The subject of “who is a Jew?” is very complex. This essay will be updated from time to time, as we learn more.
THE HEBREW BIBLE ON THE QUESTION
Intermarriage is described in two completely conflicting ways in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament). On the one hand, some stories and commandments explicitly forbid intermarriage (Deuteronomy 7:3-5), and these attitudes result in the exile or death of children of intermarriage. Example of this approach are contained in Leviticus 24:10-23, Ezra 9:1-3 and Ezra 10:1-44.
Other stories in the Tanach suggest that intermarriage is OK, and that the children and grandchildren of intermarriage are good for Judaism. Two examples of this approach are the Biblical books of Ruth and Esther.
Many of the stories in the Tanach appear to suggest that a person in Biblical Israel was considered to be a Jew if that person had a Jewish mother or a Jewish father, and was raised as a Jew. On the other hand, some hereditary honors, such as rank as a Cohen or a Levite, passed to offspring only through a Jewish father, leading some historians to believe that the Biblical Jews actually followed only patrilineal descent.
The Hebrew Bible, therefore, reflects multiple views of intermarriage and the Jewish status of half-Jewish people.
CHRISTIANITY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT
The Christian New Testament has a more unified approach to half-Jewish people. St. Timothy, a follower of St. Paul, had a Jewish mother and grandmother who converted to Christianity and a pagan Greek father. He was circumcised as an adult simply to avoid trouble with the Jewish communities that he and St. Paul visited (Acts 16:3) because many Jews knew that St. Timothy’s father was a Greek.
The primary rule for Christianity’s treatment was laid down in the epistles of St. Paul, who argued that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).
St. Paul urged Christians married to “unbelievers” to remain in those intermarriages because “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (I Corinthians 7:14, NIV Version). See “Christianity” within this essay for more information about the history of Christians and half-Jewish people.
THE TALMUDIC MATRILINEAL RULE
At some point in the Roman Empire era, when the Talmud, the original code of Jewish religious law, was being assembled, the Jewish rabbinic elite apparently changed the Jewish descent rules to a matrilineal rule — only the child of a Jewish mother, or the grandchild of a maternal Jewish grandmother, etc., would be considered to be a “real” Jew.
Erroneous Jewish folklore claims that: (1) it was done to protect Jewish women raped by non-Jews or (2) that the change was made because the identity of the child’s mother was usually known in pre-scientific eras, but the true biological father’s identity could be concealed. However, there does not appear to be any scholarly support for these folk myths.
There are many speculations on why the Talmudic rabbis adopted matrilineal descent, but none of them appear conclusive. The Talmudic rabbis apparently imposed an interpretation on Deuteronomy 7:3-5 that reinterprets the plain sense of the passage — a direct ban on all intermarriages — to work in recognition of matrilineal descent that does not appear in the original language. It is not known why they did this. One strand of scholarship suggests that this was done to reflect Roman civil law, where the status of the mother determined the child’s status. The Jews were ruled by the Romans during the Talmudic era.
MATRILINEAL RULE OFTEN IGNORED
A close reading of Jewish history shows that matrilineal descent was never accepted and practiced 100% — for example, the ancient Jewish communities of Kaifeng, China and possibly Ethiopia are thought to have begun when male Jewish traders settled in those countries, married local women, and began raising families.
Some communities openly accepted a patrilineal rule for “who is a Jew?” instead of a matrilineal rule. Both the Jews of the Karaite sect and the Jews of Kaifeng, China, followed patrilineal instead of matrilineal descent. Jewish communities frequently ignored the matrilineal descent rule when it was convenient.
In medieval Spain, some Jewish men, emulating their Muslim neighbors, kept multiple wives who were Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and the children seem to have been raised as Jews.
Many 20th century pre-Holocaust Jewish communities in Europe and America seem to have openly or covertly ignored the matrilineal rule and treated some Jewish-identified offspring of intermarriage as Jews, or as partly-Jewish Christians, regardless of whether they had a Jewish mother or a Jewish father.
