Patrilineals And Passover
04/23/2012 - 11:10


One of the fun things about writing a blog is balancing the dueling pressure between Must Post Often and Must Say Something Compelling.

Generally I try to err on the Say Something Compelling, or At Least Moderately Interesting side. However, sometimes that, particularly when combined with competing demands on my time and brain, means being a completely delinquent blogger. For which, I apologize. I’m going to try to be a bit better in the coming weeks.

One thing you might have missed in the vast time in which I didn’t blog here:  I highly recommend David A.M. Wilensky’s thoughtful op-ed on being a patrilineal Jew and his difficult decision, as he became more active in a Conservative congregation, to undergo an official conversion. Wilensky, who is the editor of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, makes a strong pitch to the Conservative movement to begin recognizing patrilineal descent, accepting children with a gentile mother and Jewish father:

When reality, reason and the changing worldview of the Jews in the pews have called, the Conservative movement has managed to trot out new Halacha that changes the previously unchangeable.

It is time for them to do that again; 1983 was a long time ago. We are growing up, we are starting families and, yes, some of us would like to join your synagogues.

The Rabbinical Assembly of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism should accept patrilineal descent: I am Exhibit A! It is hemorrhaging members, while bolstering barriers to entry. There are others out there who are like me: We crave the combination of progressive thinking and traditional ritual life that can be found, in many places, only in Conservative congregations.

Wilensky’s story, along with his role in Jewish journalism, reminded me of J Editor Sue Fishkoff’s great essay, "My Family Tree Is Loaded With Tinsel," a few months ago, which probably didn’t get the attention it deserved because it came amid a flood of Jews & Christmas commentary. Like Wilensky, Fishkoff, grew up patrilineal and had a halachic conversion as an adult; I would argue that, had the Reform movement not recognized patrilineal descent, and had their families been rejected when they were growing up, neither would have grown up to be the knowledgeable and active members of the Jewish community they are now.

On another note, here’s the scoop on Passover in In The Mix-ville:

My family participated in two very informal and nontraditional seders. (Because, as those who read the comments to my blog know, I push a “pro-intermarriage, radical, secular, anti-Orthodox agenda” that is all about “having Jews assimilate” and making “Orthodox Judaism obsolete.”)

The first seder I threw together at the last minute just for Joe and the kids, and the second night we went to a cousin’s home on Long Island — where 8-year-old Ellie had a blast directing a short play (well, really a staged reading) she’d written about the exodus from Egypt.

It’s been fun in recent years to develop some of our own family traditions for the seder and to let the kids have some planning input. We use the Haggadah Ellie and I made together two years ago (although I think next year, we’ll update it with more sophisticated language and artwork and give 5-year-old Sophie more of a role), play the Shalom Sesame “Les Matza-rables” video when it’s time to hide the afikomen and play the G-dcast “Four Sons” video. We also play Louis Armstrong’s version of “Go Down Moses,” and Dafna Israel-Kotok’s version of “Dayenu.”

This year we added a seder plate that Sophie made in Hebrew school and also started a tradition, which I heard about from Eden Village Camp Director Yoni Stadlin and the girls insisted we do, called the “decoy afikomen”: in addition to hiding the afikomen, we also wrap thin books and other non-matzah items, hiding them in more obvious spots.

I must confess that, because the kids love searching for hidden things (they’re also avid berry-pickers) and because we didn’t want to cut ourselves off from our apartment-building community, we also attended the annual Easter egg hunt in our apartment-complex’s garden: which basically consisted of my kids gathering even more candy than they did at Halloween, and us amassing an annoying collection of plastic eggs (which were immediately scattered around the living room floor and then accidentally stepped on).

No doubt, some commenters here will criticize me for allowing the kids to join in the egg-stravaganza, but, do rest assured, it wasn’t exactly an Easter mass or even an Easter dinner. There weren’t even any bunnies. And I did draw the line at decorating our own eggs at home, something Sophie wanted to do. (I was actually relieved when she got to decorate an egg at her after-school program, since it took some of the pressure off me.)

