Sunday, December 03, 2006

Upholding Standards for Thousands of Years

Here is an article for all of you who oppose the mixing of politics and religion. No, it is not about the religious parties trying to pass a law to protect the traditions followed by the Jewish people, it is about a secular politician trying to meddle in religious affairs.

Yossi Beilin is trying to propose legislation that will change Israel's official policy on who is a Jew. I can't think of a more damaging threat to the unity of the Jewish people than this. We may have had bitter fights among ourselves in the past (and unfortunately in the present) but at least we Jews could agree on who we were. Now he wants to take a page out of the reform movement's book and meddle in this. (The reform movement, when faced with the decreasing numbers of Jews affiliated with their synagogues, proposed to change the halachic standard accepted by all Jews until that time - that Jews were those whose mothers were Jewish - and stretch it to include those whose mothers weren't Jewish but whose fathers were.)

In the article he states "If people see themselves as Jewish, and certainly if one of the parents was Jewish, why should the state define them as not Jewish?"

Well, try this one on for size Yossi. If one of my parents is a doctor, and I see myself as a doctor, then why not define me as a doctor?

What, you say, there are standards to follow? You mean I have to attend medical school and pass my examinations first? Who are you to tell me what standards I have to pass!

Ok, ok, so there are standards. But why can't we change the standards? If I go to, say, a very liberal and open-minded medical school, which throws off the old fashioned labels and cares about what is really important, (like, do you feel like a doctor, have you learned a little medical jargon, and do you have at least one parent who is a doctor) then can I be called a doctor too?

No? You mean some standards are more acceptable than others? Like the ones that have been around for literally thousands of years, and which a good portion of the population see as fundamentally immutable, no matter how "old fashioned" they sound?

People have a right to either be religious or not, that is their choice. But they do not have a right to use a political body such as the Knesset to try and change the standards that a religion holds.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Lena said...

See, I tend to think Beilin is right on this. If you have close Jewish ancestry, and you want to live as a Jew, I see no reason why the state should deny this. We live in an age where tribalism is outdated - we don't need the strict "Jewish mother" codes anymore, because we have DNA tests now which definitely determine a person's parentage.

My mother converted to Judaism just before marrying my father, years before I was born. She converted with a Conservative rabbi in Greenbelt, Maryland. Does this make me less of a Jew? Not at all.

11:19 AM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Does anyone take Yossi Beilin seriously any more? Every idea he's ever had has proved detrimental to the Jewish People--this is just another Far Left Beilinism to undermine Judaism in the civil arena.
...Lena, the question of conversion is a different question-Beilin is proposing tribalism of a different sort: include patrilineal descent as well as matrilineal descent. Matrilineal descent has been the rule for ages because it is women who raise the children and inculcalte Jewishness in the home. That, after all, is why your mother converted, and for the record, yes, I consider the children of Masorti converts as Jewish as FFBs---in many ways, I've found that converts and their children are far more knowledgable than the vast majority of Jews who take their Jewishness for granted. Not only that, but in many cases, I find that converts to Judaism gave up far more to be Jewish than anyone born to a Jewish mother--I know Jews-from-birth who keep Shabbat by brunching in a kosher-style non-kosher restaurant they drive to on Saturday mornings; yet I know converts who are far more attuned to the spirituality of Shabbat and keeping Shomer Shabbos, despite objections from friends and family members.

I'm familiar with all the Orthodox objections but I prefer to judge people on a case-by-case basis. I understand this is not halachically correct but I also suspect that in my lifetime we may find a halachic solution to this issue (along with the agunot issue). I refuse to believe that halachically it is okay to exclude our people from Peoplehood by narrowing definitions so exclusively. BUT I don't favor patrilineal descent or any other dilution of the role of Jewish mothers.

The best definition of "who's Jewish?" I've ever read is this: One who has Jewish grandchildren.

12:11 PM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger RR said...

Oh dear- "The Poodle" is yapping away again. Someone throw him a treat, quickly!

Seriously, he needs to stick to topics he knows something about. What those are, I don't know.

Isn't he still refusing to admit that Oslo is dead?

5:40 PM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger phishaliyah said...

two possibilities:

1. the satmars were right

2. birthpangs

6:15 PM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger kahaneloyalist said...

Lena, you are not Jewish just because I feel like a penguin doesnt make it so, so to just because you feel Jewish doesnt make it so.

