Jewish Status

Question

Hello, Both my mother and father’s side of the family have hidden their Jewish roots out of fear. My mother’s side hid in the mid 1800’s during the reformations in Germany, and my father’s side much earlier than that. I recently found that some family members knew that we were of a Jewish heritage, but did not tell other family members. I have cousins on my mothers side, who are practicing Judaism and who say that they always knew, but my mother’s mother never told any of us that her family and even her husband’s family, (my grandfather), came from a Jewish heritage. My father’s paternal line is Levi, but they lost their practice of Judaism some time ago, and I can not pinpoint when that was. My parents and I have felt very strong ties to Judaism all of my life, and my mother remembers asking her mother about it when she was a child also. We have all always felt Jewish, if I may put it that way, and our “religious” beliefs are perfectly in line with Judaism, although until recently we never went to synagogue. I have been attending Torah study for a few weeks now. My question is this: I wish to return and help my family return to actively practicing Judaism. Must I convert, or is our “history” sufficient to be considered already Jewish? Is there such an understanding of “returning”? What are the official positions on this? ( I seem to find conflicting information on this subject) Thank you, Shaun.

15 years

Answers

  1. As you seem to be aware, according to Jewish Law one’s “Jewishness” is transferred through the maternal line. That means that an unbroken tradition passed down through the female line of the family is enough for the children to be considered Jewish. The problem with the background that you are describing is that that is a very difficult thing to prove.

    Accordingly, it sounds as if you will have to go through conversion as there is no unbroken chain. To convert means contacting a Bet Din (Jewish court of law) and starting the process. As each Bet Din has its own criteria it is not possible for me to say what the requirements will be. I suggest that you approach your local Orthodox Rabbi and explain the problem to him to see what he advises.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team