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To a Child of a Jewish Father

To a Child of a Jewish Father

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Question:

My mother was Protestant. My father's father was Catholic, but his mother was Jewish. My family survived the holocaust in Europe, with great struggle.

I know that by traditional Jewish law I am not Jewish, but I feel that I more than qualify to be a Jew. I read books about Jews. I support Israel. I even had a bar mitzvah. The worst part is that the people who tell me I am not Jewish are rabbis! They said I would have to convert to Judaism. I do not understand why they say this. My family survived the greatest atrocities in the history of the Jews. How can I convert, when I feel that I already am Jewish....

Response:

In Biblical Israel, every citizen was landed. If you were a descendant of one of the twelve tribes, you owned a plot of land. If you sold it, it came back to you--or to your inheritors--on the jubilee year, which occurred every 50 years. You were tied to the land and the land was tied to you. Inheritance of land was through the paternal line--just as tribal affiliation is patrilineal.

I'm mentioning this because, in Torah law, a very similar relationship exists between the Torah and a Jew, between a Jew and his Jewishness. A Jew can abandon the Torah, but the Torah never abandons him--eventually it will return, if not to him, then to his children, if not to his children, then to his children's children. So too, a Jew may imagine that he has abandoned his Jewishness, and yet always remains a Jew--as do the children of that Jew, and the children of those children.

There are two distinctions, however, between the relationship of a Jew to his share of the land and the relationship of a Jew to Torah and Jewishness. One is that it is possible to sell one's plot of land--although it will still return, for that period of time, it is sold. Torah and Jewishness, on the other hand, are not for sale. No matter how hard a Jew may try, he never truly can let go of either.

The other distinction is that Jewishness--and therefore the relationship to Torah--is not patrilineal, but matrilineal. Perhaps these two distinctions are related: The maternal line strikes much deeper to the essence of who you are, and that essence is something that not only will always return, but can never truly be abandoned.

Despite all this, the child whose father married out of his people can still claim his father's heritage. His challenge is greater than the child whose Jewish mother brought him by default into her people. In his case, it is up to him to decide whether he wants to make the commitment to join his father's people and to fulfill all the obligations the Torah places upon this nation. He must also become circumcised and immerse in a mikvah before a qualified bet din.

If this is the path you wish to follow, I am willing to assist to whatever degree is within my capacity. If not, it is good to have you as a friend of the Jewish People. The righteous of humankind, no matter to which family, tribe or nation they belong, all have a share in the world to come.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (195)
May 10, 2016
Aaron in New York and Rabbi Aryeh
Beautifully said. Thankyou.

Of course a ger would be welcome at my table as well on Shabbat or any time.

I am honored that people want to become a ger, and more so when they succeed. It is hard, but if you really want it, it is worth it.

I find it easier to doven if I know one of the melodies that can go with the Hebrew words. Also this makes it more enjoyable, even if I have to sing it sotto voce (silently, only moving the lips and imagining the melody).

I think any ger would enjoy knowing the melody while s/he is learning the text of the prayer service (the Amidah mostly but also the psalms and Shma before and the Alenu afterwards).

Gd bless you all.
Hanalah
Houston
May 8, 2016
of Our Fathers
Anyone who converts is reborn into the line of Jews and is now the child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Specifically, when a convert is called to the Torah, it is as <name> ben Avraham. In the Kethuvah, is would be <name> ben/bath Avraham Avinu.

There was a case in a Yeshiva quite a few years ago where some boys were disciplined for misbehavior. Two of the boys were expelled but the third was not. When the principal was asked why he did not expel the third too, he answered that the third was the son of a Ger. Pressed, he responded "...and what would I be able to say when I pass to the other side and Avraham Avinu asks me why I expelled his grandson."

A second explanation is that these words do not mean our immediate fathers, but rather our Avoth, the Fathers of Judaism, Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu, and Yaakov Avinu. These alone are referred to as "Our Fathers"
Rabbi Aryeh Moshen
Brooklyn
May 8, 2016
To Hanahla
Sorry. It was your post. I guess that I should admit to being dyslexic. I'm also sorry that you felt I was distressed by your post. I meant to say that I partly agreed to it and partly disagreed. Virtually all of the Batey Din currently operating believe that a Ger has to have the knowledge to function on his/her own, knowing how to pray, knowing which Brachoth to recite and when, knowing Shabbat, Kashrut, Yamim Tovim, Taharat Hamishpachah, etc. And I certainly agree with you that a Ger should not be converted if lost in the synagogue service. It would also be nice if a Ger knew how to write script letters and could read Rashi script. However, there is a point where we have to put certain items in the "2.0" But with the exception of Pavarotti, I would not require a Ger to be able to be a Chazan or Baal Kore before conversion.

Thanks for letting me correct myself.
Rabbi Aryeh Moshen
Brooklyn
May 6, 2016
to Rabbi Aryeh Moshen
You say you read the post of Hanhalah. Do you mean me,Hanalah?

I said I thought the ger should have been taught to sing the Amidah (although I did not use the word Amidah).

What did I say that distressed you?

Thank you for any response.
Hanalah
Houston
April 14, 2016
Allowed to say "G-d of our Fathers"?
I had a question regarding reciting Jewish prayers which say, "Our G-d and G-d of our Fathers". My father is Jewish, as his father before him, and his father before him..etc. Thus it seems that it would be permissible to say "Our G-d and G-d of our Fathers" rather than "Your G-d and G-d of Your Fathers", as a Gentile would have to say if he were to recite the prayers from the Siddur.
Matthew Rand
Long Island, NY
April 14, 2016
To David
You are not unique. I've met many who were in the same pair of shoes in which you now find yourself. Before deciding on any changes in your live please read Rabbi Pliskin's "My Father My King" and Rabbi Donin's "To Be a Jew"
Rabbi Aryeh Moshen
Brooklyn, NY
April 14, 2016
King David's great grand mother was Ruth a Moabite.not Jewish..so David was not a full blooded new .is this correct.
BENJAMIN STEWART CORNELL
Orlando
April 14, 2016
Jewish Identity
Good Morning: Please note anyone can be a Jew, it's a religion not a race.
Anonymous
new york
March 18, 2016
I am the son of a Jewish father. I never really knew he was Jewish until after he died. I have so many questions for him; I still miss him and bless his memory.

I was brought up as a Christian but, for no discernible reason, was always drawn to the teachings of the Torah and Tenakh rather than those of Paul. I self-identify as a Jew but I realise that my Jewishness is more Noahide than Torah.

I am truly in a state of confusion. I want to explore deeper and find what I consider to be my true self, my Jewish self. I am conflicted because of my upbringing, my wife, the impact it would have on my marriage and children.

I genuinely feel lost but in the words of the Tenakh, I find safety and security. I cannot say whether I am a Jew, am Jewish or am something else entirely. I can only say that this is how I feel.

Sorry for rambling on - I thank G-d for you all and consider you family.
David
UK
November 25, 2015
Thankyou
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman,
Your answer was graciously written and a great help to me personally. Thank you
Judah
Melbourne