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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 (188)
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
October 7, 2015
I've tried to explain to people who ask if they can convert to Judaism how I feel about the matter... You don't 'convert' to Judaism per se. You enter the covenant between our people and Hashem. Its why its so "hard".

You don't need to be a Jew to be loved by Hashem and to be a good person, but to enter into and become a part of the covenant requires not simply waking up one morning, eating and behaving Kosher, going to Shul, and wearing tzitzit. It requires a respect of the awesomeness of that covenant, a dedication to wanting to make this world more holy through mitzvot, and a desire to bring only love and goodness into this world in spite of ones inherent flaws as a human being.

To the original question - Don't get lost in laws my friend. Understand that if you truly believe and wish to embrace the Torah, then become Ger. It's not a disparagement. Its a great honor and you would always be welcome and celebrated at my table as a brother or sister.
Aaron Schlesinger
New York
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