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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Will your Grandchildren be Jewish?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 17

Thank G-d we have been blessed with four beautiful girls.  I was chatting recently with friends of ours who also have only daughters.  Sam asked me whether we planned to keep going and try for a boy.  I replied, as I always do, that it’s all in the Almighty’s hands and anyway, ‘as long as they’re healthy . . . intelligent and good looking!” But then I threw the question back at him.  His response: They’d decided to quit while they were ahead.
“After all, rabbi,” said Sam, “at this point we’re guaranteed that all our grandchildren will be Jewish.”
“Not necessarily,” I replied, “that really all depends on you.”
Rabbi Judah quoted Rabbi Assi: If a gentile betroths a Jewish woman nowadays, we must be concerned for the validity of the betrothal according to Jewish law (meaning, that the dissolution of such a union would require a gett), since perhaps he is a member of the ten lost tribes.   The Gemara asks: But we should assume that since most gentiles are not members of the tribe, he is not!  The Gemara answers: We are talking about a situation where he came from an area where they settled and were the majority population.

When I (Rabbi Judah) related the teaching before Samuel, he said to me, “Your child who comes from a Jewish woman is called your child.  However, your child who comes from a gentile is not called your child, but her child.”  There are those who record the exchange as follows: When I related the teaching before Samuel, he said to me, “They did not move from that place until they had deemed them complete gentiles, as the prophet Hosea declared, “They betrayed G-d, for they begot strange children,” and thus one need not be concerned for the validity of their betrothals.” 

The final consensus amongst the Talmudic legal decisors is that children born of a Jewish mother are 100% Jewish, as far as their status is concerned.  Practically speaking, that means that they may be counted in a minyan (prayer quorum), called to the Torah, and married under a huppah.   But the fact that there are differing opinions in the Talmud concerning this matter should alert us to the fact that it’s not so simple.  True, they may ultimately be considered Jewish as far as their proverbial birth certificate is concerned but growing up in an intermarried home, what are the chances that their Judaism will be meaningful to them?

We were celebrating Sukkot the other day in shul and I noticed an older gentleman whose family is active in the synagogue.  He was all alone and so I asked him where his grandchildren were.  He replied that he had no idea, were they his responsibility? 
I responded with a resounding, “Of course!!” 

Parenting and grandparenting is a never-ending job and it’s a commitment that one signs onto for life.  Just because your grandchildren are Jewish by birth doesn’t mean it will impact their lives.  You need to continue to work hard to ensure that their Judaism is meaningful to them.  Otherwise they’re Jewish in name alone.  And if that’s the case, what difference does it make that you only have girls and their children happen to be Jewish?

My grandmother had a girl-cousin who married a Christian.  They decided they would bring up their children with both faiths, which of course never works because you can’t believe in unity and trinity concurrently.  And so their children all turned out Christian.  This woman’s granddaughter (my third cousin) today is a museum tour-guide.  She tells me that she often has Jewish groups visit the museum and she finds herself talking to them about her Jewish heritage.  The conversation inevitably goes something like this:
“My grandmother was Jewish,” she tells them.
“You don’t say!” comes the reply, “Which side?”
“My mother’s mother,” she responds.
“Oh!  That means you’re Jewish!” they’ll tell her.
“Really?  Wow!” she replies, feigning incredulity.

She finishes her story shaking her head at the ridiculousness of these repeated encounters.
“It really doesn’t matter what they say.  I know that I’m Christian.”

Having Jewish children and grandchildren is no guarantee.  It takes hard work.  It takes commitment.  And your job is never over until the day you die.  Being Jewish is much more than what your birth certificate states.  If you want your great-grandchildren to be Jewish, it takes incredible sacrifice. 

But you can do it!  If this is the most important thing to you in life, and it should be, you will do whatever you can to ensure that your dream becomes reality!  Don’t ever stop instilling the values of our heritage within them and they will indeed make us all proud!

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