Skip to main content

There are two basic English-language definitions of being Jewish.  The first, says the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, is "an adherent of Judaism as a religion or culture."

The second definition is more controversial.  In general terms, it is being of Jewish ancestry.  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines it as being "A member of the widely dispersed people originally descended from the ancient Hebrews and sharing an ethnic heritage based on Judaism."

Virginia Republican Senator George Allen, to his apparent public chagrin, meets this second definition.  He also might or might not meet a third definition--a rabbinical definition-- of being Jewish, being born to a Jewish mother.  The fact that his mother apparently was raised as a Christian would disqualify Allen in the opinion of some rabbis, but likely not all rabbis. The precise facts of the case would be important in making a rabbinical determination.

I meet all three tests of being Jewish.  Since early childhood, I have been aware of my Jewish identity.  So have others.  Many millions of Americans associate the name Cohen with the Jewish people.  Jews who convert to other religions not infrequently change their names to make their conversion clear.

But I understand the anguish and the confusion that the sudden discovery of one or more Jewish ancestors can cause.  It raises questions of who one's ancestors were, who one is, and what relationship, if any, one should have with the Jewish people.

It also raises questions of the sincerity of one's religious beliefs.  The Spanish Inquisition was much more about investigating professed Christians of Jewish ancestry--the moranos-- who allegedly were secretly practicing the Jewish religion, than it was about investigating Jews as such. True Jews were not allowed to be living in Spain at the time.

The idea that some Christians are not true Christians carries weight with elements of the religious right.  It is only a short step from that belief to the belief that these Christians may include secret Jews in their ranks.

Politicians have joked about their Jewish ancestry.  John Kerry, after discovering it in the Boston Globe, went to a St. Patrick's Day celebration and proclaimed he had the "matzo balls" to be there that day. Barry Goldwater, an opponent of federal civil rights legislation, told of asking a manager of a country club that banned Jews from the golf course: "But I'm only half Jewish.  Can't I play nine holes?"

There has always been intermarriage.  There have always been conversions of people from one religion to another.  The more the ever-increasing computerization and translation of records proceeds over time, the more people will learn of their Jewish ancestors.

New York Times reporter Susan Jacoby's memoir tells of an improbable accidental meeting in France with a very elderly friend of her late grandfather.  "Your grandfather was one of the finest lawyers in America," the woman gushed.  "A lot of people thought he would become the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice."  This testimonial hit Jacoby like a ton of bricks.  It was the first time she had gained definitive information that was she was of Jewish ancestry, and it raised many questions and concerns in her mind.

Various Christian friends of mine have told of their belief or firm knowledge that they are of Jewish descent. Some view this as a bizarre oddity of little relevance, while others identify to various degrees with individual Jews and/or the Jewish people.

Jules Lester is a militant African-American writer whose interest in, and writings about, his Jewish ancestry, the Jewish religion, and the Jewish people became increasingly intense as the years went on. Finally, a Jewish friend suggested he convert to Judaism. He did convert. He then contacted his Jewish cousins, whom he had played with as a young child but had since fallen out of touch.

He told them how happy and fulfilled he felt now that he was back as a member of the religion of some of his ancestors.  He hoped as co-religionist he could become closer to his cousins.

His cousins expressed joy that he had found such happiness and fulfillment.  But they, living in an almost all
Christian world, had all previously converted to Christianity.

Religious beliefs are intensely personal. They can and often are influenced by one's family, but family traditions cannot control the beliefs of future generations.

Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Kennedy have Jewish grandchildren, while the ranks of Christians and Buddhists and Sihks and other religions include the descendants of rabbis and cantors and synagogue leaders.

There are about 5 million Americans who profess to be of the Jewish religion.  There are many, many more Americans who have some Jewish ancestry.  Senator Allen should know that he is in good company.

Originally posted to State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 12:17 AM PDT.

Poll

What is the Political Relevance of Religious Ancestry?

4%3 votes
14%10 votes
49%35 votes
28%20 votes
4%3 votes

| 71 votes | Vote | Results

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Great Diary--Thanx!!! (2+ / 0-)

    And Shana Tovah!!!   You could also have mentioned Wesley Clark and Madeleine Albright.  I think you were correct to trace the practice of concealing Jewish roots to the Inquisition.  In travelling and doing business in Mexico, I have found that many prominent formerly-Jewish families trace their roots to the Era of the Inquisition.  

