Contact Us

Who Is a Jew?

Who Is a Jew?

Solving the Mystery of Jewish Identity

 Email

Jewish identity is both simple and mysterious.

Simple: A Jew is anyone who was born of a Jewish mother, or has undergone conversion according to halachah (Jewish law). This has been the case since Biblical times and is firmly established in the Code of Jewish Law. The Jews live their lives in accordance with Judaism, the oldest monotheistic religion.

And mysterious. You’ll never hear of an atheist Protestant or a Catholic Muslim, but a Jewish atheist, or even a Jew who converts to another religion, is still a Jew.1

The same applies to a convert. To provide an extreme case, let’s say a female convert changes her mind and reverts to her original religion. Any children she now has will be Jewish—because she is still Jewish.2

But don’t imagine that beliefs are irrelevant. It’s only through acceptance of all the beliefs, practices and ideology that a person becomes Jewish.

But that’s not enough. A person who was not born Jewish and has not converted according to Jewish law may hold all the beliefs and keep all the laws and practices of Judaism and still not be a Jew.3 That seems more like a tribal identity than a religion.

Here’s the greatest mystery of Jewishness: Once in, there’s no way out. You can join the team, you can fumble the ball, but you can’t quit. No one can throw you out—not even G‑d.

So is Jewishness a tribal identity, an ethnic identity or a religion? We can’t seem to fit it into any of these boxes. And how do we explain why this identity, once adopted, can never be erased?

Jewishness as Permanent Citizenship

Perhaps Jews are permanent citizens.

Citizenship is one of the landmark innovations of the Western world. In his series of lectures, “Epochs of European Civilization,” historian Geoffrey Hosking lists citizenship and the closely related idea of the nation-state among the four ideas that distinguish modern Western civilization.4

Before there were nations, there were kingdoms. Kingdoms The idea of citizenship was born not in Athens or Sparta, but in the Sinai peninsula. have subjects. The king makes you his subject. It’s not your identity—it’s that of the king.

To have a nation-state, you must build a strong sense of identity from the bottom up—which is the idea of the citizen. Citizenship implies a sense of responsibility between citizens, along with certain privileges, such as the right to own property, or to have a say in legislation.

Where did these two ideas of the citizen and the nation-state originate? Hosking insists it was not in Athens or Sparta, but in the Sinai peninsula, with the birth of the Jewish nation.

At Mount Sinai, every Jew, man, woman and child, became a team player in a fledgling nation. When they took over the Promised Land, every Israelite became landed—with ownership of his inherited plot of land for perpetuity. During the time of the Judges, the people had no king to unite them, but they were held together by a sense of common lineage and destiny. The law was absolute, but it’s interpretation and application was always discussed, principally amongst the elders, those most respected by the people. The identity of the nation depended on every individual doing his or her part, and behaving in accordance to the law.

So we could explain Jewish identity very much as that kind of participatory citizenship, continuing throughout history, even as we have left our land and are without a monarch or central authority. We are citizens of a mobile, distributable, highly-resilient nation—quite similar to the World Wide Web.

That explains how Jewishness is inherited regardless of your parents’ conduct—just as citizenship is inherited.

It would also explain why someone who wants to become Jewish must commit to keeping all the rules, while someone who is already in and flagrantly breaks the rules remains a Jew. That’s no different than citizenship. Even a traitor remains a citizen—albeit a jailed citizen.

But the permanence of it—that remains a puzzle. Although it is rare today for a nation to denaturalize a citizen, it is certainly common and accepted for a citizen to renounce his citizenship. What is it about this most ancient form of citizenship that makes it irrevocable by both G‑d and man?

The Covenant that Makes a Jew

The mystery has deep roots. To unravel it, we need to trace it back to the origins of the Jewish people, and to an ancient institution called “the covenant.”

Most nations are groups of people united by a common land, similar language, The Jewish people are unique in that they are a people who were formed by a series of covenants even before they had a land. and a ruling power. The Jewish people are unique in that they are a people who were formed by a series of covenants even before they had a land.

