I had already paid my check at the restaurant in Douglasville, Goergia, about half an hour west of Atlanta. I had time on my hands and I was spending it learning the ta’amei hamikra, the “Signs of Reading” or accent marks and musical notes of the Torah. It is one of the last requirements for rabbinic ordination that I must complete. I have foolishly put it off until the last six months before I am due to be ordained.
I had been at my table for a good hour or more with Marshall Portnoy and Josee Wolff’s book The Art of Torah Cantillation when the waitress walked over my way. Since I had already paid my check and finished my meal, I was pretty sure this would be a question. In Douglasville what sort of question might I expect? I was prepared for something like, “What language is that?”
Instead, she said, “Curiosity overwhelms me. I see you have a Hebrew book there.”
She knew it was Hebrew. I was now anticipating an interesting conversation. I explained that I am learning how to sing the Torah.
She said, “My father was Jewish and my mother is . . . I know this will sound crazy . . . Southern Baptist.” I didn’t think it sounded crazy. I speak in 40 to 50 Baptist churches a year and I meet scores of people with Jewish relatives. Down here in the Bible belt, Jews and Baptists get married with some regularity.
She went on to say that her father’s parents were Orthodox, that he joined the church to marry her mother, but when he died, he had an Orthodox funeral. There are interesting things about Jewish-Christian intermarriage. The idea of someone “converting” for marriage and reverting to their former identity when facing death is intriguing.
She told me about her children and said that one of her sons is changing his last name to that of her father. There was no one else to carry on the family name, so they are working on the name change to keep her father’s name alive.
“How about you?” I asked. “Do you practice either side of your identity? Do you keep Christian or Jewish traditions?”
“No, I don’t do either, but my kids go to church.”
“You ought to get in touch with who you are, with both sides,” I explained. And I told her what Messianic Judaism is all about. She was soaking it all up. No one had ever told her the two halves of her identity could be joined.
I told her she was a half-Jew and that there are many like her.
Interestingly, there are those who would say she is not Jewish because it was her father and not her mother who is Jewish. But I saw how her father’s Jewishness impacted her. She was deeply moved at the Jewish funeral. She spoke about it with a sort of awe. She told me he took her to an Orthodox service once, where was was separated to the women’s side and left alone in an environment she knew little about. She was terrified and never tried it again.
Also of note, there are those who would say her Jewishness does not matter. She should simply become a Christian. In Christ, some say, Jewish identity has no meaning.
It is interesting to meet a half-Jew and to think on how the religious worlds of Judaism and Christianity can have no room for such a person.
I gave her all of my information and I hope we stay in touch. I hope she can see how the faith of her mother and the practice of her father come together in Messianic Judaism.
Douglasville!! That’s where I used to live. Funny little town, huh? I enjoyed this post…and not just because you were in D’ville. :)
Is “half-Jew” really a valid term? Are her kids “one-fourth Jews”?
Thinking in terms of tribal affiliations as opposed to racial categories may be more beneficial. She might just be caught between two worlds in some respects.
I didn’t mean that to be critical of you, but of how all of us think of these things in general. I do the same sometimes.
Your point is a valid one to bring up. You know me well enough to know I am aware of Jewish identity issues. I tell people being Jewish is not primarily about religion or ethnicity. It is a family, it can be joined, and you don’t lose Jewishness by failing to adhere to the religion.
As for the term half-Jew, I find that the many people I meet in this category think of themselves as half-Jews and often use the term. Google it and you will find websites for children of intermarriage.
Could you take some time and explain more of what is happening in Israel on your blog at the present moment. Historically, culturally and biblically what we should be seeing and hearing that our typical media and western way of thinking would not pick up right away?
Thanks for all your help.
Thank you for your last post. Very helpful as we watch and pray for God’s chosen. Thank you for the resources. One last question (sorry to nag)…is there anything biblically that we should be looking at during times like this? Anything historically that sheds more light into these events? Not really trying to get at an “ends times” type of conclusion, but just wanting to be more in tune with the historic and cultural aspects of these types of moments. Thank you so much for your time and responses. They are truly helpful.
“As for the term half-Jew, I find that the many people I meet in this category think of themselves as half-Jews and often use the term. Google it and you will find websites for children of intermarriage.”
Derek, I think more often than not it’s the children of patrilineal Jewish descent (via the father) who identify themselves as “half-Jewish”. Those with Jewish mothers (thou not all) tend to view themselves as fully Jewish (since that’s the prevailing standard in today’s traditional Jewish communities, which also insist that there’s no such thing as a “half-Jew”). It’s the patrilineal Jews who are most confused since many of them are rejected as Jews.
I think that intermarriage is indeed a scourge on the Jewish people, especially those residing in the Diaspora. The reason Jews and Gentiles intermarry (in most cases) is because (at the time of marriage at least) neither cares much about preserving their identity and passing it on to their children.
Even among a great majority of intermarried Messianic Jews I see conflicts in marriages when it comes to observances of Jewish holidays vs Christians holidays, allegiances to churches or synagogues, problems with church-going Gentile in-laws not relating to their “Jewish” grandchildren.
Many Jewish believers are content with the minimum standard: as long as the future partner is a “believer”, it’s all that matters. It matters not to them if that future spouse wants to become part of the Jewish people (with everything that entails). For many Messianic Jews it’s quite a rude awaking when they finally decide to leave churches and join messianic synagogues – their believing Gentile spouses are not so willing to come along and leave the comforts of their beloved church.
Most children of such marriages (thou certainly not all) grow up confused, and many (most) end up intermarrying with non-Jews.
The answer is developing a stronger sense of Jewish identity in children of intermarriage. In Diaspora especially, the Messianic Judaism with traditional observances is the key.