A VERY Brief Coda on Jewishness

I wanted to add a very brief coda to the last post on what it might mean to be a Jewish Mother.   (The discussion in the comments is quite extensive and I confess that, in this week in which my kids graduated from middle school and high school, I have lost track of them.)

Anyway, there was a letter in yesterday’s Science section of the NYT commenting on the article.    (There were two letters, actually.   The second is the one I’m referring to.)   Perry Dane made a great point that I’d like to echo here.

“Jewishness,” as a matter of Jewish law, is a technical legal construct much like citizenship, not a biological or psychological category.

Once said, it seems to me a fairly obvious point–which is not to say it isn’t important.  The question of whether the child is Jewish is indeed a legal question, just as the question of who holds parental rights is a legal one.   The latter point, of course, is what lies at the heart of this blog.

Legal questions can have many answers–at least in my view.  Law is a human construction.  It reflects and is built upon the underlying values and assumptions of a particular society.   So what counts as a legal parent in one place/time isn’t the same as what counts as a legal parent in another.

I know you can take the view that law is fixed–fixed by a creator of some sort or by nature in some way.   But this is not the view I take.    And even though Judiasm starts with rules handed down by a divine entity, these ancient rules require extensive interpretation if they are to be applied in modern times.   The interpretative process yields different results–and so Jewish law varies.

It’s just good to be reminded of this.  The question of who counts is Jewish–whether a child created from a non-Jewish egg may nevertheless be born a Jewish child–is a legal question, albeit one of Jewish (rather than secular) law.

Seen in this light, it reminds me of an earlier post.   When is a child born overseas is a US citizen?  It depends on the gametes.    This, too, is a statement of law rather than of genetic or psychological fact.



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