Dear Sean

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27 Responses

  1. Irina Timchenko says:

    “Dear Sean, I know this might sound strange coming from a father who’s far from a religious Jew, but now that you’re dating, there’s something I need you to understand. The single most important decision you’ll ever make in life will not be about your education or career but about whom you’ll marry.” – what a wise man! I agree to this, for I have experienced this with my own life. Nothing can be ore important than the one you are with. If you have chosen the right person, your business problems, your office relationships, even some misunderstandings that happen with your close friends are just little disturbances in a big happy life, that is full of sense.

    If you have no one to love, to sacrifice, to share every moment of your life with, there is no sense on your life.

    Have you ever had this sucking feeling of emptiness in your life? When all of a sudden you realize that everything you do is nonsense, and if all that stops now, you will have nothing to remember or to treasure tomorrow? I had it many times. Now, I realized that there’s great sense in marriage and family. Or at least in having a stable relationship with the one you are with.

    I am Russian by origin. You know, all Russians are a bit “crazy”, for they never treasure money, career, jobs or other “attractions of living in human society” as mush as the treasure relationships. Now I can say with confidence – I would give out my job, my wealth, and everything I have for a happy family life, even if it had to be in poverty.

  2. Ori says:

    I am intermarried and I did not have a good relationship with my very Chiloni father – both factors that bias me against this kind of letter. Still, may I show you how this kind of letter is likely to be received if it is at all necessary? I apologize if my comments are caustic, but that is precisely the reaction this letter would get.

    But a final day does arrive, sooner or later, for each of us. And when it comes, very few of the things we thought made such a big difference will seem to matter at all anymore. And other things we never gave much thought to will suddenly be very important. We’ll want to look back at our lives and feel that, in those areas, we pretty much did the right thing.

    In other words, what may matter to me in fifty or sixty years is more important than what matters to me now, or what will matter in ten or twenty.

    But because when Jews “marry out,” they disrespect who they are, they are disloyal to the Jewish past and they chip away at the Jewish future.

    When I marry, it will be for love. Not just the physical attraction, but the mutual desire to do what is good for the other person, to build a life that is good for both husband and wife. The woman I marry will respect who I am, just like I will respect who she is. She will came about who I am, not necessarily the ideals you tried to mold me to. I am me, not your image of who I should be.

    Whether or not our family kept strictly kosher or celebrated the Sabbath or attended services often enough is all one thing. But the thought of bringing about the end of a proud Jewish line stretching back in time for centuries is something else.

    When Judaism placed a burden on you, you rejected it. But now that it places a burden on me, it suddenly becomes something else.

    But being Jewish isn’t a burden. It’s a gift. It means you are part of something bigger, much bigger, than yourself.

    You mean the kind of gift that restricts your options and tells you what to do? Like slavery or being conscripted? Maybe I’m being too sarcastic, but the proper term for a gift with conditions attached is “deal” or “contract”. Since slavery had been abolished, we give people the right to accept to reject such arrangements.

    Each of us Jews represents the hopes of so many Jewish ancestors.

    A bunch of dead people who never knew me are supposed to tell me how to run my life. That’s nice. Do you think these Jewish ancestors would have approved of you smoking on Shabbat? Or eating on Yom Kippur? Or are those ancestors only concerned with me for some reason?

    In case you’ve forgotten, each of those ancestors had a host of non Jewish ancestors. Maybe those ancestors worshiped Baal in the Middle East. Since you and Ima don’t look very Semitic, I’m willing to bet a lot of those ancestors were Europeans (probably Christian, but they may have been pre-Christian pagans – we can’t tell how long ago that was). Don’t you think they would have been upset at their descendent’s rejection of their own religion?

    Don’t forget, you’re not just Sean, you’re Shmuel too. And even if you only used your Jewish name when you made the blessings over the Torah at your bar-mitzvah, it is still who you really are, an inheritance from your grandfather.

