Matrilineality of Jews [Part 3]


This post is the final post on Jewish matrilineality, continuing from previous post (part 2).

Let’s summarize:

Based on the described dynamic, the matrilineal arrangement, as it was practiced among the Jews all the way till present time, was a necessary (but not sufficient just by itself) precondition for Jewish communities to further themselves in the physical sense. As I’ve described it, the matrilineal arrangement was a well-defined protocol (in the context of a society living by Jewish identity and custom) that helped Jewish communities to grow and, especially important in trying times, to survive. It served as a guard both against diffusion of other identities into Judaism and against assimilation of Jews into surrounding host societies.

Of course, matrilineality was only one of many Halakhic  arrangements and dictates which, when all combined, was what made Jewish communities into a kind of super-organism, with the wealthy Jews being pivotal in providing infrastructure for inter-communal Jewish connection (the veins) and as main sources of economic input to sustain the community materially (the mouth and all non-nerve organs, plus the extremities), while the Rabbis and related Talmudic scholars and teachers were the keepers of the Jewish tradition (the nerves, which effected the flesh and conveyed the senses) and the providers of communal direction via adjudication of communal matters and disputes (the brain, to which all nerves were connected).

Fascinatingly, said super-organism is not only community-based, but also a distributed entity. The Jews (or rather, Jewish exilarchs, rabbis, scholars) have been in touch with one another over millennia, both temporally and spatially, since the times of Babylonian exile till this very day and across communities divided by warring empires and tribes, as well as significant natural obstacles. Hence, although the nerves and brains were many, all have functioned, effectively, as one.

It is why I will repeat that becoming matrilineal denotes a kind of demarcation line between Jews being a nation living on their land, united and ruled by King but still identified via a tribal imprint from their agro-pastoralist past, and Jews becoming a nation living in exile, distributed among other assimilating nations, an urban society. To use the old tribal analogy, Rabbis were not just the priests of their communities, but also the community’s judges. If one views humans and human societies via cultural evolution, as one should, it was a new, but luckily beneficial mutation that allowed Jews to not only persist (survive), but thrive (grow) within their novel circumstance, a circumstance that required being culturally portable and resilient.

Now that Jews finally have Israel back, the main threat to their identity is coming from breaking of the communities and secularization from within, a double whammy from Haskalah and, later, Shoah. New realities possibly entail a need for some new mutation to preserve the Jews: leaving aspects of the shtetl-derived way but possibly going beyond old-style Rabbinic communities by resurrecting and re-applying some the rules of Halakhah from the days of Judean Kingdom or even creating new ones. Innovation in Halakhah, as we now see, has precedent, and it may be needed again, given the context of additional requirements of surviving and growing as part of a modern, technologically advanced nation-state, a state threatened from many directions, economically and militarily.

Indeed, when one thinks of it all in any real depth, it is boggling the mind – it is amazing to be Jewish. But that’s a story to be continued and expanded on for yet another day or, rather, days.


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