Most Jews do not want rabbis to determine who is Jewish, study finds
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Most Jews do not want rabbis to determine who is Jewish, study finds

(JTA) — Most Jews do not want rabbis to determine who is Jewish, and the Israeli government may need to consider changes to the Law of Return, a new study has found.

The report issued this week by the Jewish People Policy Institute recommends strengthening the sense of “Jewish peoplehood” among mixed families, partial Jews and non-Jews affiliated with Judaism.

It is the Jerusalem-based institute’s third report on the Structured Jewish World Dialogue, a systematic discourse that took place in 49 seminars worldwide on issues that are at the core of the collective interests of the Jewish people globally.

Dialogue participants said they believe that culture and peoplehood are the most significant aspects of Judaism, more than religion and ancestry, and thus they value caring for other Jews more than keeping the laws of the Torah.

While recognizing that religious denominations will continue to set their own standards for life cycle and other events, leadership seminars strongly endorsed the general posture of being welcoming to all who seek to participate in Jewish life. The more than 600 leaders also affirmed the desire to maintain selective communal norms that would affirm the more traditional standards. For example, the leadership almost universally wanted the professional head of North American federations to continue to be Jewish according to halachah, or Jewish law.

The report also suggests, in the wake of cultural and demographic developments in the Jewish world, whether Israel might consider changes in the criteria governing the Law of Return, which guarantees every Jew a place in Israel, to determine eligibility.

In addition, fewer than 25 percent of the participants believe that rabbis should decide “Who is a Jew,” saying that self-definition and community were better determinants.

The 129-page report considers other topics researched within the scope of the Jewish People Policy Institute’s project such as intermarriage, Israel’s role in defining Judaism, and the Jewishness of leaders and material resources.