Aliyah06, you are wrong there have been other movements similiar to the heretical Reform and Conservative, and they are all gone. They thought we should lower the standards and be more inclusive. The fat of the Masorti and Reform shall be the same as the Hellenists and the Sadduceam and the Baytosim and the Frankists.

6:37 PM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

It is clear to me that Americans simply don't "get it". The very idea that the state of Israel should adopt the "pluralism" of their American 'cousins' means my children will not be able to marry Jews who came to Israel from America - or at least not without a very thorough investigation into their pedigree. In essence we will no longer be one people, but two. Those who adhere to the traditions and Standards established millenium ago and those who ignore them. The two will no longer be able to intermarry. How long before the State of Israel as a Jewish entity ceases to exist?

Do you think I or my sons would endanger our lives to protect a nation of non-Jews who denigrate Jewish tradition and do everything in their means to make it difficult to live Jewish lives in this country (as Mr Beillin and his friends have often spoken of doing)?

Israel's only raison d'etre is to be a Jewish country where Jews can live Jewish lives. If you want to be a non-Christian Protestant, go ahead. Just don't call it Judaism.

7:10 PM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger bec said...

i'm sure that if the non-orthodox opt to go with patrilineal descent as an acceptable reality for themselves, the only thing it will change will be how quickly these non-odox groups fall apart. i don't think that any self-respecting orthodox rabbi from ANY part of the orthodox spectrum would EVER agree to marry two jews--one or both of whom couldn't prove his/her jewish descent matrilineally or produce an acceptable certificate (or whatever is issued) of conversion, regardless of what the more liberal factions decide to accept as "halachic."
personally, sometimes i feel like a nut, sometimes i don't....

2:00 AM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

lena - your question at the end of your comment "does this make me less of a Jew" proves my point exactly. Whether or not you are Jewish has to depend on an agreed upon standard. The fact that some Conservative and Reform Rabbis do not use the halacha as the standard has opened up this question, and it has caused hurt feelings on the part of those whose mothers haven't been converted according to the halacha. So there will be some who consider you Jewish no matter what, and some who will investigate the Conservative rabbi who converted your mother (to see if he went according to halacha), and others who will assume that you are not Jewish because they believe that all Conservative rabbis do not hold to halacha. If everyone held to the same standard (as they did in the past) there wouldn't be this controversy.

aliyah06 - "I refuse to believe that it is ok to exclude our people from Peoplehood...." The halacha is the halacha, whether or not it is palatable or not. It cannot be changed because it does not seem "nice" to some people. This is why it (and the Jewish people) have survived. That is not to say that some things have not changed over the years, but these changes have all been within the system.

rr - yes, Yossi still thinks that Oslo was a good idea

phishaliya - I think you are speaking in codes!

kahanaloyalist - you do not know whether or not lena is Jewish, so please do not make judgements.

yoel - you are right that we will end up being two different groups of people, if this idea goes through, and it will destroy any unity we may have

bec - you are right. The frustrating thing is, is that some non-Orthodox think that if they just keep calling us names long enough (you are not "inclusive", you are "old fashioned", etc.) that we will change our viewpoint. They do not really comprehend the immutability of the halacha.

12:26 PM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger Jerusalem Joe said...

this is not an easy issue.
how is a secular jew who not only has no knowledge of judaism but actually hates jews and judaism as much as any anti-semite, and does his or her best to destroy the jewish people - how can this person be considered jewish, while a person who has given deep thought and consideration to his relationship with god, and decided to convert, and today he knows the prayers and all jewish rituals and keeps most of them - but this guy is not a jew because his mother was not and his conversion was not orthodox?
that doesn't make sense to me - an ignorant antisemitic jew is considered a jew, while his faithful converted counterpart is not?
what would happen if the state was not involved in this? why does it matter? after all, jewish communities survived pefectly well without the state deciding who is and is not jewish- so what would be the difference?

3:49 PM, December 04, 2006  
Anonymous Lena said...

Kahaneloyalist - I take this up hesitantly as I'm not sure that debating with you is a good use of time, but I want to make one very crucial (I think) point:

I don't accept your "penguin analogy." I think we can all agree that penguins are very specific creatures. They live in certain places, have specific physical attributes, and specific patterns of behavior. Penguins are generally found in colder climates, tend to be black and white, and so forth.

Do Jews come with the same exacting attributes? Are all Jews of a certain coloring, with say brown eyes, olive skin, and brown or black hair (color attributes are for example only)? Do we all exhibit the exact same behavior patterns? Do we all live in the same places, speak the same language, wear the same clothes?

