Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle, 31 December 1965.
Jewish Identity. Compiled by Baruch Litvin and edited by Sidney B. Hoenig. New York: Philipp Feldheim. $6.75.
The famous “Who is a Jew?” debate reached its culmination in the letter addressed by Ben Gurion, in his official capacity as Prime Minister of Israel, to the “Sages of Israel.” The practical question with which the Prime Minister was concerned was how to register the child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother.
The Halacha is perfectly clear that such a child is not a Jew, but the query was whether a distinction could be made between Jewish by religion and Jewish by nationality. This book contains all the replies given by rabbinic experts and Jewish scholars, with the exception of two who did not give permission for their replies to be published.
One of the striking features of the book is the remarkable agreement, on the part of the rabbis and the majority of the general scholars, that it would be inadvisable to make such a distinction with roots neither in Jewish theory nor tradition. Some of the rabbis complain that non-rabbinic scholars were asked to express their opinion on what the rabbis felt was basically a purely Halachic question.
Dr. Freehof makes the interesting suggestion, on the other band, that there is warrant for the distinction in the old rabbinic rules regarding the full convert to Judaism (ger tzedek) and the partial convert (ger toshabh). Both Professors Heschel and Wolfson believe that the child might be registered as “Hebrew,” a suggestion which Dr. Altmann considers “something unworthy of recommendation.” The paragraph on the jacket attributed to Dr. Freehof is, in fact, from the reply of Rabbi Weinberg.
In the course of his reply, Rabbi Zachariah Hakohen, Rabbi of Nehalal, remarks:
I have already referred to the changes that have taken place in the procedure of accepting proselytes and in the observance of Jewish precepts in the actual day-to-day life of Jews. We cannot demand that the proselyte observe all the 613 precepts at a time when most of those who are resettling him are themselves far from observing this number or even part of it. In a period of revolution and upheaval, in all spheres of life, even the faithful fall into error, because of the innovation in the world, unlike the past.
The London Beth Din please note.