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Sunday, January 9, 2011

What's a Jew? One of my Only in Israel stories.

Can anyone with some Jewish genes just decide they're Jewish?
Can the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) define Judaism?
Is the Hitler-Nazi definition of a Jew something we must take seriously?
Are those converted Reform, Conservative (non-Torah standard Orthodox Jewish Law tradition) actually Jews?
All sorts of celebrities, including politicians and lots of ordinary people make decisions about whether or not they're Jewish.  Now people are asking if American U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)   is Jewish.  Apparently, she's descended from Jews on her father's side, which is good enough for her local Reform shul.  But the Reform definition of who's a Jew isn't based on Torah tradition.

Now for the story...

It'll be twenty years this coming summer, during the big Jewish exodus from the USSR...
Actually, it began during Passover when my neighbor was sent to Russia to run the seder in a Soviet Jewish community.  He had a lovely young teenage translator who told him that her family would be making aliyah soon.  So he invited them to come to Shiloh.

These neighbors used to work late in Jerusalem and we frequently took rides home with them after late events.  So one such day we got a call saying that there would be more people in the van, since the translator and her family were arriving:
"They called to confirm that they could stay with us.  We said yes, although we can't figure out how to fit them in the house."
"No problem," I said, "they can stay with us.  We have much more room."
A later call:
"They called from the airport.  Their Israeli relatives told them that they ought to tell us something they had never mentioned before.  Only the father is Jewish, not the mother and the kids.  They want to know if we'll still host them.  I said yes."
"OK, me, too.  Let's give them a chance."
We had this surreal drive from Jerusalem to Shiloh with a stop off where someone gave them some family heirlooms which he had smuggled out of the USSR for them.  Then we set them up with beds, the son at my neighbors and the parents and daughter at my house.

During the next couple of weeks, my neighbor helped them find schools, ulpan and immigrant housing in a hotel, all four in a tiny room.  Another neighbor who knew some Russian had a good talk with the wife who told him:
"I always knew that marrying - would mean that I and my children would be Jews."
So, conversion courses were also found for them.

About a year and a half later, I got an excited call from the husband:
"-- and the kids converted.  We're getting married next week and we want you at the wedding."
It was a beautiful wedding, and we hosted Sheva Brachot for them.

Shavua Tov
Have a Wonderful Week

25 comments:

Moriah said...

Whew, what a relief. For a minute I didn't know how this would end..

JDL London Canada said...

The seed of who is a Jew was always passed through the father and was changed by a rabbinic during the time of Ezra. (Abraham's seed not Sarah's)I know that's not a popular view by halachic standards but that's what happened. I wish the rabbis would leave things well enough alone. That said we know it today as through the mother (wasn't Hashem's idea) so there we have it, a big mess in Israel. Especially with the Russians. I'm going to hold by the Torah on this one. Scientifically the x chromosome an be traced back over 20 generations whereas the Y of the woman cannot so easily. Now the issues is when people go for an orthodox giyur and come to Israel it becomes questionable where it was done and by whom. This has gotten 'political' as in the case of the ones done by Rav Druckman. Meanwhile the muslims and Xtians don't have this problem only us ... It's Shameful.

Shy Guy said...

Unfortunately, these stories work both ways.

I've always found it interesting that some Jewish from birth Russians - even though they are no the least bit observant - can easily pick out the non-Jewish Russians in an Israeli crowd.

Sorry, JDL, you're showing your revisionist historic ignorance and someone else's halachic Buba Kishkes.

Shy Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shy Guy said...

My previous comment was in error. Giffords' mother was christian.

JDL London Canada said...

How so Shy Guy, that is what happened.

Shy Guy said...

How so JDL? Simply state your claimed historic and halachic sources?

Keli Ata said...

Question--under the law of return how does the gov't determine if someone is Jewish? I know a guy who had to prove he was Jewish with all sorts of religous to prove that he was Jewish.

Batya said...

It's much harder to pass the Jewish test for aliyah now. I had to get a letter from my parents' rabbi for my father's aliyah. They have always been members of a shul. Most Jews aren't, so I don't know how they can prove anything about their Jewish history.

