Religion & Beliefs

What Will Happen When Judaism Accepts Half-Jewish People?

As the leader of the Half-Jewish Network, I always assume that I have all the answers on what half-Jewish people need. Why should I be any different from the all-knowing leaders of any other Jewish organization? The Half-Jewish Network may … Read More

By / December 8, 2009


As the leader of the Half-Jewish Network, I always assume that I have all the answers on what half-Jewish people need. Why should I be any different from the all-knowing leaders of any other Jewish organization? The Half-Jewish Network may be "half-Jewish," but we faithfully follow the Jewish template in that respect!

But one of my group members brought me to a halt the other day. She asked: "What would acceptance of half-Jewish people by the Jewish community [in the Diaspora] actually look like?" I paused. I didn’t have an immediate, glib answer — yikes! Warning! Red alert! Loss of Jewish leadership position credibility imminent!

The phrase "a fate worse than death" suddenly leaped into my mind. I told her, "you’ll miss being discriminated against."

Because when the Jewish community finally accepts us — it will be a gradual process over the next thirty years — it will be a fate worse than death. Here is a satirical, tongue-in-cheek description of our likely fate, based on how interfaith couples and Jews by Choice (converts) program attendees are currently treated:

1. Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism will finally — finally! — assemble committees to address our issues, instead of claiming that the "raising Jewish children" programs for interfaith couples and half-Jewish kids under the age of 18 address the problems of fully-grown half-Jewish adults, most of whom weren’t raised Jewish.

The committees — chaired by born Jews who are not children of intermarriage, of course — what do we know about our own problems? surely a much-older born Jewish rabbi or social worker with two Jewish parents, married to a similar Jew, knows what is best for us — will produce pink or mauve pamphlets for us, entitled something icky like, "New Roads Into Judaism For Grown Offspring of Intermarriage." The Hebrew quoted in the pamphlets will be poorly translated into politically correct language. Yech.

The pamphlets will mostly be directed to the Reform and Reconstructionist hierarchies’ fears about us rather than the needs and issues of half-Jewish people. There will be sections in the pamphlets explaining to the Reform and Reconstructionist shul leaders that the two-thirds of us raised outside of Judaism are not feral half-Jews raised by the Borg on the planet Zembarth, and that our meek requests for "adult children of intermarriage discussion groups" might actually be good for shul growth.

The pamphlets will be available to Reform and Reconstructionist shuls and organizations for about $13.15 per twenty copies.

Finally, years after the first pamphlets are produced, it will dawn on the committees that they need to produce PDF copies and an online, media-linked version of the pamphlets on a denominational website, as the younger Jews, including the half-Jewish folks, live online. Eventually input will be invited from half-Jewish Reform and Reconstructionist people on the content of the pamphlets.

2. What’s left of the Conservative movement in 30 years — nearly one-third of their congregants are currently over the age of 65 — will produce a "Kiruv Efforts Directed Towards Adult Descendants of Intermarriage" white paper. A few children of intermarriage will be invited to appear before the committee producing the paper, but none of them will be invited to help in writing it. The white paper will contain instructions for Conservative congregations on how to outreach us, noting that they do not have to fear armed mobs of rioting half-Jewish people forcing their way into the sanctuary and eating pork at the after-service oneg.

The white paper will also address the Conservative hierarchy’s fear that if they do one single thing that the Orthodox do not like, like reaching out to half-Jewish people with Jewish fathers, no Orthodox person will ever speak to them again. The white paper will point out that most of the Orthodox aren’t speaking to them anymore anyway, so what do they have to lose at that point?

Only half of the Conservative movement will support the white paper. The Conservative movement men’s organization will push it strongly. Eventually, one of their halachic law committees will vote on it, with three rabbis in favor and three against, leaving Conservative congregations free to choose whether or not to continue discriminating against us.

This split decision will be marketed as a "big victory" for adult children of intermarriage.

