Patrilineal Dissent
02/17/2011 - 14:00
Anonymous

I’m still getting caught up after last week’s trip to L.A. Which, like every trip I take, was an important reminder that life (even Jewish life) does exist beyond metropolitan New York.

Given that I grew up in Houston and Pittsburgh, went to college in Ohio, spent a year and a half in Israel and more than three in Michigan, you’d think I wouldn’t need such reminders.

But there is something so all encompassing about New York living that it’s shockingly easy to forget the rest of the world.

In any event, last week in addition to talking to people from all over the country (plus Israel and Australia), I had the pleasure of finally meeting in person (as opposed to by phone) Rabbi Heather Ellen Miller, who I featured in a column several years ago about children of intermarriage who grow up and become Reform rabbis.

Rabbi Miller recently became the rabbi/dean of spiritual life at Milken Community High School, the L.A. Jewish day school that is her alma mater.
While she has a Jewish mother, thereby freeing her from the “plight of the patrilineal,” a lot of interesting articles pertaining to folks from differently configured interfaith families have been popping up lately.

JTA writer Sue Fishkoff recently explored why, almost three decades after the Reform movement in the U.S. embraced patrilineal descent, the idea that children of Jewish fathers and gentile moms can be considered Jewish, Reform Jews in other countries still haven’t followed suit. And (Reform) Rabbi Andy Bachman has a thoughtful op-ed (in Another Jewish Publication That I Shall Not Name), in which he champions patrilineal descent, but wishes the Reform movement had taken more steps — such as insisting on routine mikveh rituals before bar/bat mitzvah — to ensure that the patrilineals could be more easily accepted in more traditional circles.

On a related note, yet another Reform rabbi, Naamah Kelman and her husband Elan Ezrahi, have a column in Israel’s Haaretz () synthesizing two tragedies that took place within a day of each other: the assassination attempt on Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (a patrilineal Jew) and the death of Reform singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman.

The piece concludes with the following:

Giffords and Friedman embody the right combination of democratic values and Jewish tradition. While Judaism in Israel is moving further to the margins and concentrating mainly on whom to push out of the fold - the convert, the foreigner, the half-Jew or the new immigrant serving in the Israel Defense Forces - in American Judaism a dynamic of acceptance, embrace and widening circles is developing. This is another measure of the growing gap between Israeli society and the largest Jewish community in the world.

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Comments

Anti-intermarriage --

So, if you've deduced that A => B, A being 'Reform men don't like Jewish women,' and B being 'Reform movement permits patrilineal descent,' I have a few logical arguments of my own for you.

In Conservative Judaism, if A => B, as you imply it does, then if B represents 'women being allowed to be called to the Torah,' A must be that 'Conservatives don't like when men are called for aliyot.'

In modern Orthodox Judaism, if A => B as in your argument, and B is that 'women are allowed to receive a nearly equal religious education to men,' A simply must mean that 'men weren't learning the information well enough to pass it on.'

I'm glad that we're discussing this topic -- it's a difficult one to talk about, as you can't take a stand without offending someone. While your argument doesn't convince me, I appreciate you taking the time to share your views. May we all live to see our eyes opened in truth and kindness.

Signed,
a proud (patrilineal) Reform Jewish woman

Anti-intermarriage --

So, if you've deduced that A => B, A being 'Reform men don't like Jewish women,' and B being 'Reform movement permits patrilineal descent,' I have a few logical arguments of my own for you.

In Conservative Judaism, if A => B, as you imply it does, then if B represents 'women being allowed to be called to the Torah,' A must be that 'Conservatives don't like when men are called for aliyot.'

In modern Orthodox Judaism, if A => B as in your argument, and B is that 'women are allowed to receive a nearly equal religious education to men,' A simply must mean that 'men weren't learning the information well enough to pass it on.'

I'm glad that we're discussing this topic -- it's a difficult one to talk about, as you can't take a stand without offending someone. While your argument doesn't convince me, I appreciate you taking the time to share your views. May we all live to see our eyes opened in truth and kindness.

