Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa

Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa

Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa

Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa

Synopsis

Since the late 1700s, when the Jewish community ceased to be a semiautonomous political unit in Western Europe and the United States and individual Jews became integrated- culturally, socially, and politically- into broader society, questions surrounding Jewish status and identity have occupied a prominent and contentious place in Jewish legal discourse. This book examines a wide array of legal opinions written by nineteenth- and twentieth-century orthodox rabbis in Europe, the United States, and Israel. It argues that these rabbis' divergent positions- based on the same legal precedents- demonstrate that they were doing more than delivering legal opinions. Instead, they were crafting public policy Jewish society in response to Jews' social and political interactions as equals with the non-Jewish persons in whose midst they dwelled.

Pledges of Jewish Allegiance prefaces its analysis of modern opinions with a discussion of the classical Jewish sources upon which they draw.

Excerpt

Lev Paschov certainly could never have imagined that he would be buried twice. An Israeli soldier who had immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union through the Law of Return, Paschov was killed along with another soldier while on active duty in southern Lebanon in 1993. Because Paschov’s mother was not Jewish, the Israeli army’s rabbi insisted that Paschov be buried outside the official military cemetery, which was consecrated exclusively for Jewish burial. After a public outcry, Paschov’s corpse was exhumed, and he was buried a second time— this time, inside the Jewish military cemetery, though at its edge.

Classical Jewish law defines a Jew as someone who either is born of a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism before a valid court. As Paschov satisfied neither criterion, Israel’s Orthodox religious authorities did not regard him as a Jew and ruled that he could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Many Israeli citizens were appalled by this decision. They were outraged that a man who had died defending the Jewish State and his fellow citizens, and who had immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return as a “Jew,” could be denied the dignity of burial in a Jewish cemetery.

To many, Paschov and his life signaled that the classic criteria for defining and identifying a Jew were simply too narrow for the modern setting. Paschov exemplified a new and expansive model of how the Jewish community ought to be defined and how membership in the Jewish community ought to be determined today. Under Israel’s Law of Return, which permits people with even one Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel as Jews, Paschov had been granted Israeli citizenship immediately. He died while defending his country, the Jewish . . .

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