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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.
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Discussion (184)
July 14, 2015
re to Rabbi Moshen
Of course I'll get in touch with him as soon as possible!And I'll do my best to help him!
Giorgio
Milan,Italy
July 13, 2015
To Georgio
A new member of the OCJ Group is from Italy. Would it be possible for you to reach out to him?
Rabbi Aryeh Moshen
Brooklyn, NY
June 29, 2015
jewish inheritance
My fathers father was a jew who came from France they escaped the Holocaust and my father is half jewish then ? & would that make me jewish in any way ? I take on there trates a lot I've noticed ! So all of this put together would I be jewish ?
Anonymous
June 28, 2015
To Serg
Your mind is actually able to understand some of the messages that your soul is sending it. Consider yourself fortunate.
Rabbi Aryeh Moshen
Brooklyn, NY
June 23, 2015
My family on my mother's side came from Spain, Thier last name is Perez and I just found out that the great grand fathers were Jewish from the Sephardic Jewish people, Some went to Cuba and some to Veracruz Mexico, around the 50's. Lately I have been so called into learning about Jewish people, placed in their path, and in situations, I experienced some muslims attacking jews and got into a fight with them to defend my Jewish people. Why is this happening in my life? It is a feeling in me that I can not explain!
Serg Perez
USA
June 3, 2015
What to include in the conversion course
I read the post of 'Hanhalah' (the administration) with mixed feelings. For those who don't know me I am 65 years old and born a Jew. I often lead the daily services but almost never lead the Sabbath services - why should I make people listen to my voice when there are a lot of better voices to lead a chanted (rather than read) service?

When I work with a candidate I require the candidate to learn how to read Hebrew, to practice prayers while I listen, to be able to pass a 300+ question test in Jewish laws, to be able to follow the services and Torah Readings, the holidays, the calendar, and practical Kashruth. My students learn enough of the standard vocabulary to be able to follow and participate in a conversation ripe with Heberw, Aramaic, and Yiddish expressions. They have to be living in an orthodox community... And I ran out of my character limit before mentioning Torah Reading and leading services - which they should learn after conversion.
Rabbi Aryeh Moshen
Brooklyn, NY
May 27, 2015
Torah study
I have just come across Mr. Roth's personal definition of Judaism. He claims that it includes Torah study. Torah study includes the Torah commandments. Reading the law without obeying it is an absurdity. One of the laws is to follow the rulings of the judges in our generations. The judges who continue to observe all Torah commandments (that is, Orthodox) have ruled that Jewish identity is established through the mother, or through halakhic conversion. End of argument.

Consequently, it appears that it is not Orthodox rabbis who are acting capriciously, but rather Mr. Roth. I hope he would open his mind and learn more about Judaism together with his daughter, before she is deprived of a marriage opportunity.
Anonymous
Southeastern PA
May 26, 2015
Dilemma Resolved
I was imbued from birth with Jewish ethnicity. Then I suddenly learned at 35 that I was adopted. After the holocaust my birth mother was not healthy enough to manage twin and died before our first birthday. Now I was displaced spiritually. Knowing the choices available to me, I chose Orthodox conversion. This was an interesting and convoluted experience for the rabbis with whom I studied and me. It seems that owing to my upbringing, I was often ahead of the ball. After two and a half years of study I had 'dam brit' and accepted mikveh. One year later it was established that my birth mother was indeed Jewish.
My point here is that there is only ONE route to conversion. The Halachic route.
joseph Dates
Norwalk
May 26, 2015
Last Friday night our shul had a dinner for the graduates of the shul's conversion class. Three or four were at my table and I asked them how much time the class spent on learning to sing (chant?) various parts of the service. What I heard was that this was not part of the course. I asked the teacher about this. He said he did not sing well enough to teach this. I suggested he ask the cantor to help. He said he did not have time to present this. I suggested he give each student a disc to practice on their own. He nodded but his body language suggested he would not do this. I suggested that he research the internet for web addresses where the local community's melodies appear. I don't know if he will do that either.

I think that feeling competent to participate in the service will greatly increase the student's commitment. Without confidence, he is alienated. He feels this is beyond his capacity to learn; he gives up; he fades away. But, given a way to learn, he CAN choose to learn.
HANALAH
Houston
May 24, 2015
In 5 years
There is a joke that comes to mind:

"I'm 55 years old, too old to go to college. I would be almost 60 by the time I graduated."

"Well, if you don't go to college, how old will you be in 4 years?"

Last Saturday, 16May2015, I became a Bat Mitzvah. I'll be 77 at the end of August, G-d willing.
Meira Shana
San Diego
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