Second Half-Jewish Network/Blog Email Newsletter

November 16, 2011

Dear Friends:

You see that the Half-Jewish Network keeps its promises — we are contacting you only once a month! <internet smile>

Here are some news items that I thought might interest you.  (I wish to thank Al and Joel — you know who you are — for sending me some of these news articles!)

1.  In a 9/1/11 article in the American Jewish newspaper, the “Forward,” titled “Last Ethiopian Jews Finally Make Exodus to Israel,” you will see at the bottom of the article some very disturbing news.

Not all of the remaining Ethiopian Jews are apparently being allowed to make aliyah to Israel. Those who have a Jewish father and a mother who is not Jewish — the patrilineal Jews — are being excluded.

You will notice that I have left a comment expressing my disapproval in the “Comments” section. You may wish to leave a comment of your own.

2. “Who Isn’t a Jew?” a 10/23/11 article in “The Jerusalem Post” describes how a well-known Israeli writer with two Jewish parents has had himself legally declared a non-Jew.

He is protesting the fact that because he married an American Christian, his daughter and grandson are officially “not Jewish” in Israel.

3. “Outside the Box” — new film being made by Lacey Schwartz on growing up half-African-American and half-Jewish. The author of the film seeks donations to help her complete the film.

4. “Conservative Synagogues Crack Open Door to Intermarried Families,” published in the “Forward” on 8/31/11, discusses how some Conservative synagogues are allowing interfaith couples full membership in their shuls.

5. There are very few studies of the Holocaust that mention half-Jewish people, so I thought some of you might be interested in “Jews and Intermarriage in Nazi Austria”:

6. Some of you have expressed an interest in occasionally hearing about half-Jewish people who lived as Christians. I recommend an excellent essay about the poet Denise Levertov, who was raised in the Church of England.

Her father came from a Hasidic Jewish family and is said to have been a descendant of the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty. He became an Anglican minister. Her mother grew up in Wales and was raised as a Congregationalist Christian.

Levertov was interested in both of her “halves” and wrote much spiritual poetry.

7.  If you are interested in receiving a free weekly email newsletter with information about Israel and interfaith families, plus other topics relating to Israel’s current problems in this area, I recommend that you subscribe to:

8. Holiday Reminders: I wish all of our American readers a Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 24.

Erev (the beginning) of Hanukkah falls after sunset on Tuesday, December 20 this year and lasts for eight days. Christmas will take place (except for the Eastern Orthodox Christians) on Sunday, December 25. The Eastern Orthodox Christmas will fall on January 7.

9. I am continuing to notify the over 1,000 members of the Half-Jewish Network who contacted us over the last six years that we have a new website and that they can now subscribe to this email blog/newsletter.

Some of them have changed email addresses, so I may not be able to reach them all. I am slowly reconnecting with as many of them as I can reach, one by one.

10. Don’t forget to check the “About/Message Board” on our website and help me respond to the questions from half-Jewish people from all over the world:


Robin Margolis, Coordinator



Filed under Biracial, Conservative Judaism, Ethiopian Jews, Half-Jewish Celebrities, Half-Jewish in Holocaust, Half-Jewish Network, Multiracial, Russian Half-Jewish People, Who Is A Jew

7 responses to “Second Half-Jewish Network/Blog Email Newsletter

  1. Chana (Annette)

    Hi Robin!

    One correction I’d like to make re: holydays. The Eastern Orthodox Christmas is on January 7th only for the EO’s who still follow the Julian Calendar. This is a minority of Eastern Orthodox. Most of them follow the Gregorian Calendar, which means their Christmas is Dec 25th, just as the Western churches have it.

  2. Dear Chana/Annette: Thank you for the correction! Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying — things have been pretty busy this month — I am pleased that you caught this!

    One of the good things about this group is that I learn from its members!


  3. Dear Friends: The Forward reporter who wrote the article I mentioned in Item #1 of this month’s newsletter — about half-Jewish Ethiopian Jews with a Jewish father being excluded from making aliyah to Israel — sent me more information:

    Len Lyons
    As author of this article, I can explain what you notice correctly is inconsistent policy by the government. It is true that the Law of Return recognizes paternal-only Judaism. However, the Falash Mura are immigrating to Israel under the Law of Entry, which is administered by the Ministry of Interior. The LAw of Entry is a humanitarian law, not related to whether someone is Jewish or not., the Ministry of Interior.can set any criteria it wants to. In fact the criteria are a compromise among many groups in the government and Israeli society. Some think the Falash Mura are coming to Israel to improve their lives not because they want to be Jews. They also note that the Law of Return applies to people with Jewish ancestry *who are not practicing another religion* – which the Falash Mura were doing. However, many rabbis and other state officials believe they are Jews and should be brought under the law of Return. THe agreement referred to in the article is a compromise which uses the halachic definition of Judaism (inherited from the mother) not the civil definition used in the Law of Return. Thus the Falash Mura are being accepted for immigration o the basis on maternal Judaism only and when they arrive they much undergo a “return to Judaism” process (another compromise between formal conversion and no conversion). I know it’s complicated and discriminates against the Ethiopian Falash Mura who grew up as Christian. But that is the governments policy, respecting the differences of opinion.

