T O P I C
"Who is a Jew?" (Hebrew: מיהו יהודי pronounced [ˈmihu jehuˈdi]) is a basic question about Jewish identity and self-identification. The question is based on ideas about Jewish personhood which have cultural, religious, political, genealogical and personal dimensions. The definition of who is a Jew depends on who is asking and who is answering the question. By a Jew relating to religious statutes or self-identification, or by non-Jews for other reasons (see Nazis - the Mischling test below). .
A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.
Being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents who has not undergone the formal process of conversion but who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the most liberal movements of Judaism while a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox. In this sense, Judaism is more like a nationality than like other religions, and being Jewish is like a citizenship. Each country has its own characteristics. One analysis is given by Pew ‘In Israel, Jews are united by homeland but divided into very different groups. On an international basis they are divided into Ashkenazim (from Eastern Europe) and Sephardim (from Spain) and Mizrachim (eastern or oriental) though they are sometimes joined to the Sephardim.
In common speech, the word "Jew" is used to the physical and spiritual descendants of Jacob/Israel, as well as to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and their wives. The word "Judaism" refers to their beliefs. Technically, this usage is inaccurate, just as it is technically inaccurate to use the word "Indian" to refer to the original inhabitants of the Americas. However, this technically inaccurate usage is common within and outside the Jewish community.
Marriage iin Israel can only take place when recognised by Orthodox rabbi’s. This means that a person recognised by the State as Jewish may be unable to get married in Israel.
(See The Law of Return)
The Pew answer for US statistics is described below
Conversion. Is the (usually lengthy) process by which a non-Jew can become a Jew. Recognition is determined by who carries out the conversion. For example orthodox Judaism does not recognise conversion carried out by Reform Judaism. This is a critical difference with Christianity and Islam where conversion is almost immediate. These are missionary religions, who make an organised effort to spread their religion. Judaism does not do this.
Jewish identity can be lost through the action of the state, for example by forced conversion to Christinity in Spain so that knowledge of Jewish roots is lost with the passage of time or voluntary conversion to another religion.
In Israel, Jews are united by homeland but divided into very different groups.
ORIGINS OF THE WORDS "JEW" AND "JUDAISM"
From Judaism 101
The original name for the people we now call Jews was Hebrews. The word "Hebrew" (in Hebrew, "Ivri") is first used in the Torah to describe Abraham (Gen. 14:13). The word is apparently derived from the name Eber, one of Abraham's ancestors. Another tradition teaches that the word comes from the word "eyver," which means "the other side," referring to the fact that Abraham came from the other side of the Euphrates, or referring to the fact Abraham was separated from the other nations morally and spiritually.
Another name used for the people is Children of Israel or Israelites, which refers to the fact that the people are descendants of Jacob, who was also called Israel.
The word "Jew" (in Hebrew, "Yehudi") is derived from the name Judah, which was the name of one of Jacob's twelve sons. Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. Likewise, the word Judaism literally means "Judah-ism," that is, the religion of the Yehudim. Other sources, however, say that the word "Yehudim" means "People of G-d," because the first three letters of "Yehudah" are the same as the first three letters of G-d's four-letter name.
Originally, the term Yehudi referred specifically to members of the tribe of Judah, as distinguished from the other tribes of Israel. However, after the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel (I Kings 12; II Chronicles 10). After that time, the word Yehudi could properly be used to describe anyone from the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, as well as scattered settlements from other tribes. The most obvious biblical example of this usage is in Esther 2:5, where Mordecai is referred to as both a Yehudi and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
In the 6th century B.C.E., the kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria and the ten tribes were exiled from the land (II Kings 17), leaving only the tribes in the kingdom of Judah remaining to carry on Abraham's heritage. These people of the kingdom of Judah were generally known to themselves and to other nations as Yehudim (Jews), and that name continues to be used today.
In common speech, the word "Jew" is used to refer to all of the physical and spiritual descendants of Jacob/Israel, as well as to the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and their wives, and the word "Judaism" is used to refer to their beliefs. Technically, this usage is inaccurate, just as it is technically inaccurate to use the word "Indian" to refer to the original inhabitants of the Americas. However, this technically inaccurate usage is common both within the Jewish community and outside of it, and is therefore used throughout this site.
WHO IS A JEW?
A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.
It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents who has not undergone the formal process of conversion but who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the most liberal movements of Judaism, and a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox. In this sense, Judaism is more like a nationality than like other religions, and being Jewish is like a citizenship. See What Is Judaism?
This has been established since the earliest days of Judaism. In the Torah, you will see many references to "the strangers who dwell among you" or "righteous proselytes" or "righteous strangers." These are various classifications of non-Jews who lived among Jews, adopting some or all of the beliefs and practices of Judaism without going through the formal process of conversion and becoming Jews. Once a person has converted to Judaism, he is not referred to by any special term; he is as much a Jew as anyone born Jewish.
Although all Jewish movements agree on these general principles, there are occasional disputes as to whether a particular individual is a Jew. Most of these disputes fall into one of two categories.
First, traditional Judaism maintains that a person is a Jew if his mother is a Jew, regardless of who his father is. The liberal movements, on the other hand, allow Jewish status to pass through the mother or the father if the child identifies as Jewish. For example, according to the Reform movement, former Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal, who had a Jewish father but chooses not to be identified as Jewish, would not be Jewish according to the Reform movement, but former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who had a Jewish father and adopted a Jewish identity as an adult, would be considered Jewish. See their position here). On the other hand, the child of a a Christian father and a Jewish mother who does not publicly identify himself as Jewish would be considered Jewish according to the Orthodox movement, but not according to the Reform movement. The matter becomes even more complicated, because the status of that interfaith child's children also comes into question.
Second, the more traditional movements do not always acknowledge the validity of conversions by the more liberal movements. A more liberal movement might not follow the procedures required by the more traditional movement, thereby invalidating the conversion. For example, Orthodoxy requires acceptance of the yoke of Torah (observance of Jewish law as Orthodoxy understands it), while other movements would not teach the same laws that Orthodoxy does and might not require observance. The Conservative movement requires circumcision and immersion in a mikvah, which is not always required in Reform conversions.
ABOUT MATRILINEAL DESCENT
Many people have asked me why traditional Judaism uses matrilineal descent to determine Jewish status, when in all other things (tribal affiliation, priestly status, royalty, etc.) we use patrilineal descent.
The Torah does not specifically state anywhere that matrilineal descent should be used; however, there are several passages in the Torah where it is understood that the child of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man is a Jew, and several other passages where it is understood that the child of a non-Jewish woman and a Jewish man is not a Jew.
