I remember clearly the day that my religious studies teacher, Rabbi Meyerovitch, explained to us — a group of seventh-grade girls at the private Jewish elementary school I attended in Vancouver, British Columbia — the rabbinic law that determined who got to be “born Jewish.”
He was about as direct as one might expect a grizzled, sixtysomething Orthodox man to be about such matters, but he tried his best. A child follows the religion of the mother, he explained, because — and here he coughed — “well … you can always be sure of who the mother is.”
We looked at him blankly.
He continued: “But …you can’t always be sure of the father.”
It took me a few minutes, but I caught on eventually. At the time, the rabbinic logic made perfect sense to my 12-year-old mind: if any poor shmuck pointed out by the mother could conceivably be the father, then of course the baby should follow the religion of the “knowable” parent, the parent to whose body it was irrefutably, undeniably tethered. Fatherhood as a concept was murky, shifting. But motherhood? You could count on that. You could see it with the naked eye.
That’s the beginning of my essay, “Que(e)rying the Matrilineal Principle,” published in the current issue of Lilith magazine. It’s part of a themed section on “Naming the Matriarchy,” in which, as the magazine puts it, “three ‘deciders’ seize the power of choosing, in ways big and small, bullish and inventive, multicultural and intellectual, norm-shattering and unapologetically subversive.” Aw. More specifically, it’s the story of my ongoing understanding of what it means to reconcile Jewish and queer identities when they collide with parenthood. You can download and read it here.
And for those of you who’ve been hankering for even more Jewish feminism (and even if you weren’t, bet you now are — kind of like if I mention sushi or brownies you immediately want some, don’t you?), the good folks at Lilith have kindly provided me with some extra copies of the magazine. If you’d like one, please leave a comment below (yes, you can just say, “I want one,” but I’d also love your feedback on the article itself, if you’re so inclined). On Tuesday, February 7, I’ll randomly choose five of the commenters to receive a copy . I’m reserving a sixth and seventh copy for new Facebook “Friends” of this blog — if you’ve been hesitating to click that “like” button over to the right, hesitate no more! Some independent, Jewish and frankly feminist reading awaits you!