Sunlit Water

October 1, 2006

Who Is Jewish?

Filed under: Culture — by teofilo @ 9:25 pm

Services tonight were nice.  Kol Nidre is a unique service, and there’s a very pleasant (albeit solemn) atmosphere to it.  There were a lot of people there, many more than at Rosh Hashanah.  The sermon was much better, and it barely made me angry at all.  The rabbi’s delivery was typically uninspiring, but his message was interesting: he was talking about the age-old question of who is considered Jewish.  His perspective was that a Jew is “someone with two Jewish parents (or less), who believes in one god (or less).”  The phrasing is from the international director of Hillel, and the sermon was mostly about a meeting between him and a group of Hillel directors from around the world, including mine, where he told some anecdotes about Jewish identity and gave his opinion that an inclusive perspective was best.

This is a necessary way to look at it for a Hillel director, who must deal with a diverse population of people who consider themselves Jewish but have a wide variety of heritages and levels of observance, but it’s not very common in the Jewish community at large.  Everyone has an opinion on who gets to be Jewish, and most of them are very exclusionary.  The traditional view is that anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish, regardless of level of observance.  I confess that I like that way of thinking quite a bit, but it definitely excludes the large number of people who have only a Jewish father but have been raised in the Jewish tradition to some degree.  It also leans rather heavily toward Judaism-as-ethnicity rather than Judaism-as-religion, but that’s not a problem for me since that’s how I tend to see things as well.  It’s a vexing question, though, and, as with all such issues of identity, there may not be a truly satisfactory answer.



  1. Hopefully your new year is a little happier so far…

    Comment by Scott Lemieux — October 2, 2006 @ 12:54 am |Reply

  2. Yeah, it’s been okay.

    Comment by teofilo — October 2, 2006 @ 12:59 am |Reply

  3. “[I]t barely made me angry at all” made me laugh out loud. It sounds like me, which means either that it’s applicable when I expect to be angry but am not, or that “angry” is my DEFCON 5.

    According to Law & Order, if a man’s mother isn’t Jewish, he qualifies as Jew if he’s had a bris, a bar mitvah, and a mikvah.

    Comment by ~Macarena~ — October 2, 2006 @ 5:27 pm |Reply

  4. Yes, if someone converts to Judaism he becomes Jewish.

    Comment by teofilo — October 2, 2006 @ 8:35 pm |Reply

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