Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gabby Giffords and Patrilineal Descent When It's Desirable

As a Conservative rabbi and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, I cannot officially consider Jewish descent to be determined patrilineally (from the father). In fact, in its "Code of Professional Conduct," the section detailing the responsibilities for membership in the Rabbinical Assembly lists four current standards of religious practice. The first is: "Matrilineality determines Jewish status."

And yet, like many Jews who regard Jewish status to require a Jewish mother or proper conversion, I admit to feeling pride when a Jewish athlete or celebrity is successful, even if their "Jewishness" isn't technically defined by halachic standards. After all, when major league baseball player Ryan Braun won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2007, should the Jewish community have refused to claim the "Hebrew Hammer" as one of our own since only his father is a "Member of the Tribe?" Braun considers himself to be Jewish and his Israeli-born father lost most of his family in the Holocaust.

The 1983 decision by the Reform Movement to recognize Jewish status by either the mother or the father continues to raise questions for the other streams of Judaism. The debate over "Who is a Jew" is back in the headlines following the shooting in Tucson, Arizona that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. For Giffords, the daughter of a mother who is a Christian Scientist and a father who is Jewish and the grandson of a rabbi, there is no question of her Jewishness. She is a proud Jew who is an active member of her Reform congregation. She was married under a chuppah (wedding canopy) by a rabbi, albeit to a non-Jewish man.

This week, as Giffords lay in a hospital recovering from being shot in an assassination attempt by a domestic terrorist, her Hebrew name has circulated the world to be used in the traditional Mi Sheberach prayer for healing. Some rabbis have even questioned whether her non-Jewish mother's name should be part of her Hebrew nomenclature for the prayer, while others have referred to her as Jewish but added the caveat "not halachically speaking." Giffords co-chaired the Jewish Outreach Institute's 2007 conference and is active in her congregation. Yesterday, President Barack Obama called Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, Giffords' rabbi at Congregation Chaverim, to offer his prayers for a speedy recovery for the congresswoman.

Since Saturday's shooting, we've learned quite a bit about Gabrielle Giffords and her Jewish pride. Her paternal grandfather, the son of a Lithuanian rabbi, changed his name to Giff Giffords for anti-Semitic reasons. On her campaign website, Giffords wrote, "Growing up, my family’s Jewish roots and tradition played an important role in shaping my values. The women in my family served as strong role models for me as a girl. In my family, if you want to get something done, you take it to the women relatives! Like my grandmother, I am a lifetime member of Hadassah and now a member of Congregation Chaverim. When I served in the State Senate in Arizona, I had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I will always be a strong supporter of Israel. As the only functioning democracy in the Middle East, Israel is a vital strategic ally of the United States. As a woman and as a Jew, I will always work to insure that the United States stands with Israel to jointly ensure our mutual safety, security, and prosperity."

The Jerusalem Post was the first publication to state emphatically that Giffords' Jewishness shouldn't be questioned. In fact, in their editorial "Learning Judaism From Giffords," they wrote, "With all our desire for a universally accepted definition of 'Who is a Jew?' that would unify the Jewish people, we cannot ignore the complicated reality that many 'non-Jews' are much more Jewish than their 'Jewish' fellows. Congresswoman Giffords is one of them."

In her "In the Mix" blog at The Jewish Week, Julie Wiener wrote of how Giffords' Jewishness is shining a spotlight on the "who is a Jew" debate. In her article, "Plight of the Patrilineals," Weiner cited blogger "Kung Fu Jew," who posted his angry rant on the JewSchool blog about how Giffords is "Jewish enough for the Jewish community to own a side-show of the media circus. Jewish enough to be our martyr, it seems, but not Jewish enough to be treated equally in life." He has a point here. I'm sure many synagogues will offer prayers of healing for Rep. Giffords this Shabbat and recognize her as a Jewish member of Congress, yet they would be violating their own religious policy if they ever called her to the Torah for an aliyah honor.

I really wish we had a consensus on what determines Jewish status through lineage, even if only in the non-Orthodox Jewish community. Certainly, we cannot continue to make an exception for athletes, celebrities, and politicians of Jewish patrilineal descent. I'm in agreement with the Jerusalem Post on this matter. If Rep. Gabrielle Giffords considers herself Jewish because her father is Jewish and she lives a Jewish life, then she's Jewish.

May Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Gavriela bat Gloria v'Spencer) be granted a speedy and complete recovery.


Joel Ungar said...

Excellent post Jason. I've long been troubled by the Reform movement decision to allow patrilineal descent - what if one of my children choses to marry one?

But I agree with your thoughts here. Wishing her and others in need of healing a Refuah Shlemah.

Religion and State in Israel said...

Thank you Rabbi for your insightful post.

An interesting fact often fails to receive mention in this discussion: patrilineal descent has not been accepted by the Reform Movement here in Israel.

On the IMPJ website for Marriage the following is noted: "Movement rabbis do not perform marriage ceremonies for couples who are not Jews according to the Halacha."

Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

1. There *is* a consensus - for everyone but the American Reform movement (Israel's Reform movement does not recognize patrilineal descent).
Nevertheless as you say, we all have some mixed feelings about it: does it count if they were targeted because they were Jewish, even if they're not, if they're celebrities (although our veneration of celebrities makes me enormously uneasy - for all, not just tangentially Jewish, ones)? What if we're proud of them What if we're ashamed of them?

2. I don't think self-identification is quite enough. Jews for Jesus self-identify as Jewish and except for a few nuts, no one agrees that they're Jewish (at least as a group; I'm sure there are a few of them who were actually born of a Jewish mother and would qualify as heretical Jews).
But what *is* enough is what's open to debate.
Maybe we should simply be more open to saying that Judaism has, in many ways, become part of the values that shape -at least some parts- of this country's values. Much as Native American values became part - part that we don't often recognize - of America's value-system, so to, have the Jews made some outsized contributions to what it means to be an American.
I don't know that that means everyone who says they're Jewish is Jewish. But it might mean that all Americans are a little Jewish.

Art Bernstein said...

Great article. My ex-wife was not Jewish and when our daughter wanted to have a bat mitzvah in our conservative synagogue, we took her to an orthodox rabbi and got her legally converted. End of discussion! I wonder why Giffords never did that?

Daniel Horwitz said...

Nice piece Reb Jason. Sue - I suppose my question would be what constitues "resolving her halakhic status?" Is it immersion and conversion by an Orthodox rabbi? If so, which Orthodox rabbi? Would an Orthodox rabbi perform such a conversion for a Reform female who's not looking to or interested in leading a halakhic lifestyle (e.g. kashrut, shomer shabbat, etc.)? Of course not. If she were to go to a Conservative rabbi, the conversion wouldn't be recognized by the Orthodox, so she still wouldn't "universally" be considered Jewish. I think the broader issue here is there is no reason other than "tradition" in today's world (that tradition of course rooting from the notion of "prior in time is prior in might" due to proximity to Sinai) for halakhah to utilize matrilineal as opposed to patrilineal descent, and as a result, I fear that nothing short of a universal Takanah in favor of recognizing that anyone born to a single Jewish parent is halakhically Jewish (which would still be rejected by many I'm sure, and would be near impossible to achieve) will be capable of resolving what has a become a very touchy, politicized issue.

Jeffrey Metz said...

I am no Jewish educator but I do know this, The question of who is a jew, what defines kashrut, whether or not you can drive to synagogue on Shabbat, who can marry who etc... is clearly defined differently depending on what authority you choose to turn to for a definition. In this case I will turn to the only authority that! Gabby Giffords is most certainly a Jew. Because if she is not, I most certainly am not, despite having a Jewish mother.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Sue & Dan: Remember that Giffords is married to a non-Jewish man so just about any rabbi (of any movement) who doesn't consider her halachicly Jewish would likely not be willing to convert her because it would cause an instant interfaith home, although this might just be a technicality. Again it's a complicated situation because of status, self identity, and the interfaith issue. There's also the not so subtle "Hitler would consider her Jewish" card being thrown by those who claim that if she says she's Jewish then she's Jewish.

Arnie said...

