Friday, February 20, 2009

hating the half jew

Like my fave commentator Tommy, I too was pretty shocked to read some of the reactions to my use of the designation 'Half Jew' in my last post.

Obviously, like every Ortho Jew, the fact that there is no such thing as a Half Jew has been drilled into my head to the point where I sometimes have to restrain myself from stating that fact to someone who declares themselves Half Jewish in my presence.

I think everyone has the right to assume whatever label they so choose - whether it be vegetarian, or punk, or even Half Jewish - whether or not the greater society would apply that same label. I can tell you my hair is pink. Obviously it isn't (that would be bad for shidduchim). You know that. But I still have the right to say my hair is pink.

I know it gets more complicated when it comes to yiddishkeit. I've known guys who got involved with girls claiming to be Jewish, when in fact only the father was Jewish - to say that it doesn't usually end well might be an understatement.

But to deny that a Half Jew doesn't exist, as a cultural label, if not a religious one (at least according to Ortho and perhaps Conserv traditions), is to discredit the heritage and identity of the person in question.

A Half Jew, one who has only one parent who is Jewish, most often a father, has a unique identity. Perhaps they identify with certain Jewish cultural customs - you have to admit that Friday night dinner for most Jews today is more about a family gathering than a G-d-mandated holiday.

And so, while they may not qualify to be a tenth member of a minyan, a Half Jew may be much more aware of what being Jewish means than most of us who conveniently were born into the faith. While knowledge is not enough for inclusion in our tribe, an overwhelming amount of children born to Jews today are not Jewish according to Halacha.

Though I am in no way in favor of the New Jew Reform/Reconstructionist/whatever approach whereby almost anyone can be Jewish 'in spirit', I do think that there is nothing wrong with recognizing someone's Half Jewish identity in terms of culture, genealogy and history.


Shorty said...

there was this great line in the movie goodfellas, the girlfriend introduces the boyfriend to her mom, and mom says "i hear you're half jewish", and boyfriend says, "yes the good half".

Dina said...

I think what you're describing can be more accurately described as a cultural Jew - someone who is not halachically Jewish, but feels a connection to Jewish culture/tradition.

frum single female said...

it is difficult to reconcile the half-jew. they may not be jewish, but their ancestors were. and doggone it, hitler would have killed them as happily as a full-fledged jew. lest we forget this. im not saying they should be considered jewish, because according to halachah they are not, but its not a simple issue. alot of half-jews do identify with their jewish side. also , its easy on a theoretical level to reject someone's jewishness, but on a more personal level its much harder. like if its a friend or a co-worker who is a half-jew.

chaviva said...

I'm not a born-Jew, I'm a convert, and even I loathe the term half-Jew. Like I said, it kept me from reading your last post. I'm a word/etymology nut, and it just grated my cheese.

I think the problem with the term half-Jew is that people who use this term feel like they have to use it because there is the whole "who is a Jew" question, not because they're necessarily identifying as it. You're either Jewish are you aren't, whether it's your mom or your dad. They likely grow up in a community where it's emphasized that either their mom or their dad is Jewish, but not the other parent. Either way, it makes them a Jew (this is a liberal point of view, but I think it's the safe point of view, and even coming from someone like me who is evolving religiously).

Dina makes a point, though. But I think it's better to say there are observant, and non-observant Jews. Not so much "cultural" and "not cultural" or whatever. A Jew is a Jew. Some are observant, some are not. It's as easy as that.

Moshe said...

So was the woman in the previous post not observant? Observant? Convert? Jewish?

Maidel said...

someone who has a non-Jewish mother is not Jewish according to most.
but I don't see why 'Half-Jewish' is derogatory (in fact, I think its quite the opposite). I have friends who consider themselves Half-Black, Half-Asian, Half-Polish, etc...

Maidel said...

the lawyer in the previous post was not observant yet spoke yiddish fluently (having grown up with yiddish speaking paternal grandparents).