    In fact, one friend quietly asked me about her family's held-over tradition of lighting candles on Friday nite.  When I asked her mother's maiden name, she told me..."Levy"!!!  When her mother passed, as I had promised, I flew down and, after the Misa, or Mass, I said Kaddish for her and her mother's sisters and other relatives.  They loved it.  It put them in touch with a since-lost part of their past.

    •  I Need Good Anecdotes for Albright and Clark (7+ / 0-)

      I am of course aware of the discoveries of Jewish ancestry in Madeline Albright (her parents denied their ancestry, but suspiciously liked some Jewish food and disliked some Catholic church rituals) and Wesley Clark (his father was a Jewish lawyer in Chicago).

      I lacked anecdotes showing either embarrassment, pride, or humor in them about their Jewish ancestry, and that's why I did not mention them.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 01:02:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  the Inquisition in the Americas (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      julifolo, serrano

      is something you don't hear about much, but I stumbled across it a couple years ago researching for a post on torture and false confessions, which also turned into the importance of the separation of Church & State, and also the lethal nature of our conformist species mentality.

      A marrano family in Mexico was convicted and executed in the colonial era for being "secret Jews" after their confession was tortured out of them.

      The reason their neighbors suspected them? They did their laundry on Fridays instead of Saturdays, like all godfearing Christians must...

      "Don't be a janitor on the Death Star!" - Grey Lady Bast (change @ for AT to email)

      by bellatrys on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 05:30:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I have heard... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      serrano

      ...a lot of stories about Spanish or Portuguese people who assumed that their family had always been Catholic. But on Friday nights, they'd cover up all the crosses in their house, light a candle, and put it out after five minutes and uncover the crosses. They said it was just an old family tradition. Turns out they had some Jewish ancestors.

  •  There is no such thing as religious ethnicity (10+ / 0-)

    Religion is a meme, not a gene; it's passed via culture but it's not inherited.

    There's a Jewish ethnicity just like there's an English ethnicity.  And there's a religion (Judiasm) usually associated with ethnic Jews, just like there's another one (Anglicanism) usually associated with people of English descent.

    Those of Jewish heritage should certainly be proud to possibly share some genes with Einstein and Maimonides, just like those with English heritage descend from the people of Newton and Shakespeare. But the religion is practically irrelevant.  Today's ethnic Greeks have Archimedes and Socrates as their cultural (if not direct genetic) forebears, but almost nobody in Greece today believes in Zeus or Apollo like the ancient Greeks did.

    •  lovely [n/t] (0+ / 0-)

      -8.38, -7.74 Schadenfreude is a dish best served piping hot.

      by condoleaser on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 05:25:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  If you go to a Greek Independence Day parade (0+ / 0-)

      you're likely to see floats and banners expressing pride in the whole heritage - pagan, Christian, and modern secular. It all flows together in the national consciousness.
      But we don't do many hecatombs nowadays, it's true.

      "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." -- Will Rogers

      by Allogenes on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 05:39:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was going to bring this up. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Allogenes

        Religion is still central to Greek ethnicity. It just currently has a different religion.

        •  This is so true (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ubertar
          And it may be why I with my Greek name am always taken aback when people expect me to speak Greek or know about Greek culture. My father rejected the church completely when he moved to the U.S. as a teenager so we were never part of the culture. We lived in a different town than the relatives, and the community I grew up in was overwhelmingly Jewish, my schools even more so since back then, Catholics always went to parochial schools. My mother was Jewish but non-practicing, so I felt like an outside there too. Or maybe it was just because i was shy as a kid, who knows. Today everything about Jewish culture seems familiar to me because i grew up with it.
          •  Sounds a lot like (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Wee Mama

            my own experience growing up in NYC. My parents never rejected the Greek church, but they weren't involved in it either - we'd only go for rites of passage for people we knew, plus once a year for Communion before Easter. We were in touch with relatives but not very close. And of course in NYC you can't help getting to know Jews and Judaica.
            I am now a Unitarian Universalist. Most of us came from different religious backgrounds, and a few months ago a new member asked me what religion I was raised in. I thought for a minute and realized the only honest answer I could give was, "I was raised in New York."

