My early educational years were at Washington, D.C. Yeshivat Beit Yehuda. I grew up accepting the traditional definitions of who is a Jew. Eleven years ago I created the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation (www.JASHP.org).
I must agree with Gary Rosenblatt’s point about the rigidity of the conversion standards that are being imposed throughout the Jewish world, not just Israel (“Ruth’s Conversion Would Be Rejected Today,” May 25). What I have come to learn is that matrilineal descent is a myth. I have encountered story after story of the American experience that convincingly illustrates the self-deception we have been imposing on ourselves as to who is a Jew. Who is a Jew is a matter of convenience, not law.
When the American West was being settled, Jewish men did not find a lot of marriageable Jewish women in the neighborhood. Many married local women, white, red and black. Some of the unions produced children, and they decided to rear them as Jews without a mikveh or a beit din (rabbinical court). They “self converted.” Over the years the intermarriage of those children has infused their non-halachic bloodlines into the basic core of Jewish being.
Rosenblatt wrote about Ruth and her choice. She did not go to mikveh or beit din: she self-converted. The rabbis dance around the issue of her conversion and the status of her grandson, King David, by insisting that Ruth’s sons all married Jewish girls and were automatically blended into the tribe.
We have survived by accepting, not rejecting, the richness of new blood, ideas, cultural interpretations and values. That did not mean we rejected the Torah simply because we intermarried. We carried the Torah with us and let it help us integrate more fully into the common creation of God — all of us.