Common sense tells us that the child of one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent who is welcomed into our community with Jewish ceremonies such as ritual circumcision or a ritual baby naming is, in fact, Jewish.
This has been commonly accepted among the vast majority of American Jews for decades. In 1968, the Reconstructionist Movement recognized this by stating explicitly that the Movement and all its constituents will consider such children as Jews and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association affirmed this position in 1979 in its “Guidelines on Conversion.” In 1983, the Reconstructionist Movement welcomed the decision of the Reform Movement to also adopt “patrilineal descent” as their policy.
These decisions by Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism were, of course, criticized by those in the Orthodox camp. Among Conservative Jews there was certain ambivalence since their movement professes to adhere to tradition while striving to be modern. Officially, the institutions of Conservative Judaism rejected patrilineal descent, but we are all aware of many Conservative Jews who in practice accepted it.
I have maintained that the Conservative Movement will one day join Reconstructionism and Reform in accepting, not only de facto but also de jure, Jewish descent from either parent. When my Conservative friends scoff at this and say, “It’ll never happen!,” I remind them that 30 years ago that’s what was said about women rabbis in the Conservative Movement, and 10 years ago that what was said about gay and lesbian rabbis in the their movement.
Just as the Conservative Movement joined Reconstructionism and Reform in ordaining women rabbis and then gay and lesbian rabbis, I am certain that they will eventually join us in accepting patrilineal descent. The question is what are they waiting for? Why don’t they do it already and join the rest of the liberal, progressive Jewish community in welcoming as Jews the many children born to one Jewish parent? It’s about time!