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Jewish Journal

Who gets to decide who is a Jew?

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 19, 2012 | 9:04 pm

Responding to news reports last week about the anti-Semitic Hungarian politician, Csanad Szegedi, who discovered he is Jewish, George Conger at GetReligion (now part of Patheos!) asks a centuries-old question. Who is a Jew? With a twist:

He writes:

How should journalists decide who is a Jew? In this story the conservative/orthodox matrilineal definition is used. This may be appropriate as the Jewish community in Hungary follows this line. Yet the AP’s readers are found in the Angl0sphere, where the majority of Jews follow the Reform view of Jewish identity. Should it not interpret events according to the lights of its readers?

Nazi race ideology would classify Szegedi as a mischling — a half Jew. A German mischling was subject to severe restrictions under the Nazi race laws, but mischlinge in the Eastern territories occupied by the Nazis were classified as full Jews and exterminated. Szegedi appears not to want to accept his Jewish ancestry — and protests that he is a Christian and 100 per cent Hungarian.

Distasteful as this topic may be, has Szegedi the right to construct himself? Is he a Jew? Should he be a Jew? Who gets to say?

So how should journalists deal with this question? Does it depend on whom they are talking to or about? Is someone with only a Jewish father not a Jew if the story is about Conservative Jews but a Jew if the story is about Reform Jews?

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