    Read more:

    Here is my reply:

    Dear Len Lyons:

    Please forgive my delay in replying — last month was super-busy and I temporarily lost track of my email. I appreciated you calling my attention to the Law of Entry being used with the Falash Mura, as opposed to the Law of Return being used with Russian half-Jewish people.

    It disturbs me to see that Falash Mura half-Jewish people with a Jewish father are being excluded due to Israel bringing them in via the Law of Entry instead of the Law of Return. This still looks like gross racial discrimination, plus discrimination against half-Jewish people with Jewish fathers.

    I am aware that many Russian half-Jewish people, who were not practicing Judaism — many were and are practicing Christianity — and who in some instances had a paternal Jewish grandfather or great-grandfather — and no other Jewish ancestry — were brought to Israel with far fewer restrictions and delays than the Falash Mura have experienced.

    Many of the Russian half-Jewish people now in Israel would never have been able to meet the “two generations of matrilineal descent” proof currrently demanded of the patrilineal Falash Mura.

    I think what we are dealing with here is racism. The Falash Mura are black and coming from a developing country. The Russian half-Jewish people were and are mostly white in appearance and coming from a first world country.

    We are also dealing with Orthodox bigotry in Israel and the Diaspora against half-Jewish patriineals. I do not believe that any objective observer could tell the difference between a Falash Mura with a Jewish father and a Falash Mura with a Jewish mother.

    I am sorry to see Israel go down this road.

    Robin Margolis
    Half-Jewish Network

  4. Joseph Feit

    Dear Robin,

    I am afraid the story is even more complicted than the way you described it in your e mail. . The Felash Mura who come in under the Law of Entry are those, who according to the government, do not qualify under the Law of Return. Thus, FM who have a Jewish grandfather , even on the paternal side, are allowed to come into Israel under the Law of Return. One Jewish grandparent, on either side, qualifies you to come in under the law of Return whether you are Russian or Ethiopian.

    However, the FM are being allowed to come in under the Law of Entry, if they have a Jewish great grandmother or even great great grandmother as long as its on the maternal side, not the paternal side i.e. even though lacking a Jewish grandparent, paternal or maternal, they do not qualify uner the Law of Entry. This is viewed by the government as an extra benefit given to the Ethiopians i.e. a benefit not granted to the Russians or any one else.

    The government’s position belief that it is being more lenient with the Ethiopians can perhaps be justified (there are other issues) if you assume, that after having returned to the practice of Judaism (Sabbath, Kosher laws etc), the FM do not automatically revest with all of the rights of Jews,(including the rights to emigrate as Jews under the Law of Return) without the need for a further conversion. Jewish practice and religious law has held at least since the ninth century, that even apostate Jews remain Jews and that even Jewish apostates automatically regain their all of their communal rights as soon as they return in practice to the religious practices of the community. (But remember, to be Jewish in the first place, halakah requires maternal Jewish lineage)The argument of adovocates is that this should include their rights under the Law of Return. (Various communities required different forms of penances at times, including a kind of Return to Judaism ceremony which involved immersion in a mikvah, but it was not viewed as a conversion since the person was already Jewish).

    Oddly, the government in effect has adopted a harsher position than that required by normative Orthodox Jewish practice, in refusing to recognize their rights under the Law of Return. However, it has partially mitigated its harsh position, in practice, by allowing those whom halakhah views as Jewish i.e. those who are maternally linked but do not qualify under the Law of Return because the conversion to Christianity took place is at grandmother level (i.e. they only have a Jewish great grandmorther) – to immigrate under the Law of Entry.

    An interesting twist, however, is that under Ethiopian Jewish law, as opposed to halakah,, whether one is Jewish or not is determined through the paternal line, not the maternal line.

  5. Duality

    Dear Joseph Feit:

    Please excuse the delay in my reply — things have been very busy here and I am sure at your workplace as well.

