For numerous reasons related to historical circumstance and the desire to make membership in the Jewish people something of value, Rabbinic Judaism has for centuries prescribed that Jewish identity was determined by one’s birth mother not father. Those not born to a Jewish mother regardless of their upbringing or who their father was were not Jewish according to Jewish law and could only become Jewish by following a very regimented, intense conversion process.
Today, a majority of Jews outside of the Orthodox Jewish world are marrying non Jews. While many interfaith couples choose to have a Jewish family life and raise their children as Jews, the vast majority of intermarried couples do not.
- How can we who are committed to Jewish survival address this dilemma?
- Should cultural affiliations and identify be enough to include someone in the Jewish community?
- Should patrilineal descent be acceptable?
- Does it make sense to disenfranchise people who are not Jewish according to Jewish law but who personally identify as Jews?
- What role if any should Jewish law continue to play in determining who is a Jew?
- Does it make sense that a person born of Jewish mother who has no interest in or affiliation with the Jewish community still has membership status while someone intrinsically engaged with Jewish life who is not “halachically” (according to Jewish law) Jewish is still considered a non-member?
- Do we dare risk eroding the value of Jewish identity by making “membership” easier obtain?
- How do we ensure the survival of the Jewish people when 90%+ are of the world Jewish community does not embrace traditional Jewish law? Can we ask the potential affiliate to do more than everyone else?