As an educator in a Conservative Synagogue, I applaud Rabbi Miller's blog; it no longer questions who is a Jew, but actually answers the question.
Kol Hakavod!

Anonymous said...

Why can't we just say that she is somebody of questionable Jewish status and leave it at that?

May G-d help her, because she needs it.

ParrotSquawk said...

This article raises a philosophical question: Should we be troubled by descent at all? Is halakhah right? Do we really need such a litmus test to admit to calling someone a Jew?

I know that my mother is and grandmothers were practicing Jews, but I take it on faith that they were Jews of blood descent. At what point might I be required to prove this descent? And what purpose might such proof serve?

Have we made defining and declaring oneself “Jewish” too hard to do? Are we on the way to do so? If one lives honestly believing they are Jewish, based on some provable lineage, should we deny them their heritage? Do we need to put an asterisk next to their name as if their record needs additional explanation like some baseball record tainted by steroids? What value does this “proof” hold in this and future generations?

If it walks like a duck and squawks like a duck it may be a Mallard, Muscovy, Scaup or Abacot Ranger but it is still a duck. It might not be the prime choice for Peking (Orthodox) Duck but it is still a member of the Anatidae tribe.

Descendancy is convoluted and hard to trace but they all ACT like ducks and we accept them as such.

Are Jews less than ducks?

I pulllet out all the stops and did my leg and footwork on the web for free so there will be no bill to follow as you explore any quacks in my arguments and follow the path down the road eider one way or the other. I hope this generates no AFLAC from this post. (that’s all the puns I could fit in this closing.)

Kol Tov

Palm Beach

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Miller,
Your arguments have nothing to do with halacha. You didn't make one halachic point, just said, "if someone feels Jewish then they are." I thought as Conservative Rabbi, you would feel bound by halacha. I'm confused how you state the rules of the C movement prevent you from "officially" recognizing patralineal descent. Why are the rules of the rabbinical assembaly more important than halacha? So seem to have no trouble going against that. Are you saying that you think the conservative movement should officially accept matralineal descent? It would seem they could abandon conversions also, since by your argument, if someone "feels Jewish" and says, "I'm Jewish" then they are, so then there is no need for a conversion.
Sorry, Giffords is an amazing woman, but saying "I'm Jewish" and attending a Reform Temple a couple of Saturdays a month does not make one Jewish. The halacha is clear that one with a non-Jewish mother is not Jewish regardless of how they "feel" or "identify" or "were raised." Giffords could convert like any other non-Jew, but a conversion requires an acceptance of mitzvos and Giffords eats treif and does not keep Shabbat.
If the Conservative movement is going to go against halacha, then they are nothing more than Reform with a little more Hebrew in the servicies. I honestly don't see how the position you presented is theologically any different from Reform.
Where have all of the halachic Conservative Jews of my youth gone?

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

This is in response to the most recent "Anonymous" comment:

Thank you for posting your comment. I am really glad you wrote this and EXTREMELY surprised that this is the first comment that raised halacha. I posted this on January 12 and it took a full week for someone to raise the issues you do. That's surprising.

First and foremost, I didn't say that Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish according to halacha. She is not.

Practically speaking, this means that I would:

1) Not officiate at a wedding in which Giffords were the bride;

2) Not allow Giffords to have an aliyah or similar honor;

3) Not allow Giffords to serve as a witness for a Jewish document (e.g., ketubah);

4) Not consider Giffords hypothetical offspring as halachically Jewish.

Is this complicated? Certainly. Jewish status is very complicated because we are both a faith and also an ethnic group. We have rules on who is considered a Jew, but we don't have a consensus on those rules or on who decides them.

Anonymous: When your child gets engaged, how far back will you demand your child's future spouse go back to prove their legitimate Jewish lineage? I know that my great-grandparents were all Jewish, but beyond that I really don't know... do you know how far back you can authenticate your matrilineal Jewish heritage?

So, the bottom line is that I maintain matrilineality in matters of halacha. However, if the great congresswoman from Arizona fighting for her life in a hospital right now maintains that she's Jewish and has a Hebrew name for us to use when praying for her recovery... who am I to criticize that deeply held belief?

