This article published by the Forward breaks my heart. Why should Alyssa have to suffer the indignities of being excluded from Jewish life when she herself has a Jewish parent and identifies as a Jew?
The story of the Reform movement’s acceptance of patrilineal descent as a determiner of Jewish status that accompanies a public commitment to living a Jewish life is already 35 years old. We Reform Rabbis at our 1983 CCAR Conference in Los Angeles voted in a large majority to accept as Jewish any individual born of a Jewish parent (father or mother) as long as he/she identified with the experience of the Jewish people and led a Jewish life.
This wise and far-reaching decision has impacted a generation of children of families in which the Jewish parent is the father. The Forward article explains quickly the historical reasons for matrilineal descent as recorded in the Mishna, namely that a Jew is born of a Jewish mother and it is irrelevant what the religious identity is of the father. This is not a biblical law. Rather, it is rabbinic passed during Roman times when intermarriage or rape cause a pregnancy. Out of concern for the dignity of both the mother and the child in those years, the rabbis determined that the Jewish status of the child was according to the Jewish status of the mother. In the Hebrew Bible, the priesthood follows the father’s line and not the mother’s. So much the more so should Jewish status follow the line of either parent as long as the child is raised as a Jew and identifies publicly as a Jew.
The Patrilineal Descent resolution passed by the CCAR is operative for Jews living only in the United States. Those living in Israel, Canada, and elsewhere have not yet arrived at this logical and compassionate evolution of the tradition – I’m still waiting. In the meantime, they would need to go through a conversion to be fully accepted in those other countries as Jewish.
Though Alyssa decided that at some point she is going to convert for the sake of her future children not having to suffer the indignities that she has suffered, my heart breaks for her and anyone in her situation.
They should all know that the American Reform movement accepts them as Jewish right now, fully and completely. They are not “half-Jewish.” They are simply “Jewish.”