February 17, 2017 by Keren McGinity
Born to two Jewish parents, I have enjoyed the privilege of engaging with Judaism in whatever way I see fit. It wasn’t until I took a non-Jewish surname that my Jewish identity was ever truly questioned. Upon learning that I’d married the name McGinity (and kept it after I divorced), people usually shrugged their shoulders as if to say: “Well, you’re still Jewish and your children will be, too.” Wow. If coming out of a Jewish womb is all it takes to be Jewish then perhaps I should identify as a Jew-by-chance. Just as I explain that I was born in Madrid because my parents happened to be living in Spain at the time, my being Jewish and my daughter’s being Jewish seem likewise unintentional. This inadvertent byproduct is the legacy called matrilineal descent.
Jewish women have the advantage, provided they are biologically endowed, with having the right womb. If they intermarry, as many non-Orthodox Jews do today, they can join synagogues where their children will be deemed sufficiently Jewish to become bar or bat mitzvah without any additional measures necessary. Not so for intermarried Jewish men whose wives lack the Jewish womb. Is it any wonder, then, that intermarried Jewish men are currently less likely to raise children to identify as Jewish than are intermarried Jewish women? (It is also worth noting that this fixation around wombs is both cisnormative and heteronormative.)