There is no halachic restriction for me to say that if Gabby Giffords says she's Jewish, then she is.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Anonymous: By the way, I just want to quote what another Conservative rabbi wrote a few comments before yours:

"Is Gabby Giffords Jewish? Of course she is. She belongs to a synagogue, has a Jewish parent, identifies as Jewish, meets the criteria for Jewishness of a major movement. She's Jewish. Is she halakhically Jewish? Of course not. Her mother wasn't Jewish and she didn't convert. Would I ever say "she's not Jewish"? Of course not" (Rabbi Sue Fendrick).

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

In response to Kol Ra'ash Gadol, another Conservative rabbi, I have to disagree.

She writes: "There *is* a consensus - for everyone but the American Reform movement (Israel's Reform movement does not recognize patrilineal descent)."

This isn't true. If you want to get into denominational differences, then you have to include the Reconstructionist movement which also allows for patrilineal descent and I'm sure other liberal denominations (Renewal) do as well.

That being said, aside from the denominations, there is *NOT* a consensus when it comes to patrilineal descent. Do you want statistics? Here you go:

Page 215 in Jack Werthheimer's Jews in the Center: Conservative Synagogues and Their Members, he gives the following statistic:
Anyone who was raised Jewish -- even if their mother was Gentile and their father was Jewish -- I would personally regard as a Jew 68% agree or agree strongly.

Here's a link to that page in Wertheimer's book.

That means that in the Conservative movement, in which you affiliate and serve as a rabbi, a full 68% of the membership surveyed regard patrilineal descent as authentic for the determination of Jewish status.

Do you really call that a consensus?

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Miller,
How far back I would expect my children's future spouses background to be investigated is not germane to this discussion.
I would discuss that with a rav when it becomes relevant.
I am flabbergasted by the extremety of the Conservative Orwellian double-speak that there is some difference between being Jewish (which Giffords is according to you) and "halachicly Jewish" (which you say she is not.)
They are one and the same. Halacha is the binding socio-religious law of the Jewish people. If some has a non-Jewish mother than they are not Jewish unless they convert.
You state that there is no halachic prohibition affirming that Giffords is Jewish if she says she is. That is incorrect.
It is halachicly forbidden becuase to say that she is Jewish is not true and is a lie. It is generally speaking except in certain circumstances, forbidden by halacha to lie.
If Giffords says she is Jewish, it is because she is misinformed about what the Jewish religion believes, but you are familiar with halacha and if you claim that she is Jewish when halacha states otherwise you are deliberately mis-representing halachah.
No one is asking you to "critize her deeply held belief." But her deeply held beliefs do not change reality, and the fact of the matter is that according to the Jewish religions own definitions of who is Jewish, she is not Jewish. Just because the Reform movement has mislead her into thinking that self-identifying as Jewish makes one Jewish, does not change the fact, that such a definition has no precident in our history
I think it is interesting that another great politician from Arizona Barry Golderwater also had a Jewish father, but neither he nor anyone at the time ever cliaimed he was Jewish, becuase back then, before the Reform worked their spin, even non-Jews understood the concept of matrileneal descent in Judaism.
If 68% of Conservative Jews beleive in patralineal descent, how long will it be before the leadership approves it, just like they do on every issue the laity want?
Then the last difference between Conservative and Reform will vanish and the movements will merge.

Rabbi Irwin Kula said...

In our networked open source world with increasing numbers of mixers, blenders, benders, and switchers, and diminished institutional reach and authority, "Who is a Jew" is of diminishing interest to increasing numbers.

I am always more interested in the emerging markets than existing markets, but as a pluralist I appreciate insiders arguing their positions.

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky said...

It's time to open up a variety of approaches to conversion and validate all of them. We have spent too long keeping people out. Now it is time to welcome them in. Right now, the only option is religious conversion, but what about the many Jews who identity through other means. And if Rabbi Kula is right, and I believe he is, and Judaism has entered the marketplace of ideas, then we have to be willing to validate other paths in.

Ben Plonie said...