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Patrilineal Judaism is not an originally American Reform idea coming from the Protestant faith, instead it is where all Jews have roots - the era of the Torah itself. Judaism did not stop following patrilineal descent and begin following matrilineal descent until the second fall of the Roman temple.

I believe Conservative Judaism will accept patrilineal descent in my lifetime.


Dear Julie: As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, I thoroughly enjoyed your humor in this post about your children's Pesach and their participation in a secular Easter egg hunt.

I also was pleased to see your commendation of David Wilensky's essay on his life as a patrilineal Jew.

I am sorry that the other commenters on your article are still so unwelcoming to half-Jewish people participating in Judaism.


Julie - One does not have to be Orthodox to dismiss the idea of patrilineal descent. David W.'s article was charming and his reaction is understandable. He grew up as a Jew and this is his identity. However, even in the eyes of all other liberal Jewish groups outside America David would not be considered a Jew. As I am sure you know the concept of patrilineal Jew is mostly an American Reform idea which in turn is under heavy influence of Protestant America. But one is not a Jew just because s/he f e e l s like one. Judaism is - and you may like it or not - based on Halacha. Everything we do, from lighting candles to praying from the siddur, is based on Jewish Law. So, NO the Conservative Movement, despite its problems, should NOT do what David suggest. Instead, we should work on bringing people into the fold. David's Conservative rabbi did the right thing. As far as I can tell his conversion was a kind of giyur l'chumra, a "just in case" conversion, to make sure he is a kosher Jew. Our divisions are worse enough as it is, we don't need to add to it.


Always easy for those who don't have to worry about converting to have an attitude of: this is how it is, get over it. Not very compassionate or understanding, and doesn't serve to bring people in. Further, it was Mr. Wilensky who sought to convert, not the Rabbi of the conservative congregation who wouldn't have known if it had not been said.

I'm not sure that the Reform movement's decision regarding partilineal descent is a good thing. William Cohen, the former Republican Senator from Maine and Secretary of Defense, wrote of how painful it was to discover, rather suddenly, that he was not as Jewish as he thought himself because of his Gentile mother. I believe that in many cases it creates more problem than it solves and that the potential damage and down the line may be quite significant.

This has one of several decision by the Reform and Conservative movements that have widen the rift that they have with each other and with Orthodoxy.

Yes, but even if a woman converts, Orthodoxy doesn't recognize Reform or Conservative conversions. And I doubt the reform movement saying no would have stopped the wave of intermarriage that came in the later half of the 20th Century which is a phenomenon of American Society that would have happened anyway.

I am confused by your parenthetical: (Because, as those who read the comments to my blog know, I push a “pro-intermarriage, radical, secular, anti-Orthodox agenda” that is all about “having Jews assimilate” and making “Orthodox Judaism obsolete.”). Were you being faceitious or simply stating the obvious? Virtually every one of your blog entries seeks to justify and advocates for acceptance of inter-marriage. This seems to be your particular hangup, which you choose to air in a public medium (hello, Jewish week, don't you have any more interesting and informative blogs to publish?) perhaps as a cheap alternative to therapy.

So yes, it is quite apparent and beyond argument that you do in fact push a pro-intermarriage agenda. You're happy in your intermarried life! Great and good for you. Now please either find something else to write about or kindly stop wasting everyone's time.

Mordechai, Yes, I was being facetious. I have no interest in encouraging intermarriage, nor am I anti-Orthodox. Also no interest in making Orthodox Judaism obsolete or having Jews assimilate (although doubtless you and I have different definitions of assimilation). My agenda, if I have one, is to share the intermarried perspective, one that is not often represented in mainstream Jewish publications.  Is hostility toward this blog YOUR particular "hangup" and is posting comments here a cheap alternative to therapy for you? I don't quite see how I am wasting anybody's time, as no one is required to read this blog. best, Julie