14 June 2011

G Giffords and Jewish identity

The news is good today about Gabrielle Giffords. The media is running the photo (below)showing her alive and well. The shooting in Arizona on 8 January left many dead, some in shock, and Giffords fighting for her life. Who is she? And what is this about her being Jewish?
Giffords was born in Tucson, Arizona, to Gloria Kay (née Fraser) and Spencer J. Giffords. She was raised in a mixed religious home by her Jewish father and Christian Science-practicing mother. She has identified herself solely with Judaism since 2001, belonging to Congregation Chaverim, a Reform synagogue, in Tucson. She is Arizona's first Jewish congresswoman. Would the Orthodox Jewish people count her as a Jew? Not really. But Arizona does. And certainly Congregation Chaverim does.

And I do. And the Bible would, too. Abraham begat Isaac. Not Sarah. (Of course, Sarah did, but the Bible's use of patrilineal genealogy is well noted) Isaac begat Jacob. You get the idea. So Giffords' father's Jewish identity is enough for her to be a true claimant of the Jewish religion.

The Reform Jewish world established this as an appropriate marker for someone claiming their identity. See Resolution on Patrilineal Descent from March, 1983. This is a break from what they site in the resolution, "According to the Halacha as interpreted by traditional Jews over many centuries, the offspring of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is recognized as a Jew, while the offspring of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father is considered a non-Jew."

And yet, the document goes on "Both the Biblical and the Rabbinical traditions take for granted that ordinarily the paternal line is decisive in the tracing of descent within the Jewish people."

So there seems to be discussion about parenthood and Jewish identity. And it has only increased since 1983. In 1979, my son was born and had to be 'converted' to Judaism by the rabbi in Kansas City, before they would allow his circumcision, but by 1983, when my older daughter was born, the reform movement had concluded that she would be Jewish due to my identity. Something we already knew and believed, but now it was official.

And Ms Giffords already was living it long before 1983. Too good.

The discussion can be seen in the thousands of webpages dedicated to the subject. For a quick look, see Jewish Gentile Couples and have a wander there. Or if that website appears too big, try this one article about Stephen and Laura Katz Katz article

Mazel tov to Gabby Giffords on her recovery.
Mazel tov to Stephen and Laura on their lives together.
Mazel tov to you, if you find the One whose identity can seriously shape your own.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Yesterday I watched Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, another Jewish man, who married out (Tiffany Stewart). Their first daughter, Alexis Sofia, was born on September 25, 2005; their second daughter, Alyssa, was born in 2007.
Will they be Jewish? You betcha!