Is Anyone Jewish Enough?
01/20/2011 - 16:39

I know you will find this shocking, but Tiger Mom Amy Chua is not the only topic about which people are writing this week.

Several of my friends have nice articles/posts out about intermarriage-related issues.

Rabbi Jason Miller’s op-ed “Is Gabby Giffords Jewish Enough?” has been traveling all over the blogosphere: first on the Huffington Post, then JTA and, through JTA, to major Jewish newspapers around the country, like the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and L.A. Jewish Journal.

Full disclosure: Jason quotes from “In the Mix” in the op-ed, so I realize that by linking to his piece, I’m creating an endless loop of blog-rolling. Now if he will only post on his blog about me posting about him posting about me, life will be complete.

Meanwhile, Paul Golin of the Jewish Outreach Institute, has a piece on the Huffington Post (is anyone NOT on HuffPo these days?) arguing that differences (like being interfaith) can actually strengthen, rather than weaken, a marriage.

And Laurel Snyder has "Not A Jewish Birth Story" on Kveller about an unpleasant encounter with a mohel who made her feel terrible just minutes after giving birth, when he questioned her Jewishness and declared, without even looking at her baby, that he would never perform a bris on him.

Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

“You’re Jewish?” he asked at last.

Immediately, I felt nervous. But I took a deep breath and nodded.

“Yes,” I said. "I am. I am.”

Then he added, “And your mother is Jewish?”

“Oh,” I said.

Then, in an anxious rush of too many words, I began to recite the little speech I’ve grown accustomed to giving. “No. But I’m Jewish. I know I don’t look Jewish, because my mom is Irish Catholic, but my dad is Jewish and I was raised Jewish. And then I converted when I was 18.”

I clutched my baby, bewildered. It was hard to believe this was happening at this moment. Through my hormone rush and the buzz of a post-delivery Percocet, I felt sadness creeping into the happy room, like a chill, as though someone had left a door open down the hall.


Doctor X folded his arms. He spoke slowly when he asked, “Your conversion—it was Orthodox?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Conservative.”

“Why not Orthodox?”

Really? Were we going to do this now?

“Well,” I said, “because I'm not Orthodox. I don’t keep kosher, and I’m not shomer shabbos, and I certainly wasn’t at 18.”

Laurel goes on to explain that while she "didn’t mind Doctor X’s laws, or his inability to help me," she did mind that "he was cold to me at one of my warmest moments."

He could just as easily have said, “Oh! How nice! Mazel tov on the baby! I’m afraid I can’t perform the bris myself. But I’m sure there’s someone great out there who can help you!” But he didn’t. He—a doctor in a secular hospital—chose to exclude a woman trying to observe a mitzvah the best way she could.

This is actually something that could happen to Gabby Giffords (not that she is pregnant, and not that I have any idea if she and her husband want children). Imagine, recovering from a bullet to the head, only to have to deal with "you're not really Jewish."


Don't be a stranger. Come visit "In the Mix" on Facebook!