    I am not certain that I understand your most recent comment. Parts of it — perhaps I am misinterpreting you — seem inconsistent with the article.

    You state that in your most recent comment on this message board: “Thus, FM who have a Jewish grandfather , even on the paternal side, are allowed to come into Israel under the Law of Return. One Jewish grandparent, on either side, qualifies you to come in under the law of Return whether you are Russian or Ethiopian.”

    The article has an interview with a Falash Mura couple who are both Jewish on their respective fathers’ side of the family who state that they will not be brought to Israel and will be cut off from their current Ethiopian community that is waiting to go to Israel because they have Jewish fathers and no maternal ancestry.

    If this couple were allowed to enter Israel under the Law of Return for people with Jewish fathers, would they not have mentioned it?

    And if, as you state, the Ethiopian Jews recognize Judaism according to paternal rather than maternal descent — which makes sense as they were cut off from Judaism in the pre-Talmudic era, when Judaism was transmitted by the father and less often by the mother –

    Then it is doubly unfair to expect them to dredge up proof of matrilineal descent under the Law of Entry, when they would have been more likely to preserve records and memories about Jewish fathers.

    I just can’t see this as a fair or equitable treatment of them. I have reviewed many stories of the Russian Jews and their mixed families on aliyah to Israel. None of them were kept in camps under very poor conditions for years. They were sent to Israel as quickly as possible.

    The Jewish Agency scoured Russia for years, looking for people who had the slightest claim to Jewish ancestry. One Russian family of eight people was admitted because one of them had a Jewish great-grandfather.

    Had the Russian Jews and their mixed families been left in unhealthy and primitive camps in Russia for years, and brought in a few at a time under a different entry law than other people making aliyah, and repeatedly threatened with a cut-off of their aliyah, there would have been a worldwide outcry. The Russian Jews would undoubtedly have refused to make aliyah.

    But the Falash Mura have been left in camps, often to fall victim to disease, given what appears to be a much more stringent entry standard under a different law than the Russian Jews, and certainly no Jewish officials have been scouring Ethiopia for people with slight traces of Jewish ancestry. This does not seem like more lenient treatment.

    There can be only one reason for the disparate treatment — the Ethiopian Jews are poor and black. I can think of nothing else.

    I appreciate your patience and continued provision of information. Thank you again for your patience as I continue to study the issue.


  6. Duality

    This additional information was sent by Joseph Feit on March 16, 2012 with permission to post it on the website. We are very appreciative of Mr. Feit taking the time to explain this complex issue.


    The whole thing is quite complicated. Let me try to make my point a bit more clearly. When the Ethiopians are saying the can’t get in een though they are linked paternally to EthiopianJewry, they don’t mean that their immediate father (or his father) was a Jew for his entire life. What they mean is that their link to the Jewish people comes through their father’s side albeit more distantly i.e. their paternal great grandfather or great great great grandfather converted to Christianiity.

    IN such case they could not make use of the provision of the Law of Return Section 4A which allows a person with one Jewish parent or grandparent , whether maternal or paternal. A link only at the great grandfather level is too remote for Law of Return purposes, whether its paternal or maternal.

    The only way people in this situation can immigrate to Israel is under the Law of Entry, not the Law of Return and the Law of Entry is totally discretionary. As it happens, the Israeli government adopted a decision granting Ethiopian Jews who don’t qualify under the Law of Return, special rights to immigrate under the Law of entry.

    However, to be able to benefit from this special decision, an Ethiopian Jew must meet the religious (i.e. halachic) criterion of who is a Jew. Jewish law looks only to the mothers side and disregards the father’s side entirely (unlike the Law of Return). Thus an Ethiopian Jew with maternal linaeage can immigrate to Israel under this special provision even he or she had a Jewish maternal great grandmother or great great grandmother who converted to Christianity.

    But Ethiopians whose links to the Jewish people are on their father’s side only do not benefit from this special leniency granted by the government decision to maternally linked Ethiopian Jews whose link can be at the great grandmother or great great grandmother level (or higher). However, Ethiopian Jews with paternal liinks at their father or grandfather’s level, are able to immigrate under the Law of Return.
    It is all confusing. I certainly understand and share your distress at the whole situation.

    Joseph Feit.

  7. Duality

    Dear Joseph:

    Please excuse the delay in replying to you —

    But I always answer every email eventually.

    I am honored to hear from an advocate such as yourself. We are definitely on the same side of this issue!

    I will post your reply to me on our website where I posted the original material.

    Please keep me on your email list for publicizing difficulties of half-Jewish Ethiopians.

    May God bless your work.


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