General Question

laureth's avatar

Can someone be retroactively Jewish if their mother converts?

Asked by laureth (27184points) November 10th, 2010

Probably a dumb question, but what the heck? :)

I heard this story on NPR today. In Israel, When Is A Jew Not Jewish Enough?

The story is about a man who went to Israel to fight in their army, but was told he wasn’t “Jewish enough” because his mother wasn’t born Jewish, she converted. However, the article also states, “The army offers its own three-month conversion course for those serving. Those who pass will be considered Jewish by the Israeli government, with the right to get married and be buried in Israel.”

If Mr. Leavitt’s mother, for some reason, went through the Army’s crash conversion course, could he be retroactively considered “more Jewish” since his mom would then be acceptable? Or does she have to be a “real” Jew at the time he’s actually born?

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26 Answers

janbb's avatar

The vagaries of religion and the law are beyond even me, a Jew, to understand or explain.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@janbb So then you can’t explain why those who convert are seen as “less Jewish”, even though in all Intro to Judaism books it says how it is a religion of choice? Not judging, just confused as fuck…

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
janbb's avatar

@papayalily No – those who convert aren’t seen as less Jewish; I was more addressing the Israeli government’s definition than the religion’s.

GeorgeGee's avatar

If you’re ready to have retroactive circumcision and Hebrew school, maybe so.

AstroChuck's avatar

Since you have to pass through a Jewish womb to be defaultly Jewish I would say no. But would does a silly goy like myself know?

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Pepshort's avatar

According to traditional Jewish sources, one is Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish, or through conversion. What isn’t clear from your question is whether Mr. Leavitt was born before or after his mother converted. If she converted before her son was born, the mother and son are Jewish. If she converted after he was born, the son would require a conversion be become Jewish

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
JLeslie's avatar

Ditto what @Pepshort said. Took the words right out of my mouth.

The way I learned it once a Jew you are a Jew, no difference between a convert or born that way. In fact people are not supposed to point out the person converted, they are simply to be accepted like any other Jewish person.

Now, very very religious orthodox Jews don’t even actually accept non-observant secular Jews as Jewish, but that is a different matter. Over half of Israel isn’t Jewish if you go by that.

Rarebear's avatar

It’s another example of how the right wing fundamentalist orthodox community has a choke hold on Israeli religious politics.

laureth's avatar

@Rarebear – isn’t it ironic that the very most Jewish folks (the orthodox community) exempts itself from military service?

Pepshort's avatar

@JLeslie You’re absolutely correct in that ‘once a Jew, always a Jew.’ Unlike a system of faith or religion that one can accept today and tomorrow reject, being Jewish is an essential part of one’s identity. One can no more cease to be Jewish, than one can, on a genetic level, stop being a female or male.

However, I respectfully take issue with the second part of your post. You said, “Now, very very religious orthodox Jews don’t even actually accept non-observant secular Jews as Jewish.”

A Jew who denies the Jewish identity of someone based upon level of observance is not, by definition, a very religious orthodox Jew! Such a person may be very observant in some or many details of observance, but they are woefully ignorant of the fact that a pork-eating, tattooed, Shabbat driving person born of a Jewish mother is 100% Jewish, and is just as Jewish as they are.

Labels are, for the most part, counter-productive. In my opinion, the only meaningful distinction between Jews is: some Jews know more (about Judaism), some know less, and some observe more, some observe less. Once a Jew, always a Jew. L’chaim!

answerjill's avatar

@laureth – Lots of Orthodox Israelis go to the army. One of the biggest schisms in the Israeli Orthodox world is that between the Hareidim (ultra-orthodox, for lack of a better term) and Dati Leumi (“National Religious” who tend to be Modern Orthodox). One of the big differences between the two groups is that DL usually support military service. For example, there are special yeshivas called “hesder” yeshivas that combine military service with religious studies.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pepshort actually we disagree. I wrote once a Jew you are a Jew; not what you wrote once a Jew always a Jew. what I meant was whether raised Jewish or converted to, the child of that mother would be considered Jewish. If someone is the granddaughter of Jewish women, but the mother and now child in question was raised Catholic, I do not consider that person Jewish, I consider her to have Judaism on her maternal side back in history. I do think it is important to know that antisemites will see you as Jewish if born from Jewish parents, no matter what religion you practice.

What you said about the orthodox, there are orthodox Jews who say being an atheist and non-observant is not being Jewish. I am sure there are orthodox who readily accept reformed Jews as Jewish. There are both.

You seem to look at Judaism as a race, I don’t. But I do feel it is not only a religion, but an identity, and arguable an ethnicity, possibly diving the sephardic and ashkenazi as different ethnically or culturally.

answerjill's avatar

@JLeslie – I would have to agree with @Pepshort: I’ve never heard of Orthodox Jews denying that someone born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, regardless of the individual’s level of observance or non-observance.

JLeslie's avatar

@answerjill @Pepshort I found this which basically agrees with you, but also explains why I had thought differently.

laureth's avatar

@answerjill – Thank you, I meant Hareidim, but I didn’t know the word.

@JLeslie – Ironic because they’re hassling Jonathan [the guy I wrote the question about] about his lack of Jewishness when he wants to fight in their army, but the very most Jewish ones don’t have to fight at all.

JLeslie's avatar

@laureth That is ironic. I think it is awful the religious get out of being in the army. At minimum they should have to do non-combat duties I think.

JLeslie's avatar

@laureth I guess it is different from their perspective. In our army all religions and nationalities are welcome, ot is a non-issue. In Israel Arabs cannot be part of the army, even if they are Israelis from what I understand? What is Ironic also, is most of Israel is secular, so it is not about being religious, yet Judaism is a religion. You would think the most important thing for people fighting in the service should be their committment to Israel, to defend her.

Pepshort's avatar

@JLeslie @answerjill The question of ‘who is a Jew’ is both fascinating and important. For the record (on Fluther, anyway!), I don’t believe Judaism is a race. There are Jews of all races and ethnicities. Being Jewish means being part of a people. The Jewish people are referred to in the Bible/Torah as ‘Am Yisrael’—the People of Israel.

JLeslie's avatar

@pepshort, but the Torah is a long time ago, and people can convert, so a person does not need to be from the land of Israel. For me anyone who identifies as Jewish is good enough for me. When I got married I remember the Rabbi talking about keeping a Jewish home. He was a reformed Rabbi, but it occured to me that is the trick. It is about being Jewish. I simply am Jewish. I was born to Jewish parents, but even if someone is not, if they have always been Jewish, identified as Jewish, they are in my book.

Pepshort's avatar

@JLeslie Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify. ‘The People of Israel’ is a term not specific to the ‘land’ of Israel, but rather to both the physical and spiritual descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. A convert’s Hebrew name becomes ‘so and so, the son/daughter of Abraham & Sarah.’ So even if a convert isn’t biologically connected to the founders of the Jewish people, they are still—as you said—part of the Jewish people. Therefore, I think we’re in agreement. Be well!

JLeslie's avatar

@Pepshort Little story. When my husband converted they used hisname ben hisfathersname during the ceremony. There was mumbling in the room. My husband’s parents were Catholic, his father became Catholic when they married, and so the Rabbi who converted my husband thought it seemed fit, since his father was born a Jew, that it would be ok.

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