3. Jewish Renewal will produce a "holy chevre" white paper on half-Jewish people in which the "holy sisters and brothers" will be admonished to "reach out more" to "our Jews of partially-Jewish descent." There will be a long, defensive and truthful preamble about how Renewal has always been welcoming to interfaith couples, and a transitional paragraph about how it has been brought to Renewal’s attention that maybe adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage do not feel Renewal’s love as much as interfaith couples do — and that it is time for Renewal to lay its holy love upon them. It will be emailed to each Renewal havurah and shul. At least one child of intermarriage will be on the committee that prepares the "chevre" paper and will have substantial input into its content. The "holy chevre" paper will have a ton of interesting quotations from Hasidic mystical works, none really relevant to adult children of intermarriage, and a pile of liberal-left social commentary on how we can best be converted to Renewal’s "eco-kosher" efforts.

3. Humanistic Judaism will eventually — and very reluctantly — produce some specialized outreach materials for us. Since their congregations generally accept us now, they will be highly indignant at the idea that we actually need specialized outreach like they provide for interfaith couples and Jews by Choice — sometimes one’s friends are the hardest people to convert to outreaching us.

The welcoming pamphlet prepared for us will have lots of quotes from their innovative founding rabbi, Sherwin Wine, zl" and assurances that Humanistic Judaism will accept even chickens as real Jews if the chicken can spell out a commitment with seed corn and firmly commit to a disbelief in G-d.

4. The Modern Orthodox — years after the other groups have acted, of course — will produce an article in one of their scholarly journals, entitled, "The Halachic Implications of Possibly Welcoming Jews of Mixed Descent, Even Those With Only Paternal Jewish Grandfathers."

It will be ten pages long, filled with footnotes citing mentions of us in the Talmud and Josephus, will refer to those of us who are patrilineal as "zerua Israel" (seed of Israel) and "possible Noachides" and will be authored by a grandchild of intermarriage who has had to undergo at least four Orthodox conversions to satisfy Israeli Haredi Orthodox authorities.

The article will conclude that we should be welcomed and will create an unusual Hebrew term for us to disguise the fact that many of us are not halachic Jews, such as "[X] Jew," the same way that they currently hide their women rabbis as "halachic advisers" of various types under newly-invented Hebrew titles.

An immense controversy will break out in the Orthodox blogosphere. A few very bold, daring Modern Orthodox communities will act on the paper’s recommendations and all members of those shuls will be blacklisted by the Israeli ultra-Orthodox.

6. Ultra-Orthodox Groups — some of the ultra-Orthodox outreach groups, which receive a lot of membership and donations from non-Orthodox Jews — both baal teshuvah and occasional visitors — will decide that we are worth some targeted kiruv work. After all, we’re going to be the majority of non-Orthodox American Jews in the year 2040 — the old secular Jewish baal teshuvah and donor base will be almost gone by then.

Special programs will be set up to bring us to U.S. and Israeli yeshivot. Books will be written on "Torah Observance for Seed of Israel and Noachides Produced by Mixed Marriages." I will, b’ezrat Hashem (by the help of G-d) live to see — a faction of Chabad with a large component of half-Jewish people! Classes at Aish ha-Torah recruiting us! And you know something? I’ll be very happy to see it.

7. Inclusivist Judaism Coalition — I almost forgot — what about my own organization? Well, we already accept half-Jewish members as Jews upon arrival, and do targeted outreach to half-Jewish people through our sponsorship of the Half-Jewish Network — think of us as thirty years ahead of the curve.

8. Secular Jewish Organizations — may G-d protect and spare the half-Jewish folks when the secular Jewish organizations finally stop snubbing and ignoring us. The same barrage of propaganda directed at young Jews with two Jewish parents today — join AIPAC! Join J Street! Join Jewish Voices for Peace! Join Hadassah! Join [any Jewish establishment or anti-establishment group]! — will descend upon us.

My email box will jam with inquiries on how every secular Jewish group in the universe can raise money from half-Jewish people. They will then ask how they might attract us as members. The requests for money will come first. Jewish sociologists will suddenly begin studying half-Jewish people. Like, more than two studies, with more than 100 participants. Jewish historians will suddenly start researching our appearances in Jewish history — us, not the interfaith couples and converts — in more than just three or four books. At last!