Being a Jew is something significantly more complicated than being a penguin.

6:45 PM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger kahaneloyalist said...

Batya, Lena has admmitted that her mother was not properly converted. Hence she is not Jewish, theres not much to debate on this one.

Lena, physical characteristsics are irrelevant to Jewishness. The only way to be Jewish is to have a Jewish mother or be properly converted. You say "well I feel Jewish, so I am" you are not following Judaism but Lenaism your own system irrelevant to Judaism.

7:11 PM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger bec said...

lena, i really hope that you don't feel like you're being attacked. it's the issue at hand, and it's a very hard issue to deal with (on all sides.)
we know someone whose child was refused entry to a hebrew school program because the mother wasn't properly converted. the hope is that this will spark the mother to learn more and decide to convert properly. and also, because halacha is halacha, and there aren't always leniencies in the halacha. sometimes it doesn't seem fair or right, but upon further investigation, there are good reasons for these laws.
for example, regarding kashrut, we are supposed to keep meat and dairy separate. however, if you read the law, it's really because you cannot seethe a kid in its mother's milk. but chickens don't produce milk! however, we include chicken in this case as a fence around the law--so we don't accidentally eat any meat with any milk product. i don't think that there are any orthodox jews who opt not to abide by this fence. now, if we were to erase the "fence" there would be a lot more permissiveness and most likely, a lot more people who wouldn't actually be keeping kosher, but who might claim to be keeping kosher. that would cause a lot of upheaval in the community, and many questions as to the standards being met or kept by each individual. this in turn, would cause problems regarding marriage (maybe you only want to marry someone upholding certain standards of kashrus?) and even problems as to which restaurants would be acceptable to which people, thus further dividing the community. so, instead, we opt to follow the laws which have held up remarkably well through our history.
so, if we were to start changing the laws regarding conversion, we'd have the same problem. there needs to be a set standard for all to follow, and it's not to offend people, but to keep judaism jewish.
the problem is really with the people who for years have been trying to change judaism to suit what they call a "changing world." they are the ones whose permissiveness has caused problems with innocent people who are born into what they are told is judaism, but then find out that these conversions are not considered valid. ironically, the modern orthodox have managed quite well to stay within the modern world and within halacha without needing to change halacha.

10:23 PM, December 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Westbankmama: you are right, but I will never understand why only the mother and not the father, or both. If we don't agree with intermarriage unions why do we have a law that says that we are Jews only from our mother side? There's a contradition.

"The fact that some Conservative and Reform Rabbis do not use the halacha as the standard has opened up this question". I must say again that some Orthodox do not use the halacha as the standard, we still see that bribes are widely accepted in the orthodox conversions, especially for the women of wealthy Jews. I will "fight" forever with you about the Conservative vs Orthodox

1:07 AM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

My point, not well stated, is that if we have moved away from polygamy, changed the rules of betrothal and marriage, moved away from the veil (yes, many of us cover our heads but some with hats and scarves, and some only partially and not completely, not with a veil, and only when married, not when reaching menstruation, etc.)and made other changes of import over the years, it would behoove those who hold halachic authority to address these issues now instead of getting into a 'turf war' with the Conservative or Reform. Some halacha has become stricter due to outside influences (chicken included with 'meat', above; cholav Yisroel for some communities) and others, like head coverings have become more 'lenient' -- but the point is that halachic authorities do use halacha both as a stringency and as a leniency. To reduce this very complex issue to Orthodox vs. Reform and Conservative is to do a disservice to Jews everywhere.

For a child or grandchild of a Conservative convert who has lived his/her entire life as a committed Jew, exclusion based on the choice of that parent or grandparent to undergo a Conservative conversion (and believe me, Conservative rabbis insist that such conversions are halachically valid, so how would the potential convert know otherwise?)is cruel and punitive. "Halacha is halacha" is not an answer--it's a cop-out, and if halachic authorities can find leniencies to allow men to avoid giving gets, then certainly they can find some leniency in halacha to invite the children of such converts into a halachically valid relationship with the Jewish People.

Bottom line--the halachic authorities in the Orthodox world need to do their jobs or a very secular Supreme Court here in Israel will find "leniencies" along the line of Beilin's -- better the rabbis move on this than Yossi Beilin.