In Deuteronomy 7:1-5, in expressing the prohibition against intermarriage, G-d says "he [i.e., the non-Jewish male spouse] will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others." No such concern is expressed about the child of a non-Jewish female spouse. From this, we infer that the child of a non-Jewish male spouse is Jewish (and can therefore be turned away from Judaism), but the child of a non-Jewish female spouse is not Jewish (and therefore turning away is not an issue).
Leviticus 24:10 speaks of the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man as being "among the community of Israel" (i.e., a Jew).
On the other hand, in Ezra 10:2-3, the Jews returning to Israel vowed to put aside their non-Jewish wives and the children born to those wives. They could not have put aside those children if those children were Jews.
Several people have written to me asking about King David: was he a Jew, given that one of his female ancestors, Ruth, was not a Jew? This conclusion is based on two faulty premises: first of all, Ruth was a Jew, and even if she wasn't, that would not affect David's status as a Jew. Ruth converted to Judaism before marrying Boaz and bearing Obed. See Ruth 1:16, where Ruth states her intention to convert. After Ruth converted, she was a Jew, and all of her children born after the conversion were Jewish as well. But even if Ruth were not Jewish at the time Obed was born, that would not affect King David's status as a Jew, because Ruth is an ancestor of David's father, not of David's mother, and David's Jewish status is determined by his mother.
WHO IS A JEW? COMPETING ANSWERS TO AN INCREASINGLY PRESSING QUESTION
The Economist, Jan 11th 2014
SLIGHT, bespectacled and friendly, Rabbi Itamar Tubul makes an unlikely frontiersman. But his colleague Ziv Maor, a spokesman for Israel’s chief rabbinate, argues that as head of the department of personal status and conversions, Rabbi Tubul plays as big a role in protecting the state as the Israel Defence Forces. On his desk in Jerusalem lie the testimony of a rabbi in Finland and a ketubah (marriage certificate) from Germany. Rabbi Tubul’s job is to determine whether the subjects of these documents, and many others, are Jewish.
Who is a Jew? This question is becoming ever more pressing for Jews around the world. It looks like a religious issue, but is bound up with history, Israeli politics and the rhythms of the diaspora. Addressing it means deciding whether assimilation is a mortal threat, as many Jews think, or a phenomenon to be accommodated. The struggle over the answer will shape Israel’s society, its relations with Jews elsewhere, and the size and complexion of the global Jewish community.
For Orthodox Jews like Rabbi Tubul, the solution is simple and ancient: you are a Jew if your mother is Jewish, or if your conversion to Judaism accorded with the Halacha, Jewish religious law. Gentiles might be surprised that for Jews by birth this traditional test makes no reference to faith or behaviour. Jews may be atheist (many are: apostasy is a venerable Jewish tradition) and still Jews. Joel Roth, a Conservative rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, likens this nativist criterion to that for American citizenship: Americans retain it regardless of their views on democracy or the constitution. Some strict rabbis even think that a child is not Jewish if born to a devout mother but from a donated gentile egg.
As some Jewish leaders privately acknowledge, this formula has uncomfortable racial undertones. Their response is that it causes no harm to others. Perhaps, but in the secular world it can be awkward. A few years ago, for example, state-funded Jewish schools in Britain were obliged to change their admissions codes after they were judged to have violated the Race Relations Act. And the halachic rules are increasingly troubling to Jews themselves.
For many Israelis, the rabbis are the problem. In a concession designed to widen support for the new state, when Israel was founded its secular rulers left matters of marriage, divorce and burial in the rabbinate’s hands. It decides who is eligible for these rites, as well as carrying them out—so would-be brides and grooms must demonstrate their Jewish credentials. Supplying the necessary documents and witnesses can be inconvenient and galling: people resent having to prove what they know to be true. Immigration has made the system seem not just irksome but unsustainable.
For example, the Ethiopian Jews who migrated to Israel in the 1980s-90s, risking their lives and losing relatives along the way, have faced persistent doubts as to whether they are properly Jewish in doctrine and descent. “I feel that I’m the Jew I want to be,” protests Fentahun Assefa-Dawit of Tebeka, an advocacy group for the 130,000-strong community. “I don’t want anyone to tell me how to be Jewish.” Western migrants, too, are sometimes doubted. The rabbinate considers some American rabbis too lax to vouch for their congregants and rejects their testimonies; it deems many overseas conversions inadequate. Many Israelis worry about the impact of such disdain on the diaspora’s political and financial backing for their state.
ISRAEL’S TIME BOMB
The biggest problem comes from the clashing consequences of two great ruptures in 20th-century history: the Holocaust and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Israel’s Law of Return, anyone who has, or whose spouse has, at least one Jewish grandparent can claim citizenship—a standard expressly modelled on the criteria for persecution under the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws of 1935. The Law of Return also recognises conversions that the rabbinate rejects. The wave of immigration from Russia in the past two decades means the discrepancy between these two standards has become glaring.
There are now several hundred thousand ex-Soviet Israelis who were Jewish enough to get in, but are not Jewish enough for the rabbis. Most are put off by the length and intellectual demands of the halachic conversion process (it doesn’t help that finished conversions are sometimes annulled for violations of Sabbath or other religious rules). Since Israel offers them no civil marriage ceremony, these Israelis and their partners go abroad to marry (as do some couples who prefer to avoid the synagogues). The population is beginning to divide into three parts: halachic Jews and Arabs, but also “others”. This tripartite split, says Yedidia Stern, a jurist at the Israel Democracy Institute, a think-tank, “is a time bomb”.
Some Israelis want to keep immigrants in the fold by making conversion easier. The response of liberals such as Ruth Calderon, a member of the Knesset for the centrist Yesh Atid party, is to try to prise apart synagogue and state. As a first step she has co-sponsored a bill that would make civil union an alternative to religious marriage. Ms Calderon, who has a PhD in the Talmud (a central Jewish text), wants to reclaim the oversight of Jewishness from the rabbis. Politicians like her, she says, are no longer willing to trade the right to pronounce on it for the votes of right-wingers in Israel’s fractured parliament.
The long-term choice for Israelis appears stark: between a different model of Jewishness or a different kind of Jewish state—in which intermarriage, hitherto regarded by Israelis as a diaspora woe, becomes, in a peculiar and unexpected way, a worry for them as well.