MAOZ said...

"The seed of who is a Jew was always passed through the father...." [says JDL London Canada].

Oh, really? Then why is it that, of Avraham Avinu's sons, only the son of Sarah receives and carries on the covenant which defines one as a Jew?

Shy Guy said...

So, Maoz, according to your logic, Eisav was a member of Am Yisrael, being the son of Rivka and the twin brother of Yaakov.

Close but no prize.

MAOZ said...

Shy Guy, if "the seed of who is a Jew was always passed through the father" as JDL LC contends, wouldn't THAT indicate that Eisav is part of 'Am Israel? I was trying to show that there's more to it than that.

BTW, I've been wondering -- Shy Guy, do you have a blog of your own? If not, have you considered starting one?

Shy Guy said...

Several people have suggested I blog. No thanks. I already do not have enough time on my hands.

Shy Guy said...

Maoz, my argument against your logic nevertheless remains.

Let's go back to Avraham......

Why wasn't Yishmael on the same status as Yitzchak, prior to Avraham's being informed by G-d that Yishmael would not spiritually inherit Avraham, when it was still assumed that Yishmael would be the only descendant of Avraham's?

JDL London Canada said...

Maoz, it's simple who was the promised child? Avraham's seed was given to his hand maiden but Yishmael was the byproduct because of a lack of emunah when Sarah laughed at the thought of having a son due to her age. Despite this, Yitzak was born and the brit was passed through him. When we daven the Amidah (the first blessing)why don't we say the names of the matriarchs if the seed is passed through a woman? We don't because the seed goes through a man. The Torah doesn't lie but men do. Just look at the lineage from Adam Rishon downward why aren't the women named in this manner if they pass the seed?

Shy guy, if you read hebrew(and I do)you'd see my point based on Torah.

This "Who is a Jew" business has now become a divisive form political buffoonery and its destructive to our people and our land.

Shy Guy said...

JDL (Pesach?), you're wrong all the way down the line.

Yishmael was born 13 years before Yitzchak. Sarah's laughing was a year before Titzchak was born, when Yismhmel was 12. So are you claiming that Yishmael was the "byproduct" of Sarah's lack of emunah 12 years after the fact?

Speaking of reading the Torah, did it ever occur to you that either patriarchal versus matriarchal lineage changed at the time of the giving of the Torah at Sinai?

JDL, I read and speak Hebrew all day long here in Jerusalem. I have no idea what you're referring to in the Torah.

Your original claim was that there was a Rabbinic change to the Torah's lineage law by Ezra. First of all, a Takanat Chachamim cannot change a Torah law except by Shev Ve'Al Ta'asheh. A classic example is the Rabbinic prohibition of the Torah obligation of Tekiyat Shofar when Rosh Hashanna falls out on Shabbat.

Next, Ezra never said such a thing nor is such recorded in Nach. Just the opposite is recorded.

Finally, the "who is a Jew" business is the buffoonery and fiasco of Israel's secular state's founding fathers, who have caused Am Yisrael a tremendous amount of damage with their anti-Torah venom, ignorance and complete lack of trust in Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Not that religious Jews of all stripes and persuasions haven't caused massive problems over the 62+ year history of the Jewish State, but the "who is a Jew" fiasco is the secular department's baby.

Since you won't cough up the sources of your claims, let me give you a link which sums up the issue quite universally among Torah abiding Jews:

Why Is Jewish Descent Matrilineal?

I have no connection to Chabad. The link above simply contains most of the detailed elementary material on the matter in one place, rather than me searching for multiple links to tie things together.

I don't know where you pick up your Torah but it certainly isn't from the late Rabbi Kahane's teachings. Your claims are classics among "reform" Judaism promoters and christian missionaries and other revisionists of Jewish hsitory, each with their own ulterior motive. What's yours?

Shy Guy said...

JDL (Pesach?), you're wrong all the way down the line.

