Jewish identity has always been subject to gatekeeping. The question “Who is a Jew?” is answered with another question: “Who is the gatekeeper?”
One of Reform Judaism’s bravest and most important policy decisions of the past century was the movement’s decision to welcome “patrilineal” Jews as full members of the Jewish people.
Who “counts” as Jewish? Our community’s response to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords highlighted the complexity of this question. In Jewish newspapers and on blogs, discussions about her Jewishness multiplied. Born to a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father, she embraced Judaism only as an adult. Yet countless congregations recited mishebeirach prayers for her as one of “those who are ill among the Jewish people” — including, it seems likely, many synagogues in which, as one colleague of mine noted, Giffords would not be considered sufficiently Jewish to receive an aliyah to the Torah.