    The last time I used this name was, as you said, during my Bar Mitzvah. It was a large party, probably based on an antiquated maturity rite. It was also meaningless. Nobody treated me as more mature afterwards, nobody allowed me to make more decisions about my life – certainly not you.

    So, in the name of the excuse you used to hold a large party, mostly for family and your friends, you want me to restrict my life? It matters more than my choices?

    You can’t just ignore the meaning of something like that.

    Why not? You did, when it suited you.

    All of my ancestors and your mother’s, all those Jews who came before us, lived, and sometimes died to keep their Jewish identity and heritage going.

    People also died for Christianity. People still die in the name of Islam. Does the fact that people whom I don’t know, and who don’t know me, die for something make it relevant to my life?

    For a marriage to really work, there has to be not only attraction and care but shared ideals and goals.

    Having watch the marriage between you and mother, I know that. Possibly more than you do.

    And part of a Jewish man or woman’s goals has to be to take their Jewish identity seriously, and to instill it into their children.

    Thank you for telling me my goals in life. You obviously don’t think I’m mature enough to set them myself. Then again, I’m not sure if the person you love is me, or some ideal me you wish I had been.

    I hope it’s not true, but even if it is, we do. Remember what I’ve told you many times: Being a Jew means being ready to buck the tide, to say no to others – even a lot of others – when something important’s at stake.

    I’ll say no when I disagree – you may be assured of that. But don’t expect me to buck the trend by automatically obeying you. I’ll make my own choices, especially about something as important as my marriage. I hope you’ll accept them. If you reject my wife that means you reject me.

  3. David says:

    B’H’ I’ve never been a non-observant Jew, but if I had to guess I’d say that if I were one, this article would not affect me one bit. Without a rich, traditional upbringing to offset the universalist, humanist, post-modernist mentality that pervades liberal America, I don’t see why the concept of Jewish nationhood will have any meaning to today’s barely-affiliated Jew.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  4. cvmay says:

    “Sean, you’re the future of our family. I hope you’ll have the courage and the strength to do the right thing”. Good Luck, Daddy! Unless Sean received a Day School/Yeshiva Education you are playing “Poker”, it is not courage or strength that Sean requires, rather a foundation in Judaism to experience and discovery his gd given heritage.

  5. Adi says:

    This is a nice, heartfelt letter, but I must say that Ori and David are right. I have cousins who are dating non-Jews and my Holocaust-survivor grandmother is not happy about it. I too am hurting, and I love my grandmother dearly, but I also know she has no leg to stand on. She didn’t like the way Orthodoxy treats women, so she dropped out; she didn’t like the long walk to shul so she drove; when I became frum, she objected to my marrying at the age of 20, as well as my long-sleeved wedding gown, and she was not thrilled with my covering my hair either. Now, some of my cousins have found love in non-Jews. Grandmama objects, and talks about the beauty of their heritage, how intermarriage is forbidden… but they just say right back to her, “if it was so beautiful, why did you cut out certain obeservances?” or “if you can cherry pick mitzvot, so can I.” or “You did away with mechitza when it got in your way. I’m doing away with dating only Jews because it gets in my way.” My personal favorite rebuttal that they give: “You bothered Adi for being too religious; you bother me for not being religious enough. Which is it??” I don’t want to say that the father of Sean has no right to complain– I truly do feel sorry for his plight, and I too would shed a tear were his son to, chalila, turn his back on Judaism. But father should not expect that this letter is going to do anything. He has learned the hard way that we often don’t appreciate things until we stand to lose them. Like Ori said above, if the other mitzvot and rituals were never taken seriously, then Sean has no reason to take this one seriously either, and it doesn’t matter how right the father is. I know, because this is exactly what is happening in my family, and like the father in the letter, my grandmother cannot expect or demand that the kids in question are going to change their ways. Children learn much more from what their parents do than what their parents say; if the parents did away with bits of Judaism that were “inconvenient”, then the kids get the message that they can do the same, and no amount of parental pleading can reverse that, especially once the child is an adult who can make his own decisions. In order to stem the tide of intermarriage, we need to fully mobilize the kiruv movement, otherwise, many other fathers (and mothers) like the one in the letter will find themselves scrambling to salvage their family line, but it will be too little, to late.

