“Not A Jew”

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I don’t often dive into the topic of religion, but wanted to share a conversation I had this evening with a woman that I was introduced to at a social function. I noticed she was wearing a Star of David necklace and was originally from News York, and figured that might be a nice starting point for a conversation.

ME: Oh, I noticed your necklace – are you Jewish?
WOMAN: Yes, I am. Are you?
ME: Well, I was raised in Jewish home, but I’m no longer Jewish.
ME: Yeah, my father is Jewish – he was born and raised in the Bronx, most of my relatives are New York Jews.
WOMAN: Well, is your mother Jewish?
ME: No, she –
WOMAN (dismissively, authoritatively): Oh, well then you’re not Jewish.

So there you have it. From an obvious expert on All Things Jewish, who has pronounced me – and by extension my father – to be Not Jewish. Huh. That will be news to him, what with him being Bar Mitzvahed, going to temple on Fridays, serving as the Jewish lay leader at every military installation he was assigned to, celebrating Passover and Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and such each year.

And yes, yes, I know about the silly “rules” that some people cling to about what IS and IS NOT Jewish, but they are quite simply nonsense. If a person believes in the tenets of Judaism and practices them, then that person is Jewish, regardless of any accident of birth.



  1. Wow…a religious post on here, and a good one. I agree with your final statement, though I am a christian and not Jewish, yes, if a person believes in the tenets of a religion and practices them, they are, in this case, Jewish. Very well put!

  2. Don’t feel bad, Dave. We Jews argue about such things and then have a nice knish, maybe two. Hey, every Jew knows why we have that rule: it’s obvious who the mother is…the father, not so much. Have you looked at pictures of your parents’ mailman?

    Also, Jewish humor is a “humor of inflection”. Did she wink or roll her eyes after she said you weren’t Jewish?Did you offer to show her your matzo balls so she could be sure?

    If she was serious, too bad for her. She’s missing a joy of being Jewish.

    Your story reminds me of one of the last times I went to synagogue. I was only fourteen. There were about twenty people waiting at the Malmstrom Air Force Base Chapel for the rabbi to arrive. When he did, he counted the males in the crowd with his index finger and announced there weren’t enough men for a real ‘service’. (ten males required by Orthodox Jewish Rabbis–it’s called a ‘minion’). I had a Jewish mother, but I didn’t have a circumcised penis, so my presence as a female, I understood, was only tangental. I raged.

    By the time I was sixteen I had had enough of ALL organized western religion. My mother, though, attends most every event of our local Aitz Chaim congregation, and from what I understand they bring in Reform Rabbis. I think we North Central Montana ‘Free Range Jews’ are an amazing bunch.

    In some ways I am still very much a Jew. Not a good Jew, but it might help that I feel a little guilty about that.

    Even people who do not practice the religious tenants of Judaism are allowed, in the minds and hearts of many Jews, to define themselves as Jewish. I know one avowed Atheist who hosted a Passover Seder for over thirty people (including a rabbi)! It’s one of the things I cherish about the Jewish heritage: passionate arguments are allowed, and even encouraged as an opportunity to learn and to sharpen the skills of argument.

    Every religion has a spectrum of followers, from rampant idealogues to deathbed converts. I’m satisfied where I sit, thanks. And tell your father that in my eyes, despite his religious beliefs, his son David is still a “nice Jewish boy.”

  3. Wow. A debate on Patrilineal descent on Greaterfalls.

    This is one of the subjects that we can argue about for hours. As Claire noted, usually over some nice knish or chopped herring. Your friend might be interested to know that while we have had a tradition of matrilineal descent for about 2 thousand years, our faith did not have that tradition before that time. Were Jews still Jews prior to the Roman occupation? If your friend firmly insists upon Jews having an unbroken matrilineal line, then she can not trace any Jew before that “policy” change.

    And Claire, at Aitz Chaim we count any Jewish adult (matrilineal, patrilineal or legitimate conversion; must be over 13 years old) for minyan. Going to shul isn’t needed to make one a good Jew. Personally, I am more interested in what people do outside of shul.

    David, David’s Dad and Claire — Y’all’s yiddishe punim are fine in my book.

  4. Ashkenazic Judaism has existed for about 1200 years. It was evolved by Jewish men in Italy who were hired by the Christian noblemen to move up to the Germanic territories to manage the finances of the nobility. They collected rents and loaned money and collected interest which at that time period was forbidden to Christians. So the Jews did their dirty work. These Jewish men frequently went alone as single men and they hooked up with the local females and made them Jews (or not) and raised their children as Jews. So Ahkenazic Judaism was created by patrilineal descent. It happened so many generations ago that it just melded into new Jewish communities. If 5 or 6 generations ago someone in the mix wasn’t Jewish and all the succeeding generations have practiced Judaism, who is going to argue with you that you are not Jewish? The person arguing with you is likely as Jewish as you.

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