For example, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, was married to Julie Naschauer, who was apparently the patrilineal granddaughter of an intermarriage. Though raised as a Jew, she was probably not Jewish according to the matrilineal descent rule, making her three children by Herzl patrilineal great-grandchildren of intermarriage, and non-Jews in the eyes of the Israeli state that he helped found.
Ironically, two of Herzl’s three children and his one grandchild are buried near him in Israel, despite Orthodox rules against the burial of patrilineals in Jewish cemeteries, while thousands of patrilineals currently living in Israel are told that they will never be buried inside Jewish cemeteries unless they convert to Orthodox Judaism.
HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE IN CHRISTIANITY
During the Middle Ages, the children of Jewish-Christian intermarriages were usually – though not always – raised as Christians, though their Christian neighbors might sometimes be suspicious of their commitment to Christianity.
Some Christian towns and countries had laws severely punishing Jews and Christians who dated each other or intermarried, including death penalty laws. Other Christian communities were tolerant of these families, regardless of whether the children were raised as Christians or Jews.
As the Christians entered active warfare between the Protestants and the Catholics during the Renaissance and Reformation eras, two ways of treating interfaith families developed.
Catholic Spain and its colonies placed interfaith couples and descendants of intermarriage under the surveillance of the Inquisition. Families which seemed to “Judaize” – relapse into Judaism – were persecuted. Families which committed to Catholicism were usually tolerated.
For example, St. Teresa of Avila, a famous Roman Catholic mystic, was the patrilineal grandchild of intermarriage, and honored for her profound spiritual teachings and leadership, but her Jewish grandfather had been persecuted as a Jew after his intermarriage to one of her Christian grandmothers. St. Teresa’s family kept quiet about their partly-Jewish ancestry, and it is not mentioned in her famous autobiography.
On the other hand, Protestant and Muslim countries were generally tolerant of their Jewish citizens. Most Jews who intermarried in Protestant countries converted to Christianity and raised their children as Christians.
Raul Wallenberg, the Swedish ambassador to Hungary in WWII, saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, was the great-great-grandchild of a German Jew who immigrated to Sweden, intermarried and converted to Lutheranism. Wallenberg was very aware of his Jewish background and referred to himself as “half a Jew” and “half a Wallenberg.”
HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE IN ISLAM
Jews fled Spain in large numbers after 1492 to go live in the Muslim Ottoman empire, which dominated most of the Arab world. While both Jews and Christians were second-class citizens in the Islamic world, the Jews were usually not subjected to the persecution that marked the Christian Middle Ages and the Catholic countries after the Middle Ages. The Ottoman empire regarded the Jews as valuable professionals and traders.
It is our current understanding that under the Islamic religious law, Sharia, a child is considered as belonging to the religion of the father. We are told that Muslim men are allowed to intermarry, but not Muslim women, though there are instances where Muslim women have defied this rule to marry non-Muslim men, including Jewish men.
Under Sharia, the child of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother is considered to be a Muslim. Ironically, Orthodox Jewish law views that same child as a Jew. Concurrently, the child of a Muslim woman and a Jewish man would be considered Jewish by the Muslims and Muslim by Orthodox Jewish law.
There are adult children of Jewish Israelis intermarried to Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians. Their lives have been made very difficult by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For information about the adult children of Jewish Israelis intermarried to Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians, see our “Israel” page on this website.
The Half-Jewish Network also hears from the adult half-Jewish people descended from Jewish-Islamic intermarriages in various countries, particularly those living in the United States and Canada. Half-Jewish people descended from Jewish-Islamic intermarriages living in Muslim societies appear to keep a low profile.
HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE IN THE HOLOCAUST
During the Holocaust, the Nazis focused on destroying people with two Jewish parents first. Half-Jewish people were subjected to a complex set of discriminatory rules, under which some of them were treated as “real” Germans, and others were condemned, and sometimes executed, as Jews.
The Nazi regime was gradually tightening the noose on descendants of intermarriage during WWII, and it is likely that had WWII lasted longer, many Jewish spouses of interfaith couples and their children and grandchildren would have been killed, sterilized and/or subjected to additional punitive legal measures. See “Holocaust” below in this essay and our “Holocaust” page on our website.