  6. Garnel Ironheart says:

    > Sean, the right thing for a Jewish person is to marry another Jew.
    Not only because our religion requires it. But because when Jews “marry out,” they disrespect who they are, they are disloyal to the Jewish past and they chip away at the Jewish future.

    Rav Meir Kahane, z”l, once said that if this is the only reason you can give your kid to marry another Jew, then you’re a racist.

    Indeed, I’m suprised to see this coming from Rav Shafran. I would have thought he’d go with the obvious reason to marry another Jew: If I keep kosher, Shabbos and shomer negiah, how can I establish a relationship with a non-Jewess that won’t fall apart the minute she wants to hold hands during a walk in the park? And if I don’t keep kosher, Shabbos or shomer negiah, then if I meet a non-Jewess who reflects my secular values better than any Jewish girl I’ve ever met, why wouldn’t I marry her?

  7. Mike S. says:

    It is certainly true that a spouse is one of the most important choices we make. But if the dad did not consider raising his son to be a good Jew important enough in his life to have governed his actions before the son was starting to date, why would the son think of Judaism as a factor determining his own choice?

    It might be better as a memo to self:

    I thought I didn’t have to expend effort to raise my son to be a good Jew. And I thought I could separate being Jewish from religious observance. As my son reaches maturity, I see I was mistaken. Perhaps I must change my life before I have any hope of asking my son to change his.

  8. Neil Epstein says:

    How naive of a father to think that a son will be receptive to this last minute advice when the Jewish identity that he is trying to ‘sell’ has no substance. Judaism needs to be lived rather than sold, celebrated rather than sermonised and practiced rather than preached.

    If parents want their children to value their Jewishness, they have to live a Jewish (read halachic) life. Sometimes even that will not suffice if it is not lived with joy and sensitivity, but it is the surest safeguard against the “Rabbi, we have a problem….our child is marrying out” syndrome that is all too common in the traditional world in which I was raised.

  9. JosephW says:

    Unfortunately, I think David’s point is demonstrated within Ori’s post.

    Nonetheless, although the argument (the letter) rings hollow (when coming from secular parents with a secular, liberal mindset), it nevertheless must be made – for if all else fails, one may not give up.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    If “Sean” and the non-Jewish women he meets have no use for religion in general, they unfortunately do have a lot in common! These days, such people are very unlikely to respond to reasoned or sentimental arguments from traditions they never lived themselves. If the father speaking to “Sean” wants to have some impact, he’d better turn his own life around and show the beauty of Yiddishkeit in his own actions.

  11. pauly says:

    until now ive always respected Oris thoughts but on this one he is more emotional than rational. Doron Kornbluths Why Marry Jewish outlines more modern explanations and is popular with college students but this approach has its merits. Kosher is important, but not the end of the line. Marrying out is, almost all of the time, as demonstrated in AJC reports, Dr Barack Fishmans 2005 report, Dr Cohens 2007 study etc

  12. Ori says:

    Garnel Ironheart: And if I don’t keep kosher, Shabbos or shomer negiah, then if I meet a non-Jewess who reflects my secular values better than any Jewish girl I’ve ever met, why wouldn’t I marry her?

    Ori: You’re right in the abstract. Rabbi Avi Shafran quotes this letter not necessarily because he agrees with the father who wrote it, but because he prefers for Heterodox Jews to marry each other, instead of gentiles. I suspect he believes that their children are more likely to become Ba’aley Teshuva that way.

    However, that letter is very weak as I claimed earlier. At the end of the day, if you can’t be bothered about something, you can’t expect your children to suddenly value it either.

