We know from our work with interfaith families that adult children of intermarriage sometimes find themselves in a state of religious limbo, especially those with a Jewish father and a mother of another religious background. If they were raised Jewish – Hebrew school, bar/bat mitzvah, celebrate Jewish holidays – they will still face challenges to their status because of matrilineal versus patrilineal descent.
As children of intermarriage – a growing population – straddle the insider/outsider line running through Judaism, one woman asked “Is Half-Jewish a Religion?” Going by the moniker Julie Z., her blog was in response to a post on another website, Jezebel, where a blogger named Sadie complained that since there is technically no such thing as being half-Jewish, then “us half-Jews are confused.”
Julie Z., who identifies as Jewish, has come to the following conclusion:
So maybe my Mom wasn’t raised a Jew. That doesn’t stop either of us from now identifying as part of the Jew Crew. Beyond that, maybe I don’t belong to a temple, keep kosher, whatever. Why can’t Judaism just be an influence in my life rather than what shapes my whole set of religious beliefs?
Julie’s decision and how she finds meaning in Judaism should be respected by those in the mainstream community. But we also understand there is a difference between non-Jews and non-Halachic Jews (those of patrilineal descent). While someone might not be Jewish from a Halachic standpoint, they should never be called non-Jews - especially if they are raised in a Jewish home. The complexities of the issue will become even more relevant if Julie gets involved with a Conservative or Orthodox Jew and they want to get married. Should she be required to undergo a formal conversion, or is her lifetime of Jewish identity enough?
This is a scenario likely to be faced by more and more as the diversity of the Jewish people continues to grow. In the meantime, if we want to make sure children of intermarriage stay engaged in the Jewish community, let’s include them from the beginning. We have a moral obligation to embrace those in our midst, so we should be working to make it easier for those who identify as Jewish to feel more welcome and included.