Signed,
a proud (patrilineal) Reform Jewish woman

Susan is obviously suffering form the "Stockhom Syndrome." I've been to many Reform congregations and the reality is just the opposite of what she claims. She belongs to one of the few Reform congregations that value Jewish women. There are cleary in the minority.

Adam,

This has to be the most absurd argument I have seen yet about patrilineal descent--that it should be rescinded because it somehow dishonors Jewish women. Jewish women are far from dishonored in Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism. They serve as rabbis, cantors, synagogue presidents, and Jewish educators. They are welcomed into the Jewish people with a simchat bat, called to the Torah for aliyot, and permitted to participate in Jewish rituals and study Jewish texts on the same basis as men. Patrilineal descent simply affirms that the sexes are EQUAL in Reform Judaism, and that either parent may pass on Jewishness to a child.

As to whether patrilineal descent represents an "abandonment" of traditional Judaism, have you actually read any of the sources in Tanakh and the Mishna that deal with the issue of Jewish descent? If you do, you will soon discover that the basis for this tradition is flimsy and ethically dubious. Do you propose that the pursuit of justice is somehow not a Jewish tradition? Perhaps you should work toward acceptance of patrilineal descent in your own part of the Jewish community instead of railing against Reform.

I am a Jewish woman in a Reform congregation, so I can tell you that your assumptions are completely incorrect. It's just hyperbole. I am wanted and desired in my congregation, as are many other Jewish women. Many Reform Jewish men marry Jewish women. Just because some do not does not mean we are not valued. Walk into any Reform congregation and you will see that what I am telling you is true.
Adam, You are absolutely right in your assessment of the Reform Movement and their anti-Jewish women attitude. Their message is loud and clear; Jewish women are not wanted or appreciated. They believe that gentile women are superior and can raise "better Jewish" children than Jewish women. This is absurd and anti-semitic. Only Jewish women can give birth to and raise Jewish children! Thanks for speaking the truth Adam. No one in the Jewish community wants to admit that Jewish women are being discriminated and pushed out in favor of gentile women who are incapable of raising Jewish children. Jewish men who hate Jewish women should not be welcomed in the Jewish community. If they choose gentile wives than they should go and raise their gentile family far away from the Jewish community. We don't want or need them!

Yeah, because Jewish women overall are never bossy, controlling or nagging.

Susan, You are confusing the issue ! To my daughter and her friends, they realize that the Reform movement has made them irrelevant. So many men in the Reform Movement have married Gentile women in their congregations that they see that the Jewish woman is no longer desired. They feel that they are not wanted by Reform men. They go to so many weddings where the bride is a blond Irish Catholic, Presbytarian, or Baptist. They see that they are not wanted. Yes, they can be a Rabbi or Cantor but so what when they are not desired ??? They appreciate the traditional role of the Jewish Woman as the bearer of the Jewish Family. It certainly is ironic.
Adam - The message is not that Jewish girls do not matter to Reform Judaism. Jewish girls matter so much, they are able to grow up to become rabbis and be counted in a minyan. What patrilineal descent means is that men don't count for less than women when it comes to passing on Judaism. I don't see any problem with that.
Yet another story promoting Reform patrilineal descent !!! Then topping it off with an insult to Israeli Society !!! Why is Ms. Weiner always writing about Reform politics and intolerance? They made their bed and they can't force the world to adopt their disputed policies and politics. That is life. Ms. Weiner, can you possibly consider using your column to write about something positive? I enjoy reading that the Reform Movement is moving to the Center and is becoming more traditional, re-adopting Jewish customs such as Hebrew Prayers and wearing kippot, talliot and teffillin. My memories of my youth in my Reform Congregation were of english only Bar Mitzvas and no Jewish customs whatsoever. I think that Reform has come a long way. If Reform could only reunify with our tradition of only recognizing the Jewish MOTHER as the bearer of our Religion it would be so empowering to Jewish Girls. Today the message is that Jewish Girls don't matter to Reform Judaism like the other branches of the Jewish People. How ironic.

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