  13. Charles says:

    I agree with all the above comments. When my brother got engaged to a Catholic woman, my father — a son of Yiddish-speaking nominally-Orthodox immigrants, himself completely non-observant but raised us as committed Reform Jews — was beside himself and very angry.

    I said that I was surprised that my brother’s Judaism meant so much to my Dad. It didn’t seem to mean that much on the Yom Kippur of my brother’s senior year of high school, when my Dad decided to take him for a college interview since the office where he worked closed for the Yamim Noraim and he wouldn’t have to take a day off.

    Nothing at all can *insure* that our children will marry Jews, since we live in a society of endless possibilities. But the more Jewishly-educated the children, the more observant the home, the less likely they will marry out. The above emotional blackmail does nothing except drive the intermarrying Jew further away.

  14. Sean's Brother says:

    “Dear Dad, Why did you move to a suburb where there were but 3 Jewish girls in my high school class? Why, when I said that if 612 of the 613 commandments were discardable, did you have no answer to my argument that momentum ought to prevail as I chucked the remaining commandment not to intermarry? Why did you not invest money or time in my Jewish education? Or yours. You want ME to walk the walk while YOU talk the talk. No, Dad, agonize about YOUR choices that led to this inevitability. Why was my getting into an Ivy League college worth spending extra time studying with me but you and I never put on tefillin or learned together? Why did we vacation annually in the Bahamas but never once in Israel? Bacon, lobster, pepperoni pizza… all familiar. Please spare me your emotional plea to assuage what should be YOUR guilt over neglecting my upbringing. When you face the heavenly tribunal you SAY you believe in, try to quantify how many minutes you invested in stacking the deck in my favor. Would you have emigrated to Israel to ensure my not intermarrying or was your career or lifestyle more important to you?”

    My brother intermarried. So did my sister. I rejected my father’s version of Judaism and was fortunate to have met observant Jews when I was in college. I was fortunate that I thought I should research Judaism a little before leaving it, just to be fair. I got lucky. Or made my own luck.

    When I started to became observant 25 years ago this month, my father railed against my inconsistencies and fought with me. Rabbi Shafran, such “Dads” DON’T care about Judaism and it’s obvious. A couple of years after I began to observe, I read and agreed with Rav Kahane z”l that my parents and their peers were racists as much as members of any WASP country club that they told nasty jokes about.

    Dad lazily and willingly gave over Sean to being raised by public school and MTV values.

    No, Rabbi Shafran, “Dad’s” letter is pathetic. It’s BECAUSE of Jews like “Dad” — and our unwillingness to make him uncomfortable with religiously neglecting his kids — and not because of Sean’s choices that there’s so much intermarriage.

    My father says he’s happy that my kids are religious (girls in Bais Yakov schools, boys with beautiful peyos) but he argued more with my becoming observant than with my brother and sister who each intermarried within the last 6 years. I have two more Ivy League-educated sisters who are not (yet) married and, sadly, I wouldn’t gamble on their not intermarrying, largely due to my father’s portraying me as a religious nut and making it impossible for me to live within a day’s drive of my birth family where I might be a “disruptive influence” on my siblings by living a form of Judaism that would throw a contrast on his indifference to anything in Judaism outside of his kids intermarrying that might conflict with his career or vacation plans. I’m tired of and raising my family Jewishly is more important than battling Dad’s hypocrisy.

    Judaism didn’t inspire Dad enough to change. Why should it influence Sean?

    Here in Los Angeles, restaurants are required to post their health inspection grade in their windows: A, B, C, D or F. Pity we don’t require affixing such grades on the outer doors of synagogues and Jewish charitable organizations (or any institution incorporated as one) with the % of their member’s children who married another halachic Jew. Just as Los Angelenos tend to avoid any restaurant with a “C” or worse hanging in the window, there would be a useful shake-out of the status quo. Would adult Jews feel comfortable joining an organization where their peers’ kids are intermarrying more often than not?

