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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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Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY June 22, 2017

Regarding no invitations It might be, if it were done for the first couple of months. I can't find a good explanation. Reply

Anonymous June 22, 2017

I've been trough conversion for quite a few years now and,althought I have had examinations by the rabbis who follow my conversion,nobody ever invited me for a Shabbat dinner or lunch.Is that a way of discouraging me? Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger (Reb Harry) Miami June 22, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I suggest you find some new Rabbis and Jewish friends, as these people sound like real "pills" You should have been invited to many Shabbat dinners!!! Just go over to your nearest Chabad House, and they will be friendly and glad to have you over to dinner.

Shabbat Shalom Reply

Anonymous June 22, 2017
in response to Dr. Harry Hamburger (Reb Harry):

@Reb Harry:Many thanks ! You are really a good man! Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY June 21, 2017

Here in the USA many Gerim-in-process get invitations. In fact, several Batey Din expect their Gerim to have regular invitations before and after their Geruth Reply

Anonymous June 22, 2017
in response to Rabbi Aryeh Moshen:

Also in Europe. But what if nobody invites you over?You cannot go to people's houses without invitation,can you? Reply

Anonymous June 21, 2017

One thing I am curious about:is the person converting accepted in the kehillah during the giur or only after i.e. invitations for Shabbat dinners,etc? I am a patrilinear going through conversion in Europe. Reply

Hanalah Houston June 21, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I do not know what the strict rule is.

I do know that I would be happy to have you to my home for Shabbos dinner. I am in Houston, Texas. If you will be in town, post here to let me know when you want to come. My home is strictly kosher. Not just the kitchen. The whole place. Everything that enters my door has a heksher, or is fresh raw vegetables which I will wash (three times in salt water if necessary) and prepare.

It would be my privilege and honor and pleasure to have you.

That goes for anyone, of any religion or none, who is visiting Houston and wants to come for Shabbos dinner.

If you know how to make kiddush (including the verses from Bereshis), the honor is yours. Or another guest will make it. Whatever works. Reply

George June 22, 2017
in response to Hanalah:

You are truly a zaddik! Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY June 5, 2017

There are some rabbis (most notably Rabbi Reuven Feinstein) who are on the record as stating that rabbis should not try to dissuade children of a Jewish father who come to convert. This does not mean that we can give them a pass when it comes to observance. He said it at a convention in front of over one hundred rabbis and I was a bit surprised that it did not make the front page of any orthodox periodical. Reply

Anonymous Southeastern PA June 15, 2017
in response to Rabbi Aryeh Moshen:

Why dissuade anyone? So why dissuade anyone? It's just downright rude when rabbis refuse to return repeated calls from prospects - as happened with my wife (who converted before our marriage). Holding a standard for accepting a conversion's authenticity does not require rudeness. "We want to see if the person is sincere despite our rudeness!" What rational person would want to join such a rude group?

In our community, we have seen prospects cruelly tortured for years to super-frum standards (which born Jews don't have to do!), having to uproot their families and give up jobs to live in the frummiest neighborhood, or being forced to give up years of fertility while some rabbis dither on the prospect's conversion.

Let's return to common sense. Have the prospect start observing the more common mitz'voth, as Rambam ruled. See where they stand in a year, and let a beith din ask questions. After a year, we should be able to say if this will work or not, as in a dating relationship. Reply

George June 21, 2017
in response to Rabbi Aryeh Moshen:

You are really a zaddik,Rav Moshen! I was a member of your Yahoo Group for converts (you perhaps remember a certain patrilinear from Italy named George)and I have never heard anything other than kind and encouraging words towards gerim.That said, I was told by a rabbi that making converts' life hard has also the purpose of somehow making them experience the hardships Jews endured during the centuries and see if they keep tough. Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY June 20, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I agree that there is no reason to be rude. Once a rabbi asked me why I did not include a dissuasion in my book. My answer is that anyone who reads the book and is not dissuaded should be considered either a fool or a valid candidate (and it should be easy to establish which). Orthodox Judaism is just that, orthodox. We live by the rules that our ancestors of blessed memory left us. The Talmud derives the dissuasion issue from Ruth whom Naomi tried to dissuade until she saw that Ruth was strong (mithametzeth) in her desire and poetically accepted each type of commandments. Reply

Jeff March 24, 2017

That's one way to look at it but thank you Reply

Matthew Austin, Texas March 24, 2017

To Jeff To add to Rabbi Kaplan's comment, conversion in the fullness of Orthodox,(the gold standard) is a lot of work and adjustments. For example, you have to live within walking distance from the synagogue. You will also be expected to pray regularly as part of the community. That's during the week as well as on Shabbat. And on Shabbat, you'll be expected to attend Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon/Evening Services with the Sabbath ending ceremony called Havdalah.

I haven't even scratched the surface of all the things you will be expected to know and do. For me personally, I was going to conversion classes until I saw that my motives for doing so we're not the right ones.

