Matrilinial Descent

Question

My question is: “Am I a Jew?” My mother’s family is entirely Jewish. Her grandfather was a well-known rabbi in England. My father was not Jewish and I was raised as a Christian although I later left the church. Many years ago I was told by some Orthodox Jews that I am a Jew because my mother was Jewish. Later a Jewish friend of my family told me that this is not true because my mother became a Christian (joined the Anglican Church) before her marriage to my father. I have often wondered about what would be the official answer to this question from a rabbinical perspective. Many people have assumed that I am Jewish by my appearance and the fact that I live in a community with a significant Jewish population. In some ways I feel that I am between two worlds. Thank you in advance for any answer you can offer me.

16 years

Answers

  1. Judaism traces its “Jewish Genes” through the mother. This means that you are Jewish. This is so even if your mother converted as, according to Jewish Law the conversion does not change your mother’s status.

    Matrilinial descent is something that dates back to Sinai and the giving of the Torah. The Mishna and the Talmud are full of cases that prove that one’s “Jewish genes” are transferred from the mother. The Torah itself also alludes to this point, see Leviticus 24:11.

    The Mishna in Kiddushin 66b states that if a child’s mother is not Jewish, then the child is “like her,” (i.e., not Jewish). This Halacha is codified in the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 8:5, without mention of any dissenting opinion. No source in the Torah teaches otherwise, and
    this question has never been raised in any classical Halachic text. It is an obvious and accepted axiom given to us at Sinai.

    You might want to study the following sources for an in-depth understanding.

    Genesis 24:3-4 & 28:1
    And I shall have you swear by the L-rd, G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites amongst whom I dwell. Rather you shall go to my country and my birthplace and find a wife for my son Isaac there. And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and commanded him; and he said to him “Do not take a wife from the daughters of theCanaanites.”

    Leviticus 19:33-34 “And when a convert lives amongst you in your land do not oppress him. The convert shall be like one of your citizens and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt, I am the L-rd your G-d.”

    Leviticus 24:10 “And the son of the Israelite woman, who was the son of an Egyptian man, went out in the midst of the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and the Israelite fought in the camp.”

    Deuteronomy 7:1 “When the L-rd your G-d brings you to the land that you will inherit, many nations will fall away before you; the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Prizites, the Hivites and the Jebusites… And you shall not marry with them; do not give your daughters to his sons and do not take his daughters for your sons. For he will turn your son away from me and they will worship other gods…”

    Deuteromony 23:8 “Do not despise the Edomite for he is your brother, do not despise the Egyptian for you were strangers in his land. The children that are born to them in the third generation shall enter into the community of G-d.”

    Nechemiah 10:30-31 “…we take an oath and a promise to walk in the ways of the Torah of G-d that was given by the hands of Moses, the servant of G-d, and to guard and do all the commandments of G-d, our Master, and His judgements and His statutes. And that we will not give our daughters
    to the people of the land and their daughters we will not take for our sons.”

    Yalkut Shimoni, Yitro 268 “I am the one who drew Yitro near and did not repulse him. You also, when a person comes to convert and does this for the sake of heaven, draw him near and do not repulse him.”

    Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Relationships, 13:1-4

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team