Yishmael was born 13 years before Yitzchak. Sarah's laughing was a year before Titzchak was born, when Yismhmel was 12. So are you claiming that Yishmael was the "byproduct" of Sarah's lack of emunah 12 years after the fact?

Speaking of reading the Torah, did it ever occur to you that either patriarchal versus matriarchal lineage changed at the time of the giving of the Torah at Sinai?

JDL, I read and speak Hebrew all day long here in Jerusalem. I have no idea what you're referring to in the Torah.

Your original claim was that there was a Rabbinic change to the Torah's lineage law by Ezra. First of all, a Takanat Chachamim cannot change a Torah law except by Shev Ve'Al Ta'asheh. A classic example is the Rabbinic prohibition of the Torah obligation of Tekiyat Shofar when Rosh Hashanna falls out on Shabbat.

Next, Ezra never said such a thing nor is such recorded in Nach. Just the opposite is recorded.

Finally, the "who is a Jew" business is the buffoonery and fiasco of Israel's secular state's founding fathers, who have caused Am Yisrael a tremendous amount of damage with their anti-Torah venom, ignorance and complete lack of trust in Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Not that religious Jews of all stripes and persuasions haven't caused massive problems over the 62+ year history of the Jewish State, but the "who is a Jew" fiasco is the secular department's baby.

Since you won't cough up the sources of your claims, let me give you a link which sums up the issue quite universally among Torah abiding Jews:

Why Is Jewish Descent Matrilineal?

I have no connection to Chabad. The link above simply contains most of the detailed elementary material on the matter in one place, rather than me searching for multiple links to tie things together.

I don't know where you pick up your Torah but it certainly isn't from the late Rabbi Kahane's teachings. Your claims are classics among "reform" Judaism promoters and christian missionaries and other revisionists of Jewish hsitory, each with their own ulterior motive. What's yours?

Shy Guy said...

What better way to rebut a Kachnik than to quote verbatim the late Rav Kahane HY"D:

"And an end would be put to the awful threat of the splitting of Jews into two different peoples, one unable to marry with the other. The definition of who is a Jew would be clear and uniform, as it was before the deniers of Divine halakha rose to defraud it. A Jew would be defined only as one born to a Jewish mother or converted according to authentic halakha."

- Rabbi Meir Kahane, A Jewish State, Part 7 (excerpt, archived copy)

What now do you wish to claim, JDL? What now? Who is feeding you the lukshen you've been raving about here?

yamit33 said...

The Torah is completely unconcerned about mothers: “G-d of your father” is an idiom, but not “of your mother.” Hebrew tribes descended even from slave women, such as Jacob’s concubines, whom he did not bother to marry. They were “given him” by his wives.

All foremothers were originally pagan; none had formally converted. Rachel practiced idolatry after marriage: she stole Lavan’s idols. The explanation that she took them away from Lavan to stop his idolatrous practice is mistaken: why would she risk hiding the idols instead of burning them?

Rabbis try to read conversion into the words of Ruth, King David’s grandmother, who said, “Your G-d is my G-d,” but that is self-defeating position. For if Ruth the widow converted thus in front of Naomi, then she had not converted before, and had been pagan when she married Naomi’s son.

Talmud establishes no specific giyur procedure for a reason: no one cared to ask the woman. She was married to a Jew in a Jewish ceremony and led a Jewish life. She had a pre-marital mikveh immersion—and she is Jewish.

Rabbis invented female giyur about a century ago when secular families became common, and marriage to a Jew ceased to automatically mean a Jewish life. Nominal conversion did not change the facts: those families were not Jewish and their grandchildren rarely identify with Jewish people.

This is the point: gentile women can lead Jewish lives and give birth to Jewish children, but never themselves become Jewish.

Shy Guy said...

Yamit, "lo am ha'aretz hassid".

But I believe the word Rav Kahane used to describe you, Yamit, is a "Mezayef".

yamit33 said...

Shy Guy said...

Yamit, "lo am ha'aretz hassid".

But I believe the word Rav Kahane used to describe you, Yamit, is a "Mezayef".
____________________________________

Ouch!

