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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Properties of the Propety of Being Jewish

I’m marrying someone in a couple weeks. A lot of drama has arisen over his not being “Jewish” which made me wonder how the property of “being Jewish” works.
First, the word “Jewish” can mean lots of different things. Here are some of the factors that seem relevant to people’s determination of whether or not someone is Jewish
- Whether the person is of a certain ethnicity (where the extent to which one is from that ethnicity doesn’t depend on which side of the family is of the relevant ethnicity).
- Whether the person is of a certain ethnicity but only via the mother’s side
- Whether someone has converted
- Whether someone’s parents have converted
- Whether someone’s mother has converted before their birth
- Whether the person has certain beliefs
- Whether the person engages in certain practices
- Whether the person grew up in a certain culture
- Whether the person identifies as Jewish.
Here is the first question: suppose we interview someone and find the answer to all of these questions. Is a list of answers to these questions (and some more if you like) all there is to say about whether or not someone is Jewish? Or, is there a further question one can ask - namely whether, given the answers to all these questions someone is Jewish, simpliciter.
A lot of people seem to think there is a further question about whether or not is Jewish since people may disagree about whether someone is Jewish even if they agree about the answers to all of these questions.
Here is the second question: If we do think there is this further fact, (a) what grounds it and (b) what sort of beliefs do you have to have to make it legitimate for you to think that this further fact holds?