Your Brain is Green
Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance. You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver. You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns. You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Are You SURE You're Bluish? (part 2)

In Jewish religious law, a person is Jewish if his mother is Jewish in Jewish law. That's not as confusing as it sounds. Either she was born to a Jewish mother, or she converted in accordance with Jewish law. In other words, Jewishness is genetic. (That, incidentally, is how one can be a Jewish atheist). In fact, the traditional way of assigning Jewish identity is racist: if a Jew says, of a non-Jew, that he has a Yiddishe kop (a Jewish head), that's a tribute to the Gentile's intelligence. If a non-Jew begins talking about "Jewish blood", Jews know it's time to bar the door and close the window shutters before the pogrom begins. But I digress.

There is another definition that requires some explanation but is important to understand in this story. A "bastard" in Jewish law (mamzer) is the child of an adulterous relationship, not born out of wedlock. There are very significant penalties for being a mamzer, one of which is not being allowed to marry anyone but another mamzer for 10 generations.

Back to the story.

Jewish rabbinical courts consist of three rabbis. Women, children and idiots are not allowed to be witnesses. When we applied for an Israeli marriage certificate, we of course submitted the marriage license signed by Rabbi Lipman in Washington DC. However, the Israeli rabbinate keeps lists of American rabbis they deem sufficiently Orthodox, and Rabbi Lipman wasn't an Orthodox rabbi. That in itself wasn't an insurmountable obstacle. Cohabitation can be one of the three ways a woman is "purchased in marriage" (the language is Mishnaic, not mine). But a Jewish marriage has to be between two Jews. Was I a Jew?

Bring your mother to Israel to testify to her Jewishness, the rabbis told me. No way, said I. My mother was undergoing chemotherapy and could not travel. OK, have her make a deposition before a rabbi we accept. I refused this too, because I knew my mother had a very bad conscience about marrying "out" and the last thing I wanted at this time was to increase her emotional problems. Finally, after much consultation, the rabbis decided my two aunts could make depositions, stating that they definitely knew my grandmother to be Jewish, and my mother was indeed their sister. (Trying to explain this to my aunts was a job in itself, since neither was observant. WTF? Of course Bubbie was Jewish! Nevertheless, it was done.)

Then the rabbis dropped the bombshell: how do we know that your first husband was indeed NOT Jewish? Perhaps he was secretly Jewish, and in that case, since you don't have proof of death, you are still married to him, not having received a Bill of Divorcement according to Jewish law! Bring HIS parents--if you can't find him--to Israel to testify that they are goyim!

This was patently impossible. Bernard had never told his parents, from whom he was estranged, that he'd even married me. The rabbis had cause for concern because in Europe there were children who had been saved from the Holocaust with faked baptismal papers, and his mother might have been one. But it was very important because I was now pregnant with my first child, and unless I could prove, to the court's satisfaction, that my first husband had not been Jewish (and therefore my first marriage was not Jewishly valid), I was pregnant with a mamzer, because the second marriage was invalid.

DH didn't understand the implications; he may be a "kosher" Jew, but he's Israeli, and not a Torah scholar. I collapsed in hysterical tears outside the courtroom. Another rabbi hurried over, thinking perhaps we were having a marital dispute, and when I managed to blurt out a bit of the story, he immediately told us to follow him to the offices of the Jerusalem Chief Rabbi. This rabbi was his secretary. I spent over two hours with Rav Zolti (z"l), and the upshot was he gave me a letter to take back to the court which said, in essence, "solve this now".

The rabbis did, in the following manner:

As stated above, a Jewish marriage is the union of two Jews (a man and a woman, incidentally) and must be dissolved according to Jewish law with a "get" or Bill of Divorcement. However, a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew is not a valid marriage, and no Jewish divorce is required. So, (Talmudic sing-song with waving finger for emphasis is appropriate here) if we cannot prove that Bernard definitely wasn't Jewish, then, the rabbis reasoned, using the "no women, children, or idiots are legal witnesses" cop-out, we can definitely say that Antigonos isn't Jewish because her aunts' testimony is worthless!

So they sent me to be "converted".

It was less of a problem for me than for DH who, if he didn't rabidly hate the rabbinate before, he does now. I recognize the legal fiction, and the need for it, that the rabbis used. They were forced to work within Jewish law, and in its best tradition managed to find a way around what appeared a nearly-insoluble problem. DH just thought the whole thing was a farce. At the end of the day I merely was dunked in a ritual bath and given a piece of paper which I think I've lost over the years (along with my Israeli marriage certificate, which I haven't lost). The rabbis are happy. Now my daughter's getting married, and because I went through this soap opera she isn't having any problems with the rabbis at all. Her Jewishness isn't in doubt.