The end of the Holocaust coincided with an upsurge of nationalism in the Arab world, in which Arab countries threw off their white European colonizers. The Arabs saw the state of Israel as a last attempt to plant a white European colony in the Middle East and bitterly resented the expulsion of many Palestinians from what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Some Arab communities were influenced by Nazi propaganda against the Jews; others were angered by the stories of the thousands of Palestinian refugees who poured across their borders after Israeli troops drove them from their homes.
Many Arab states declared war on Israel and began persecution of their Jewish citizens with whom they had lived in peace for many centuries. Thousands of Jews were forced to abandon their property and businesses in Arab countries and flee to Israel and other countries. Half-Jewish people remaining in Arab countries appear to have started concealing their mixed parentage, as publicly acknowledging it might endanger them.
CURRENT “WHO IS A JEW” VIEWPOINTS
After WWII, the intermarriage rates worldwide began climbing dramatically. At the present time, our situation in the Jewish, Christian and other communities is very complex. We are considered “Jewish” by some communities and not others, depending on a growing and conflicting body of rules that vary from one religion and country to the next:
1. Orthodox Judaism — does not consider us Jewish unless we have a biological Jewish mother, maternal Jewish grandmother, or maternal Jewish great-grandmother (mother’s mother’s mother, etc.) The child of a woman converted to Judaism by Orthodox ritual before the child’s birth is considered to be a Jew.
It does not matter if the matrilineal descendant of intermarriage was raised as a non-Jewish secular or in another faith-based culture. Only that person’s bloodline counts.
All patrilineal adult children and other descendants of intermarriage must convert by Orthodox ritual, even if they were raised as Jews. The Orthodox do not recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox Jewish groups, and some ultra-Orthodox groups dispute the legitimacy of conversions performed by other Orthodox groups.
Some Orthodox Jews, mostly Modern Orthodox, have suggested that patrilineal children and other descendants of intermarriage be considered “zerua Yisrael” — seed of Israel — a halachic term for people with some Jewish descent — and given easier Orthodox conversions to Judaism than people with no Jewish blood.
2. Israel — Israel has a “bait-and-switch” policy towards us. Under the Law of Return, all children and grandchildren of intermarriage, whether patrilineal or matrilineal, are welcome to become Israeli citizens provided they practice only Judaism.
Half-Jewish people who identify as Christians or members of other faiths can apply for Israeli citizenship, but they are not given the special immigration assistance or priority that half-Jewish people who identify as Jews are given. They are treated as if they had no Jewish blood at all.
All children and grandchildren of intermarriage can serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), pay taxes, and vote. But half-Jewish people who go to live in Israel soon discover that Israel also has deeply ingrained negative laws and policies discriminating against half-Jewish people.
Only matrilineal Jews receive the designation “Jew,” and they must have paperwork proof that their mother was a Jew or had an Orthodox conversion to Judaism. If a matrilineal Jew does not have sufficient paperwork regarding having a Jewish mother, that person may be declared a non-Jew.
If the Jewish parent of a matrilineal or patrilineal Jew converts to Christianity or another faith, that half-Jewish person does not have the “right of return” to Israel anymore. A child or grandchild of an “apostate” (meshumad) may apply to immigrate to Israel as a non-Jew, but is not guaranteed citizenship, unlike those whose Jewish parent remained Jewish.
Only matrilineal Israeli Jews can marry other Jews in Israel, and be married and buried in Jewish ceremonies there. Some matrilineal Jews report being accepted in Israeli society; others report social discrimination.
Patrilineal Jews are not considered Jewish. They are considered to be Jews only if they undergo Orthodox conversions. It is our understanding that patrilineal Israeli Jews must go abroad to get married legally, are buried “beyond the wall” of Jewish graveyards, and are not designated as Jews in dealing with the Israeli bureaucracy, unless they undergo an Orthodox conversion.
Orthodox Judaism is the only form of Judaism legally recognized in Israel. Reform, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox Jewish movements have synagogues in Israel, but their life cycle ceremonies (conversions, marriages, baby namings, etc.) have no legal effect under Israeli law.
Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements still adhere, like the Orthodox, to the matrilineal rule and require patrilineals to convert. However, Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements would like Israeli law to change, so that the Israeli Reform and Conservative movement’s conversions of patrilineals would be recognized in Israel.
To complicate matters still further, Israel does legally recognize Reform and Conservative conversions of patrilineals that are done in other countries, before the patrilineal Jews leave for Israel. So a patrilineal Jew can be converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis in another country, immigrate to Israel, and become a fully Jewish Israeli citizen.
But a patrilineal Jew who seeks out a Reform or Conservative conversion inside Israel itself is not considered fully Jewish under Israeli law.
A patrilineal Jew resident in Israel who leaves the country to obtain a Reform or Conservative conversion in another country, and then quickly returns to Israel, is likely to find the conversion legally questioned.
Some secular Israelis favor accepting patrilineal Jews as Jewish, partially because thousands of Russian-Israelis and other Jews from the countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) are patrilineal children and grandchildren of intermarriage.
Israel’s official, state-sponsored conversion process — only Orthodox conversions are recognized for legal purposes — is currently on the verge of collapse, partially due to the insistence of ultra-Orthodox rabbis that all interfaith couples, patrilineal children of intermarriage and other patrilineal descendants of intermarriage must pledge to become Orthodox Jews after conversion.
Many of the Israeli interfaith couples, patrilineal adult children of intermarriage and patrilineal grandchildren of intermarriage resist the pressure to become Orthodox. Others are willing to become Orthodox Jews, and interested in practicing Orthodoxy, but find that the rabbinic courts are so exacting in their demands, and delay their conversions for so long, that members of interfaith families give up on the conversion process.
Members of Israeli interfaith families are further discouraged from converting because the ultra-Orthodox rabbinical court judges have begun overturning hundreds of conversions, sometimes years after the conversions were done, on the grounds that the people who were converted to Judaism didn’t become Orthodox Jews after converting.
Other FSU non-Jewish spouses and adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage in Israel consider themselves to already be Jews because they were persecuted as “Jews” in the FSU and are now citizens of Israel. Some FSU Israeli Jews and half-Jewish people are secular Jews, and do not want to undergo a religious conversion to what is for them a solid secular Jewish identity.
Still other FSU members of interfaith families in Israel identify as Christians — some accounts indicate that some of the Christian-identified FSU Israelis have given up on Judaism, which they perceive as unwelcoming. Others apparently arrived as Christians in Israel.
Sporadic attempts are made in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) to cut grandchildren of intermarriage out of the Law of Return, so that if they come to Israel, they will not automatically be entitled to full Israeli citizenship.
Some accounts indicate that these attempts to remove the grandchildren of intermarriage from the Law of Return are due to the disappointment of some Israelis with FSU Jews whose grandchildren are not strongly Jewish-identified. There are indications that some of the FSU children and grandchildren of intermarriage feel alienated by an Israeli society where many people openly regard them as “non-Jews.”
As the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political parties grow stronger, and the number of Haredi Jews grows — the ultra-Orthodox will be at least one-third to one-half of all Israeli Jews within the next 30 years — they have stated that they may restrict the Law of Return only to matrilineal children of intermarriage, as soon as they gain control of the Israeli government.
Adult children of Israeli Jews intermarried to Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians also have a very difficult time in Israel. Their interfaith families endure even greater problems than those of Israeli Jews intermarried to Christians of European descent. For more information about the adult children of Israeli Jews intermarried to Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians, see the “Israel” page on our website.
The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) has been very supportive of adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage in its ranks, and has tried to provide rapid conversion classes and helpful Orthodox rabbis for this purpose. The IDF has come under heavy attack from some ultra-Orthodox rabbis for doing conversions that these ultra-Orthodox rabbis view as not strict enough. Many ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) civilian rabbis will not accept these IDF conversions and refuse to treat half-Jewish people who have converted in the IDF as Jews.