The Torah does not specifically state anywhere that matrilineal descent should be used; however, there are several passages in the Torah where it is understood that the child of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man is a Jew, and several other passages where it is understood that the child of a non-Jewish woman and a Jewish man is not a Jew.

In Deuteronomy 7:1-5, in expressing the prohibition against intermarriage, G-d says "he [i.e., the non-Jewish male spouse] will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others." No such concern is expressed about the child of a non-Jewish female spouse. From this, we infer that the child of a non-Jewish male spouse is Jewish (and can therefore be turned away from Judaism), but the child of a non-Jewish female spouse is not Jewish (and therefore turning away is not an issue).

Leviticus 24:10 speaks of the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man as being "among the community of Israel" (i.e., a Jew).

On the other hand, in Ezra 10:2-3, the Jews returning to Israel vowed to put aside their non-Jewish wives and the children born to those wives. They could not have put aside those children if those children were Jews.
___________________________________

I know the basis of The Halacha. I also say that I believe this position is becoming untenable and think in view of over 70% intermarriage of American Jews it's only a matter of time before patrilineal descent will be recognized by the orthodoxy as to who is a Jew. I never said I agreed with it. Thus my last thought above where an unconverted Jewish practicing (observant) non Jewess married to a non observant Jew could have perfectly proper good observant Jewish children.

What's the practical alternative writing off 50% of Jewry?

yamit33 said...

Keli Ata said...

Question--under the law of return how does the gov't determine if someone is Jewish? I know a guy who had to prove he was Jewish with all sorts of religous to prove that he was Jewish.
_________________________________
Keli Ata a lot depends on the Rabbi. I married a girl from Kibbutz Beit Hashita. Anticipating tough inquiry by the local Rabbinate I wrote home asking for a Letter from the Rav of my synagogue. Who was Rav Norden who had received his smeicha from Rav Moshe Feinstein. I figured that was a slam dunk.

I needed two witnesses and the Kibbutz supplied me with two nice guys I had never met before. The day of the wedding The Kibbutz gave the Afula Rabbi about Ten Large cans of Beit Hashita Olives we produced and the Rabbi asked no questions and my letter stayed in my pocket unopened unread

In my case a bribe was unnecessary but how many passed through with those bribes?

Shy Guy said...

Wow! All I need to comment is see my previous comment.

You're the last person who should ever quote Rav Meir Kahane. How selective you are!

Hadassa said...

Shalom!
The tribe, including land inheritance, goes according to the father. Many people assume that because of that Judaism holds by patriarchal descent.

The story of Ruth and Orpah includes two important questions: Did Orpah convert? When did Ruth convert? How could Boaz have been considered a go'el, redeemer of Machlon's widow, if Ruth hadn't already been Jewish? Could what Ruth said in front of Na'omi have been an confirmation - not a vow of conversion - of her loyalty to HaShem, especially in light of the fact that Orpah returned to her father's house and gods? And that doesn't necessarily mean that Orpah didn't convert. I personally know Jewish converts who led orthodox lives and later stopped keeping mitzvot.

JDL
Rav Druckman's conversions: what's political about questioning conversions when a beit din discovers that another beit din converted a woman who never intended to follow Jewish law, especially if that wasn't an isolated incident? I think that the rabbis who called Rav Druckman a rasha and annulled all of his conversions weren't basing their decisions on 100% halacha, but Rav Druckman wasn't screening converts carefully and an investigation was not out of place.
Why compare Jewish problems to those of Muslims and Christians? Apples and oranges...

Batya said...

I've been letting Shy handle most of these. He's better at it than I am. But I do have an answer for Hadassa.
Ruth's pledge to Naomi is the basis of conversion. There's a similarity to G-d's instructions to Avram in Lech Lecha. Today at Matan I spoke to Yael Ziegler about it and she also sees it like that.
I also know of converts who began their lives as Jews sincerely and enthusiastically following Torah mitzvot, but afterwards stopped. They still identify as Jews and halachikly they are Jews.