I am Orthodox, and what I said on a site that reproduced this article is as follows:

"Orthodox Jewish status is based on God’s will as expressed in Torah law regarding Israelite citizenship. Movements questioning God’s existence, Torah authority or Jewish nationhood cannot adopt consistent and meaningful guidelines. We may like and admire and respect and appreciate the Congresswoman without disrespecting our own convictions, as I am sure she would agree. So ‘Jewish enough?’? For what?"

You said: "Jewish status is very complicated because we are both a faith and also an ethnic group. We have rules on who is considered a Jew, but we don't have a consensus on those rules or on who decides them."

But meaningful Jewish status is an objective legal matter, and neither ethnicity or culture meet legal tests as distinctions. That should uncomplicate things.

Some nations follow patrilineal citizenship, some matrilineal, some both and some either. Jewish (Israelite) law follows matrilineal citizenship and patrilineal inheritance. There has been a consensus among all of the Jews of history about this. As an eternal nation, no assembly of a given time or place can disenfranchise Jews of the past. Jewish law does not evolve so much as become refined. There are no honorary categories; they would disrupt the legal framework.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...


You wrote, "I think it is interesting that another great politician from Arizona Barry Golderwater also had a Jewish father, but neither he nor anyone at the time ever cliaimed he was Jewish."

Not so. Barry Goldwater was once denied entry to the golf course of an "exclusive" country club, he protested, "But I'm only half Jewish! Can't I play nine holes?"

Unknown said...

You have done a wonderful service in re-opening an ancient debate from a fresh perspective. Your willingness to acknowledge Gabrielle Giffords as Jewish even if not halachically so, is laudably liberal, but then in responding to Anonymous you list four ways in which you would exclude her and her many similarly situated Jews. As a Rabbi in the Conservative movement you are bound by rules that require such discrimination, but that makes it no less discriminatory. By such rigidity, we relegate our "halachically challenged" fellow Jews to second-class citizenship. We accept their dues and their hard work, their companionship and their contribution, but don't let them up on the bimah. We may rationalize our actions and our restrictions in many ways, but so long as we do, we will be driving away far too many fellow Jews of mixed or complicated lineage. It is our loss, too, for often among those who have come to judge these distinctions as petty and even counterproductive are some of the brightest and most active Jews in our communities. Like Gabby Giffords.

Unknown said...

I must say that something, a fresh ruach, may definitely be in the air if conservative and traditional Rabbis are seriously discussing breaking down barriers, and at least some of them are willing to go beyond boring repetition of sectarian interpretations of particular branches of Judaism. I encountered this excellent blog posting when it was reprinted by the Jewish Journal. My own closely related piece "A Jew by Any Other Name," appeared in the Journal back in November. I am heartened by your article and the generosity and open-mindedness exhibited by some of your commenters and discouraged by others who seem incapable of doing much more than hammering Halacha 101.

Being neither a Rabbi nor a sage, I am not qualified to argue the fine points in this debate; my perspective is as a principled pragmatist. How groups define their boundaries and the conditions of inclusion and exclusion is intimately tied with their long term viability, meaning not merely survival, but also growth and vitality. I am a member of a Conservative synagogue and serve on its Board. Our congregation is a close community but geographically dispersed and very diverse, with members spread across the full spectrum from Orthodox to Reform and Reconstructionist, with a smattering of Humanists and Jewish Renewals thrown in for spice. I suspect that fully a third or more of our membership, including many of the most active and engaged contributors to synagogue life, might be considered “halachically challenged,” though they are committed, affiliated Jews—which places them within a shrinking minority among the increasingly secular and often disaffected Jews in America.

If we, the Jews of today’s world, are to thrive and grow as a group, we definitely need to revisit and most likely reinterpret the interpretations and commentaries that surely suited the world in which they arose but may be ill-suited to these and the coming times.

My novels (under my pen name, Lior Samson are written with a definite Jewish point of view and a strong subtext that explores issues of identity—ethnic, cultural, religious, and political. These are important to me in part because I think the questions around who is what are potential keys to issues and challenges the human race faces in the coming centuries. I believe deeply in the value of the Jewish perspective, a point of view the world sorely needs. I want to see it carried forward, l’dor v’dor, grounded in tradition but also enriched by invention. Frankly, I think we Jews need all the help we can get and should welcome all comers willing to stand up and be counted.