We are also aware of some adult children of Jewish-Palestinian Arab intermarriages who identify as Palestinian and are said to have taken up arms and/or provided political support for the Palestinian cause. See “Israel” for more information.
The situation in Israel on “who is a Jew” is very fluid and complicated, shifting from month to month, and we hope to supply updates about it in our email newsletter. Because of the legal, social and religious discrimination against half-Jewish people in Israel, we advise against half-Jewish people making aliyah (permanent immigration) to Israel.
3. Conservative Judaism — in the United States, Israel, and Europe, the Conservative movement recognizes only matrilineal Jews as Jews. The biological child of a woman who converts to Judaism before the child’s birth is also considered to be a Jew.
Patrilineal Jews must convert via Conservative, Orthodox or Reform ritual to be considered Jews. The Conservative movement disaffiliated from a joint Reform/Conservative synagogue that called patrilineals to read the Torah in synagogue, and banned the presence of intermarried Jews as teachers and synagogue leaders in Conservative institutions.
In recent years, the Conservative movement has backed away from its ban on patrilineals in Conservative day schools and Camp Ramah . We are told that patrilineal half-Jewish children may attend those schools and Camp Ramah if their parents commit to having the patrilineal children formally converted to Judaism before bar/bat mitzvah age, which is age 13.
4. Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism — In 1968 Reconstructionist Judaism, followed in 1983 by American Reform Judaism, officially abandoned the matrilineal descent rule. Both groups adopted a new, bilineal descent rule, declaring that the child of either a Jewish father or a Jewish mother was to be considered a Jew, if: (1) the child was raised as a Jew; and/or (2) engages in an appropriate act of self-identification as a Jew. There is a Jewish urban myth that Reconstruction’s and Reform’s new rule meant that all adult children of intermarriage would be accepted by them, regardless of how they are raised. This is not true.
Matrilineal Jews raised in other faiths, who are routinely accepted as Jews by Israel, the Orthodox and the Conservatives — if the matrilineals opt to leave the other faiths and live as Jews — are considered non-Jews by Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism and must convert to Judaism, even if they have left other faiths and now practice only Judaism.
Patrilineal Jews raised in other faiths are also considered non-Jews by Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism and must convert to Judaism, even if they have left other faiths and now practice only Judaism. Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism have usually been hospitable to interfaith families.
Ironically, we have heard from some Reform patrilineals that they are not advised by their welcoming home congregations that they are not considered Jewish by some other groups of Jews — apparently due to a reluctance to hurt their feelings — and these Reform patrilineals then feel profoundly hurt when they encounter Orthodox, Conservative, Israeli and some secular Jews who will not accept them as Jewish.
In addition, some Reform rabbis — a minority — did not concur in the abandonment of the matrilineal descent rule, and tend to be unsupportive of patrilineals. Some Reform rabbis also refuse to perform intermarriages.
In contrast, we have heard rumors that another minority of Reform rabbis appear to be quietly accepting adult children of intermarriage raised as Christians into their congregations as Jews, if the adult children have decided to abandon Christianity. It is said that these rabbis are not requiring these adult children to officially convert to Judaism.
Reform movements in other countries vary widely in their attitudes towards adult children of intermarriage. Some Reform-equivalent movements — “Progressive” or “Liberal” Judaism — accept patrilineal and matrilineal children of intermarriage. Other Reform movements outside of the U.S. still adhere to the matrilineal rule.
5. Humanistic Judaism — The Society for Humanistic Judaism appears to accept the children of either Jewish fathers or Jewish mothers as Jews if that is how they identify. We have received no complaints from adult children of intermarriage affiliated with the Humanistic Jewish movement.
6. Jewish Renewal — The Jewish Renewal movement does not have an official position on the Jewish status of children of intermarriage. Decisions on Jewish status are left up to the individual rabbis. The Renewal community has a large number of interfaith families. We have received only one complaint about discrimination against patrilineals within a Jewish Renewal community.
7. Christianity — Most Christian groups do not have a descent rule for determining a child’s or other descendant’s religious identity. A child is considered Christian if the child’s parents decide to raise the child as a Christian, teach the child about Christianity, including regular church attendance, and arrange for the child to be baptized as an infant, a child or an adult.