THE FRAYING DIASPORA
In the West, freedom has opened its own gap between history and Halacha. The Pew Research Centre recently surveyed American Jews, who account for almost half the global total (see chart). The responses confirm that Jewishness is not thought to consist mostly in belief: 22% of American Jews described themselves as having no religion (swap “Christians” for “Jews” and the statistic becomes nonsensical). Even among the avowedly religious, two-thirds did not think it necessary to believe in God to qualify. To widespread communal alarm, Pew also found that intermarriage has rocketed and now predominates among the young. Excluding the Orthodox (about a tenth of the American total), 72% of Jews who wed since 2000 married “out”.
ardly surprising, then, that some American rabbis are rethinking their definitions. Since 1983 the Reform movement has recognised the children of Jewish fathers—but, as for other progressive movements, blood is not enough. “Jewishness can’t only be an accident [of birth],” says Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. For some, the extra ingredient is faith: ironically, whereas Orthodox notions of Jewishness ignore belief, more liberal denominations include it. For others, Jewishness is broader than either faith or lineage.
Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim, a lively and ecumenical synagogue in Brooklyn, New York, argues that “an exclusive definition of Jews as a faith is a goyishe [gentile] construct”—an effort to fit the Jewish people into a recognisable gentile category. Attachment to Jewish history and culture also suffice, he thinks. In this dispensation, gentile spouses and converts are welcomed. The biblical story of Ruth, a gentile who took on her Israelite in-laws’ religion, is a favourite parable.
Rising intermarriage is also a fact of Jewish life in Australia, Canada, France and Britain, hosts of four of the world’s other main Jewish populations. Historically the British community has been smaller, quieter and more ossified than America’s; it has shrunk since the 1950s because of ageing and integration. But its mood is changing. Take JW3, a stylish new community centre in north London. For a Jewish institution in Britain, the building is “out, loud and proud”, as Raymond Simonson, its boss, puts it, with the word “Jewish” unusually conspicuous on the façade.
Mr Simonson eschews doctrinal disputes. JW3’s aim, he says, is to let visitors feel as Jewish as they want to be, regardless of their background: “We’re not asking you to unzip your flies or show us your mother’s ketubah.” One of its adult-education courses, designed in part for gentile spouses, is called “The Accidental Jew”. Cooking and the arts feature prominently. “I’m not saying you can sustain a whole Jewish identity by listening to Amy Winehouse or Neil Diamond,” Mr Simonson says, but they are one possible “entry point” to Jewishness, along with the Talmud, Israel and Jewish history.
TWO FUTURES, TWO MORE QUESTIONS
Opposed though the innovators and hardliners seem, they share a basic aim: to ensure Jewish continuity. Mr Maor, of the rabbinate, says: “Our job is to fight assimilation, which has been the great enemy of Judaism for 2,000 years.” For liberals, the fraying of diaspora communities makes the old strictures anachronistic. For halachic sticklers, it shows that the liberal approach has already failed.
THE KETUBAH: BEAUTIFUL AND POWERFUL
These two attitudes imply very different futures. In one the Orthodox, with their strong retention and very high birth rates, will represent a rising share of the Jewish population (in Britain the haredim, or ultra-Orthodox, are thought to account for 40% of Jewish births). They will be increasingly segregated from the less observant, who will gradually drift away, meaning total numbers will stagnate or fall. The bonds between Israel and the diaspora could weaken. In the other scenario, Jews become more pluralistic and mutually tolerant, finding room for those whose Jewish identity wavers over the course of their lives, as these days identities tend to.
Thus following from “Who is a Jew?” is a second, equally charged question: in the future, how many Jews will there be? And a third: what is a Jew? For some, Jews are adherents of an ancient faith, with a quirky biological qualification. For others, they are something less formal: members of a dispersed civilisation distinguished by an ethical tradition and interrogatory cast of mind; by a legacy of persecution and tragic worldview (and the sense of humour that is its inverse); by certain tastes in food and culture.
For Yossie Beilin, a former Israeli minister, Jews are an extended family. He would like membership to depend on neither blood nor belief, but desire to belong. “It’s a sad joke”, he says, “that after the Holocaust we are telling people who feel Jewish that they are not.” He thinks this family should offer a purely secular conversion ceremony (“I do not want to disturb God, She has so many other things to do”). Many Jews don’t believe, he reasons, so why must converts? Mr Beilin is an outlier, but perhaps not for ever.
SIDEBAR: WHO IS A JEW?
Pew Research Center (This site gives ‘A Portrait of Jewish Americans’ Click on the link to read the detail)
One of the first decisions that had to be made in conducting this study and analyzing its results was to answer the question, “Who is a Jew?” This is an ancient question with no single, timeless answer. On the one hand, being Jewish is a matter of religion – the traditional, matrilineal definition of Jewish identity is founded on halakha (Jewish religious law). On the other hand, being Jewish also may be a matter of ancestry, ethnicity and cultural background. Jews (and non-Jews) may disagree on where to draw the line. Is an adult who has Jewish parents but who considers herself an atheist nevertheless Jewish, by virtue of her lineage? What about someone who has Jewish parents and has converted to Christianity? Or someone who has no known Jewish ancestry but is married to a Jew and has come to think of himself as Jewish, though he has not formally converted to Judaism?
Various readers will have their own answers to these questions. The approach taken in this survey was to cast the net widely, seeking to interview all adults who answer an initial set of questions (the “screener”) by saying (a) that their religion is Jewish, or (b) that aside from religion they consider themselves to be Jewish or partially Jewish, or (c) that they were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, even if they do not consider themselves Jewish today. Anyone who said “yes” to any of these questions was eligible for the main interview, which included many more questions detailing religious beliefs and practices; denominational affiliations such as Reform, Conservative and Orthodox; synagogue and Jewish community connections; the religious affiliation of parents, spouses, partners and children in the home; attitudes toward Jewish identity; social and political views; and demographic measures such as age and education. This wide-net approach gives readers (and scholars who later conduct secondary analysis of the survey data) a great deal of flexibility to apply whatever definitions of “Jewish” they think are appropriate.
This report analyzes the survey data using four main categories. These are defined to be as consistent as possible with previous major surveys of U.S. Jews (e.g., by counting as Jewish not just religious Jews but also people of Jewish upbringing, even if they are not religious) while still making intuitive sense to a general U.S. audience (e.g., by not counting as Jewish anyone who describes him/herself as a Christian or who does not consider him/herself Jewish). The categories are:
Jews by religion – people who say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion);
Jews of no religion – people who describe themselves (religiously) as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way.
These first two groups constitute, for the purposes of this analysis, the “net” Jewish population. In addition, the survey interviewed:
Non-Jewish people of Jewish background – people who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish but who, today, either have another religion (most are Christian) or say they do not consider themselves Jewish;
Non-Jewish people with a Jewish affinity – people who identify with another religion (in most cases, Christianity) or with no religion and who neither have a Jewish parent nor were raised Jewish but who nevertheless consider themselves Jewish in some way. Some say, for example, that they consider themselves partly Jewish because Jesus was Jewish, because “we all come from Abraham” or because they have Jewish friends or relatives.