As for why no one told you that you're not "technically Jewish", perhaps your Grandparents were of a Reform background, and thus considered you Jewish. Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY March 24, 2017

To Jeff Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, demands a lot from those who practice it and from those who convert into it. Rabbis have ways to weed out those who are not a good fit. Therefore any rabbi whom you approach will try to see if he can get you to drop out before he takes you seriously. Someone who really wants to be Jewish would not be dissuaded so easily. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger (Reb Harry) Miami June 20, 2017
in response to Rabbi Aryeh Moshen:

Are you kidding me? It is a pleasure, a joy, and easy to practice Orthodox Judaism. There is no such thing as a bad fit....just some bad Rabbis who turn people off with their negativity toward those that show interest. Reply

Jeff Wolfe NY March 23, 2017

My grandparents on my father's side were immigrant Jews from Russia which in my mind, made me half Jewish until recently.
I was planning on moving to Isreal under the "Law of Return" at the urging of my grandparents before they died, going as far as to begin Hebrew language instruction as well as finalizing my financial plan.
I wanted to start the process of conversion (mom did not allow when I was younger) but when I approached a local Rabbi on the subject, he seemed to try to discourage the idea which has left me a bit faithless.....and a little angry. I can't help but wonder why no one told me that I may except my father's faith, but may not be excepted by the people of that faith. It all leads to confusion for me so I'm sort of seeking a second opinion.
Thanks Reply

Isaac NYC May 29, 2017
in response to Jeff Wolfe:

He's going to turn you away many times. You have to prove that you want to be a Jew to that Rabbi. Reply

Moishe Brooklyn May 29, 2017
in response to Jeff Wolfe:

When he turns you away, he is doing so in order to accept you. It is Jewish law to warn off everyone who seeks to become officially Jewish. Why? First, because a Torah-true life is difficult to learn in adulthood. If you are already accustomed to keeping kosher & keeping Shabbos, that will help. But there is another reason: anti-semitism. Most non-Jews don't notice it until they become Jews & are suddenly rejected by family & friends. People need to know, before it's too late, what they are getting themselves into. Also the Jewish community needs to know that newbies will be loyal when the going gets rough and not try to reclaim a non-Jewish status. Most of this won't apply to you but the procedure needs to be the same for all.

If all you want is to live in Israel, you can do so under the law of return. If you really want to be a Jew, keep returning to that rabbi. He is obliged to refuse you three times. After that, he must accept you and train you. Do you want to learn? Go for it. Reply

Rabbi Aryeh Moshen Brooklyn, NY January 19, 2017

To Robin Having one Jewish grandfather would make you eligible for the Law of Return in Israel. One might ask why Israel should accept people who are not Jewish, but they do. You would have no problem getting to Israel, getting settled in Israel, or getting a job in Israel. There are even cemeteries that are open to Jews and Gentiles both. The standard problems you may faced are faced by most Olim, Jewish or otherwise. Most people speak Hebrew at work, many documents have to be translated to Hebrew, including diplomas. Certifications are not automatically given, although many are easy to transfer. Banking and credit cards are slightly different. Otherwise, you will find a typical Western country that does not differ much from the UK or the USA as they do from eachother. Reply

Scotty Chicago January 8, 2017

Gd, Israel, and Torah are one.

Gd's Word is Torah. Being without Torah is being without Gd.

Torah makes a Jew "Jewish"--and if that Jew's mother's mother's mother are all Jews, and the Jew rejects Torah, that Jew is a heretic.

Even the Reform Jews say that they honor Torah, and read from the Torah every week. Reply

Hirsch London January 3, 2017

Being a Jew is not about ancestry. It's about your soul. Your Holocaust ancestry doesn't mean that you personally stood at Sinai and said, "Yes! We will do and we will listen!" when Gd offered us Gd's word in Torah.
If you reject Torah, then you are saying no to Gd.

If you want to say yes to Gd, then say it. Go through the learning process that you missed in childhood. Get circumcised. Be prepared to say "Yes I will keep the Torah!" Then your soul, like the soul of all Jews, will have promised, not only at Sinai but here and now, in this life, to live by Torah.

If you refuse to make this promise, then maybe you refused at Sinai too. Or you were not there, and now in this life you finally are given the choice to say yes to Gd.

And you want to say no? If what you want is to say NO to Gd, instead of yes to Gd, then clearly you do not want to be a Jew.

