right! Jews and Judaism have both joy and pain. It would be great if the tribe could get past inflicting pain on those who joyfully just want to be part of the tribe. “Don’t do to others that which is hateful to you“ said Hillel the sage. It’s an ancient, but appropriate challenge.
FROM LEO D.C.
Dina-Hasida is absolutely correct that not even the Reform movement accept people as Jews just because the father is Jewish. As a matter of fact, its Report of the Committee on Patrilineal Descent states that the Jewish status must be established through “appropiate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people“.
FROM LEN W.
I completely agree with Sally. Decisions about patrilineal descent, nor any other major issue should not be made on the basis of guilt feelings. They should be made on the basis of what is right! So how does one decide what is right? Some things seem obviously right to everyone. Some things seem obviously right to some, and not so obvious to others. Some things are obviously right to some, but obviously wrong to others. So the real issue is, what are the basic rules Or Shalom should use in determining right from wrong?
Well, for today’s example we can look to the British monarch. For hundreds (or thousands?) of years, the British throne was always passed down to the oldest male child, unless there were no male children, in which case the oldest female child became the ruling monarch by default. This of course was grossly unfair. Well, today I heard on the radio, Queen Elizabeth has decided to change the rule and allow the oldest eligible child of either sex to inherit the throne. Good for her.
As Sally has pointed out, the discussion of patrilineal descent has brought into the open the existence of hurt feelings, guilt, feelings of exclusion etc. I have always found Or Shalom to be a pretty open community, and that is why it is such a wonderful group of people. However, we are all human, and might without realizing it, say or do something to upset someone. In a very narrow, strictly orthodox community, the beliefs and values are so much more uniform, there is probably less opportunity to accidentally hurt someone’s feeling because people’s status and positions on issues are much more predictable. Our openness is what makes us vulnerable. Let’s not be too hard on each other if we slip up here and there. Nevertheless, hurt feelings are often an indication that there might be something wrong somewhere, and can serve as a wakeup call to those who haven’t thought seriously before about this issue.
FROM REB ZEV-CHAIM FEYER
In a message dated 98-02-18 17:22:01 EST, Gloria L writes:
About Halacha–The Jewish spiritual renewal movement has taken the position that Halacha is not derived from G-d but rather it was man made and is open to change. The issue is on what basis do we have the right to change it. One of the bases for change is, if it violates a higher principle. In today’s world with our increasing understanding of a comprehensive meaning of gender equality, it makes absolutely no sense to negate patrilineal descent.
I have never heard of the Jewish Renewal movement taking a position that Halachah is not derived from G*d but is man-made and therefore open to change. There are within Jewish Renewal — both Halachic and non-Halachic (self- defined; I am not imposing such a designation on anyone) individuals, both rabbis and others. My own position is that the tradition, the Halachah as it has come down to us over the centuries, carries a presumption of validity and that strong reasons are needed for changing it, more than just “it is no longer PC“ or “it is outmoded.“
If Judaism means anything — if being a Jew has any meaning at all –then some clear definition of who is a Jew is necessary. This may not necessarily be the Orthodox definition, but some sort of definition is necessary, as well as some definition of the rights and privileges (as well as the obligations and responsibilities) of those who come within the definition. And that may well vary from congregation to congregation, from community to community.
Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer
FROM LEN W.
I am glad Rabbi Feyer acknowledges that the definition of who is a Jew “may well vary for congregation to congregation, from community to community. I don’t think Or Shalom’s acceptance of patrilineal descent will automatically mean such status will be accepted universally–it is only a start.
I feel, however, moved to say that we should be wary of playing the “politically correct“ card (or guilt card) in either direction. Such a characterization of an issue should not be used in debating any issue of halacha because it tends to immediately brand something as being outlandish and without merit. Changes should be judged solely on their merit. Some proposals for societal change are laughable today, but may be thought obvious in the future.
In the case of patrilineal descent, we are not talking about a ridiculous way of determining who is a Jew. It is not an change that would impose benefits to a small minority by diminishing the rights of the majority. A change to accepting patrilineal descent is not even a significant change to the whole concept of who is a Jew. The child of a mixed marriage has exactly the same proportion of Jewish blood, and potentially the same Jewish influence in upbringing regardless of which parent is Jewish. The patrilineal descent argument is simply that if the child of a union where only one parent is Jewish is to be accepted as Jewish, the lineage of the mother and the father should be treated equally.
FROM ALAN M.
I have been following closely the discussion about patrilineal descent, and have appreciated all of the thoughts that have shown us how sticky this issue is. The stickiness arises, it seems to me, because there is merit to all sides, but each side appeals to a different principle to justify itself. That puts everyone in a difficult position of having to decide WHICH principle is the highest. Is adhering to tradition more important than individual feelings, for example?
As the child of two Jewish parents, and the father of children born to two Jewish parents, this issue does not touch my family directly. But as I have followed the discussion, I have been challenged to try to clarify for myself what I think would be a just outcome. My assumption is that justice is the highest good, and when we have so many competing principles being advanced, justice is a good one to take as the ultimate goal.
In justice, I can’t see my way clear to favouring one parent over another as the source of a child’s affiliation. To do so offends my sense that a child draws life and form from both parents.
But, on the other hand, to admit patrilineal descent to the same status that matrilineal descent has been accorded over the years seems to create problems for both the community and especially the individuals we (but not others) will accept as Jews.
Well, if accepting solely matrilineal descent is unjust, and there are many problems in accepting patrilineal AND matrilineal descent, what happens if we accept NEITHER. In other words, one option that I have not yet heard is that Or Shalom could require a confirmation ceremony (mikveh, Bet Din, etc.) for ALL children who have only one Jewish parent, whether father or mother.
From an orthodox perspective, it would be redundant to “convert“ children born to a Jewish mother, but what harm is there in a redundant act if it creates a sense of justice and fairness for all?
Since I can’t find too much to object to in this proposal, I am really looking forward to hearing what others find in it.