April 19, 2019

Who Is a Jew? Whoever Says They're a Jew

“In the 21st century, the criteria for identifying a Jew remains contested. In the United States, Robert Mnookin points out, several critical challenges add a sense of urgency to the age-old debate.

Nearly half of American Jews are agnostics or atheists; 22% never and 19% seldom attend religious services; two-thirds see no conflict in being Jewish and not believing in God. While the United States is by no means free of antisemitism, the decline of institutionalized discrimination removes a “potent reminder” of Jewish identity. Many American Jews do not approve of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, and since the year 2000, 58% of Jews who married chose a non-Jewish spouse.

In The Jewish American Paradox: Embracing Choice in a Changing World, Mnookin, a professor and chair of the program on negotiation at Harvard Law School, draws on Jewish history, halachic standards and customs; on the stories of Erik Erickson, Madeleine Albright, and Brother Daniel (a Jew by birth, who converted to Catholicism, asked to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return and be registered as a Jew by nationality and a Catholic by religion), and his own experiences (as an agnostic who embraced his Jewishness rather late in life) to examine the meaning of Judaism.

Mnookin acknowledges that “religious commitment is a powerful identity anchor.” He maintains, however, that mandating adherence to Judaism as a religion as the sole criterion for Jewish identity will not work. After all, “born Jews” are not required to be religiously observant and conversion “is a formidable barrier to entry.” He rejects as well the ascribed status of the matrilineal rule, arguing that it produces “arbitrary and irrational results.” “

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"After five years of war with the Islamic State, the biggest problem for the winners is coping with the losers. The aftermath has produced one of the world’s most perplexing postwar challenges..."

"What do we mean when we say that the “soul of the city” is under threat? Often, it’s really about politics, nostalgia, and the fear of community change."

"...the pendulum of history never stops moving. Indeed, one of the few constants of history is unceasing change. While we seem to be heading in one direction, we must remember that there will surely be pauses, turns, and reversals."

""Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé," premiered early Wednesday and it was the fulfillment of all the ancestors' hopes and dreams. Beyoncé also dropped "Homecoming: The Live Album.""

"Seven in 10 adults ages 18 to 34 received financial support from their parents in the last year, including more than half of those in their early 30s. Almost three in five millennials said they couldn’t afford their lifestyles without the support."

"Social media influencers have helped turn public lands into tourist-infested swamps. And one cantankerous man is fighting back."

"One particular myth that attached itself to Ledger was that his death was somehow a result of immersing himself in the character of the Joker."

"In 2018, for the second year in a row, American publishers released fewer translated titles: 609 books were published, down from 650 in 2017 and the industry high in 2016 of 666."

"Egg freezing had become so routine among my single peers that when I hit 35, I never thought twice. Here’s what I wish I had known."

"When it comes to Passover cuisine, most home cooks know to avoid wheat, oats, rye, and other forbidden ingredients. But what consumers might not realize is just how much cotton they eat during the holiday."

"A masked figure looms over your recumbent body, wielding power tools and sharp metal instruments, doing things to your mouth you cannot see."

"Passover is a holiday that commemorates the Jewish people escaping slavery in Egypt. It is often referred to as the “festival of freedom.” My Passover in prison was at a place called the Wallkill Correctional Facility..."