In the majority of denominations, Judaism is a matrilineal religion. This means that my hypothetical children would be considered Jewish even if my partner was not. If the father is Jewish and the mother isn’t, the child would then not be considered Jewish according to halakha (Jewish law). This seems strange seeing as that same halakha forbids women to read Torah yet they are able to independently and biologically determine the religion of their child. In a religion that – more often than not – views men as superior to women, men are powerless in the Jewish upbringing of an inter-faith child if that child is not considered Jewish by their synagogue, Israel, or community.
According to halakha, the only thing that makes me a Jew and that consequentially gives me the ability to potentially make aliyah and reap the benefits Israeli Jews have is that my mother is Jewish. The fact that I occasionally go to synagogue, had a Bat Mitzvah, and write this blog has nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, I have friends who have always been active in their synagogues, had Bat Mitzvahs, and can recite multiple prayers at the drop of a kipah (pun intended) and are not considered Jewish according to halakha and if they wanted to make aliyah easily, they would have to convert to the religion they have been practicing since birth. It sounds pretty ridiculous to me.
What gives anyone else the right to determine someone else’s identity? Why does gender inequality continue to disturb personal identity processes? A friend has been urging me to read the apparently humorous riffs off of feminism under the name of “meninism” (and there will be many more posts on the silliness of this to come), which advocates for men’s rights. Feminism also advocates for men’s rights because when women have rights, so do men under the name of equality. Matrilineal descent is an example of men being discounted in Judaism through determining who gets to be Jewish according to gender.
A major purpose of Judaism is to cultivate community and matrilineal descent laws make it impossible to do just that because they exclude rather than include. Why not let everyone who identifies as Jewish be Jewish? Who are a select few to say who can and cannot practice a religion?