            "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." -- Will Rogers

            by Allogenes on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:24:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Similarities Between Greek and Jewish Culture (0+ / 0-)

            Anastasia, there are various similarities between Greek and Jewish culture, including strong family ties, a mixture of desire to build up a strong community infrasturcture and a desire to assimilate into the wider world,  a great appetite for education, and an attraction to entrepreneurship and self-employment.  Other groups, of course, share these similarities as well.

            Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

            by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Fri Sep 22, 2006 at 11:20:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  But ethnicity isn't passed on by genes, either. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Allogenes

      Like religion, ethnicity is passed via culture, and religion is often part of ethnicity.

      What does one do, then, when the particular ethnic heritage is to define the ethnicity by descent, as with Jews?   Well, it's neither right nor wrong, because the "definition" of an ethnic group isn't right or wrong.  It's either accepted or it's not, presumptuous or not, fair or not.

    •  I believe worship of the old gods ... (0+ / 0-)

      is still banned in modern Greece.

      •  Heh, I had to look that up (0+ / 0-)

        and apparently a Greek court recently ordered lifting the ban.  So Zeus could strike us down at any moment.

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/...

        An Athens court has ordered that the adulation of Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Athena and co is to be unbanned, paving the way for a comeback of pagans on Mount Olympus. ...

        But Greece's powerful Orthodox Church takes a less charitable view, accusing the worshippers of idolatry and "poisonous New Age practices".

        Father Eustathios Kollas, who presides over the community of Greek priests, said: "They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past."

        Can't have that happen, I guess.  We gotta keep the world safe for the monstrous dark delusions of the present.

    •  I just remembered something... (0+ / 0-)

      back in NYC I belonged to a Lutheran church for a while - very liberal, almost UU but liturgically high-church - and we had a member whose husband was Jewish, but let her raise their son in the church - not just to sit in the pew, but to acolyte and stuff.
      Every month or so the kid would be listed in the Order of Service as "Crucifer - Aaron Levy," which always struck me funny.

      "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." -- Will Rogers

      by Allogenes on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:37:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  best allen inspired diary all day n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    beachmom
    •  btw (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      condoleaser

      i named my son cohen, but i didn't have any jewish heritage before that.

      •  Why did you name him Cohen? (0+ / 0-)

        Why did you name him Cohen? Did you name him after someone?

        Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

        by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 03:37:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  it's the old story... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama, Allogenes

          Manny approached the Rabbi of his Reform Synagogue and said "Rabbi, please make me a Cohen."
          The Rabbi, taken aback, tells Manny that it is impossible.
          Manny offers the Rabbi $10,000, but the Rabbi won’t budge. He offers $50,000...then $75,000. Finally, the Rabbi, reluctantly, gives in. He teaches Manny Torah. He teaches him Talmud. After 6 months of classes, the Rabbi tells Manny, "OK, now you can be a Cohen."
          The next Shabbat, Manny is called up for the first aliya in the Torah reading. He goes up, with a big smile on his face, says the brachot and afterwards returns to his seat.
          But the Rabbi is still troubled and a little curious. He approaches Manny the next day and asks him why it was so important to him to be a Cohen.
          Manny answers, "Rabbi, my father was a Cohen; my grandfather was a Cohen. I wanted to be a Cohen too!"

          -8.38, -7.74 Schadenfreude is a dish best served piping hot.

          by condoleaser on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 05:28:08 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  the answer to that reminds me of a story... (0+ / 0-)

          ...from the kurt vonnegut novel "mother night."

          it's about an american living in WWII germany who poses as a nazi propagandist in order to send out coded messages for the allies over german radio.

          anyway, at one point he translates lincoln's gettyburg address into german for one of hitler's speeches and his superiors are very impressed, proclaiming it some of the best war propaganda they've ever heard.

          but they get a little nervous about the author and ask the american: this abraham lincoln fellow, he wasn't jewish was he? because the name is very suspicious.

          the american say no and reassures them by saying something to the effect of "his parents were simple frontier people, they probably just liked the way it sounds"

          that's also how we arrived at the name cohen. just liked the way it sounds.