Covenants were a common institution in the ancient Near East. The covenants of the Hebrew Bible are most similar to the covenants made among the ancient Hittites. These were made between powerful, sovereign kings and less powerful, subordinate vassals.

The Hittite covenants provided protection in return for allegiance. They were always voluntary and just. They were made under oath and included no termination clause. In other words, they were meant for all time.

Unique to the Hebrew Bible was the idea of a covenant between the common people and G‑d. The result is truly astounding—an established form of alliance was applied in a radical, original way to create a people with a destiny. As we will see, that revolutionized everything.5

The Covenants With Abraham

The first two of these covenants were with Abraham.

Almost 4,000 years ago, G‑d told Abraham to leave his birthplace and Almost 4,000 years ago, G‑d told Abraham to leave his birthplace and travel to “the land that I will show you.” travel to “the land that I will show you.” When he arrived in Canaan, G‑d told him to travel the course of the land, for this was the land G‑d would give to Abraham’s offspring. Abraham did so, and G‑d once again promised him, telling him that all the land that he had seen would belong to his offspring eternally.6

Yet Abraham was already quite old and had no children. When Abraham raised this issue, G‑d made His first covenant with Abraham, promising him that he would have children, and specifying the boundaries of the land He had assigned for them—boundaries that are quite large and have yet to be fulfilled.7

Jews recite the words of this covenant every Passover. They then lift their cups of wine and declare:

“This is that which has stood for our forefathers and for us. For not one alone has stood against us to destroy us. Rather, in every generation they stand against us to wipe us out. But the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.”8

In that covenant, Abraham was also told that his children would first be “strangers in a land not their own” where they would be enslaved and oppressed. It would take four hundred years before they could return to take this land.

The next covenant was when G‑d instructed Abraham to circumcise himself and all male members of his household. One who does not keep this covenant, G‑d declared, will be “cut off from his people.” This is fascinating. A people is conceived generations before they come into existence.9

In that covenant, G‑d added that the land He had promised him would be an eternal holding of Abraham’s offspring. An “eternal holding” implies that it would belong to them even if they would temporarily be exiled.

The covenant was no longer just a word, but an obligation and a physical sign in the human body for all generations. To this day, when a Jewish child is circumcised, we say that he enters into “the covenant of Abraham our father.”

Even a Jewish man who cannot be circumcised—for instance, when circumcision presents a mortal danger—is considered circumcised and a member of the covenant of Abraham. Jewish women are considered to be “born as circumcised members of the covenant.”

Nevertheless, any covenant with human beings provides no guarantee.10 Yes, G‑d had promised, and “G‑d is not a man that He should change His mind.”11 But a human being has free choice. Every descendant of Abraham had free choice to keep to the covenant and count himself among Abraham’s descendants, or opt out and join some other nation.12

So, in G‑d’s eyes, this person is still a child of Abraham and his rightful heir. But for the individual, that identity is gone.

The notion of an inescapable identity had to wait for a later covenant, one that would fuse both parties in an unbreakable bond.

The Covenants With the Children of Israel

Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob. Jacob and his children ended up in Egypt, strangers in a land not their own.

The second two covenants were with those descendants of Abraham. They were enslaved and oppressed in Egypt, and then rescued through divine intervention—as Abraham had been promised.

When the Jewish people arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai, G‑d told Moses to ask the people if they were willing to enter into a covenant with Him, to be a “nation of priests and a holy people.”13 The people unanimously answered, “We will do and we will obey!”14

So G‑d made a covenant with all of them, as a people and as individuals,15 men, women and children, promising to bring them into the land granted to their forefathers, and to protect them there. They They understood that they would have their own land and distinct way of life, but also that they were to be an example and a light for all people.understood that they would have their own land and distinct way of life, but also that they were to be an example and a light for all people, so that eventually the entire world would be united under a single, just and caring G‑d.

In return, the people were to keep the laws of the covenant, as outlined in the Five Books of Moses. This covenant and these laws are known as the Torah.

Forty years later, shortly before entering the Land of Canaan, Moses brokered another covenant between all the people and G‑d. In this covenant, all Jews became responsible for one another’s fulfillment of the covenant at Mount Sinai.