Most of this report focuses on the net Jewish population (Jews by religion and Jews of no religion). Whenever the views or characteristics of U.S. Jews (or just “Jews”) are discussed, this refers to the combined categories of Jews by religion and Jews of no religion. The characteristics and attitudes of people of Jewish background and people with a Jewish affinity are discussed separately in Chapter 7 of this report.
The Mischling Test refers to the legal test under Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws to determine who was a Jew.
On 11 April 1933 the regime promulgated the First Supplementary Decree for the Execution of the Law of Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, colloquially known as the First Racial Definition. This implementing decree stipulated that a person would be regarded as a racial Jew for purposes of the law if he had one Jewish parent or one Jewish grandparent, i.e. if the ancestor was "of the Jewish faith."
Under the law, Jews were to be discharged from the civil service, unless they had been employed since before World War I or unless they had fought on the front lines in the war, or had a father or son who had been killed in the war.
The "one Jewish grandparent" rule was predominant for a period of time in the Third Reich, and had typically been the test incorporated into the so-called Aryan Paragraph, which had been in currency before Hitler's assumption of power on 30 January 1933. However, various social and political factions militated in favor of a new set of discriminatory laws, which were forthcoming at the NSDAP party rally in 1935 in Nuremberg.
The Nuremberg Laws, as originally promulgated in September 1935, used the term "Jew" but did not define the term. The definition of the term was problematic for the Nazis and it was not until the issuance of a supplementary regulation in mid-November 1935 that a legal test that was specific to the Nuremberg laws was formally published.
The original draftsmen of the Nuremberg Laws, puzzled over the problem and pressed for a quick solution, solved it by the simple expedient of limiting the meaning of the term to encompass only "full Jews" (German: Volljuden). This test was relatively easy to state and apply, but Hitler vetoed the idea, without stipulating what he wanted as a replacement.
Meetings among Government and Party officials after the September 1933 annual Nuremberg party rally revealed the existence of two factions:
Obviously there was a considerable divergence of opinion. The resulting compromise was implemented by the First Supplementary Decree. The practical application of "mischling" first and second degree were further elaborated in the Wannsee Conferences and meetings on the "final solution".
The First Supplementary Decree of 14 November 1935 (Decree) addressed this issue by defining three categories:
By applying the test, a person would be classified into exactly one of the preceding categories.
The Decree sets up the legal test defined here.
The first part of the test is implemented by setting up three categories as follows:
The remaining problem was the treatment of a person with two Jewish, and two non-Jewish, grandparents. This leads to the second part of the test, which has four subdivisions.
A person with exactly two Jewish grandparents was deemed a Jew if either:
a) he is a member of the Jewish religious community on 14 November 1935 or later becomes a member; or
b) he is married to a Jew on 14 November 1935 or later marries a Jew; or
c) his parents were married on or after 17 September 1935, and one of his parents is Jewish; or
d) he is born out of wedlock after 31 July 1936, and one of his parents is Jewish.
If such a person is not classified as a Jew under any of these four subtests, then he is a Mischling of the 1st degree (by the terms of Part One).
The following Examples demonstrate how Part Two of the Decree's legal test operates.
Remember that in every case, X always has exactly two Jewish grandparents. Unless this initial condition applies, there is no point in applying these tests, as the categorization into the three basic classes (Jew, Mischling, German) is only complicated in the case of "exactly two" Jewish grandparents.
X had always worshiped as a Jew but on 1 November 1935 he converted to Catholicism. He is a Mischling (1st degree) as a result. If he had waited two more weeks to convert, he would be classified as (and would always remain) a Jew.
X had left the Jewish religious community but rejoins it on 1 December 1935. He was a Mischling but on 1 December he will be classified as a Jew.
X had been married to a Jew for years but on 1 November 1935, their divorce becomes final. He is a Mischling (1st degree) as a result. If the divorce proceedings had lasted for two more weeks, he would be classified as (and would always remain) a Jew.
X was a lifelong bachelor but married a Jew on December 1, 1935. He was a Mischling but on December 1 he will be classified as a Jew.
X has one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent and they are married 15 September 1935. He is born two years thereafter. He is a Mischling (1st degree). Same result if he is born on 1 October 1935.
X has one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent and they are married 15 October 1935. He is born two years thereafter. He is classified as a Jew. Same result if he is born 1 November 1935.
X has one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent, who never marry. He is born 10 August 1936. He is classified as a Jew. If he had been born two weeks earlier (e.g. 27 July 1936), he would have been classified as a Mischling (1st degree).
X has one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent. He is born 27 July 1936.
if his parents were married on 15 September 1935, he is a Mischling (1st degree).
if his parents were married on 15 October 1935, he is a Jew.
if his parents never marry, he is a Mischling (1st degree).
Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, September 15, 1935
Entirely convinced that the purity of German blood is essential to the further existence of the German people, and inspired by the uncompromising determination to safeguard the future of the German nation, the Reichstag has unanimously adopted the following law, which is promulgated herewith:
I. 1. Marriages between Jews and citizens of German or kindred blood are forbidden. Marriages concluded in defiance of this law are void, even if, for the purpose of evading this law, they were concluded abroad. 2. Proceedings for annulment may be initiated only by the Public Prosecutor.
II. Sexual relations outside marriage between Jews and nationals of German of kindred blood are forbidden.
III. Jews will not be permitted to employ female citizens of German or kindred blood under 45 years of age as domestic servants.
IV. 1. Jews are forbidden to display the Reich and national flag or the national colors. 2. On the other hand they are permitted to display the Jewish colors. The exercise of this right is protected by the State.
V. 1. A person who acts contrary to the prohibition of Section I will be punished with hard labor. 2. A person who acts contrary to the prohibition of Section II will be punished with imprisonment or with hard labor. 3. A person who acts contrary to the provisions of Sections III or IV will be punished with imprisonment up to a year and with a fine, or with one of these penalties.
VI. The Reich Minister of the Interior in agreement with the Deputy Führer and the Reich Minister of Justice will issue the legal and administrative regulations required for the enforcement and supplementing of this law.
VII. The law will become effective on the day after its promulgation; Section III, however, not until January 1, 1936.
The announcement of the Nuremberg Laws had the unexpected result of generating a lot of confusion and heated debate among Nazi bureaucrats as to how one should define a Jew, given that there had been widespread intermarriage up to this point.