Jewish philanthropists — the ones that Bernard Madoff did not reach, so they still have some cash — will want to fund "half-Jewish 2.0 projects." They will be bewildered and disturbed when I explain that because we’ve been shut out of Judaism or pushed to the fringes for so many years, many half-Jewish folks have very old-fashioned interests: shul membership, learning Hebrew, liturgy, Jewish history, Yiddish and Ladino literature translated into English, etc.

We have online support groups that cost very little to run. We would welcome some cash to support these efforts. We’d be grateful for it. The philanthropists will be horrified to hear that we don’t need expensive after-shul "1/2 Jewish bar nights" on Shabbat or "1/2 Jew Suffering and Gratification" e-zines.

Unlike many young Jews with two Jewish parents, we actually like old timey Judaism. We didn’t grow up with it, so it doesn’t bore us. We’re "cheaper dates" than the young Jews with two Jewish parents. And we don’t have a generation gap amongst ourselves — half-Jewish folks will generally talk with any other half-Jewish or Jewish person, regardless of age or background. We may not get any grant money to outreach us — our situation goes against the current philanthropic model of estrangement between older Jews and younger Jews, with older Jews lavishing no-strings cash on 20something Jewish 2.0 outreach efforts, followed by the younger Jews mercilessly mocking the grant donors in the web pages of their newly-established 2.0 groups.

Many Jewish philanthropists and foundations will simply not be able to make the transition to funding the lower-maintenance, grateful half-Jewish groups. It will feel too unfamiliar to them.

9. Jewish outreach groups — half-Jewish people will become an "outreach demographic." Workshops will be held at outreach conferences on "Best Ways to Reach the Half-Jewish Population." Outreach groups will create multiple web pages on "Outreaching Half-Jewish People: Our Untapped Asset," treating us kind of like a hopeful investment on oil-containing shale deposits.

The stingy amounts of money given to Jewish outreach groups by the Jewish federations (less than 1% of most Jewish federations’ budgets — despite all of the complaints about intermarriage!) will be extended to outreach us using the following rationale: since we are running out of oil wells (born Jews with two Jewish parents), we will try and squeeze oil (Jewish continuity) out of half-Jewish shale deposits.

Pamphlets, papers, videos, books, CDs, DVDs, websites, and every other media item in the outreach armory will suddenly include detailed information on outreaching adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage — information that is conspicuously missing from 99.9% of all Jewish outreach materials today. Finally! We’ll even be included in the endless discussions on Jewish outreach listservs and message boards about whether to give interfaith couples discounts on shul membership this year. They will finally offer us discounted shul memberships.

10. Israel — Thirty years from now the ultra-Orthodox Haredi groups and the Palestinian Arabs will be the two largest population groups in Israel, and will likely be engaged in a ferocious street-to-street civil war. Other Israeli groups — chilonim (seculars), Modern Orthodox, Bedouin Arabs, etc. — will have either joined the Holy War on one side or the other or be fleeing the country.

I anticipate that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) — newly renamed the "Nahal Haredi Brigades" — will make an effort to recruit adult half-Jewish people who can prove that they have a biological Jewish mother or a maternal Jewish grandmother. Children of Jewish fathers or paternal Jewish grandfathers will be accepted in the new "Nahal Haredi Brigades" upon promising to undergo a rigorous ultra-Orthodox conversion process lasting 10 years — after the war is over — conditional upon the ultra-Orthodox "Halachic Republic of Israel" actually winning the war, and not the Palestinian state. If they are killed in battle, they will still be buried in the special sections of IDF cemeteries that are currently set aside for "non-Jews" — the patrilineal half-Jews, Bedouin, and Druze IDF soldiers. Some of the children of Jewish-Arab intermarriages will be members of the "Nahal Haredi Brigades." Others will be fighting on the Palestinian side as members of a "Half-Jewish Martyrs for Palestine Regiment."

If the Halachic Republic of Israel loses the war, the half-Jewish people serving in the Haredi Brigades will end up entering the U.S. as refugees and joining the hundreds of new Israeli Jewish synagogues and organizations starting all over the United States.

So half-Jewish people will finally achieve acceptance in every sector of the Jewish world.