When Abraham was circumcised, an eternal Jewish nation was conceived. When his children were taken from Egypt and stood at Mount Sinai, every individual was given an inescapable identity. What’s the difference?

The difference is in chosenness. At Mount Sinai, every Jew was chosen by G‑d for an all-encompassing mission.

Jews and Chosenness

Chosenness is deeply misunderstood. To be chosen means be entrusted with a role, a task, a mission that is greater than your own small self as an individual. Chosenness means to have both meaning and destiny.

France, England, the United States of America, and other modern nations provide that sense of national meaning to their citizens. To the degree that they are capable of communicating and sustaining that message, so is their long-term viability.

Yet, these nations were not initially formed by choice, but by geographic or socio-political circumstance. Within those circumstances, they found identity. Furthermore, a nation does not choose its citizens, and even if it did, it would be a human choice, liable to change.

Such was the state of the Jewish People before the Exodus and Mount Sinai. True, it was an identity established even before they had a land of their own. That enabled them to survive as a cohesive whole throughout the oppression of Egypt. But it was still an identity that they had adopted of their own accord.

Divine choice carries a nation to a whole new level. It When your Creator assigns you a mission, the mission is who you are. You can’t walk away from who you are. redefines the subject. When a nation chooses it meaning, they are a people with meaning; when their Creator assigns them their meaning, they are that meaning in the form of a nation.16

The same applies to an individual: If you choose your mission in life, you have a life, and this life has meaning. But when your Creator assigns you a mission in life, the mission is your life. It is who you are. You can’t walk away from who you are.

It is divine choice, then, that seals a Jew’s citizenship for perpetuity. If a Jew should say to his Creator, “Fine, You chose me. But You also gave me free choice. And with my free choice, I choose to opt out of Your choice. So, if You need it done, You better choose someone else.”

G‑d could answer that person, “I don’t need it done. I don’t need anything. But I chose you for this mission. That is who you are, your very core and being. Nothing you can say or choose can deny that essence.”

When the Jew says, “I’m not part of this!” we don’t believe him. We know that his true identity, at his very core, is his people. His statement is the statement of an external self, not his essential being.

You could say that all of G‑d is invested in this choice—the choice that you be the one to get this mission done. And as with the Chooser, so with the chosen—there is nothing left of the Jew other than that choice and that mission.

And if a Jew should ask, “Why me?” the answer is simple: G‑d made a covenant with Abraham that He would choose his children. You are that child.

So that even if a Jew professes to opt out of the covenant of Abraham, walks away from his people, sinks to the lowest depths and commits every transgression in the book and more, he or she remains intimately bonded with the G‑d of Abraham. The responsibilities and obligations remain, and G‑d awaits the moment this precious soul will return.

When that soul does return, no restatement or conversion is necessary.17 On the contrary, for G‑d and for all Israel it is the greatest celebration, a lost child returning back home.

And this soul will return, if not in this life, then in some future life.18 Because nothing, not even our divinely-given free choice, can stand in the way of the fulfillment of the personal mission of our soul.

As Rashi comments:19

The day on which Israel’s exiles will be gathered is so monumental and will be so difficult, that it is as though God Himself must literally take each individual Jew with His very hands, [taking him] out of his place, as the verse says, “And you will be gathered up, one by one, O children of Israel”20

How These Covenants Determine Who Is a Jew

We explained how these covenants form a nation. This makes it obvious that being Jewish is not simply private matter that one chooses on his own. Rather, being Jewish means being a member of a larger, singular entity—the Jewish people. This explains why no person can make himself a Jew without the agency of a rabbinic tribunal. The tribunal represents both G‑d and the entire Jewish nation.

Another element of these covenants is that they are all deeply attached to a specific geographical territory. The The people, the covenant and the land are innately inseparable. people, the covenant and the land are innately inseparable. The land is an eternal inheritance to the people of the covenant. They all come in a single package, as a single child from the womb.

