Article Discussion: The Truth About Matrilineal Descent

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April 10, 2009 at 4:12 pm #1192


Click here to read the article: The Truth About Matrilineal Descent

July 31, 2009 at 10:39 pm #3486


Thank you for this. I grew up in an environment where both of my parents backgrounds were respected. Unfortunately as I have gotten older I have experienced what you so rightly expressed as entrenched discrimination within the Jewish community. This is the first time that I have ever seen it written that way and I can’t convey (although you already know) how appropriate that reference is, and how much these beliefs trouble me and those I know with a similar background. Thank you.

October 6, 2009 at 8:45 am #3831


I agree that members of the Jewish community could be more sensitive to patrilineals like us, and I am still hurting over the way I was treated when I first encountered the Jewish community bearing a Jewish sounding name but not having a Jewish mother. I could nurse that hurt, or set it aside a little and learn more, see things from different perspectives.

I am now integrated into a chassidic community, but my kids know to be sensitive to anyone who is a little different. I use my hurt to foster greater sensitivity to others, but not to bend halacha as one does a gauze bandage to soothe that hurt.

Patrilineals who do not choose halachic conversion to Judaism may consider the Seven Laws of Noah as a spiritual path that validates their Jewish identity while maintaining halachic integrity. There is a place for everyone in Torah.

October 6, 2009 at 6:10 pm #3835

Hebrew Catholic

I’m just guessing, but I would think that a person of patrilineal Jewish descent who self-identifies as a Jew would not be particularly comforted by the “Seven Laws of Noah”, because that way of life is explicitly presented as being for non-Jews, and the fundamental issue is that they DON’T consider themselves non-Jews.

That doesn’t mean that I think all Jews are obliged to fall in line with the Reform definition of Jewish identity.  I just think it’s better to say, “I’m sorry, but this is how we define a Jew, and although we respect that your decision to define it differently was made in good conscience, we cannot in good conscience agree with you.  You will have to decide for yourself how important it is to you to be a Jew by our definition.”

January 8, 2010 at 9:13 am #4203

Nicole Czarnecki

“I use my hurt to foster greater sensitivity to others, but not to bend halacha as one does a gauze bandage to soothe that hurt. Patrilineals who do not choose halachic conversion to Judaism may consider the Seven Laws of Noah as a spiritual path that validates their Jewish identity while maintaining halachic integrity. There is a place for everyone in Torah.”

If anyone’s bending or stretching halakah, the foolish cohanim who say that patrilineal Jews aren’t Jews are really stretching, bending, and breaking halakah. Keep in mind that Yitzchak ben-Avraham was the first and, at the time, only Jew because he was the only one born of the promise. Ya’akov and Esav were patrilineal Jews; as were bnei-Ya’akov, as were bnei-Yehudah and bnei-Yosef, then bnei-Menashe. These cohanim need to start reading Tanakh for what Tanakh is instead of through their Baveli (Talmud-Bavel) filters.

March 10, 2010 at 5:59 am #4429


I understand how upset people are, but using an article written by a non-rabbi, and drawing all the conclusions from non-rabbinical sources is not going to change the fact that Judaism is matrilineal, the rule comes from Torah itself and, in order to be Jewish any other way, you have to convert. If I did it – & yes, I did – you can, too.

March 10, 2010 at 5:40 pm #4431

Debbie B.

Susan, I would modify your statement to “Orthodox and Conservative Judaism are matrilineal”. Otherwise, the implication is that the Reform and Reconstructionist movements are not Judaism, a view that while held by some, I firmly reject even though those movements do not represent my own Judaism. It is not so simple that “the rule comes from Torah”. For example, you can say that all the non-Jewish wives of important figures in Torah “converted”, but this is not stated directly in the text. And tribal affiliation is definitely patrilineal (e.g. Cohen and Levi status). I listened to all six lectures of “Conversion and Apostasy” by Mechon Hadar (an Egalitarian Yeshiva) and learned about the many historical complexities involving Jewish identity and about sources indicating both matrilineality and patrilineality in ancient times. But none of that changes what is held in the Orthodox and Conservative movements. Similarly, it is pointless to push for a change in kashrut policy by arguing that there is no Torah prohibition on mixing chicken with milk.

My own children and many members of my husband’s extended family are patrilineal Jews or children of patrilineal Jews with more than one case of multi-generational intermarriage. Some converted (one with an Orthodox conversion), and some did not, with the latter group either affiliating with Reform synagogues or totally secular. I also have friends who are patrilineal Jews and who underwent Conservative and Orthodox conversions (one resented having to do so; another is proud of being a “convert”). So I have empathy for people who have felt that they were treated badly because of their non-standard Jewish ancestry. My own opinion is that people who want to be a part of a Jewish community need to choose a community that is a good fit for them. If they are patrilineal Jews who feel strongly that they do not want to go through a conversion process, then they are better off affiliating with Reform and Reconstructionist communities. If they want to be a part of an Orthodox or Conservative community, then they need to do what is necessary to be accepted by those communities.