As a result, two months later a supplemental Nazi decree was issued which defined a "full Jew" as a person with at least three Jewish grandparents. Those with fewer than three grandparents were designated as Mischlinge (half-breeds), of which there were two degrees: First Degree Mischlinge – a person with two Jewish grandparents; Second Degree Mischlinge – a person with one Jewish grandparent.
The Nazis also issued somewhat complicated instructional charts to help bureaucrats distinguish the various degrees of Jewishness. Generally, the more "full-blooded" a Jew was, the greater the level of discrimination. But much of the confusion remained. In many cases, the necessary genealogical evidence concerning Jewish family backgrounds was simply not available.
As it turned out, about 350,000 Germans could be classified as Mischlinge; with 50,000 having converted to Christianity from Judaism; 210,000 being half-Jews; and 80,000 considered quarter-Jews.
Nazi bureaucrats also disagreed on how strictly the Nuremberg Laws should be enforced. Moderate anti-Semites wanted to protect "that part which is German" concerning valuable civil servants in the government. Radicals, on the other hand, viewed all Mischlinge as carriers of "Jewish influence" and wanted them all dismissed. Much to their dismay, the moderates prevailed, and Mischlinge civil servants and others were allowed to keep their positions for the time being.
Surprisingly, many German Jews reacted to the Nuremberg Laws with a sense of relief, thinking the worst was now over – at least they finally knew where they stood and could get on with their lives even if they had diminished rights. And to some degree they were correct. Over the next few years, the Nazis moved slowly in regard to the Jews. This was the quiet time for Jews in the Third Reich, as Hitler began to focus his attention entirely on diplomatic affairs and military re-armament.
In diplomatic circles, Hitler was struggling to gain credibility. Over the past few years, international observers in Nazi Germany had witnessed an incredible chain of events including: the revolutionary-like seizure of power in January 1933; the mysterious Reichstag fire in February; the anti-Jewish boycott in April; book burnings in May; wild street violence by the Brownshirts; heard rumors of concentration camps; knew about the (already infamous) Gestapo; witnessed the blood purge of June 1934; and observed the emperor-like ascension of Hitler as Führer.
For the Nazis, it was now necessary to refrain from any further actions against the Jews that would serve to undermine Hitler's credibility on the world stage. The Führer had to present himself as someone who could be taken seriously, not as the leader of an anti-Semitic mob.
The turn of the Jews would come later. Presently, Hitler's goals were to rebuild the German Army and exploit any opportunity to expand the Reich. Early in 1936, he decided on a dangerous gamble and sent his soldiers marching into the demilitarized portion of Germany known as the Rhineland – the very first territory to be forcibly grabbed by the Nazis.
THE LAW OF RETURN
An immigration policy to ensure a Jewish majority in the State of Israel.
My Jewish Learning, Rachel Gelfman Schultz
JEWS & ARABS
One of the major goals of the Law of Return is to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel. Today, over 20% of Israeli citizens are Arab, and this number could continue to rise. The Law of Return offsets the high Arab birth rate by enabling the naturalization of thousands of Jewish immigrants to Israel each year.
However, critics argue that because the Law of Return favors Jews it is undemocratic and, according to a more extreme position, racist, and must be replaced with a more egalitarian immigration policy.
Many pro-Palestinian advocates criticize the Law of Return as discriminatory, because Israel does not grant a similar right of return to Palestinian refugees who wish to return to their former homes in Israel, after being displaced in the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Six-Day War. Today, the number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants is estimated to exceed four million. Many Israelis worry that granting the Palestinian right of return would lead to an Arab majority in Israel and the eventual dissolution of the Jewish state. The right of return has been a contentious topic of negotiation in the Israeli-Arab peace talks.
WHO IS A JEW?
There are also disputes concerning who exactly is included in the Law of Return, since the 1950 law did not define who is a Jew for the purposes of immigration.
The first major challenge to the law came in 1962 with the Brother Daniel case. Brother Daniel, born Oswald Rufeisen, was a Polish Jew who converted to Catholicism during the Holocaust. He later became a Carmelite monk, and in this position saved many Jews during the Holocaust. When Brother Daniel applied to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that he was ineligible because the Law of Return does not include Jews who practice another religion.
Then in 1969, the Israeli Supreme Court in the Shalit case ruled that a child born in Israel to a Jewish Israeli father and non-Jewish mother could be registered as Jewish in Israel’s Population Registry. Since this ruling runs counter to the traditional Jewish legal definition of a Jew–someone born to a Jewish mother–tremendous controversy ensued, which led to the 1970 amendment of the Law of Return.
This amendment expanded the right of return to include the child or grandchild of a Jew, and the spouse of a child or grandchild of a Jew. For the purposes of this law, “Jew” was defined as someone who has a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism, and is not a member of another religion.
By including the children and grandchildren of Jews, the 1970 amendment is reminiscent of the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws. Any person who would have been targeted by the Nazis for being Jewish, the amended law implies, deserves the right to safe haven in Israel.
The question of whether non-Orthodox converts should be included in the Law of Return has also been debated for decades. Since the 1970 amendment, the ultra-Orthodox parties in Knesset have advocated limiting the Law of Return to Orthodox converts.
In 1988, Yitzhak Shamir tried to convince the ultra-Orthodox parties to join his coalition by offering them the prospect of amending the Law of Return to include only those converts who converted to Judaism “according to Jewish law.” But leaders of Jewish Federations in America understood this to de-legitimate the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism. They threatened that American Jewish support of Israel cannot be taken for granted, and Shamir withdrew his offer.
Then in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone who converted to Judaism in a non-Orthodox conversion outside the State of Israel is included in the Law of Return. Orthodox leaders, particularly the Israeli rabbinate, were outraged at the Supreme Court’s ruling. But the ruling was only a partial success for liberal Judaism, because it still did not include those who converted in non-Orthodox ceremonies in Israel. Because of this technicality, many non-Jews living in Israel who want to convert through non-Orthodox rabbis are forced to become “leaping converts” who study for conversion in Israel, convert with non-Orthodox rabbis abroad, and then return to Israel.
In addition, the Israeli Rabbinate, which has a monopoly on marriage and divorce between Jews in the state, does not accept non-Orthodox converts as Jewish. As a result, non-Orthodox converts admitted to Israel under the Law of Return cannot marry or divorce in the country. In recent years, the Israeli Rabbinate has even questioned the legitimacy of many Orthodox conversions performed abroad.
IMMIGRANTS FROM ETHIOPIA AND THE FORMER SOVIET UNION
In the last two decades, some important questions regarding the Law of Return have come to the fore as large groups of immigrants have arrived in Israel from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.
