Genealogical research is leading to the possibility that my great-grandmother, my mother’s mother’s mother, was Jewish. If true, does that mean that I and my siblings are Jewish? Even if none of the intervening generations acknowledged it or actively participated in the religion?
According to Orthodox Judaism, yes. I think it’s also true of Conservative Judaism, but I’m not sure about other denominations.
Apparently this is the Reform position:
According to that it looks like your family wouldn’t be considered Jewish by Reform standards.
If you’re talking about Jewish religion or culture, then no, those are not things which are heritable. They are things you consciously decide to practice, not something automatically, biologically transmitted from parent to child. You could conceivably make a claim for being partially Jewish by ancestry, the same way many people in North America say that they are “German” or “Irish” despite them and their ancestors never having set foot in Europe for centuries.
As another poster points out, certain Jewish communities may consider you to be Jewish, but this is based on their religious laws which have no basis in material reality.
I’m not sure what you mean. It would be entirely correct to call a Catholic family’s baptized 1 year old child “Catholic”, for example, even though that has no basis in material reality.
The OP is aware that they are not Jewish by culture and only some small fraction Jewish by ancestry, and presumably was asking about it from a religious point of view.
The child is “Catholic” only insofar as it has been unwittingly baptized. It does not practice the Catholic religion.
Remember that the OP asked whether he (or she) is Jewish, not whether there are some people that may consider him to be Jewish.
If a non-Christian adult suddenly discovered that as an infant, they had been baptized into the Catholic faith, that doesn’t mean that they are obliged to consider themselves to be Catholic and to begin practicing Catholicism. Similarly, someone who discovers that their ancestors practiced Judaism is under no obligation to give any credence to Jewish religious laws (including those laws concerning the “transmission” of the Jewish identity).
I’m curious what evidence you have that your ancestor was Jewish. I once suspected that my great-grandmother was born Jewish because her maiden name (Fischbach) sounded vaguely Jewish to me. On further investigation I found that many gentiles had the same name and that her ancestors for several generations were listed in church records as being baptized.
This Staff Report by Dex may be of interest:nCan you be an atheist and still be Jewish?
Jewish: probably not. Semitic or even Hebrew: probably so.
The confusion comes form Jews are a group of people that practice the religion Judaism.
Traditionally, though some sects have changed rules, if the mother is Jewish the child is considered a Jew by birth. If the mother converts to Judaism, she will be a Jew by conversion but any children will be considered Jews by birth.
If a Jew does not practice Judaism he/she remains a Jew. If a Jew voluntarily gives up Judaism and converts and practices another religion at that point she/he ceases to be a Jew and any children from that point on will not be considered Jews by birth. Prior children born to conversion will STILL be Jews by birth.
This was the old school definition you find in the Encyclopedia Judaica. As other posters noted, Judaism has three major sects, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform and a host of smaller sects. All have their own particular definitions of what and what is not a Jew.
I’m afraid we are in a position where it depends on what the definition of “is” is.
No, really. The OP needs to clarify.
The OP is something of a hypothetical; I’m going on what my aunt told me a couple of days ago, and I need to do a lot more checking to nail down the details. I wrote the title as if I was certain, but that was just an attention-getter.
Well, that’s part of the question as well. Is “Jewish” an ethnic group, propagated by descent, or is it a religious group, propagated by action (whether that be belief or practice)?
Certainly I don’t practice anything Jewish. My parents were nominally Anglican Christian, although my grandfather left me books with names like “Why I am not a Christian”, so it didn’t take. It’s possible that this great-grandmother, if born Jewish, converted to Christianity; I know nothing about her yet, not even her name. (I have several pictures though…)
I don’t know about that. If you look in the dictionary under “stereotypical English looks”, there’s a picture of me.
Mind you, if it turned out to be true that I was nominally Jewish according to some people, that would be reason #3 I would have been persecuted by Hitler, after “socialist parents and relatives” and “speaks Esperanto”…
So, does she look Jewish?
It’s kind of hard to tell. Mostly, she looks poor.
You and your siblings and your mother and your grandmother are considered Jewish by most Jews. Some people believe there is a Jewish ‘race’, but of course those people are racists. Your ancestry may make you related to certain population groups, or not. Many Jews are converts or descendants of converts, and some people who claim to be Jews aren’t. From a religious standpoint, you haven’t been practicing, but that doesn’t make you less Jewish within most of the religion.
The most material aspect of this would be entitlement to the right of return to Israel. I don’t know what the specific rules are. Since you haven’t been practicing, they might require you to take part in a ritual bath if you’re a woman, or a Bar Mitzvah if you’re a man, to establish yourself as a Jew.
It’s entirely possible to belong to more than one religion. You might not be considered a good Jew if you were also a practicing Christian, but religions usually don’t kick people out for belonging to another religion also. Both religions just wait for you to come to your senses and return to their religion, which of course is the right one.
“How do I know if I’m Jewish?”
If you wanna be. If you participate and identify with, then hey, welcome to the Tribe. shrug Any jerk who tries to tell you otherwise isn’t one that you need to listen to. Shalom Aleikhem
edit: If you need/want some confirmation of your suspicions, there’s help out there. PM me for resources if you want.
A co-worker was dissatisfied with the church that her parents attended, and started to look into other religions. She liked what she saw in Judaism, and one day she asked her mother, “What would you think if I became Jewish?” Her mother responded that it is a good question to ask Grandma.
A while later, my co-worker and her mother went to visit the mother’s mother, and my co-worker asked her grandmother. So the maternal grandmother replied, “You wouldn’t be the first Jew in the family – My mother was Jewish!!!”
Like other posters, I’m having trouble understanding this. Let me explain my point:
No one is claiming that being Jewish has a “basis in material reality”. Being Jewish can have one or several definitions, but none of them point to a part of one’s body that a physician or geneticist might point to and identify. Therefore, the presence or absence of such a thing cannot be used to establish a person’s Jewishness or non-Jewishness.
Therefore, it seems clear to me that the OP’s question concerns how various groups define Jewishness, given that there is no “material reality” that might establish this, and psychonaut concedes that some communities would consider Sunspace to be Jewish, based on ancestry alone.
Under Jewish religion and cultural practice, if a person’s mother is Jewish, the person is Jewish. In the OP’s case, recurse 3 times.
(Side comment on “recurse,” used here as present tense verb form of “recursive”: Yiddish may be the only language where the sentences “Go fuck yourself” and “Did you sleep well?” sound equally nasty.
I was speaking of genetic aspects, rather than of skin tone or religion. If your ancestor was Jewish, it’s quite possible she was of Semitic descent. Not necessarily, of course.
Minor update… I’ve gotten in touch with some relatives overseas who are related to my mother’s father; they are closer to the source, and can get their hands on Official Documents more easily. And I’m seeing my aunt again on Sunday. We’ll get more details soon, and I hope I’ll be able to establish who our Jewish relative was. I’ve known that we had one since I was a kid, but knew nothing more than that.
In other news, I signed up for a trial of Ancestry.ca, the genealogical website that offers searches of Official Records from many locations. Using it, I found the landing records for when my grandparents landed in Canada!
And my aunt says that my mother’s parents had quite a life before they arrived in Canada. Apparently Grandma was married twice, and Grandpa had to wait seven years for the first guy to be declared dead before he could marry her…? :eek: My working hypothesis is that the first husband got killed in the war, but maybe he just ran off…