17 November 2007

Syrian Jews: Genealogy is serious business

How serious is genealogy? Very serious, if you are a member of the Syrian Jewish community, based these days in Brooklyn, NY and Deal, NJ.

A long article in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago details the community's famous 1935 rabbinical proclamation about never accepting converts or children of converts,

It proclaimed, "No male or female member of our community has the right to intermarry with non-Jews; this law covers conversion, which we consider to be fictitious and valueless."

A 1946 clarification added specifics: "The rabbi will not perform Religious Ceremonies" for such unkosher couples. "The Congregation’s premises will be banned to them for use of any religious or social nature. . . . After death of said person, he or she is not to be buried on the Cemetery of our community . . . regardless of financial considerations."

There are also laws on their books for community members who wish to marry non-Syrian spouses:

In addition to the strictures imposed by the Edict in instances of proposed intermarriage, any outsider who wants to marry into a Syrian family - even a fellow Jew - is subject to thorough genealogical investigation. That means producing proof, going back at least three generations and attested to by an Orthodox rabbi, of the candidates’ kosher bona fides. This disqualifies the vast majority of American Jews, who have no such proof. "We won’t take them - not even if we go back three or four generations - if someone in their line was married by a Reform or Conservative rabbi, because they don’t perform marriages according to Orthodox law," Kassin said. Even Orthodox candidates are screened, to make sure there are no gentiles or converts lurking in the family tree. In addition, all prospective brides and grooms must take marital purity classes and pass a test for HIV.

Planning to marry into this community? You might start investigating your own family history now.

The article offers insight into an exceedingly insular community which believes it has protected its future continuity and self-preservation through the famous Edict and heavy-duty community pressure on its young people.

Perhaps it has: Read the comments of those who have had the temerity to marry out.

Read the complete article here.

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