  •  Descended from the ancient Hebrews? (2+ / 0-)

    How can anyone prove that one given the genetic diversity among Jewish people. Even among much more closed socities there is still a wide degree of genetic difference. This kind of blood argument seems a bit stuck in the 19th century rather like poor Georgie who is unable to come to terms with the fact that he is a member of the human race and related by not that much distance to almost everyone else.

  •  Everyone's interrelated (3+ / 0-)

    It may seem surprising, but it's fairly easy to show that if a person has any descendants after a few hundred years, then they have everyone as a descendent.

    Basically there are two options: either your lineage dies out, or eventually everyone on Earth is descended from you.  The middle ground of having a few descendants in perpetuity has vanishingly small probability.

    You can do the math yourself:  assume that for several generations each of your children has two children.  At 25 years per generation, after 300 years, or 12 generations, that's about 2^12, or 4000 descendants.  The precise numbers are not very critical--even for very different values, it's plausible that every villager becomes the ancestor of everyone in their village within a few hundred years.  If we assume that every fifty years or so, someone from the village has children in another village at random in the nation, then in another several hundred years, the descendants reach the entire nation.  From there, it's not hard to see how everyone in the world becomes a descendant.

    Steve Olson puts it well in World Roots :

    The mathematical study of genealogy indicates that everyone in the world is descended from Nefertiti and Confucius, and everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne.

    •  I was going to raise this (0+ / 0-)

      The concept of being descended from something or other is fun, but fairly common.

      The guy in England, for example, descended from Genghis Khan.

      •  actually... (0+ / 0-)

        that was later found not to be true. I think the article was in the NY Times magazine about a month ago.

        Do you trust the people who handled the federal response to Katrina to protect us against terror?

        by ubertar on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:20:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  ok but (0+ / 0-)

      it doesn't extend to "everyone on Earth".  that's only for populations where the people are mixing with each other.  Some communities stay isolated.  It might make sense mathematically given the world population, but it's not like villagers in Mongolia and Africa are descended from William the Conqueror.

      although it's getting late, you still have plenty of time

      by maracuja on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:31:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  eventually, they are (0+ / 0-)

        Maybe not William the Conqueror--that's only a thousand years or so.  But if you  go back three thousands years or more, then they probably are descended from everyone alive then that still has descendants.

        It's hard to find a population that has remained isolated for over a thousand year--too many travelling salesmen.

  •  I knew a familly of Cohens in Fes, ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

    ... very Arab and very Muslim.

    And a nice family.

    It occured to me to ask them if the Jewish quarter in Fes, and the post war migration of most of its inhabitants to Isreal had any relevance to them, but I didn't.

    Isrealis, btw, are very welcome in Morocco. I had 2 Isreali colleagues while I was there, and I met several Isreali musicians who were tracing their musical roots. Apparently there is a Gnawa influence in some Isreali folk music.

  •  Anguish? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

    Why would that happen? I guess I'm not ignorant enough to get it. I'm Irish Catholic, but part of my family's line are Freemans, old school Irish Jews. I'd have problem accepting a Protestan (Anglo/Saxon), but my family accepts our Jewish blood without a thought.
    The Jews were the very first 'other' people the Irish ever liked in 3,000 years of history. They were the only ones who ever came over and treated us with respect.

    Just when they think they know the answer, I change the question. -Roddy Piper

    by McGirk on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 03:27:56 AM PDT

  •  The Judaic defintion of being a Jew: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

    You can be born Jewish only if your mother is Jewish.  If all of your male ancestors were non-Jewish, as long as there is an unbroken line of Jewish mothers-grandmothers-greatgrandmothers-on-and-on leading to your birth: then you're Jewish.  If every one of your male ancestors was non-Jewish, it doesn't matter. No matter how "diluted" your Jewish blood is, as long as your mother is Jewish: then you're Jewish. Even if your mother never practiced Judiasm or she converted to another religion, if she's Jewish by birth, then you are too.