The covenants with Abraham are unconditional and eternal. But they are limited only to the offspring of Abraham. The covenant at Sinai, on the other hand, included many people that had joined the Jewish people in their exodus from Egypt. Indeed, even those who were biological descendants were required to enter into this covenant—so that all Jews at that point were effectively converts.

From this we know that it is possible to become an heir to Abraham even if you are not a biological descendant. Indeed, a convert is called “a child of Abraham” for ritual purposes, including marriage. You need only to enter into the same covenant as the Jewish people did at Sinai, in the same way as they did. These, indeed, are the requirements of Jewish law.21

Judaism and the Rest of the World

Yet, there is no obligation upon any human being to enter into this covenant. G‑d created a G‑d created a great diversity of peoples upon this planet, and all of them have their role and purpose. great diversity of peoples upon this planet, and all of them have their role and purpose. One who embraces the basic tenets of Judaism but has not joined the Jewish people is considered to be a righteous individual, and has a share in the ultimate state of peace and wisdom foretold by the prophets. He or she may not be chosen to be a Jew, but there is no person who is not chosen to fulfill some particular divine mission in life.

As Geoffrey Hosking notes, the Jewish nation, with its notion of chosenness, charged with a message of universal harmony, was “the first precursor of today’s global community.”

That truly is what the Jewish people are chosen for: To be an example of chosenness, so that each person on this planet will also ask, “Why was I created? What does my Maker want from me? What am I chosen for?”22

Footnotes
1.
Talmud Sanhedrin 44a. Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 44:9. Ibid Yoreh De’ah 267:8. Rabbi Moshe Isserles requires that this returnee perform ritual immersion and accept the commandments before a tribunal, but he states that this is a rabbinic requirement (ibid 268:12). See Beit Hillel and others ad loc.
2.
Talmud Yevamot 48a. Beit Shmuel to Shulchan Aruch ibid. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 268:10.
3.
Shulchan Aruch ibid.
4.
Hosking, Geoffrey (2005). Epochs of European Civilization: Antiquity to Renaissance. Lecture 1: Jews in the Ancient World. United Kingdom: The Modern Scholar via Recorded Books. pp. 1, 2 (tracks). ISBN 1-4025-8360-5.
5.
For a thorough and fascinating discussion of how the Torah applies the model of the ancient Hittite covenants in a radically original way to create an essentially egalitarian society, see Joshua Berman, Created Equal, Oxford University Press 2008, especially pp. 27–47.
6.
On this entire section, see the commentary of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban/Nachmanides) to Genesis 15:18.
7.
See Ohr HaChaim on Genesis 15:18.
8.
Passover Haggadah
9.
See Likutei Sichot vol. 30, pg. 58, and the sources cited in footnotes there.
10.
See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry, 1:3, “… until there became a nation within the world which knew God. When the Jews extended their stay in Egypt, however, they learned from the [Egyptians'] deeds and began worshiping the stars as they did … Within a short time, the fundamental principle that Abraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the descendants of Jacob would have returned to the errors of the world and their crookedness. Because of God's love for us, and to uphold the oath He made to Abraham, our patriarch, He brought forth Moses, our teacher, the master of all prophets, and sent him [to redeem the Jews].”
11.
Samuel I 15:29. See also Numbers 23:19.
12.
See Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 13:19:3 (cited by Rashi on Exodus 13:18) that four fifths of the Jewish people refused to leave Egypt, and died there. The Jews that did leave were not all completely righteous Jews—but they considered themselves to be part of the Jewish nation. Those who refused to leave Egypt were making a statement that they were not part of this nation or its destiny.
15.
See Yalkut Shimoni , Yitro, Remez 286.
16.
See at length: Likutei Sichot, volume 11, pp. 1–7.
17.
As noted above, the Rema and others require ritual immersion. Most others, including Rabbi Yosef Karo, do not. All agree that the practice is either rabbinic or simply custom.
18.
Rabbi Chaim Vital (in the name of Rabbi Isaac Luria), Shaar Hagilgulim, Hakdama. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 4:3 and Tanya end of chapter 39: “Every single Jew will certainly eventually return … for no one shall be pushed aside.”
21.
Talmud Keritot 9a. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Biot Asurot 13:1.
22.
Hosking, ibid: “The idea of a chosen people is the first kernel of the idea of a nation.”
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 .
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
83 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous uk December 9, 2017

