Bloodline B.S. and Halakhic Hysterics

The opening paragraph to an article on the YNet site reads:

In the next generation, a significant part – which may even be the majority of ‘US Jewry’ – will not be Jewish according to the Halacha, in light of the growing dimensions of intermarriage throughout the past few decades.

Delight in the scare quotes–‘US Jewry’–and enjoy the derision and condescension that shines through this article. And, while you’re at it, note the slight of hand YNet plays, saying that the diagnosis comes not from some Orthodox authority but from a scholar at Bar-Ilan University.

Let’s break this down a bit, shall we?

Bar-Ilan University is relatively well known for taking relatively traditional Jewish approaches to things; if ever there was a school that took up the Torah u’Madda approach of modern Orthodoxy, it’s Bar-Ilan.

Dr. Ferziger, the scholar whose work is discussed in the article, is for his part an Orthodox Jew, and trained at Yeshiva University and at Bar-Ilan. He has rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University. Among the programs in which he has participated? “Training American Orthodox Rabbis to Play a Role in Confronting Assimilation: Programs, Methodologies and Directions.”

So, actually, the diagnosis does come from an Orthodox-oriented authority. And those scare quotes around “US Jewry” are telling.

What do they tell us? They say that, so long as we in the liberal Jewish world continue to respect the barriers of entry into Jewish life and identity that the portions of the Jewish world that place halakhah at the center of the definition of Jewish identity, we will forever be viewed as second-class. Those who strongly identify as Jewish, though they might not qualify under the increasingly crabbed halakhic definition of Jewish, will continue to be turned away. Most of them will not return.

This really has moved beyond the point of “live and let live.” It is time for liberal Jewish groups to actually assert themselves in the marketplace of ideas. It is time for liberal Jewish groups to assert the power of the Jewish people to change what Judaism is, and to talk about the Jewish people as they are–not as how one-half of the Israeli Jewish population and one-tenth of the American Jewish population wish them to be.

If you think otherwise, explain why we should question the bona fides of someone like this. Explain how insisting on a strict halakhic definition is for the good of the single body of k’lal Yisrael–unless you think k’lal Yisrael should be far smaller than it is now.

It is beyond time that we assert that “patrilineal Jews” are Jews, full stop, and that Jewish identity is bigger than, and different from, having a Jewish mother or having a halakhic conversion.

The sooner we do, and the sooner we recognize Jewish identity is something beyond the crabbed boundaries of halakhah, the sooner we can get back to growing Jewish life and not obsessing about the “assimilation” that marks the success of Jews in America.

This is one of the central messages of Secular Humanistic Judaism. If you agree, consider joining us.

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