My husband and I chose to convert our children under Conservative auspices which  enabled their acceptance in the Conservative synagogues and the independent “Conservadox” congregation that we affiliated with. My own later conversion was also Conservative. However, if any of us wishes to join an Orthodox community in the future, we understand that it would probably require an Orthodox conversion. I see it as a requirement that is not unlike the expectations that our lifestyle (Shabbat and kashrut observance, for example) would conform to the standards of that community.

That said, lack of Orthodox and Conservative recognition of Jewish status of patrilineal Jews and the general feeling that even a person with a Jewish mother, but non-Jewish father, is “less Jewish”, leads some people to act rudely and say demeaning and hurtful things to those people. And some these rude people probably see the book of Ezra as biblical support for this kind of nasty behavior, while unfortunately choosing to ignore both Torah and rabbinical support for a more positive attitude and approach toward other people irrespective of their “Jewish status”.

December 27, 2010 at 6:22 pm #5346

J.R. Wilheim

First of all, my article was reviewed by a Conservative rabbi prior to publication. He found nothing wrong with it from a scholarly perspective.

Second, my purpose in writing this was mainly to show that there is a rationale on which the Conservative Movement could change its policies–that the reasons it typically gives for maintaining its positions don’t in fact make a lot of sense.

December 30, 2010 at 6:09 am #5358


Dear J.R. Wilheim,
We need to address one more point to win the battle.
Torah says that if a hebrew slave is given a wife (presumably not hebrew wife), and she bore a child, when this hebrew man is up to being freed from slavery, his child should stay with mother in slavery. If the child was a Jew, he/she can’t be a slave for ever.
This argument can be beatable only partially as i tried to do that.

interesting that Rabbis don’t emphasize this argument strongly, though do mention it.

i’m not conservative, but a shomer Shabbath/kashruth jew having children from not jewish mother.

shalom, moshe

March 20, 2012 at 9:09 pm #6667

Seffi Kogen

Fascinating article, but Ezra wasn’t a king.

You should probably fix that dude…

March 18, 2015 at 12:16 pm #20886


Really wonderfull work, congrats!

May 26, 2015 at 12:21 pm #20929

Tamarin Epstein

Thank you so much for your article, and for this information. I am a non-Jewish woman, who married an Orthodox Jewish man. We had a daughter, she is 14 now. We separated, when she was 3 years old, and were divorced. Our daughter has attended Jewish schools all her life, and has been raised as a Jew. She knew she was technically not Jewish, but she told me “G-d knows I am Jewish in my heart, and that’s all that matters”. Sadly, in reality, it isn’t all that matters, as she was the only child in her grade who could not have a Batmitzvah, and she is ashamed that she isn’t considered a Jew. She always loved her faith so much, and practiced all the Jewish customs, and celebrated all the holidays. I made an effort to convert, when she was younger, but it was so difficult to make such a huge lifestyle transition, and I felt I was losing myself. I gave up after a year. I recall talking to some women who had converted, and was told “converts are still always outcasts”. I observed a man with only a Jewish father, who had converted and became a Rabbi, and I heard that he could only ever be a minor Rabbi, as he was a convert. I was told by my Rabbi that “a Jew can sit in church and chomp a ham sandwich, and he is still a Jew, whereas a person who chooses to believe in the Torah and Hashem, and practices the Jewish laws and customs in daily life, will never be a Jew, unless his mother is Jewish”. I find it so unfair that my daughter is not considered Jewish, when paternity is as valid as maternity, when you consider the history and the facts. Also, every other faith is based on exactly that: faith. I know children with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish dads, who don’t believe in or practice an iota of the Jewish faith. Yet, they are considered Jews, and stand proudly at their bat/marmitzvahs. I’m disappointed, but frankly unsurprised, to hear that my daughter no longer believes in G-d (even though I do, very much). Who can blame her, when the gatekeepers of her “faith” has rejected her?

August 17, 2016 at 12:30 pm #21872


On the subject “Rabbinic Pity for Jewish Women Who Had Been Raped”: it is possible that in the first centuries of C.E. the “normal” criteria that a Jew is a son of a Jewish father has been broadened to include the children of a Jewish mother, so that the raped women and their offsprings could remain in the community. The criteria has then been misinterpreted to mean that only the children of a Jewish mother are considered Jewish. An opening became an exclusion. Is this historically acceptable? Thanks.

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