My great grand mother was Jewish, she married outside her culture and was disowned by her family, she gave birth to my grandmother, would that make me Jewish even though I don't practice Judasim.? Reply

Marc December 8, 2017

Thanks for the eye opening article, I can rest assured that that we are all exciting on the same level in the eyes of God and we should be loving to one another. Reply

Yehuda San Francisco December 3, 2017

An enlightened article, as I may agree with its content, there is something missing in the translation of the concept "ger" and it is also on some other instances when words are translated with the good intention to make it easy for some to understand something on familiar terms, even though in my opinion misses the point and confuses some. To translate "ger" as "convert" is inaccurate at best, the closest translation may be " initiated" something that once effected can't be undone. Any way, Yascher Koach Rav Freeman. Reply

Anonymous Southend December 2, 2017

I converted under the Liberal Judaism Beit Din, a process which took four years (this was no quickie conversion). I am married to a Jewish woman and have a Jewish daughter and soon a Jewish granddaughter. I recently relocated and there is no Liberal or Reform community where I now live. I attend an Orthodox Synagogue (and I'm loving it, BTW). They are very welcoming and I'm there every Shabbat. BUT I cannot join the Shul because my conversion is not recognised by the London Beit Din. This didn't bother me at first, but it's a slow burn... So, in your opinion... am I Jewish, or am I kinda Jewish, or not Jewish at all? Reply

Julie Soule New Mexico December 3, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Jew! Yes! Reply

Cynthia Green Albuquerque December 4, 2017
in response to Julie Soule:

Ridiculous and divisive to the chosen people to suggest your are not Jewish. Come on, what prejudice this is! I understand there is no other congregation in your town, but I would consider moving to another town! Reply

Anonymous Heerde - Holland December 1, 2017

* my grandfather were Jewish His name was J.J. Straus
* but when you feel Jewish, what than?
* Josefs wive Come Egypt, she was not Jewish
* and so Ruth and Boaz? Can you answer for this

We have always known many things at home about our family.
with Greetings an Chanoekah sameach 12-12-2017 Reply

rc torzilli brewster December 1, 2017

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This article along with its' teachings will be passed along to other's that strive for a better understanding. Great teaching. Thank you, Father. Reply

Anonymous Houston TX November 30, 2017

Oh wow! The article said “ no ones even G can change it “ this looks pretty arrogant coming from a simple mortal human being.
Be humble and compassionate, it will help you with your search for your identity as a criature living in the planet called Earth. Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 30, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Arrogant? This is one of the greatest contributions of Judaism to humankind: That G-d is just, keeps His promises and follows His own laws. The pagan mythologies are full of gods doing just the opposite.

Read the story of Abraham arguing with G-d and crying out "Will the Judge of all the earth then not do justice?" (Genesis 18:25.)

G-d made a covenant with Abraham, and with us. He keeps His word. Reply

Anonymous Mexico December 1, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

According to who what when? As I know Abraham kept silent when G-d asked him to sacrifice his favorite son! Reply

Eli Israel December 4, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Avraham was willing & ready to fulfil the will of the Creator - his service of G-d was not one based on rational logic - human intellect alone. His service of the Creator was not about what made sense to him & it wasn't about "what's in it for me?" It is also explained that his son, Yitzchak (who was 37 years old at the time) was also fully cognizant of what was happening, and was willing to be sacrificed, if that was the will of the Creator.
Of course we know that G-d was testing Avraham, and at the last minute he instructed him not to touch Yitzchak and provided a ram caught by it's horns in a thornbush, that was sacrificed instead.... Reply

Shoshana GA December 11, 2017
in response to Eli:

Well said Eli! Both Avraham and 37 year old Yitzhak were willing and ready to obey the Creator. Reply