7:28 AM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

jerusalemjoe - a person's halachic status as a Jew or non Jew has nothing at all to do with his behavior, although I can understand your desire that it be so

kahaneloyalist - I am not Batya!

bec - I agree with you, although my comments section may not be the best place to get into a discussion of the "fences" put up to protect Jewish law

emanuel- we don't know why G-d decided that it was to be the mother, although many people give reasons for it (practically,it is easier to prove who is the mother rather than the father, or that the mother has more to do with raising the kids than the father...) As to Orthodox rabbis taking bribes - if this is true then they are doing something very wrong. And I enjoy "fighting" this issue with someone such as yourself who is always polite and respectful of others...

aliyah06 - you are touching here on a topic that can't be debated in a comments section - it needs whole books, namely, when and where do halachic authorities find ways within the halacha to be lenient. I think that the issues of who is a Jew, conversion, and the issue of agunot (which impacts on the status of subsequent children born to the woman)are so fundamental that it is very difficult to make changes. I think that you would agree that these issues have more far reaching consequences than whether or not it is permissable to wear a wig to cover your hair....

12:10 PM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

"Like the ones that have been around for literally thousands of years, and which a good portion of the population see as fundamentally immutable..."

But that is the whole point, WBM - essentially what your teachers have done is to instill in your head a big lie - the Halacha is not quite that old, and the "whose mother is Jewish" has not *always* been there.

Unfortunately, the more our religious brethren fall unders the spell of Halacha and its especially prohibitive "machmirim" rules, the more difficult it is to square the circle. And Halacha keeps growing, adding more and more madness.

Too bad.

5:56 PM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

And, rarely agreeing with Beilin on anything, I have to agree with him this time: if a person is mad enough (grin) to decide that he/she is Jewish, we should not put an absolutely artificial Halachic crap on his/her way.

5:58 PM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

snoopy - "under the spell of halacha" - this is really the difference between those who are observant and those who are not, teh respect for or disregard for the halacha and its obligations. We can argue about interpretations, we can argue about whether we should follow the stringent view or the lenient view, but the system is immutable, and applies to all Jews. This was the turning point in my becoming observant - my acceptance that being observant wasn't just another choice out there - I had an obligation. This came after at least two years of thinking about it and wondering if I could take it on - so calling this "falling under a spell" is somewhat insulting.

9:09 AM, December 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WestBank Papa here -

One thing that Mama mentioned in passing - perhaps trying to be gracious - bears repeating:

For centuries, the parameters of Jewish belief and practice - both the "technical" and spiritual borders of membership in the Jewish community - were those of what is now called "Orthodox Judaism", but could just as well be called "The Judaism of the Ages."

The problems have not been caused by Orthodox intransigence - they have been caused by "progressive" Jews following various pied-piper schemes for the modernization of Jewish identity, who have thrown over the traditional common denominator of Jewish identity.

From the high-handed dismissal of "backward" halacha, to the plaintive demand that "feeling" Jewish should trump traditional definitions of Jewishness - all of these posts are variations of a pose in which "progressive" Jews urge their laggard Orthodox brethren to get with their own pet "progressive" program.

Beilin's proposal is a last, straw-grasping gambit of a secular Zionism that attempted to replace the historical definition of the Jewish people with a new standard of national identity.

And the conversion issue grows out of directly parallel attempts by other "progressive" movements to shore up their failed attempts to reshape Jewish identity - by accommodating assimilation with relaxed conversion standards and acceptance of patrilineal descent.

What's particularly galling is that all these demands for Orthodox accommodation come at a time when ALL these post-Enlightenment reformulations of Judaism - intended to insure Judaism's survival in the modern world! - are obviously, spectacularly failing at maintaining even basic, ethnic allegience to their new versions of Jewish identity. (And please spare me the posts about how *materially* successful Israel is as a state - I am talking about the deep identity crisis that has fueled everything from self-effacing pro-Palestinian attitudes among our elites, to the burgeoning return-to-Judaism movement.)

These groups are now demanding that the Jews of Israel - very few of whom come from the cultural background that motivated their cultural-fusion versions of Judaism - go along with their innovations at a time when their failure to transmit core knowledge, practice and moral teachings of The Judaism of the Ages is becoming ever more clear.

I don't belittle the anguish of those who feel rejected. But it is against this background that individual stories play out.

Sorry - the burden of proof is upon the innovators.

And in 2006/5767 it is abundantly clear that however Jewish many Reform and Conservative converts may *feel* - it's increasingly clear that they, together with the vast majority of American Reform and Conservative Jews, know and do little that relates to the traditional Judaism that is still the cornerstone of most Israeli's identity.

6:42 PM, December 07, 2006  
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