29 May 2009

Jewish genealogy and the conversion issue

When I mentioned our family history project to an Orthodox member of the family several years ago, her reaction was very positive. She said, quite enthusiastically, "Now we'll be able to know who's Jewish and who isn't in the family."

I realized that - from her particular perspective - this was a major reason to keep genealogical records, although I have never looked at family research from such a vantage point. To me, a family member is a family member no matter how they enter the family records - they are part of the family.

Over the years, I have heard of some family historians who wonder about including adopted children, non-Jewish individuals and inter-married couples. I have even known some genealogists who decide that daughters and their descendants should not be included as they marry and become part of another family.

Jewish genealogy did make it into the conversion issue in Israel just this week, when the Israeli High Court ordered the state to fund Reform and Conservative conversion institutes as well as Orthodox ones. This is an explosive issue in Israel for those who may not be familiar with it. The Orthodox rabbinate - Sephardic and Ashkenazi - slammed the court's decision.

Genealogical research could be boosted by a likely inadvertent comment by the religious services minister, who said, "the High Court would force anyone who observed Halacha [Jewish law] and who was concerned with maintaining his Jewish identity to keep genealogy records."

As long as families keep genealogical records - for whatever reason - I'm happy!
Read more here.

Is there be a circumstance in which you would not list a family member in your records? Share your thoughts.


  1. I can't imagine one. One of my most researched family lines was researched heavily by a cousin for the past twenty years -- she was adopted into the family. To include in my records the 300 page register she gave me two years ago, and delete her entry, would take a little bit of chutzpah, I think.

    And one of my grandparents was non-Jewish. I can't imagine refusing to research 25% of my ancestry. I consider myself 100% Jewish, not 75%; what religion my ancestors were has nothing to do with what religion I am. Promoting the concept of 'half-Jews' feels like a violation of the 614th commandment to me.

  2. Family is family. We are what we are, and that includes where we came from and what we've experienced. How can you cut someone out?

    I can't think of any reason to exclude someone -- race, creed, even issues like criminality. The program I use -- Reunion -- lets you tag people as adopted, twin, never married, and all manner of other things including religion, occupation, military service, plus customizable tags as well. My point is that if you wanted to be able to identify and sort based on a single feature, you could if you use a program like that. (I don't work for them, I swear.)

    I just don't see a reason or need to exclude anyone. Ever. My father was adopted. As it stands now, I've researched his adopted family, both sides, back several generations.

    Does it count? It's not blood. Well, maybe not the older generations (although it's pretty interesting and I kind of wish they were related), but his immediate family -- his parents and grandparents -- they are his family. They loved him, they raised him, they shaped the goofy guy that would go on to create and raise me. Why wouldn't I research them? Why wouldn't they count?

    As to his birth parents, my father isn't interested in finding out anything, but the rest of us are. For health reasons, for curiosity, and because we're tired of saying 'half Italian, half unknown.' I really want to find out more about them. I'm more than happy to trace four parents for my father, if I could just find the birth records.

    Of course, I'm a little weird in that I enjoy the search. Just the search alone. And I'm good at it. Sometimes I will research the in-laws of cousins, because I enjoy solving puzzles, and watching the tree fill out. I guess there's a sense of accomplishment there. I like the Nancy Drew element of genealogy. The process, to me, is as fascinating as the results.

    Also, if I can provide the family member with new information, it makes us both happy. I've done this with a number of relatives.

  3. Thanks to John and WR for sharing their views. I believe that the majority of genealogists are inclusive and that family is family. And we all enjoy the search. If we didn't enjoy exercising our formidable detective skills, we might have much more leisure time on our hands! I seem to remember that I used to do needlepoint BG (before genealogy).