Photo: Jeremy Feldman
Yossi Beilin
Photo: Jeremy Feldman
Maria: Not kosher enough
Patrilineal descent
Rather than plead with the rabbis to be more liberal, we should change Law of Return
On the reality TV show "From All the Girls in the World," Ari Goldman, a single Jewish guy from New York, invited 17 young Israeli women in order to find a wife.


But one contestant, called Maria, wasn't strictly kosher: Her father is Jewish, but her mother is Christian.


Maria, who immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria, considers herself Jewish in every respect.


Ari, who grew up in a traditional Jewish home, tried to give her a chance, but at the end of the day - in part because of pressure from his family - he rejected her, saying her religion was a central element for his decision.


Hypothetical case


A few years ago, I met with the heads of the Jewish community in Denmark. We talked about the future of the Jewish people, and I spoke

about the anachronism of defining Jewishness for the Law of Return as someone whose mother is Jewish or converted.


The State of Israel is not a religious country or one run by Jewish law. It views the Jewish people as a nation - not necessarily all of the same religion - but it continues to define people by the religion of their mothers. There is no rational justification for this.


Let's say, I said, that a Jew married a Christian woman who never converted. She doesn't consider herself religious, and doesn't want to live a life of lies by committing to live a religious Jewish life. She considers herself "religion-less."


The husband, on the other hand, raised his children on the basis of Jewish culture, sent them to Jewish schools and in doing so raised them to consider themselves Jewish.


Everything's fine until they come to Israel, where the secular Interior Minister tells them, "From my point of view, you are goyim (non-Jews). You have the right to immigrate to Israel as the children of a Jewish man, but you are not Jewish.


So, instead of welcoming in people who feel they are our flesh and blood, we push them away.


Real life


At the same time, a young woman sat in the room. I could see she was particularly interested in the topic, and at some point I noticed tears in her eyes.


I stopped and asked if I'd hurt her in some way. No, she said. You've just told the story of my life.


Turns out that her father was a Holocaust survivor. After the war he married a Christian Danish woman, not religious, didn't go to church, but didn't want to convert.


The father was a proud Jew, taught his children about Jewish tradition and even brought them to synagogue on Jewish holidays. The mother encouraged him to do this, and the children grew up as Jews and Zionists.


Until the daughter, now sitting across from me, fell in love with a Jewish boy, also from Denmark. They went to the local rabbi, who told the girl she was not Jewish at all.


It was the shock of her life. She couldn't understand how they could ask a Jewish girl like her, an expert in Jewish culture and history, and who had become one of the leaders of the Jewish community – to convert.


For a long time, she tried to convince the rabbis that there was no need for her to convert, that she was fully Jewish.


But of course, nothing happened. After a year-and-a-half, love conquered over pride, and she underwent an orthodox conversion in order to marry her soul mate.


If you manage to change the Law of Return, she told me, and manage to recognize patrilineal descent -that would be a victory for me, after my great failure.


Stop moaning, start acting


Instead of bemoaning, year after year, the shrinking Jewish world and pushing away people who consider themselves Jews, instead of pleading with rabbis to become more liberal with regard to conversion - we must remove their monopoly on Jewish identity.


We must define for ourselves, in the Law of Return, that in the eyes of the State of Israel, anyone with a Jewish parent, father or mother, is also Jewish.


Just like we declared Reform conversions completed abroad acceptable in Israel, even though the orthodox will never recognize them, so, to, we must decide to accept patrilineal descent, without regard for Jewish law.


(If it were possible to do D.N.A. testing 2,000 years ago, no one would have limited the Jewish identity to Jewish motherhood).


This will be one of the goals of the Meretz-Yahad party in the next Knesset, and I hope many people will join our initiative.


Maybe then Maria, and many others like her, can finally feel like she is truly part of us.


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