Harvey Western NY November 30, 2017

Had Judaism become a status symbol or burden? We know where Judaism started, where the horrible genocides were located.Judaism started when G-D spoke to Abraham. Perhaps Abraham was the first conversion? However, whether an individual may become a Jew? Of course by following or attempting to follow the Torah and Testament to the best of one's ability. Being a "Jew" is not a finite action, instead, it is a life-long pursuit. There is a method of demonstrating in our genome that one belongs to Judaism, but the more advanced we progress in science and technology the more one becomes "Jewish." Albert Einstein started as an atheist, then agnostic, then practicing Jew. Theodore Hertzl the founder of modern Zionism and the inspiration for the founding of the modern Israel was at best an agnostic similar to Thomas Paine that inspired the success of the first American Revolution in 1776. Reply

Judith Giddings Philadelphia November 30, 2017

Who's a Jew I'm somewhat perplexed. How was it then that when Jacob's daughter Dinah was defiled by Shechem, a Hivite of the Canaan it nation, her children weren't considered Jews? Wasn't the promise made to Abraham and not to Sarah. Furthermore, Ruth's child was of Israel too, she being a Moabitess and Boaz a Jew. The MAN carries the seed. Please rebut me through scripture. Thanks Reply

Tzvi Freeman December 3, 2017
in response to Judith Giddings:

We have another article Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal? That should answer most of your questions.

I don't know where you derive your assumptions concerning Dinah. There's nothing scriptural there. As for Ruth, she is the model convert. She said to Naomi, "Your people are my people." That's the first step. All she needed to do was repeat those same words before a tribunal, and immerse in a pool of water.

I'll just add one note: It's always surprising to me when women argue for patrilineal descent. The most essential qualities of the child come to the child through the mother. Why are there women who are so ready to deny that? I don't understand. Reply

Anonymous Canada December 10, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

G-d told Moses at the burning bush that He is the G-d of his father See even women argue for patrilineal descent! How can you prove that "The most essential qualities of the child come to the child through the mother" and that Ruth had indeed immersed in a pool of water? It's a son of Israelite woman was cursing G-d, not reverse. And G-d told Moses at the burning bush that He is the G-d of his father. Which "essential qualities of the child" did you mean? Reply

Eliezer Tulsa OK November 30, 2017

This position that "You're Jewish even if you convert." is troubling to me because there are several halachic statements that say otherwise. Like these.

The Hai Gaon, as quoted by Aderet in Responsa, VII #292, stated that a Jew who converted out of the faith was no longer a Jew. This view was shared by numerous rabbis, which can be seen in the Responsa literature of Simon ben Zemah of Duran, Samuel de Medina, Judah Berab, Jacob Berab, Moses ben Elias Kapsali and others in the Middle Ages.

And this

It can also be seen more recently in the Responsa of the Satmar Rov in his Divrei Torah, Yoreh Deah #59, paragraph 5, as well as in the Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Even Haezer Volume 4 Number 53.

And even the RamBam

The RamBam also wrote that if a Jew converted to Christianity, he or she was no longer a Jew. See Maimonides, Hilchot Mamrim Perek 3, Halacha 1-3, as well as in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Avodat Kochavim 2:5.

There are more, but you get the idea. Reply

Tzvi Freeman December 3, 2017
in response to Eliezer :

I'm glad you brought this up. The list you cite is found verbatim in numerous sites on the web. It seems to originate from a responsa from a rabbi of the Reform movement. So I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

Whoever created this list apparently was not fluent enough in the literature to read them properly. All of them discuss how we are to treat heretics—and the response was different in different times and situations.

But all agree that, no matter how far a Jew has gone, that Jew is still obligated in all mitzvahs of the Torah. If a man, and he marries a Jewish woman, they are married. If a woman, her children will be Jewish. There is no dispute on this matter, because it is an undisputed halachah from the Talmud, as I cited in my footnotes here.

For a clear example, here is a link to the halacha of Maimonides cited in that list:

You'll note there:

"The children of these errant people and their grandchildren whose parents led them away and they were born among these Karaities and raised according to their conception, they are considered as a children captured and raised by them. Such a child may not be eager to follow the path of mitzvot, for it is as if he was compelled not to. Even if later, he hears that he is Jewish and saw Jews and their faith, he is still considered as one who was compelled against observance, for he was raised according to their mistaken path."