    No, “Dads” are ostriches and they don’t want to be reminded of the frequency of their choices they make that inevitably result in their desperate letters to “Seans”.

  15. Jason berg says:

    I was young and now I’m old(er) and I detect quite a bit of anger at the dad’s who assimilated and felt the consequences too late. I won’t apologize for what they did(n’t do) but I understand it.

    They were careless with the gift of their Judaism. I’ll go further and say they were also neglectful. But, as much as they ignored it, they knew they were Jews. They hung out with Jews and joined Jewish fraternities at secular universities.
    I think it is hard for us to appreciate the societal pressure they were under to appear free from their heritage. How could they foresee a time when people would look upon their Jewish heritage as a gift and a blessing?

    They were probably patting themselves on the back for the meaningless Reform Bar Mitzvahs they had catered.

    But what if things were different? What if you wanted to survive, thrive, and provide for your family in an intolerant world that might take food off your table if you left early for Shabbos? It’s easy to say in 2008 that your faith would guide you.

    Unless you were a father in the Sixties and Seventies, as mine was, you may not appreciate what challenges they faced. The letter seems to convey the heart ripping plea of someone that is trying to do teshuvah for having won the battle but lost the war. Knowing your grandchildren will suffer must be truly painful. We know that the choice of assimilated prosperity over defended heritage will be visited upon several generations after the father.

  16. Ori says:

    pauly: until now ive always respected Ori’s thoughts but on this one he is more emotional than rational. Doron Kornbluths Why Marry Jewish outlines more modern explanations and is popular with college students but this approach has its merits.

    Ori: I agree that I hadn’t given a reasoned response. I responded emotionally to a letter that was itself emotional. Sean’s father could have written rationally, starting with what Sean wants out of life and explaining how marrying a Jewish woman would help him get that. Instead, he set the goals that we wants Sean to have. The desire for Jewish continuity is not axiomatic like the desire for happiness for oneself and one’s children.

    The second reason I responded emotionally is that that is how I would have responded when I was at the relevant age (if I had felt I could talk with my father about anything beyond trivialities, anyway). I believe that a large part of the value I bring to discussions here is a view of the other side. If you want to get less Jews to intermarry, you obviously need to understand them.

  17. Ori says:

    Jason Berg: The letter seems to convey the heart ripping plea of someone that is trying to do teshuvah for having won the battle but lost the war.

    Ori: Maybe I’m not being charitable enough, but if Sean’s father is trying to do teshuvah, he isn’t trying very hard. His letter contains not a word of apology about his own mistakes. Nor does it contain any promise or suggestion that he will try to do things differently in the future.

    If he wants to show Sean that Judaism matters, he should start by taking the burdens himself. Maybe he could not observe Shabbat when Sean was young – can he invite him to a Shabbat now? Learn Torah so that he can inject comments into contemporary discussions to show Sean that the Torah is relevant today?

    He doesn’t say anything about doing that. Instead, he makes demands on Sean. “I made mistakes – so you work to fix them” is not teshuvah but just a more sophisticated way to dodge blame.

  18. Esther says:

    I am wondering if it’s possible that Rabbi Shafran intended to show the contradictions in the father’s position?

    As with others commenting here, my father reacted more negatively to my becoming Orthodox than to my brother having no involvement with Judaism. But my father’s “hashkafa” was always to do the things in Judaism that are meaningful to you, and not do the things that aren’t meaningful to you. We actually were fairly observant for a Conservative family in L.A. We did go to shul for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, went to (non-orthodox) Jewish elementary school, Pesach seder, no non-kosher meat in the house, no cheeseburgers, etc. The missing element wasn’t just Sukkot or Shabbat, but the attitude that Jewish rituals were optional. But, of course, he argued often with my brother about his dating ONLY non-Jewish women, and when my brother got engaged he threatened not to come. But, not only did he show up and smile through the whole thing, he specifically refused to order the kosher meal that was easy to arrange.

