How to change the world: a guide for inter faith families

by Maskil on 8 Jul 2008

I regularly correspond with someone intensely involved in trying to have the status of Patrilineal Jews formally and unequivocally recognized within progressive Judaism and the State of Israel. At the end of the last round of e-mails, the questions weighed heavily on my mind: how DO we go about making the Jewish world (or rather, the progressive part of it) more friendly and accommodating towards those in inter faith relationships (IFRs) and sociological Jews (the “hyphenated Jews”, variously referred to as Patrilineal Jews, half-Jews, non-Halachic Jews or even non-Jews; anyone who happens to have been born with the “wrong” Jewish parent)?

These notes are an attempt to answer that question. This is still very much a draft, so comments and feedback would be welcomed and appreciated.

  • Stay informed regarding efforts to reach out to those on the fringes of the Jewish world (Jewish Outreach Institute), those in IFRs ( and Patrilineal Jews (Jewish Justice).
  • When issues relating to outreach, etc., are aired, make your views known by means of letters to Jewish and general publications.
  • Put your views across by means of timely and relevant comments on Jewish and other websites when outreach issues are raised.
  • Where appropriate, consider creating or supporting online petitions to help change the status of sociological Jews, those in IFRs, etc. (I’m not aware of any currently in operation.)
  • Support those organizations attempting (in various ways) to build a welcoming Judaism. Big Tent Judaism (a JOI initiative), and the Jewish Outreach Institute are the ones I’m aware of. I’m sure there are a number of others that haven’t appeared on my radar.
  • Link up with other individuals or families in the same situation. The sites referred to can help point you in the right direction. Facebook and other social media sites may well be the way to achieve the initial networking.
  • Look out for and share resources such as organizations, books and other publications and websites or blogs. The few I’ve mentioned are, I’m sure, just the tip of the iceberg.
  • When considering membership in a congregation or minyan, make it clear that your decision to join or not join will be heavily influenced by the attitude towards IFFs and sociological Jews.
  • If you’re unable to find a suitably welcoming spiritual home for you and your family, consider starting your own minyan or congregation. In the same way that LGBT congregations are now becoming mainstream, such “Outreach” congregations could help to change attitudes while providing comfort zone for those on the margins.
  • When considering a Jewish day school for your children, be upfront about concerns regarding outreach. (Your options are, however, likely to be somewhat limited here. Perhaps we’ll see an improvement once Hebrew charter schools start to gain traction.)
  • Likewise, when considering joining or supporting any other Jewish organization, make your views known, and let it be understood that your decision will be influenced by its stance regarding outreach.
  • When casting your vote for office bearers in any Jewish organization to which you already belong, make it clear that the candidates’ stance on outreach and acceptance is key.
  • Similarly when donating to a particular Jewish cause. Here’s where you REALLY have the upper hand. Make your donation count, by aligning your giving with strongly held beliefs. There are plenty of worthy Jewish causes out there; avoid supporting those that discriminate against IFFs (inter faith families).
  • On occasion, your purchasing decisions can also be made to count. I’m not a great believer in the efficacy of boycotts, but take a consumer activist approach and try to ensure that your purchasing power is aligned with your beliefs and ideology.
  • Understand the case for the recognition of Patrilineal (or equilineal) descent in Judaism. The Jewish Justice website is the best resource in this regard.
  • Make use of the form letters on the Jewish Justice website to bring the plight of Patrilineal Jews to the attention of those who currently have the whip hand.
  • Within progressive Judaism, call for a uniform approach and attitude towards IFRs and their offspring across the entire WUPJ. One’s Jewish status should not change when moving to another congregation or country.
  • If you’re a sociological Jew, you should probably stick with Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism, unless you’re prepared to undergo (another?) conversion, that is. In which case this is probably not your fight anyway…
  • Prepare your kids, particularly those being raised by a non-Jewish mother. Just because they’re accepted by their own community does not mean they will never encounter the “you’re not really Jewish” canard from some smug, self-satisfied “Real Jew”. Make them aware that they may encounter such attitudes and how to deal with them.
  • Steer clear of pseudo-outreach organizations such as Chabad. Rather channel your hopes, efforts, energy and dollars to those organizations genuinely concerned with all of those on the fringes of the Jewish world, not just so-called Halachic Jews.
  • There is probably much that can be learned from the struggle of LGBT Jews for acceptance by the Jewish community. This is a process of changing attitudes that may take decades, but based on the LGBT experience, there is no reason why it can’t succeed. The issue of outreach to IFFs is one that that probably impacts a much greater part of the Jewish community than does the LGBT issue.
  • Realize that this is probably THE central issue confronting the Jewish world today, and that you’re on the just side of the debate. Expect the mainstream to eventually catch up and invest far more effort and funds into outreach.

I’m positive that if we all take as many of these actions as possible, we will succeed in making the Jewish world a friendlier place for those on the fringes, who still see themselves as part of the Jewish assembly.

Big Tent Judaism

jewish matrilineal patrilineal descent

Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity

The Jewish Outreach Institute

JewsByChoice.Org: Your people will be my people and your G-d will be my G-d – Ruth 1:16

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