Obviously, if their grandchildren are Jewish, it must be that they are still considered Jewish. Reply

Linda Rosentein Desmond Colorado Springs, Colorado USA November 30, 2017

Very few people are 100 percent anything if you watch programs like "Finding Your Roots". How much percentage Jewish does a Jewish woman have to be to have a Jewish child. Mitrochrondial DNA? Or is this just a foolish question? Reply

Shoshana GA November 30, 2017
in response to Linda Rosentein Desmond:

There is something called haplotype. Abraham is said to have had J haplotype. Reply

Anonymous Nm November 30, 2017
in response to Linda Rosentein Desmond:

Yes could someone please answer this question? Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 30, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

The answer is quite simple. If the mother's mother was Jewish, the child is Jewish.

Any questions on this topic are best directed to the article that deals with it directly: Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal? Reply

Anonymous PA December 10, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

What if the mother's mother's mother wasn't Jewish? And what is the Jewish mother? Say she is a communist or Christian. Isn't "Jewish because mother is Jewish" the same as "Wise is the one who has wisdom" foolishness? Computer is when your calculation is computerized. Reply

Anonymous Woodbourne November 30, 2017

I was born a Jew and of this I'm very proud. I have studied torah, psalms and other writings. Yet the most conservative and orthodox of the jewish community judge my effort as worthless, as has been said, better to have two gentiles than a reform jew. If I don't hold to all laws, does this render my existence as a Jew void? Reply

Tzvi Freeman December 1, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

It pains me that you had to hear such hurtful words.

There is a Reform movement, a Conservative movement, and there is something people call "orthodoxy." But there is only one kind of Jew.

A Jew's level of observance, ideology, knowledge, etc. makes that Jew no more or less Jewish. Every Jew is just as Jewish as Moses. Reply

JW Brakebill Indiana, USA December 2, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

Moses a Jew? I am confused concerning Jew vs the other 11 houses of Jacob - Israel. I was under the impression that Shemot (Exodus) 2:1- ,,,, explains that Moshe (Moses) was a descendant of parents that both descended from Levi, making Moses a thoroughbred Levite, rather than a Jew. Were not the Jews the descendants of Judah? Is this not accurate? While I have the UTMOST RESPECT and APPRECIATION for the Jews, their trials & tribulations in keeping the ways and words of G-d for all the world to read and learn - I can't help but wonder if Jewish authors seem to forget, that time after time the promises are made to ALL Israel, not only to the Jews; though they and the Levites do appear to be the most righteous of the 12 brothers. I can't help but believe. that even though the Israelites may not know their identity, the G-d of Abraham knows who and where they are. Does the author expect those of the other tribes, whomever, wherever they are, to convert to Judaism? Please remember your brothers. Reply

Harvey Western NY November 29, 2017

The real questions are who is not a Jew? Can a Jew be not not a Jew? We tend to use a self-deprecating phrase for that. Since we offer what many including myself know is the actual religion provided by G-d. Please note I don't criticize ourselves since we have seen others historically offer that. Reply

Phyllis Taub Albritton Blacksburg VA November 29, 2017

It has always disturbed me that I am "not Jewish" because my father is Jewish and not my mother. I have always identified as Jewish and will continue to do so. Reply

Tim Rose Bethesda, Md November 30, 2017
in response to Phyllis Taub Albritton:

Agreed Reply

leemai Trang, thailand December 1, 2017
in response to Phyllis Taub Albritton:

I know how you feel... Dear, Phyllis...
I know how you feel. Let me share with you that few of my tzadik friends marry to non jewish ladies and raise their children as jewish....And the couples pray hard for her giyur expense meanwhile they are so tzadik families....
they (the men) told me, it's between baruch hashem and them...no one in between....
Maybe you feel no one between Baruch hashem and you....? Reply

Tzvi Freeman December 1, 2017
in response to Phyllis Taub Albritton:

I can empathize with your attitude. But you should first speak with your father and with your mother and ask why they made the decisions they made. They made a decision. You have to ask them why.

