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‘I would not recommend patrilineal descent in Israel’

A halakhic basis for patrilineal descent exists. It only applied in a specific sovereign Jewish entity, where it was assumed that any non-Jewish woman who married a Jewish man would be brought into the prevailing culture


By Einat Ramon
In the creation stories of the Torah, the hierarchy of men over women is not at all obvious. Throughout Genesis, for example, God speaks to men, but in many cases women, such as Sarah, Rebecca, Tzipora, – seem to understand God better than men. The highest level in one’s relationship to God, prophecy, finds its first mention in relation to Miriam. The rupture of gender hierarchy is really a message of the written Torah, and its establishment emerges only later, in rabbinic literature. The most hierarchical Jewish text is a passage in Horayot in the Mishna (3:7), in which the life of a man is deemed more worthy than the life of a woman since he is obligated to observe time-bound commandments from which the woman is exempt. This Talmudic approach is alien and contradictory to the Torah itself and, in fact, the heirarchy set out Horayot ceased to be part of halakhic practice rather quickly.
Hierarchies affect membership mostly in ritual and yet there are many halakhic precedents for women’s participation in ritual. In my view, if a halakhic precedent exists for a particular act, we are permitted to follow that precedent today. There are still some issues, such as women testifying in religious court(eidut), which are not yet resolved. The Masorti movement is seeking to strike a balance on such issues for the sake of Jewish unity. Thus, for example, I can accept the compromise that allows women to train converts but not sign their conversion documents. I cannot, however, accept any compromise on the issue of divorce. I will not marry a couple who have not signed a pre-nuptial agreement. I don’t think that any rabbi should, since the "pre-nup" is the only security women have against blackmail, since Jewish Law requires the husband’s consent in order for a divorce to be valid. The "pre-nup" also guarantees more harmonious divorce proceedings.
I am a part of the Masorti movement in Israel and Europe, which operates under different hermeneutical and sociological realities than the Conservative movement in the U.S. Looking at the U.S. from my perspective, I only ask if the adoption of patrilineal descent has proved useful to the Reform movement. I personally do not think that it has swelled the numbers of congregants as much as they had hoped. I do know, from my personal experience in a rabbinical position in the U.S., that rabbis come under immense pressure to officiate at certain weddings and recognize different unions. It is tremendously difficult to say no, so I can understand the inclination to accommodate.
Historically, a halakhic basis for patrilineal descent exists. It really only applied, however, in a specific sovereign Jewish entity, where it was assumed that any non-Jewish woman who married a Jewish man would be brought into the prevailing culture. In the Diaspora it cannot work, especially because men tend more than women to assimilate into the dominant culture. We therefore cannot assume that the women Jewish men marry will embrace Jewish culture and that their children will be raised as Jews.
I would not recommend the adoption of patrilineal descent in the Masorti movement in Israel. This is not only because we have responsibility for the Diaspora, but also because we need to have halakhic integrity.
As far as the conversion of FSU immigrants goes, the Masorti movement offers conversions; they study with us and we confer the conversions. We believe that the state should support these activities financially. While the Rabbinate subsequently refuses to perform marriages for our converts, we will.  The main problem is that many  non-Jewish immigrants from the FSU are simply not  interested in converting. The only solution is education. The Ne’eman proposals also presented an excellent solution, but in practice little has changed because the rabbinic courts don’t always accept the people sent to them for conversion by the Joint Conversion Institute. I can only speak for myself and not for the entire Masorti Movement, but if the Knesset would anchor in legislation the agreements reached at the Ne’eman Commission, I would publicly support and agreement to nominate willing Orthodox rabbis to apply these decisions. Until it becomes law, however, we intend to push forward with non-Orthodox solutions.
Rabbi Dr. Einat Ramon, Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, received ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1989, becoming the first Israeli-born woman rabbi. Ramon teaches modern Jewish thought and literature and Jewish feminism at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. Ramon, who received her PhD from Stanford University, has written numerous articles and recently completed a book. She has served as the spokesperson of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel and currently supervises a Masorti (Conservative) congregation in north Tel Aviv.

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