Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Who is a Jew? Anyone who chooses to be.

The newest wrinkle in the who-is-a-jew question? UK Reform Judaism has now accepted patrilineal descent.

With the acrimonious debate in recent years over the Israeli rabbinate's control over conversions and the refusal to acknowledge the Judaism of anybody who doesn't fit their narrowly defined parameters, it's time for a new approach.

I've said before that Israel should have several state-sponsored denominational rabbinates, but as optional services only, no coercion.

So if there's no rabbinate with the legal authority to decide, how does Israel define someone's Jewishness?It's time to separate "Jewish" into two categories in Israel: Halachically Jewish and Civilly Jewish.

Who's a halachic Jew? That's up to the denomination a person subscribes to, and should have no impact on how the state views them.

So who's civilly Jewish?

Anyone who self-identifies with the Jewish nation and willingly chooses to join our grand millennia old journey. Had a Jewish father? You're in. Went through a Reconstructionist conversion? You're in. Married to a Jew? You're welcome in Israel as a Jew. Russian immigrant who came to Israel as a child and is not Jewish, but has grown up as a secular Israeli Jew? You're Jewish too.

The government's civil recognition of people as Jewish would in no way impinge upon the right of Orthodox Jews to only accept some of them as halachically Jewish. If the Orthodox rabbinate wants to keep lists, that's fine. As long as they have no power to limit the rights of those Civil Jews in relation to legal status and ability to marry.

A separation of Synagogue and State in Israel cannot be like that of America's separation of Church and State. Israel is and will continue to be a Jewish country. But Judaism isn't just a religious identity, it's a national identity. Just ask millions of secular Israelis. And that national identity, and all of the legal rights that go with it, should be extended to anyone who willingly chooses to identify with our nation.

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