view counter

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


I am grateful for a very positive experience that I had with an *Orthodox* mohel even though I was the non-Jewish mother of the baby. The mohel was the same one who had previously done the bris for virtually all the baby boys born into my lay-led minyan, as he had for tens of thousands of babies, most of them from Orthodox families. He was perfectly willing to do my son's bris even though we were completely honest with him that I was not Jewish. It is also true however that we practiced only Judaism in our home and we would raise the baby as Jewish as we had done already with his three year old sister. This mohel came to our apartment which was crammed full with friends and a few relatives, and much to my relief, he was very respectful to me. He did the circumcision "for the purpose of conversion" with the blessings modified accordingly and two of our observant friends served as witnesses to sign the certificate for the bris. We served a nice brunch of kosher bagels, lox, and salads. If the mohel disapproved of our intermarriage, he did not show it in any way. (After all what would be the point? Should he wish that we get divorced?) Later, we presented the certificate to a Beit Din and my husband immersed our son in a mikveh for a child conversion. Much later, I myself finally converted. And last spring, my son became a bar mitzvah, putting on tefillin and tallit to lead a weekday Shacharit service and chant from the Torah. I've thought about writing a letter to that mohel, now essentially retired, to thank him. This blog reminds me that I should do it.
What Julie ? Ms. Snyder is giving birth and scheduling a bris at the time ? That is multi-tasking at its finest !!! Joking aside, if this is a true story, the moral is that first, some Doctors may not have the best bed side manner, and second, ask for references before scheduling a bris as one's after birth is awaiting expulsion !!! What a wacky story. Heaven help us I thought this was an old story - conservative vs. orthodox. Get over it already. Meshugah !!!
Dear Julie, Thank you for the link. From what she writes, it would seem that Laurel is a bit less militant on this issue than you seem to be. Those of us who maintain a traditional understanding of Torah and Halacha don't have as much leeway as others may wish we had. This is our understanding of Avodat HaShem. We can't change that -- although we can be sensitive that not everyone agrees with our interpretation. Rabbi Soloveitchik quoted in the name of his grandfather, the Torah giant, Rav Chaim, that the goal of a rabbi is to do chessed. I think that goes for all Jews. This is what I wrote to Laurel. Dear Laurel, I deeply appreciated your piece lamenting the way you were treated by a doctor who felt that he couldn't perform a bris on your son. (I came across it from a link in The Jewish Week.) I believe that you were subjected to incredible insensitivity. Unfortunately, there are many people out there who don't always see the miracles around them nor do they always communicate in an appropriate way. I am an Orthodox rabbi and I teach in a yeshiva in Israel. I spent many years as a rabbi on campus apologizing for similar incidents and I try to teach my students not to be judgmental. While I maintain halacha to the strictest letter of how I interpret the law, I can't imagine using Torah to hurt -- especially at such a special moment. Todd Berman
With Love - What makes you think Julie believes there should be no standards? Just because she does not agree with the standards of a certain minority does not mean she does not believe there should be no standards at all. Reform Jews, who consititute the majority of Jews in this country, most certainly have standards, and I do not see Julie sayng those standards should not be upheld. For instance, if one wants to convert to Judaism in a Reform synagogue, they don't just say, "I am Jewish," and that is it. There is a whole conversion process for them to go through first, including learning about and practicing Judaism, mitzvot, holidays, etc. Frankly, although for the sake of argument I might say we should all just do it the way Ruth did it, in reality I think the standards of following a conversion process are important so people know what they're getting into before they make a commitment to be Jewish. But it simply isn't true that the Orthodox way is the only way to do it, or that any other process is meaningless.
Julie, Every week it is the same refrain. You are angry at those who hold on to standards. Why? What is it about Judaism that makes it a free for all. Can everyone decide their own status because that is how they feel in their heart? Let's say someone has no Jewish lineage at all, but, feels Jewish in their heart, should they be considered Jewish? Why should their feeling be any different than someone else's? I have an evangelical friend who feels Jewish. Is he? Can someone feel like they are a doctor and practice medicine? Can they decide they have a CPA? Even Masseuses have a licensing. The reason Judaism can't have standards is because it doesn't mean anything. Identity has been relegated to a feeling or emotion. There is no longer a body of knowledge or practice associated with it. For me Judaism is vitally important. Perhaps more important than medicine. When you accept prescriptions from a Doctor without a license then we will have truly entered a post modern world. Until then, let people have their standards. You may not agree with them. But, that is what makes the world.
Hey, if it feels good, do it. What's next, hybrid religions. Buda-Judaism or is a Messianic Jew (you know, Jews for Jesus) part of the tribe? While I pray Cong. Giffords full recovery and I actually do that (from an Orthodox Siddur whose prayers date back thousands of years - an unbroken tradition!), Cong. Giffords is not Halachically Jewish. She may be the nicest person in the world, have a heart of gold and want to be involved in Judaism, but until she converts according to Halacha, she is not Jewish. There is a reason for compliance with Halacha, particularly with respect to the big stuff like conversion. It assures Jewish continuity. I don't say this to be mean, insensitive or not politically correct. We are an exclusive club with rules. Accept the rules and Halacha assures you equal status and equal protection. Otherwise, regardless of whether you are a husband or wife, best friend or president, you don't get to be Jewish just because you feel it in your heart. I refer you to Jonathan Mark's blog posting. He hit it on the head.
Simple minded and wrong.. stop the monopoly already. Get over yourself.... "(from an Orthodox Siddur whose prayers date back thousands of years - an unbroken tradition!)" Excuse me, but I highly doubt that the Siddur you're using is the exact same one used thousands of years ago.. though it's a nice dream and apparently the belief allows you to feel superior and super Jewish among all us fakes. The truth is people like you actually drive Jews away from the community. Judaism needs to continue to grow and yes, EVOLVE, as a living faith.. or we'll end up like the Catholics with the Pope in Rome, oblivious to reality and attempting to have us all live like its the year 1300. Not one sigle body, nor you, get to decide what is Halacha for conversion. And if you ask me, you're attitude makes you less Jewish than you think you are. It's not a country club.. it's a way of life.. and you should'nt be making yourself a stumbling block for others when frankly, it's really none of your damn business. Does my conversion really affect you personally.. or threaten Judaisms exhistance? No, so back off and find something more usefull to do with your time.. like charity and mitzvot. Stop attacking members of your community and start helping. It seems to me that what I hear coming out of the Haredi/Orthodox communities.. especially in Israel.. is almost always a negative. Bigoty and violence in Jerusalem.. women being assaulted at bus stops for having donned tefellin.. all of them on welfare from the government because none of them work.. and their children are exempt form military sevice.. is this what being "really" Jewish is? Backwards, lazy and apathetic? I'd be more concerned with cleaning my own house before inspecting anothers, Sir. People like you are nothing but divisive, and this is non-productive for our community. If you can't say someting nice, don't say anything at all.. especially when It's none of your business. A strangers conversion is none of your business. This may come as a shock but.. G-d did not appoint you to judge others. So, don't meddle in other people affairs.. and just concern yourself with YOU.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.