But every time the stranglehold of the religious authorities in the areas of conversion, marriage and divorce makes the headlines, I feel sympathetic. On the one hand, it is Halacha--literally, "the way in which one walks"--that has kept the Jewish people a coherent unit throughout more than two millennia, in spite of the most ferocious persecutions. On the other, it takes rabbis of real moral stature to be able to have the guts to adapt the Halacha to current conditions. It's just too easy to fall back on the generations of scholars who went before and not allow any innovations out of fear. Right now there are significant numbers of Russians who would formally convert if it wasn't made so difficult; they have Jewish partners and have chosen to leave the FSU and make their lives here, and there are many Ethiopians who consider themselves completely Jewish but whom the rabbis doubt and it is deeply insulting to them. Once again, a bill is in the Knesset for civil marriage, but that will only divide the religious and the secular even more. It is a very difficult problem.


Anonymous said...

I'm actually Christian (Lutheran, more precisely), but I wonder: do Jewish children born out of wedlock face any restrictions on participating in Jewish religious life or entering into marriage, etc. or do they face any stigma in Judaism? I have always been curious, because some Christian churches (not the Lutheran; if the church refused to baptize "illegitimate children" in Scandinavia, where more than half of all babies are born to unmarried couples, it would be out of business) have refused to baptize illegitimate children. I would be interested in your answer.


Antigonos said...

The act of cohabitation itself is a kind of marriage, although not one the rabbis approved of. The first Mishna of Tractate Kiddushin in the Talmud states "a woman is purchased in three ways: by a contract,by money, or by intercourse". Yes, I know "purchased" sounds pretty awful to modern ears, but this is from 2000 or more years ago. At that time, a woman passed directly from her father's hand to her husband's. The rabbis were aware that couples sometimes eloped, or women were taken captive in war and had no choice in the matter.

In Jewish law, only those children fathered by someone other than the woman's lawful husband were stigmatized, and not permitted to join Jewish life. There are also very plain laws about rape and what constitutes it which were actually quite advanced. And women had the protection of their wedding contract, which guaranteed them a sum of money (the contract is between the woman's father and her husband) in the event the marriage was dissolved. Divorce is possible in Judaism, and can be instituted by either the man or the woman, although the actual performance of the divorce relies on the man, and can be problematic.

Anonymous said...

Dear Antigonos,

Sorry to be coming back a bit late, but thank you for your information; very interesting.

I think in many Bibles the word "mamzer" is translated as "bastard," even though the meaning of "bastard" encompasses both children born of two unmarried parents and those born of a married woman and a man not her husband (which makes me wonder: what would be the position of a child born of a married woman who has undergone artificial insemination?).

So maybe the Lutheran Church is more "in tune" with the Bible's original position on "illegitimate" children!


Antigonos said...

There is a whole body of law relating to issues of infertility. Generally speaking, the rabbis allow artificial insemination IF the donor is a non-Jew (since Jewishness is conferred by the mother), and because no act of intercourse is involved.

The main difference in issues of adultery has to do with the fact that Christians partake of the "sacrament" of marriage, while Jews do not have the same concept. To be married in Jewish law, no rabbi or priest is needed. A man gives a single woman a ring worth a symbolic small sum, in the presence of two legally acceptable witnesses (men over 13 years of age) and says "Behold you are consecrated to my by the Laws of Moses and Israel". The contract of marriage is signed by the groom and the father of the bride. In ancient times, a valid marriage was also "contracted" when a man had intercourse with a single woman, or when the groom gave a sum of money to the father. By the time of the Talmud these methods were frowned upon. The wedding contract, btw, specifies the amount of money the husband must give his wife if they divorce, and if she refuses to physically accept the bill of divorcement, he is still her husband.

There isn't any Christian equivalent for "mamzer", really.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for the information.

Interestingly, a "mamzer" according to the Jewish definition would not be considered a "bastard" under traditional English law, which automatically presumes any child born to a married woman is that of her husband even if the child was conceived through extramarital intercourse or artificial insemination by donor.

Also, perhaps one reason that there is no Christian equivalent for "mamzer" is that Christianity traditionally has tended to group all sexual "sin" (that is, sex other than that between a man and woman married to each other) as "adultery." In this way, extramarital sex was not really viewed as worse than premarital sex. But I can see how in a religion like Judaism where bloodlines are very important, extramarital sex would threaten the social fabric much more than premarital intercourse would.