Do keep writing and getting us all thinking along new lines.

Jerrold L. Terdiman MD said...

Dear Rabbi Miller,

When I discussed with friends my differences with your perceptions and attitudes regarding Ms. Giffords' Jewishness some thought I was brewing a "tempest in a teapot". However, I think our differences are important because they reflect the confusion rampant in the Jewish world regarding "who (or what) is a Jew"

.As a traditional Jew, I cling to the Halacha which states in the clearest terms that a Jew is an individual who is born of a Halachicaly Jewish mother or has been converted per Halacha. A Jew by birth and a sincere proselyte are Jews forever regardless of SUBSEQUENT beliefs and/or behavior. This would include falling away from Jewish practice/beliefs or even converting to another faith. A Halachic Jew or Jewess along with their descendents remain Jews even if he/she has forgotten/rejected their Jewish heritage.

I acknowledge that I have referred to Ms. Giffords as a "Jewess" because I instinctively feel that she possesses a Jewish soul. Parenthetically, many have held the belief that a sincere and Halachic proselyte ALWAYS had a Jewish soul for which the mystical conversion procedure allows full expression. However, the Halacha states (and I accept) that this individual is NOT a Jew/Jewess unless and until a Halachic conversion has been completed.

I don't wish to be argumentative and I certainly do not claim to be an expert in these matters. I only wish to understand your thinking. If you consider Ms. Giffords to be a true Jewess, why would you decline to officiate at her child's wedding? Ms. Giffords might ask you to reconcile this apparent contradiction some day. My logic prevents me from considering a person to BE a Jew and NOT a Jew simultaneously.

I acknowledge that she identifies herself as a Jewess. She is entitled to her own thoughts. In my thinking, this places her in the category of a misinformed Judaphile. I know some knowledgeable Judaphiles. None claim to be Jewish. In my opinion, to deny Jewish identity to a non converted Judaphile is NOT an insult. I would not be offended if a sincere Christian denied me Christian identity (regardless of admiration for the Christian religion) until and unless I underwent baptism.

The "who is a Jew" issue is NOT complicated when one holds with Halacha. Ms. Giffords can know or have explained to her that full Halachic Jewish status is accessible to her when she undergoes a Halachic conversion and assumes the responsibilities contained therein.

This situation is comparable to that of an alien who greatly admires all things American. He/she REMAINS an alien until naturalization as defined and dictated by our Constitution has been completed.

Separate from all this, I must say that I am VERY proud of Ms. Giffords because in my estimation she is a courageous, righteous person who is dedicated to the welfare of all her constituents and her country.

I indeed wish that she might consider a Halachic conversion. Regardless, I greatly admire her and wish her a speedy, complete refua shelema. I recite Mishaberach for her using her given name and that of her mother.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Jason Miller - I stumbled upon your blog last night and found it refreshing.

I am not Jewish according to Halacha however I am of Jewish descent on both sides of my family. The issue for me and my children is that I can't prove the paper trail.

My father's family descends from those who fled Spain during the Inquisition and has a long held tradition of being Sephardic.

My mother's family is a bit more complicated however there is that same held belief of having Jews within the family.

There are many of us who are descendants of Jews; who would like to be welcomed more, then we currently are - when we wish to return to Judaism. Some, not all, are treated like second class citizens because our families have broken chains of Jewishness...

I am no Rabbi but I do believe the Jewish Community as a whole needs to extend more olive branches to new converts and those of us who wish to return. The Jewish Community needs to heal I feel before we can move forward.

I consider myself Jewish as does my mother - despite not being so according to Halacha. Right now I do not live close to any Synagogues but in the future, G-d willing, I will be and then will undergo a formal conversion.

Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg said...

In his Community View “Is Gabby
Giffords Jewish Enough?” (Jan. 27, page 22), Rabbi Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi, states: “I am in agreement with the Jerusalem Post on this matter. If Rep. Giffords considers herself Jewish
because her father is Jewish, and she lives a Jewish life, then she’s Jewish.”