The child’s parents do not have to be Christians in order to raise the child as a Christian, though Christians generally encourage non-Christian parents to convert to Christianity as well. An adult half-Jewish person who was not raised as a Christian can easily convert to Christianity by joining a church, taking instruction in Christian doctrine and being baptized.
Historically, Christianity began by advocating that Christians married to people who weren’t Christian stay with their spouses and children and try to influence them to convert to Christianity (I Corinthians 7:12-16).
As the rivalry with Judaism grew sharper, and the Christians took over the Roman Empire and later dominated Europe, laws were passed forbidding Jews to marry Christians. In some cases, such couples were threatened with legal death penalties. The Jewish community was also extremely hostile to interfaith couples.
Where prejudices were not too pervasive, the children of interfaith couples might be raised as Christians, and in other geographic areas, they might be raised as Jews.
Christians in 16th and 17th century Spain and Portugal and Latin America persecuted Jews. Many Jews in those countries were intermarried, and living as Christians — some had sincerely converted to Christianity, while others had done so to avoid persecution — and these interfaith couples and their children were regarded with suspicion by their Christian neighbors as potentially planning to defect back to Judaism. A fraction of Jewish blood made even devout Catholics appear as potential traitors. They were sometimes denounced to the Inquisition.
Ironically, many of the half-Jewish descendants of intermarried Jews forced to convert to Christianity, the Anusim or Marranos, are not only still subjected to anti-Semitism by their Christian neighbors, but they are rejected by the Latin American Jewish communities, being refused conversion and teaching. Some of the Latin American Jewish prejudice is expressed as comments that these half-Jewish people have too much Native American blood.
From the 18th century to the Holocaust, the Jews of Europe and the United States intermarried in increasing numbers, as the climate of legal and political tolerance grew. The children were usually raised as Christians, because the Jewish community of that era seldom welcomed interfaith couples.
Christian groups in the United States have historically welcomed children and grandchildren of intermarriage into their membership. The first American Jewish communities were Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese descent) during the 17th and 18th centuries, and were greeted so warmly that they mostly disappeared via intermarriage.
The German Jews who reached America in the 19th century were mostly well-treated by the U.S. Christian majority, but subjected to some anti-Semitism, consisting of polite avoidance, and the relegation of Jews to a social niche between whites and African-Americans.
The East European Jews who arrived in American after 1880, found an America that was noticeably anti-Semitic, with quotas on the number of Jews allowed to attend certain universities and other forms of social discrimination.
Since the 1930s, while some adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage have reported sporadic instances of anti-Semitism experienced by them in U.S. Christian groups, at the present time the vast majority of Christian groups in the U.S. are currently philo-Semitic (very pro-Jewish) and welcome inquiries from children and grandchildren of intermarriage.
The climate of relative tolerance for interfaith families in Europe and America between 1750 and 1939 was temporarily halted by the Holocaust and the post-World War II Communist ascendancy in Eastern Europe.
8. The Nazis and the Holocaust (1933-1945) — The Israeli Law of Return, allowing the children and grandchildren of intermarriage to become Israeli citizens, is said to be a response to the Nazi laws stigmatizing adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage. The Nazis had very elaborate rules for determining whether a child or grandchild of intermarriage would be considered “Jewish.” See “Holocaust.”
9. The Former Soviet Union (FSU) Countries — During the Communist regime of the Soviet Union(1918-1990), children and grandchildren of intermarriage were usually considered part of the Jewish ethnic minority, and suffered discrimination and persecution as a result.
Ironically, when thousands of Russian and other FSU children and grandchildren of intermarriage arrived in Israel after the fall of the former Soviet Union, they were greeted with the news that under Israeli law, those who were patrilineal weren’t considered to be real Jews, and would have to undergo full Orthodox conversions if they wished to be considered fully Jewish. See the information about Israel in Item No. 2 above, and also our “Israel” webpage. See also No. 10 below, “Post-Holocaust Europe and America.”)
