Monday, November 9, 2009

Tell me about your mother: how Jewish is she?

Interesting article at the NY Times about the legal battle brewing in the U.K. over determinations of "Jewishness" in school admission processes: "Who is a Jew?" is the central question. And the courts have tripped over the thorny issue of the inherent discrimination in the us/them reality of some religious faiths. When does religious faith become ethnic identification? For orthodox Jews ( at least those in decision-making positions at some schools): not when your mother has converted and not when she has converted Progressively. Ethnic discrimination foul, according to the British Courts.

Round 2: the attempted save of belief through practice didn't quite cut the mustard as “having a ham sandwich on the afternoon of Yom Kippur doesn’t make you less Jewish,” Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, said recently. The school seems to have ditched that evaluative measure.

Round 3: still waiting for the towel down and water splash. Any guesses?


Sydney said...

This is a very interesting article! The courts seem to use the Christian definition of religion, though, which is based on faith rather than ancestry. "Jewishness" fits the criteria of religion (interaction with the supernatural) and ethnicity (you get it through your ancestry) which is why you can have atheist Orthodox Jews and secular Jews. Since the destruction of The Temple in 70 CE, Jews also don't recognize a central authority. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews no longer use the matriline to determine Jewishness; some conservative Jews also do not use the matriline but Orthodox Jews do. Interesting! This relates to my dissertation on the construction of Jewish identity and my experience of being Jewish in a Christian world.

larry c. wilson said...

And I always thought that the Jews were their God's chosen "people." Conversion to Judaism on the part of Gentiles never made any sense to me. Foreskin or no.

Pamthropologist said...

Thanks, Sydney. That was a nice contribution.

Larry, hey, maybe a good education is worth a bit of foreskin. But what do I know. I don't have any skin in that game. nyerk. nyerk.

larry c. wilson said...

But doesn't the good education depend on the student more than on the school?

Pamthropologist said...

Oooo. Good one. I meant the appearance of "good:" or the societal perception of it. Reality is another issue but, no, I don't think its all about the student.

Sydney said...

Chiming in again:
Larry-It is (supposed to be)difficult to convert to Judaism. You have to be rejected three times by a legal panel (Beit Din) before you're accepted. Of course, if your potential spouse's parents are big machers in the synagogue and won't let you marry their son/daughter unless you convert, the rejections may be pro-forma. With conversion and through some magical thinking, it's as if your ethnicity changes. You, too, become a daughter or son of Abraham and Sarah. My religion is as goofy as any other religion :)

Larry again-As the mother of a son heading off to a Chicago public high school in two years, I can assure you that the school affects student success. If you are constantly afraid--if your school really is a dangerous place--your ability to learn is affected. If the majority of your peers are below grade level, your options for grade level learning are limited. If the school itself is simply lacking in basic resources, your ability to perform at grade level is diminished. If your teacher cannot control your classroom or doesn't know or care about the subject, your ability to master that subject is lessened, etc. I don't know much about these British schools, but I've been told that all of the "church" schools are better than the "regular" ones.

Urm, no foreskin here (ever), either. But I've gotta say, what a bizarre ritual we Jews have with that! Circumcision was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made for my son--second only to which Chicago public high school he'll apply to next year :).

I guess when there is no separation between church and state, the state can decide the meaning of church.

larry c. wilson said...

Excellent points Sydney. While we did have our school gangs in the 40s and 50s in Tulsa, they were equipped at best with zip guns, knives, and chains.

In addition we were just at the beginning (at least in my experience) of making excuses for bad behavior.

Thanks for clarifying the issue of conversion.