The Falash Mura, who claim to be descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity several generations ago, have been seeking to immigrate to Israel for two decades. Israel has already admitted thousands of Falash Mura, both under the Law of Return and, if they do not qualify for admission under the Law of Return, for humanitarian reasons. Yet thousands more live in camps in Addis and Gondar, and their eligibility for Aliyah has not been determined by Israel’s government.
Over a million people from the Former Soviet Union have immigrated to Israel since 1989. Though these immigrants have Jewish ancestry, many are not Jewish according to Orthodox (and in many cases even liberal) interpretations of Jewish law, and some do not identify as Jews. Some Israelis, concerned that these immigrants threaten the Jewish character of the state, argue that Israel should limit immigration from the FSU. Others argue that Israel needs to make conversion more accessible, and work to ease the integration of immigrants from the FSU into Israeli society.
In the wake of these controversies, Israelis debate possible reforms to the Law of Return, and what it means for Israel to be a homeland for Jews all over the world–not only a place to which Jews can freely immigrate, but also a country that can successfully integrate the diverse Jews that seek a home there.
IN ISRAEL, JEWS ARE UNITED BY HOMELAND BUT DIVIDED INTO VERY DIFFERENT GROUPS
Pew Research Center, Kelsey, Jo Starr and David Masci
Few communities, even small ones, are culturally or socially monolithic. That is the case with Israeli Jews: There are only about 6 million Jews living in Israel, but there are major religious, social and political chasms that divide Jews within the borders of this small nation.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that nearly all Israeli Jews self-identify with one of four subgroups: Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”), Dati (“religious”), Masorti (“traditional”) and Hiloni (“secular”). Beyond differences in religious belief and practice, these groups inhabit largely distinct social worlds characterized by their own lifestyles and politics. Following is a short profile of each of these four major religious groups, based on the ways Israeli Jews in the new survey describe themselves:
Haredim are the most religiously devout group in Israel, with 96% saying religion is very important in their lives, compared with 30% of all Israeli Jews. The word “Haredi” literally translates to “trembling” or “fearing God,” and most Haredim live their lives secluded from the rest of society. They have few close friends outside their own group, and they generally oppose intermarriage with other Jewish subgroups. Haredim tend to dress more conservatively, often including large black kippas and shtreimel or fedora hats for men and wigs or other head coverings for women. Haredi men are much more likely to attend religious educational institutions (yeshivas), which also has traditionally exempted them from the mandatory military requirements that other Israeli citizens face – something that has been a recent topic of controversy in Israeli politics. Fully 83% of Haredim favor keeping these exemptions, but less than half of all other Jewish subgroups agree. Haredim are more ambivalent about the state of Israel than other Jews in some ways, because some have long felt there should not have been the establishment of a formal Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah. For example, Haredim are far less likely than other Israeli Jews to identify as Zionists.
Datiim are nearly as religiously devout as the Haredim. About nine-in-ten of those surveyed from both groups say they are absolutely certain in their belief in God, and nearly all surveyed from either group say they do not travel by car, train or bus on the Sabbath, in accordance with Jewish law. However, Datiim – sometimes described as modern Orthodox Jews – are much more integrated in modern Jewish society. For instance, Datiim are more likely than Haredim to say they value career success and world travel. And Dati men are much more likely to serve in the Israeli military than Haredi men. Dati citizens also tend to be active in Israeli politics. A majority among Datiim describe themselves as part of the political right, and fully 71% agree that Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, significantly more than any other Jewish group. They also are more likely than those in the other three groups to say building Jewish settlements in the West Bank helps Israel’s security.
Masortim are the most diverse of the four Jewish groups. They encompass a large middle ground between the two Orthodox groups and secular Jews. About half (51%) say religion is somewhat important in their lives, as opposed to very important (32%) or not too/not at all important (16%). While the three other Jewish groups often have strong opinions on one side or another on many issues relating to religion and public life, Masortim are generally much more divided. For example, while strong majorities of both Haredim and Datiim favor shutting down public transport during the Sabbath and over nine-in-ten Hilonim Jews oppose it, Masorti respondents are split on the issue (44% are in favor and 52% oppose). Masortim also are more likely to have Jewish friends from outside their group than the other three who, for the most part, socialize with members of their own community. According to surveys conducted over time, Masortim may be declining somewhat as a percentage of Israeli Jews.
Hilonim, who tend to be secular in their outlook, are by far the largest Jewish group in Israel, making up roughly half of Israeli Jews. Only 18% are absolutely certain in their belief in God, and 40% do not believe in God at all. Hilonim strongly favor the separation of religion from public life in Israel. For example, they overwhelmingly oppose shutting down public transportation during the Sabbath. Hilonim are the only Jewish group in Israel among whom a majority (59%) say their Israeli identity comes before their Jewish identity. At the same time, overwhelming shares of Hilonim say they are proud to be Jewish and believe a Jewish state is necessary for the survival of the Jewish people. Large majorities of Hilonim say they partake in Jewish rituals, but these include events that could be seen as cultural rather than religious, such as lighting Hanukkah candles or attending a Passover Seder. These views reflect the fact that 83% of Hilonim see being Jewish as a matter of ancestry and culture rather than as a matter of religion. Hilonim also overwhelmingly say all or most of their close friends are like them (secular), and they are also especially likely to marry within their own group.
WHY BE JEWISH?
by Kirk Douglas
This article was printed in the February 1995 issue of Moment magazine. It is an adaptation of a talk Kirk Douglas gave at the Los Angeles Synagogue for the Performing Arts.
When I was a poor kid growing up in Amsterdam, New York, I was pretty good in cheder (a school for Jewish children in which Hebrew and religious knowledge are taught), so the Jews of our community thought they would do a wonderful thing and collect enough money to send me to a yeshiva ( a Jewish institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and the Torah) to become a rabbi. It scared the hell out of me, because I didn't want to become a rabbi. I wanted to be an actor. Believe me, the members of the Sons of Israel synagogue were persistent.
I had to work hard to get out of it. But it took me a long time to learn that you don't have to be a rabbi to be a Jew. You see, I got frightened at age 14 by the story of Abraham and Issac. I remember the picture in my Hebrew school book. Abraham with a long beard. In one outstretched hand, holding a large knife, in the other -- a frightened little boy. And that kid looked an awful lot like me. A hovering angel was having a hard time restraining Abraham. How could the angel convince Abraham that G-d was only testing him? Some test! That picture stayed in my mind for a long time as I drifted away from Judaism. I grew up, went to college, but my Judaism stayed stuck in a 14-year-old boy's Hebrew school book.