    The other side of that coin is this: lets say all of your great-grandparents, except for one of your great grandmothers, was Jewish. If you have unbroken matrilineal descent from your non-Jewish g-grandmother, then you're not Jewish. The non-Jewish g-grandmother's daughter (your matrilineal grandmother) isn't Jewish. So her daughter (your mother) isn't Jewish either; so then you're not Jewish....even though 87.5% of your ancestors were Jewish.

    The spiritual/theological justification for this is that it is the mother who gives the child its life.

    You can convert to Judaism, but it's a lot like getting a Master's degree.  You have to study for about a year and then pass tests on your knowledge. Once you have learned to be a Jew, then there is a religious ceremony where you become Jewish.

    -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

    by xynz on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 04:06:49 AM PDT

    •  I thought there was a different rationale (0+ / 0-)

      The spiritual/theological justification for this is that it is the mother who gives the child its life.

      My understanding is that the rule is an implicit acknowledgment of the fact that infidelity occurs. Since only a woman can be sure that her children are hers, the only sure way to ensure a Jewish lineage is to require that the mother be Jewish.

      BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what? QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center. BUSH: Nothing! Except for...

      by DrReason on Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 05:21:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Where did you read that? nt (0+ / 0-)

        -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

        by xynz on Fri Sep 22, 2006 at 05:13:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  got it from a Jewish colleague n/t (0+ / 0-)

          BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what? QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center. BUSH: Nothing! Except for...

          by DrReason on Fri Sep 22, 2006 at 06:35:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The explanation I gave ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

            ...comes from Rabbi Motty(sp?) Berger: a very well respected member of the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

            I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rebbe Motty. I was in his Yeshiva class when a student, who can only be described as a militant Kahanite, tried to argue that there was an essential difference between the souls of Jews and non-Jews. Motty essentially told him that such an idea was a crock of shit.

            -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

            by xynz on Sat Sep 23, 2006 at 12:54:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Now that I think about it.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

            ...the infidelity explanation isn't logical.  If that was the reason, then the all inheritance (including land/title/etc) would be also be matrilineal. But those are patrilineal; if fathers really thought there was a question about the paternity of their progeny, then they would not let them inherit anything, let alone their religion.

            -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

            by xynz on Sat Sep 23, 2006 at 01:10:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Jewish Law Is Case by Case (0+ / 0-)

              Generalizations about Jewish law--whether determining who is Jewish or any other subject--should be understood to be only generalizations.  

              Jewish law--Talmudic law to be more precise--is based on cases in the same manner that American law is based on cases.  Instead of the cases being written and interpreted by judges and lawyers, as is the case in our country, the cases are written and interpreted by rabbis.

              A Pennsylvania appellate judge recently told me that American law has so many paths in all directions that any appeals judge can do just about anything he wants to do, and cite precedent to support it. The same is true with Talmudic law.  

              To put it another way, the decisions in both Talmudic law and American law are both very case sensitive and very fact sensitive.   That means that different circumstances lead to different conclusions as to what the law is.  Just as it is always good to have have a good well-read lawyer on your side today, so in a dispute about Talmudic law, it is good to have a good well-read rabbi.

              For much of human history, Jews lived in separate communities which were somewhat or largely governed by Talmudic law. The principles promulgated had the authority of government behind them at the time.

              It is somewhat artificial to talk about Talmudic law applying today.  If she chose to, Ettie Allen could find a synagogue that would accept her as a member; she would not have to go through any hearing procedure to determine if she was Jewish if a synagogue offered  to set one up for her.

              In past eras, the question of who was Jewish meant who was a part of a community with fixed boundaries and fixed obligations.  Today, it is largely a social question of little day to day importance except in determining what rabbi will marry you and what synagogue will accept you.

              Many synagogues--and churches, for that matter--have a defacto don't ask, don't tell policy to remove obstacles to gaining new members and to avoid time-consuming investigations of little real importance in our current era.

              Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

              by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Sat Sep 23, 2006 at 07:07:08 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  All interpretations of the law has to start... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

                ....with the written basis of the law.  Even case law has to start there.  I do not agree with your claim that Jewish law is as easy to twist as US laws are. AFAIK, there is no basis in Jewish law for patrilineal descent: you just can't get there from here.

                But, a Jewish community is free to makes its own decisions about who is and is not a Jew.  