A Jew is someone who, at some time (4000 years ago or today) has said yes to Gd's Torah. Everybody else can choose instead to be a Noahide, which is great. Go for it! Reply

Robin USA December 30, 2016

Jewish descent..? Yes, I say, no says the laws and rules... Absurd! My father was born from a Jewish father and mother...His family lineage comes from all Jewish relatives born in Poland. My mother was Catholic as well as her previous lineage. This makes me give pause to why I feel excluded from being "Jewish "...My Grandparents took me to services every week at the Temple until their deaths. My father and his family were all of Polish Jewish decent. I cannot understand why the Israeli government choose to deny me to Right to Return status because my mother was not a Jew. So I'll continue to embrace my right to call myself of not only Polish decent, but of full Jewish decent...Regardless of what everyday people, rulers, and the Israeli government have to say. Personally, I am shocked at the irony in all of this! So I'll honor my right to grieve at my
Jewish relatives who died at the death camps en masse, while the Israeli government turns their backs on me and my children. Reply

Julius New Orleans June 4, 2017
in response to Robin:

Have you applied for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return?
From what I have been told, you would be able to claim that citizenship on the basis of your father's lineage, even though the orthodox would not acknowledge your Jewish soul until you converted.

If what you want is Israeli citizenship, go for it!!! Reply

Gabriel Brookllyn June 14, 2017
in response to Robin:

Of course you can claim Jewish descent.
Of course you can grieve for your ancestors who were killed.
I have heard you can also get Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return on the strength of one Jewish grandparent (which is what Hitler used as his own definition).
You can even convert, or not, as you choose.
Your ancestry is irrelevant to your Jewishness.
You are a Jew if you promise to keep the Torah's commandments (and formally convert).
It's like citizenship. You need to learn the laws and agree to keep them.
Ignore the fact that the Rabbi is required to automatically say "No" the first three times you ask. He is required to test your determination to live as a Jew.

It is difficult to live as a Jew, less because the commandments are difficult when you learn them as an adult, but mostly because of the way your friends, kin, and new acquaintances may reject you, and because some dedicated anti-Semites may target you.

Do you want to face all that? If not, don't convert.

But you can if you want to. Reply

Bernie Brooklyn December 25, 2016

The Torah is Gd's Word. If you are a Jew and if you truly trust in Gd, you will be drawn to Torah and you will do accordingly.

If you dislike Torah, which is Gd's Word, how can you pretend to care about Gd? In that case, it's a good thing you are not a Jew, since Jews who disobey Torah are liable for disobedience to it.

Non-Jews are not subject to Torah, so it is "safe" for them to disregard it. Reply

Aaron Schlesinger New York December 25, 2016

Understanding lineage and what conversion is So much profound desire and confusion.

Let me add something-

Being Jewish is something you have inside you. You do or don't. If you enter into the covenant where nobody else in your line had prior, you have Neshema that was calling out to Hashem.

'Converting' is learning to do Mitzvot with as many actions as you possibly can. To bring Hashem's love and wisdom into this world to make it fit for Hashem to be present. It's a way life, a way of spirit, and a way of being. I've always felt this is so much more than something as boxed in as a 'religion'.

If you've discovered your lineage is paternal, maternal, or otherwise, learning to do Mitzvot is an honor, blessing, and a Mitzvah in of itself. You have my love as a brother regardless. Reply

Anonymous Henderson December 25, 2016

Thats disappointing I have the same issue. Even though I am clearly of Jewish descent it was my Father who was Jewish. It doesn't count if my grandmother and family were killed in Auschwitz. Seems to be a betrayal. However, despite what the rabbinical view us I am a descendant of David, by lineage. So I will trust in God, not the Torah. Reply

Anonymous NJ December 13, 2016

need Torah/Bible reference Where is it clearly stated in the scriptures (Torah) - without an esoteric reading of the text - that "jewishness" can only be passed through the mother? My father is Jewish and my mother is a gentile. Our Rabbi said that I am Jewish through my father. I do not want a Talmudic interpretation since the Torah trumps any commentary. Reply

Reuven Seattle June 22, 2016

It is not enough that the doctor be "orthodox". In fact, he does not need to be orthodox. He does need to be halachically Jewish. But then he needs to take the standard training that every mohel learns. A mohel does circumcisions every day, or at least every week--far more often than most MD's do them. The mohel is the expert, and the MD is the amateur, unless the MD gets the mohel's training. But an MD with mohel training IS a mohel. He is called upon often enough that he, too, is an expert. Reply

Rebecca Kansas City June 22, 2016

Mohel malpractice??? When we are expecting a child, we ask the obstetrician not to circumcise the baby. There have been two or more famous cases where he did it anyway, and the parents sued the doctor in a regular US court. It was such a strange lawsuit, in the eyes of the press, that it was reported all over the United States. The last time I heard of such a case was years ago. I guess the famous case alerted all the doctors to be careful to be less cavalier about the parents' wishes. But most MD's are already careful so there have never been very many lawsuits about wrongfully timed circumcisions. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami June 20, 2016

Thanks Rabbi Moshen. I guess you would have to call an improper circumcision "Mohel Malpractice". I wonder if like medical malpractice you can sue for this? Would the lawsuit be in a Rabbinical or Circuit Court? Reply

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