It has been pointed out to me that no rational adult would make a business decision based on what they knew when they were 14. You wouldn't decide who to marry based on what you knew about love and relationships when you were 14. But lots of us seem satisfied to dismiss religion based on what we learned at 14, and I was one of those that stupid. Of course, I was always proud to be a Jew, even though it would have been easier for me not to be. I remember when I auditioned as a young actor in a Yiddish theater in New York. They looked at me and said: "If we have a part for a Nazi, we'll call you."
Although I felt drawn to the mystery of Judaism, other aspects pushed me away. What did I have in common with those black-hatted, bearded men with their long payis? But as time went on, I got older and I began to change. The catalyst was my son Michael. One day he asked me: "Dad, where did my grandfather come from?" I suddenly realized how little I knew about my background. Anyone who could tell me was long dead. I had no ancestors. This thought depressed me. It haunted me. I had no ancestors! Can a man know who he truly is, if he doesn't know who his ancestors were? I was lying in my room pondering this question for the umpteenth time, when I happened to look up over my bed. There on the wall hangs my collection of Chagall lithographs, his Bible series. And then it hit me. Here were my ancestors! And what a famous group -- Moses, Abraham, Jacob, and so many others! I began to read about them, and the more I read, the happier I felt. Why? They all came from dysfunctional families. They all had problems. Cain kills Abel. Jacob deceives his father. Joseph gets sold into slavery by his brothers. King David sees beautiful Bathsheba, naked, washing herself. She's a married woman. But, next thing you know, she is pregnant with his child, and her husband is dead. One sinner after another, and despite that, they all overcame the odds and accomplished great things!
What an inspiration to a sinner like me. And what a load of guilt off my shoulders. I was very grateful to Chagall for reminding me what an incredible lineage I had. Then I found out that Chagall, a Russian Jew, came from Vitesbsk, a town not far from Mogilev, my parents' home town, in White Russia. In fact, my father and Chagall both left that region, the Pale of Settlement, where Jews had to live, about the same time. Chagall became a famous artist in Paris, and my father became a ragman in Amsterdam, New York. Jews have diverse talents.
The more I studied Jewish history, the more it fascinated me. How did we survive? Lost in different parts of the world, among strange cultures -- constantly persecuted. Yet, our tormentors rose and fell, and we still hung on. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, all are long gone and we remain, despite all the persecution. And that is when I started to think that we should thank those pious, black-hatted, bearded Jews with their long payis -- for keeping Judaism alive for so long. They understood something very deep that we more secular types never learned, or forgot if we did. G-d gave us the Torah -- and that made us the conscience of the world. I was fascinated to learn that even if we Jews sometimes forget it, our persecutors remember.
Here is what Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf:
"It is true we Germans are barbarians; that is an honored title to us. I free humanity from the shackles of the soul; from the degrading suffering caused by the false vision called conscience and ethics. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on mankind: circumcision on its body and conscience on its soul. They are Jewish inventions. The war for the domination of the world is waged only between these two camps alone, the Germans and the Jews. Everything else is but deception."
He was right, It was all about the battle between good and evil. I am just beginning to realize what that means for us Jews, and it scares me. It carries such an enormous burden. No wonder that Jews the world over have tried to escape into the safety of assimilation. But that safety always turns out to be a trap. Amazing, isn't it -- before the Nazis came into power, Germany was the country where Jews had assimilated almost completely. Judaism was dying out. Some German Jews -- like Heine and Marx -- even became famous for their anti-Semitism. And then the German people, who had absorbed the Jews with such open arms, turned on them with such viciousness. It has happened over and over in history.
In 1492, while Columbus was discovering America, Torquemada was doing his best to get rid of all the Jews in Spain. This I learned from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's book Jewish Literacy (William Morrow & Co.). No home should be without it. Back then in Spain, the situation was very much like that in Germany some 500 years later. The Sephardic Jews were well along the route of assimilation and held important posts in Spain. Contrary to popular misconception, the Inquisition was not directed only against Jews, but particularly former Jews who had converted to Christianity. How odd that, with all the persecutions we have been subjected to, the worst comes when we've moved away from Judaism. Is G-d telling us something? I'm beginning to think so.
Throughout my life, when I was moving farther and farther from Judaism, I always clung to a single thread -- Yom Kippur. On That one day I fasted. I might be shooting it out with Burt Lancaster or John Wayne, or battling Laurence Olivier and his Romans, but I always fasted. You see, there was something frightening to me about that Golden Book in which is written and sealed -- who shall live and who shall die -- who will survive a helicopter crash, like me, and who will be killed. That helicopter crash -- two people died -- brought to my consciousness what had been roiling under the surface for all those years.
And so, two years ago, I went with my son Eric, who is a stand-up comedian, to the Kol Nidre service at the Comedy Club on Sunset Boulevard. This year, I spent Yom Kippur at a synagogue in Paris. Now that I'm a member of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, I hope to spend my next Yom Kippur there.
In September, I visited Israel after a 12-year absence. I had made four movies there. I had been there many times, but I stayed away too long. I was excited. We drove up to the hotel. Everyone seemed so glad to see me again. They ushered me and my wife into our room and I was amazed. They had put my initials -- KD -- on the sheets, towels, bathrobes, everything. I was so moved and very flattered until my wife said, "Honey, this is the King David Hotel." I walked to the window and stared out at the magnificent view of the Old City, the Ottoman Empire walls surrounded by grass and flowers. I couldn't help but remember the first time I saw that view more that 40 years ago, when I came to Israel to make "The Juggler" -- a movie about a Holocaust survivor who had lost his Jewishness and finds it again in Israel. But back then, when I looked out of the window of this same King David Hotel, where the grass and flowers now grow, I saw Arab soldiers in dirty uniforms, pacing back and forth. I paid a visit to David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minister, in his office -- a trailer. After a few minutes, he dismissed me: "Go make your movie -- I have a country to run."
Israel was hungry then -- literally, Food was rationed. Everyone was allowed one egg a month. But no one complained. They all seemed so happy. they were deciding to learn some Hebrew too. Of course, I knew lots of prayers, but I never knew what I was saying. I learned this sentence in Hebrew: "Ani rotzeh l'habir et simehati harabah l'hisdamnut asher natnah li l'vaker b'Yisroel, ha'aretz hak'tanah b'madatah v'hag'dolah b'ruchah." I'm glad to have this opportunity to visit the land of Israel, so small in area, but so big in aspirations."
