Sunday’s program was quite powerful. Young adults talked about being Black, Asian or biracial AND Jewish. They described the painful and incessant questioning that white Jews typically feel the need to do: Are you Jewish? How did you get to be Jewish? Did you convert? Did one of your parents convert? Which one?
Recently I sat down with two local rabbis, one Conservative and one Orthodox to ask, “When do you NEED TO KNOW whether someone is Jewish?”
They gave me three areas.
1. Membership – At the time of joining a synagogue, those joining will be asked, privately, for their Jewish status.
2. At a time of worship when a minyan (a quorum of Jews) is required in order for certain prayers to be recited one must know whether there are TEN Jews present.
3. When giving out honors at a Torah service. Only a Jew can perform “commanded” actions during a service. Just what those actions are depends on the stream of Judaism being practiced and the customs of that synagogue.
Both rabbis said that ONLY THE RABBI needs to concern themself with this question. In fact, both of the rabbis tell their congregants that members don’t need to ask; the rabbi will handle things.
Therefore it is simply not required to question a person regarding their Jewish identity. If you are reading this, and you are not a rabbi making a halachic decision, you never need ask about another person’s Jewish status. Be gracious. Pray long side the Black and Asian people in synagogue and keep your over active curiosity to yourself. Assume they are Jews!