Rabbi Miller’s position underscores
the great disparity that exists within his own movement concerning something as fundamental as the issue of “who is a Jew?” After all, the official position of the Conservative movement is that Judaism is matrilineal — i.e., a person is Jewish if his/her mother is Jewish or if she/he has converted to Judaism — neither
condition which is met by Ms. Giffords.

Rabbi Shlomo Amar, chief rabbi of
Israel who is in charge of conversions in Israel, is doing all he can to maintain the halachic (Jewish law) criteria that determine “who is a Jew?”

Unfortunately, many powerful Jewish American organizations and spokesmen continue to undermine the efforts in Israel to maintain Halachah as the criterion for conversion to Judaism, when they themselves have no consensus as to what should be proper standards for conversion.

Nobody denies that Gabby Giffords
is an exceptional person, and that what happened to her is tragic. We wish her a refuah shleimah — a complete recovery — very soon. But that doesn’t make her Jewish. And that’s OK. We don’t claim that one has to be Jewish to be special.

Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg
West Bloomfield

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Rabbi Silberberg,

In response to your letter in the Jewish News about my article, you should know that I don't consider Rep. Giffords to be Jewish according to Halakhah. She is not. I wouldn't officiate at the marriage of her children, etc.

However, if she wants to claim she's Jewish, I'm not going to stop her from claiming that. If other people want to call her Jewish, I'm not going to stop them (any more than you can stop people from saying she's Jewish).

The problem with the publication of my article beyond its original publication on my Blog is that the comments section is not there. I encourage you to take a look at my blog and scroll down to the comments section.

As I explain there, the issue of Jewish lineage and status is that the Jewish people are both a faith and a people/ethnic group. We do not (contrary to your opinion perhaps) have a consensus on who gets into the "club" and who doesn't. In fact, we don't even have a consensus on who has the authority to say who is in and who isn't (You may say it's Rabbi Amar, but many Jews in all denominations will not agree with that).


Rabbi Miller

Laurel Stuart-Fink said...

In one sentence in his Community
View article “Is Gabby Giffords
Jewish Enough?” (Jan. 27, page
22), Rabbi Jason Miller manages to
disenfranchise from the Jewish community every Orthodox Jew in the world when he shares his wish that “we had a consensus on what
determines Jewish status through lineage, even if only in the non-Orthodox Jewish community.”

I am no rabbi and will not address
halachic (Jewish law) issues, leaving that to more capable minds. But I am an American citizen, deeply proud of my country and those who serve her, such as Congresswoman Giffords. I identify
with her as an American and as a citizen. She is as much “mine’’ as she is my gentile neighbor’s. We are all part of the same community of American citizens.

Laurel Stuart-Fink
West Bloomfield

Anonymous said...

In the Book of Numbers (Torah) when the "whole of the congregation" went forth to fight for the Nation of Israel a census was performed and they were enumerated by the scribes in the following manner:
"Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their polls;" (Numbers 1:2)
"And they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they declared their pedigrees after their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, by their polls." (Numbers 1:18)
So if Moses was to take a census today Gabby Giffords would be included in the "congregation of the children of Israel". Also Israel (aka. Jacob) is our founding Patriarch who were claim "inheritance" from. To exclude those who are in "congregation of the children of Israel" is a sin against the commandment to "Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:18)
The Torah says more than I ever could and in these hard times we must support and love our brothers and sisters and not bear false grudges against them because we are spiteful that their fathers have married a stranger. Jospeh, Moses and Boaz (father of David) married strangers. According to the Book of Ruth all the strange women need do is take the Our G-d as her G-d our people as her people and agree to raise a Jewish family. Trust me, most women who love a man enough to marry them would be more than willing to do this if we did not hate them so much. By creating false divisions within our own kind we have made ourselves weaker than we need to be. In light of the Holocaust and the current hate campaings against the State of Israel this is unacceptable.

Unknown said...

I love this post. Implicit in it is a point about what is distinct about the Reform and Conservative memberships in the U.S. (as opposed to Israel or elsewhere) - that they are Americans. American culture is such that we want to count others as being in the fold with us, insofar as those others want it too. It's just our nature. Especially when it comes to baseball.