    I have read stories of people who were inspired by their children’s intermarriage to get more actively involved in Judaism but I don’t see that reflected here. This particular person, as with so many other parents in this situation, wants to throw this on their kid without any effort on their own part.

  19. Sean's Brother says:

    Jason, there have been NO pogroms in America. Challenges in the 1960’s and 1970’s? There were more tenured Communists on Ivy Campuses in McCarthy’s early 1950’s than there are Republicans today. Monolithic intolerance? Try getting a job as an open conservative in Manhattan, Boston, San Francisco…

    Why was it MORE difficult for them than staying Jewish in Europe? I’ll tell you why… they chose to abandon yiras shomayim. They didn’t think of HKB”H. They could go for months without thinking about what HKB”H wanted or demanded of them. Their only care was whether something thwarted them materially, so they poured their assets into the ACLU, political parties, universities, ANYTHING that might allow them to live like the gentiles they envied. The only time they BEGIN to think of a Jewish legacy is in middle age, as they come smack up against the results of their choices and are closer to 120 and the beis din shel maalah than they’d care to admit.

  20. Gershon Seif says:

    It hurts to know how right you are. It sounds like you wished things had been different for you whenever you made the choices you did. But just as you say Sean’s father can pick up the pieces, even when it’s late in the day, so can Ori, no? You visit here and comment so often that you are really one of the chevra. But your children won’t be. What’s going to be with Ori? I know so many fine people like you that sometimes it hurts too much to think about it. I remember trying to console a teenager who had just discovered he wasn’t Jewish. It is a moment I will never forget. Oy Ori, I hope you find your way back home.

  21. Toby Katz says:

    Ori: The letter you wrote (#2 above) is very eloquent and very powerful. It is hard to answer it from the POV of a secular Jew who wants his children to marry Jews — they really don’t have good reasons — except that the pintele Yid speaks from their neshamos when they contemplate the thought that they may be the last Jew in their family, the last link in a chain that continued for 3000 years and then snapped with them.

  22. YM says:

    Seans dad is right, even if for all the wrong reasons. It is always a mistake for a Jew to marry a non-Jew; certainly it is understandable in most cases, but still, at the end of the day, a mistake for the Jewish person involved. Its a mistake in this world, and in the next. At least I would try to talk Sean into checking out Orthodox Judaism before he makes this mistake.

  23. Ori says:

    Toby Katz, thank you. I suspect that the reason Sean’s dad wants him to marry a Jew is that he wants to preserve his own cultural Judaism. That’s not a bad thing by itself, but it’s not a value that you can transmit to the next generation.

    BTW, speaking of cultural Judaism, I wrote this poem to my (then) girlfriend to explain to her why I wanted our kids raised Jewish. It might make a bit more sense that Sean’s dad, since it points out a non religious value of Judaism (I was an Atheist at the time).

    He was living in Judea, a subject of great Rome,
    When the zealots of that province went round to shop and home.
    “Come with us, the Romans fight. Once more we would be free!”
    But he was smarter than they were, and Rome’s great might could see.
    “I’ll come with you and fight with you, come that happy day.”
    He said and when they left he packed, and fled without delay.
    They said he was a traitor, a fool whom G-d would hate.
    But when they died by sword and cross, he did not share their fate.

    She was a Spanish lady, of a lineage old and proud.
    But when they said “convert the Jews with swords” she heard the crowd.
    She knew Spharad is not safe now, and never more will be,
    But her brothers who were strong and brave, they did not want to see.
    She traveled far by ship and wagon to the German’s land.
    She bothered not to stay in Spain and hear the king’s command.
    Some of her brothers later left, with all the Jews of Spain.
    Others became secret Jews, the stake had been their gain.