Over the course of many visits I made to Israel since that first time, I saw most of those aspirations fulfilled. Now I was back again. How Israel had changed. So many new things. But more important, so many old things. The old is what had brought me here. I didn't want to change my clothes. I rushed out of the hotel. The sun was just setting. The Kotel, the Western Wall, was crowded with worshipers. The energy emanated from all the praying Jews, davening at a wild pace, was overwhelming. I moved through the crowd. It was difficult to find a place to touch the wall. I looked around for a crevice where I could put the tiny folded up piece of paper with my prayer. I found one. As I reached deep into it, my fingers touched the other pieces placed there before me. I hoped that all those prayers had been answered. The next day, I took a walk through the Western Wall tunnel, along the foundations of the Temple Mount, the tunnel that takes you deep underneath the Moslem Quarter. As I slowly walked along, following my guide, I let my fingers caress the huge blocks of stone that enclose the mount where the Temple once stood. And then we stopped at the point where we could touch bedrock. My guide, a young girl from Pittsburgh who had moved to Israel, spoke softly: "This is the rock of Mount Moriah." I looked at this rough black stone. "Mount Moriah?" I asked. "You mean..." She finished it for me. "Yes, this is where Abraham took his son Issac to be sacrificed." The picture from my Hebrew school book flashed into my mind. But it no longer frightened me. Now I knew that Abraham lived at a time when sacrificing your son to the idols was a common practice. The lesson of Mount Moriah was precisely that G-d does not want human sacrifice -- that G-d is not someone to be afraid of. It was very quiet in the tunnel, dimly lit, cool. My guide's voice was barely above a whisper. "This is where it all started." I couldn't speak. She was right. This place represented the beginning of my doubts. And, at long last, the end of them. Here in the dark tunnel, touching the rock of Mount Moriah, I grew up.
That night I had Shabbat at the home of Rabbi Aaron, a young rabbi who has a school -- Isralight Institute, in the heart of the Jewish quarter -- teaching adults what they, like me, had never learned as children: the joy of Judaism. We sang songs, with the rabbi beating time on the table. Through the window I could see other houses lit by the warm light of candles and could hear the same songs echoing in the night. They were happy songs. I felt good. That night I felt that I had come home. And yet I know that my journey is not over. I still have a long way to go. Judaism is a lifetime of learning, and I've just started. I hope it's not too late. If G-d is a patient G-d, maybe he'll give me enough time to learn the things I need to know to understand what it is that makes us Jews the conscience of the world.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS: I ‘NEVER FELT ACCEPTED’ AS A JEW
Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Ben Sales, June 17, 2015
speaking at the announcement of the
Genesis Generation Challenge winners
at the Bloomberg Philanthropies headquarters in New York City
on April 28, 2015. (Flickr)
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Michael Douglas hadn’t heard of the Genesis Prize when he found out that he’d won it. In fact, the Oscar-winning actor was surprised to discover he was even in the running for an award designed for those who inspire fellow Jews.
His father, actor Kirk Douglas, is Jewish. But his mother, actress Diana Dill, is not — Douglas thought that would disqualify him.
“I felt that they made a mistake because my mother is not Jewish,” Douglas told JTA in an interview Wednesday in Jerusalem. “I saw that as a barrier most of my life.”
Douglas is in Israel to receive the second annual $1 million Genesis Prize, which honors those who have excelled professionally while showing dedication to Judaism or Israel. The prize is endowed by the Genesis Prize Foundation, a group of Russian-Jewish businessmen who fund identity-building programs for Russian Jewry.
Douglas, who is married to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, will receive the “Jewish Nobel,” as the prize has been nicknamed, in a ceremony Thursday. The inaugural honor went to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year.
Some have criticized the initial prizes being awarded to multimillionaires. But Douglas praised the decision, saying that choosing celebrities gives the award and its message publicity. He said that an Op-Ed he wrote decrying anti-Semitism that was published in the Los Angeles Times in March gained attention because of his fame.
“It was quite smart of the foundation to pick a celebrity,” he said. “Celebrities get your message out and across. I don’t think [the Op-Ed] would have received the attention if it were someone else, but because you’re a celebrity you get the attention.”
An actor and producer who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Gordon Gekko in 1987’s “Wall Street,” Douglas recently began reconnecting to his Jewish identity. He said he “drifted away from the religion” because some considered him non-Jewish, but he began to explore his Jewish roots after his father, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, was in a helicopter accident in 1991.
Douglas’ son, Dylan, has also brought him closer to Judaism. Dylan befriended Jewish kids at school and ate Shabbat dinners at their homes throughout the year. Because of the experience, Dylan decided to attend Hebrew school and have a bar mitzvah.
“After five, six, seven months, he came back and said, ‘I feel something. My soul feels warmer,’” Douglas said.
Following the bar mitzvah, the family took a celebratory trip last year to Israel. Douglas wrote the Op-Ed urging readers to fight anti-Semitism after Dylan was verbally accosted at a pool while wearing a Jewish star necklace.
“So that is our challenge in 2015, and all of us must take it up,” he wrote. “Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness.”
Speaking to JTA, Douglas kept coming back to feeling excluded from the Jewish community. Winning the Genesis Prize, he said, has finally made him feel like he belongs.
“It was a cathartic experience, to say, ‘Hey, we acknowledge and recognize you as a Jew,’” he said. “It was a wonderful, emotional experience. I’m one of those who never felt accepted.”
Douglas intends to use the prize money to reach out to other Jews from intermarried families seeking a connection to the community. He plans to begin by funding an outreach program through Hillel, the campus Jewish organization, which can reach a large number of students with intermarried parents.
“To try to reach out to interfaith couples who are not associated with a synagogue or temple is difficult,” he said. But on campus, “you have a captive audience.”
CORRECTION: This story stated incorrectly that the Genesis Prize was funded by the Genesis Philanthropy Group. It is funded by the Genesis Prize Foundation.
Who is a Jew? Wikipedia
The Half-Jewish Network: Welcoming Adult Children & Grandchildren of Intermarriage
(This is a fascinating site even explaining how you can be a Jew and a Muslim at the same time)
Who is a Jew/Who is a Good Jew? ‘The Jewish Book of Why Vol 2 pp17 et seq Alfred J Kolatch
I ‘NEVER FELT ACCEPTED’
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
WHO IS A JEW?
WHAT IS A JEW? -
RELIGION? NATION? RACE? CULTURE?
J-TV: Jewish Ideas. Global Relevance.
Ken Spiro, 2018 (3.10)
CONVERSION TO JUDAISM:
WHAT YOU MUST KNOW –
Rabbi Michael Skobac – Jews for Judaism
Should non-Jews convert to Judaism? What is required for one to convert to Judaism. Is conversion to Judaism
WHO IS A JEW?
Limmud Conference: Rabbi Uri Regev:
A Multi-Dimensional Study: A Biblical, Halachic, Legal, and Political Survey"
Chart to help bureaucrats distinguish
(mixed race persons)
The white figures
the black figures
the shaded figures
From The History Place