I’m not really sure if GQ is the right place for this, but I’m looking for a factual answer to the question of whether or not traditional Jews would consider me Jewish. I’m not sure “traditional” is quite the right word – I mean Jews who believe “You’re Jewish if your mother is Jewish.” I’m not sure whether all Jews hold this belief, and obviously it doesn’t address converts, which is part of my question.
Here’s my situation:
My dad is Jewish, the son of two Jewish parents. (I would have posed this question to him, but he’s basically secular these days, so I’m not sure if his view would be the typical Jewish view.) My mom (the important side, as I understand it) calls herself a Jew, but so far as I know she only started doing this when she married my dad. She grew up celebrating Christian holidays (in a secular way), and continues to do so. Furthermore, she never formally converted to Judaism, although perhaps she didn’t need to, because technically she might have been a Jew already. Her father was born and raised an Orthodox Jew, and still considers himself Jewish, although he’s been basically non-practicing for the past 50 years or so. My mom’s mother was born and raised a Methodist, but she formally converted to Judaism shortly after marrying my grandfather. She went through the the ceremony with a rabbi and whatever that involves. However, the conversion was in name only, for the sake of satisfying her mother-in-law. My grandmother continues to celebrate Christian holidays (in a basically secular way), which is why my mother grew up with these holidays as well.
So, what’s the deal? Am I a Jew? (For the record, I don’t consider myself to be affiliated with any religion, but I’m not asking about my views, I’m asking what the traditional Jewish view would be.)
[I realize Friday evening may not be the best time to get an answer to this question. If necessary, I’ll bump it in a couple of days.]
You’re right. Friday evening isn’t the best time to ask the question. You said your maternal grandmother converted to Judaism shortly after marrying your grandfather. Was it before or after you were born? Also, was the Rabbi who oversaw her conversion Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform?
To clarify my questions before, according to Jewish law, like you said, you’re Jewish if your mother was Jewish, or if you convert. So, if your mom is Jewish, you’re Jewish. Now, the question is, is your mom Jewish? If your grandmother converted before your mom was born, then your mom is Jewish. If she converted after your mom was born, than she isn’t. Also, Orthodox Jews generally don’t recognize non-Orthodox conversions, and Conservative Jews generally don’t recognize Reform conversions.
My grandmother converted before my mom was born (although after my mom’s oldest brother was born, so I guess he misses out on whatever the benefits are of being a non-practicing Jew). I assume that it was an Orthodox conversion, since it was mainly done to satisfy my Orthodox great-grandmother.
So then it makes no difference whether my grandmother ever set foot in a synagogue after she converted, just so long as she went through the ceremony? In other words, the fact that she did it to make her mother-in-law happy, not out of any dedication to the Jewish religion, doesn’t in any way invalidate the conversion?
I’m not so sure about that. It would be different if all it took was any one Jewish ancestor for you to be Jewish. But it can only be an ancestor on one particular branch of your family tree. If you can trace back along this branch to the time when Jews were localized to the Middle East, and find your purely maternal ancestor was living in, say, Norway . . . then it’s a good bet she didn’t have any Jewish ancestors. So unless someone converted in the however-many intervening generations, you wouldn’t be Jewish either. And conversions to Judaism aren’t very common, so far as I know.
Although that’s a shitty reason to convert, the fact that she converted is good enough. If she was a Jew before her daughter was born, then her daughter is a Jew. If you are that daughter’s child, then you are a Jew.
Here’s what a rabbi told me, though: it depends on who you ask.
He says the Orthodox don’t care as long as your mom was an Orthodox Jew, either by “proper” Orthodox conversion or by birth. Doesn’t matter if you’ve ever set foot in a synagogue and/or your dad was a raging atheist. If Mom’s Jewish, you are too. (Although he says if your Mom WAS an Orthodox Jew and converted to something else, all bets are off and you’re not Jewish.)
The Reform consider you Jewish if:
One of your parents is Jewish … AND
You are raised in a Jewish home
You didn’t give us much info about how you were raised, religion-wise, so as far as whether or not you’re Jewish, I can’t say.
Can you lose your Jewishness? The daughter of a Jewish mother is a Jew. So unless you can become un-Jew at some point, every offspring from every female descendant of the original Jew is Jewish, right?
Again, it’s not the offspring of every female decendent, it’s the offspring of every descendent through a line of females only. So if we leave out conversions, I’m only Jewish if my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother is Jewish. One specific ancestor, not a whole set of ancestors. So I don’t think the whole population of the world is Jewish . . . now if you want to say everyone is related to a Jew, that I might believe.
Nope. Only all the offsprings of female offsprings of female offsprings of…of an “original” female Jew.
It means that any of us could be Jewish. But for every of us to be Jewish, the female Jews would have had to be so excellent at seducing men that all other “original” non Jewish females have been outbreeded and have no currently living descendant. If you’ve even only one non Jewish ancestor in maternal line, you break the line.
Well, the all reference was a little bit toungue-in-cheek, but then again, maybe not so. There’s a possibility that that non-Jewish ancestor in the maternal line really was Jewish, too, but didn’t know it. So the same argument can go back, to, say the time of Noah.
So do we classify Noah? Is he Jewish? More importantly, what about his wife?
OK… time for a good ol’ infusion of facts (IAAJ, though not Orthodox, whatever it matters). Here is how the Orthodox define who is a Jew. Assuming your grandmother converted in the proper Orthodox fashion (to satify your great-grandmother), she is Jewish, your mother is Jewish, as are you. Even if it wasn’t in the Orthodox fashion (as described in the link), your lineage would be enough for, say, the Reform branch.
The next question is, why does it matter? You say you don’t consider yourself religious at all anyway, nor have several generations of your parents. It’s not like suddenly discovering that you’re Jewish entitles you to the control of the money supply or anything. I’m still waiting for my turn!
I think the issue hinges on whether your maternal grandmother actually acted in a Torah-observant manner following her conversion. The ceremonial aspects of conversion to Judaism are not the reason the Orthodox will not accept non-Orthodox conversion or why the conservative will not accpt Reform conversions. The reason is that an important requirement of conversion is acceptance of the covenental commandments. If the convert, after undergoing a “cermonial” conversion (i.e., immersion in a ritual mikveh-pool and, for males, circumcision), continues to live as if she (I’ll use the feminine pronoun because it’s the OP’s grandmother who is the actual subject of discussion) does not consider herself obligated to obey Jewish law, this is considered, at least by the Orthodox, to be de-facto proof that that acceptance requirement was never present, and the conversion is null and void.
If your maternal grandmother lived as a Jew following her conversion, then yes, your mother and therefore you are Jewish. If she didn’t, I don’t believe the Orthodox would consider you to be Jewish. (Other posters can address the matter as it relates to the other denominations)