    Grandma was a German frau, or Goethe’s works was reared,
    But when she heard the Nazis talk, in wisdom them she feared.
    The times were hard, the jobs were few, the people had grown mad,
    And little skills and little wealth to flee with Grandma had.
    A man she knew lived far away returned to seek a wife.
    She chose to marry with this guy, in his land live her life.
    That’s what she came to Palestine (what is now Israel),
    And cried in pain, BUT DID NOT DIE, when “old-home” turned to “hell”.

    This is the story of my kin who wisely ran away.
    It’s grim, but grimmer still the tale of those who chose to stay.
    Cowards run from any fight, the smart run when they must.
    Your own good sense or “the people” – in which one would you trust?

  24. Ori says:

    Gershon Seif: It sounds like you wished things had been different for you whenever you made the choices you did.

    Ori: Not really. If things had been different, I wouldn’t have been with my wonderful wife. It was partially through her influence that I started believing in G-d and got interested in Judaism.

    Gershon Seif: You visit here and comment so often that you are really one of the chevra. But your children won’t be.

    Ori: My children will be who they decide to be. They will know enough about Orthodoxy to know it’s an option, and what they would have to do to become Orthodox. They will also know what it takes to keep our own level of Judaism. If they decide to leave Judaism altogether, there is no way I could stop them anyway.

    Gershon Seif: I remember trying to console a teenager who had just discovered he wasn’t Jewish. It is a moment I will never forget.

    Ori: Did you tell that teenager that s/he can convert and be as Jewish as s/he thinks him/herself?

  25. Gershon Seif says:

    Ori: Did you tell that teenager that s/he can convert and be as Jewish as s/he thinks him/herself?

    Gershon: Of course I did. But the confusion that I witnessed was tangible. The teen’s whole body shook for about 20 minutes. I assure you that I patiently and gently offered every kind of support you would expect, but that didn’t console the teen whatsoever. It was as if the ground he was standing on had just experienced an earthquake and he had nowhere to stand. His entire identity was turned upside down. It was very painful to watch and he wasn’t interested in “being helped”. He first needed to figure out who “he” was.

    Ori, chazak v’ematz. Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker.

  26. Dave Weinstein says:

    I think the most you can say is that you have no reason to believe he is Jewish according to Halacha. But it is possible that, given the forced conversion of Jews, abduction of Jewish children, enslavement of Jewish women, and so on over the centuries, that he is in fact Halachically Jewish. There just isn’t any way to prove it.

    The inverse is also, as far as I can tell, true. Absent a Halachic conversion within living memory, you cannot prove that someone is Jewish. Certainly, Jews made up a significant percentage of the late Republic/early Empire of Rome, and many Jews lived in the major cities, including Rome itself. We know that there was a Jewish disapora into Europe in the wake of the collapse of the empire. If, in that time period, a non-Jewish woman was married to a Jewish man absent acceptable conversion, and they lived in and amongst the post-imperial diaspora, it is entirely possible that there are people today, whose families have believed themselves Jewish for over a thousand years, who would not be Jewish according to Halacha. There is, however, no way to know.

    Have I missed something in this analysis?

  27. a k says:

    Dave Weinstein: Have I missed something in this analysis?

    Though I don’t think that this is the proper forum for complex halachic analysis, (There is really no shortcut; One must study the Talmud and its commentaries in depth.) I will try to point you in the right direction.

    RE your first paragraph:
    There is a principle in Halacha ” kol d’parish mederuba parish” which is applied in this context, that those people, about whom we have no reason to assume are halachic Jews, are halachically deemed to be gentiles.

    RE your second paragraph:
    There is a principle in Halacha of chazaka, which is applied in this context, that those people who are considered to be halachic Jews, are treated as such by the halacha.


    1) I purposely did not translate the above principles; I think that an intimate working knowledge of Talmud is necessary to really understand them.

    2) These principles, and their application, are complex, and I am not qualified to apply them in any real-life situations. If I’m mistaken, there are eminently qualified posters who will correct me.

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