                Reconstructionist and reform congregations will accept patrilineal descent.  They base their decisions on modern conditions and practices. Conservative and Orthodox congregations will not accept patrilineal descent and they base this decision of the written law.

                -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

                by xynz on Sat Sep 23, 2006 at 09:35:07 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  It's Not Twisting the Law; It's Picking the Law (0+ / 0-)

                  It's not twisting the law in either American or Talmudic frameworks.  It's picking which of many thousands of possible laws or combinations or laws is applicable in any particular case.

                  Your own reply above shows how it works.  Talmudic law favors determinations based on descent from the mother, but also allows local communities to make their own decisions.  So a local community is free to make determinations based on descent from the father. We both agree that this is a process with a lot of flexibility.

                  The more one examines Talmudic law, the more one sees its humanistic underpinnings.  The rabbis were interested in helping people successfully navigate their daily lives far more than they were interested in judging them harshly or punishing them.      

                  Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

                  by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Sun Sep 24, 2006 at 06:59:39 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Ok, what are the laws that can be picked to ... (0+ / 0-)

                    ... support patrilineal descent?

                    -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

                    by xynz on Sun Sep 24, 2006 at 03:33:45 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Local Decision-Making Allows Patrilineal Descent (0+ / 0-)

                      Local decision-making making allows patrilineal descent, and other things that appear firmly banned.

                      Today, at a Rosh Hashanah service, one of my synagogue's rabbis told the story of a great rabbinical scholar, who according to lore, was outvoted unanimously by the rest of his colleagues at the Yeshiva in which he taught on the issue of an interpretation of Talmudic law.

                      He tried to impress his colleagues by performing miracles such as having the tree outside run away and the river recede a great distance, but they were unimpressed.  Finally, he got God to speak to his colleagues and tell them he was right. Even that failed to work; the head of the Yeshiva informed God that he had given them to the power to decide what was right, so God's interpretation of God's laws did not matter.

                      Local interpretation is the all-purpose principle that allows the Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism to openly interpret the Talmud as they see fit and allow patrilineal descent, and allows Orthodox and Conservative Jews to make exceptions when they feel such are warranted.

                      I believe this flexibility is a good thing, and indicates a worthwhile humanism in the interpretation of Talmudic law.

                      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

                      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Sun Sep 24, 2006 at 05:54:10 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I'm talking about where is it written... (0+ / 0-)

                        ...in the codification of Jewish Law: the Torah or the Talmud.

                        Your citation of how US law can be lead to many different conclusions does not permit law, or its interpretation, to be being based solely on a local decision.  It always starts with the written law.

                        I'm not saying that patrilineal descent is a bad thing. I think Aliyah should be available to any person who could be persecuted for their Jewish blood; there is no doubt that anti-Semites would kill a person whose only Jewish forbear was their father just as quickly as they would kill one whose Jewish forbear was their mother.  

                        However, AFAIK, there is nothing in the written law that permits patrilineal descent.

                        -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

                        by xynz on Mon Sep 25, 2006 at 02:38:22 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful diary -- one correction (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA

    It was The Boston Globe, not the Washington Post, that discovered that Kerry's paternal grandparents were both Jewish.  I will be permanently amused by his immigrant grandparents literally looking at a map of Ireland, thinking "Kerry" sounds nice and promptly changing their names.  As an Irish person, I am quite flattered by them doing that.

  •  Excellent diary, (0+ / 0-)

    with a thoughtful approach. You enlightened me on some aspects of this interesting subject. Thanks!

    I was happy to find out that my great-great-grandmother was Jewish through looking at a family history of my mother's "English" side, although she always used to say we were "Pennsylvania Dutch" which she said was a conglomeration (not her exact word). That was one way to put it.:>}

    •  It's Nice To Know About One's Family History (0+ / 0-)

      It's nice to know about one's family history.  Some day I would like to learn about my family's history in Ukraine, Russia, and Poland; I only know a lot about my ancestors who lived in the United States.  My great grandfather was known as "Nathan the Good and Wonderful in his Ukranian village," I am am told, but I know nothing about what he did to earn that praise or who his parents, grandparents, and wife were.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Fri Sep 22, 2006 at 11:14:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site