On Being Jewish

As any older-than-their-son, divorced, single-parent, non-Jewish girlfriend of a young Temple-trained lad can tell you, the parents of a nice Jewish boytchik feel quite strongly about the importance of religion. That a prospective daughter-in-law is a shikse matters even if she does not bring any other unseemly baggage to the altar, and it becomes even more of an issue when the other negatives are a bit indelicate to raise.

This parental concern had always been explained to me thus: “To be Jewish, you must have a Jewish MOTHER.” (Therefore, any child borne by a female non-Jew cannot be Jewish, and therefore parents of the Jewish father of such children are deprived of having Jewish grandchildren, all of which is a pretty serious shortfall – oy). I always assumed that this emphasis on having a Jewish MOTHER suggests something noble about the daughters of Israel.

My husband and I have been married for more than thirty years now, and whatever animosity his parents once felt for me seems to have dissipated long ago. His parents and I have never discussed the matter, but this afternoon over lunch, my mother-in-law commented that “to be Jewish you must have a Jewish mother because of course you can never know for sure who the father was.”

And to think I once contemplated converting…


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