10. Post-Holocaust Europe and America– Today, as the Jewish communities of Europe slowly begin to rebuild, there are hundreds of adult children and grandchildren in Europe. Some of them have begun exploring living as Jews; others live as Christians; some live as “both” or “neither.”
Some Jewish communities in Europe have welcomed their new half-Jewish members, as they seek to rebuild communities decimated by the Holocaust. These adult children of intermarriage, if treated in a kindly manner, have often joined European Jewish communities and begun living as Jews. Other Jewish European communities are hostile to adult children of intermarriage and demand documentary proof that they have a Jewish parent or grandparent, preferably matrilineal, and impose rigorous, punitive conversion regimes on the patrilineal adult children of intermarriage.
Even matrilineal adult children of intermarriage are closely questioned as to whether they have any documentary proof that their maternal ancestors were Jewish. If they have insufficient proof of maternal Jewish descent, they may be asked to convert to Judaism. In certain instances, this harsh treatment drives adult children of intermarriage out of the European Jewish community.
There is lingering anti-Semitism in many former FSU eastern European countries, a legacy of centuries of anti-semitic preaching by the Catholic Church. This anti-Semitism has an impact on half-Jewish people, whether they identify as Jews or Christians.
Efforts are underway in some of the FSU countries to be more respectful of their Jewish citizens and supportive of the Jewish institutions and buildings that survived the Holocaust.
The Catholic Church has repeatedly and publicly denounced anti-Semitism after 1945. Half-Jewish people report that they are often discriminated against as “Jews” in some former FSU eastern European countries, regardless of how they personally identify. Some of them find themselves in an awkward position — they are not wholly accepted by the leaders of their small Jewish communities, but they are not entirely welcome within their larger, predominantly Christian societies.
Post-Holocaust America has been a very friendly place to the Jewish community. One of the largest Jewish communities in the world lives there, and there is a very high rate of intermarriage because Jews are seen as desirable friends and spouses. Jews are also treated as full citizens in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
11. New Caste System? — We are encountering members of the first generation(s) of half-Jewish people to be raised as “real Jews” within the North American Jewish community in the post-1970 era. We are disturbed to learn that some of them –- not all — have been told that they have nothing in common with other half-Jewish people raised in other branches of Judaism or raised in other faith-based or secular cultures. Some of them have been raised to look down on half-Jewish people who are not living as Jews. This is very disturbing.
12. Science and History — Scientific study of our DNA would disclose little difference between matrilineals and patrilineals. About 50% of our DNA comes from our Jewish parent; about 50% comes from our Christian parent. From a scientific viewpoint, the matrilineal/patrilineal distinction makes no sense.
Modern DNA studies of Jewish populations appear to show that some Jewish populations adhered rigorously to matrilineal descent for centuries; other Jewish communities seem to have been founded via patrilineal descent (Jewish men marrying local, non-Jewish women) and then switched over to matrilineal descent. Others have little or no “Jewish DNA,” signaling that they were founded by converts or intermarried heavily for centuries.
Historical records indicate that still other Jewish communities may have accepted both patrilineal and matrilineal descent, or even strictly patrilineal descent. Perhaps Jewish DNA studies will someday shed more light on these questions.
Jewish DNA studies are still in their infancy, but they have great potential for identifying the descendants of populations of “DNA Jews,” many of whom are descendants of intermarriage, who concealed their identities to evade persecution. The most famous population are the Anusim or Marrano Jews of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, some of whom hid from the Inquisition behind false Christian identities in Spain and Portugal, and also in Spain’s and Portugal’s colonial empires, in areas of what is now northern Mexico, the U.S. southwestern border states and parts of South America.
13. The Half-Jewish Network — welcomes all adult children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other descendants of intermarried Jews, both patrilineal and matrilineal. We accept and support the self-definitions of our members.
The “who is a Jew” question within the Jewish world remains fluid, and it is unlikely that any one definition of Jewish identity will ever prevail. The Half-Jewish Network believes that while our partially-Jewish parentage is important to all of us, whether we identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim or as members of another faith-based or secular culture, we should listen to our hearts in determining what our identity(ies) are and where we belong.