And then, if you decide, there is a road to come back, to undo what your father did, and that is through halachic conversion.

Once you travel this road, you will be accepted as a Jew without any dispute, just as though both your parents were Jewish. Reply

Julie Soule New Mexico December 3, 2017
in response to Phyllis Taub Albritton:

I would think that technically you have half Jewish Blood and to me that is the same. In the old days they couldn’t absolutely be sure who the father was but obviously the mother! Reply

Richard J. Schantz GRAND RAPIDS November 29, 2017

Most Protestant Christian men are circumcised and believe in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They also study the Hebrew Bible as much as they do the New Testament. They believe the Messiah is a Son of David from the Tribe of Judah. The first Christians were all Jews. So it seems that certain Christians should be counted as Jews. Reply

brett summerland bc November 30, 2017
in response to Richard J. Schantz:

counted as Jews? Your posting described me in detail. I believe your last statement was meant to bring discussion and i appreciate that.
An objective reading of the New Testament clearly keeps Jewish and Gentile identities separate. G-d given birth identities always remain in place. Male and Female. Jew and Gentile.
Just as the TaNaK never blurred male and female identity. And certainly not Jewish and Gentile identity either.
The church has major errors on identity to deal with both past and present. Reply

aleks yakubson Staten Island November 29, 2017

we shoot out an arrow, then paint a target around it. set out to prove it's actually Jews rather than Greeks, Romans, Brits etc that gave the world notion of 'citizenship'--because that notion is popular these days, and things popular and good must have Jewish origin--and then cherry pick facts fitting into this picture. that Jews could not really vote to accept or reject 'the mission' or for that matter their leadership in carrying it out, that many in Jewish world today reject and scoff at things like democracy or trial by jury, claiming that 'real Jewish' idea is monarchy and that things like jury allow insufficiently competent people to make important decisions, that the idea of anybody including G-d making a choice for somebody else is directly opposite to the idea of free will, that having this birthmark of 'mission' feels often more like a burden than an honor, that it's very often actually inner rather than external self that wants to escape this 'mission'--who cares... Reply

Anonymous ,isbon November 29, 2017

you can still be Jewish at heart even if you havent undergone "Halacha" if you follow the commandments ? Reply

A. Fried November 29, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

No, you can be a noahide, in which you keep the seven laws of Noach Reply

Lauren Gilbert Loganville , a USA November 29, 2017

Who's Jewish and the Right of Return 5 yrs ago I wanted to exercise my Right of Return and settle in Israel. I went through all the steps that I was told were required. I grew up in a very disfunctional family, and because my father thought he had only one child that counted, ( that being my brother) we did belong to a Temple, but it was until I turned 8. I guess what I'm trying to say is that only my brother received all the traditional Hebrew teachings, etc. But my heritage is Jewish, not just the maternal side, but paternal as well. When I had my DNA done, it showed 3% from the Caucasus region and 97% from the Eastern European (Jewish) region. In other words my blood line is 100% Jewish..yet the civil authorities in Israel told me because I didn't have a membership in a Temple, no Rabbi to vouch for me, couldn't produce my parents' wedding, divorce etc documents, that I did not qualify for my G_D given Right of Return. If you may have any articles that can help me understand, I would love to read them. Reply

Shoshana GA November 29, 2017

This that you point out is encouraging to the Jews that as Isa 27 says are personally being called out by our Elohim: “When that soul does return, no restatement or conversion is necessary.17 On the contrary, for G‑d and for all Israel it is the greatest celebration, a lost child returning back home“ Reply

Shoshana GA November 29, 2017

The often mentioned idea that Jewishness is matrilineal is stated at the start of the article. However this was not always so. As we know neither Ephraim nor Manasseh had a Jewish mother Yet are very much part of Israel. Originally Jewishness followed patrilineal lines. This changed after the destruction of the Temple by the Roman Empire.
The problem today can be quite complex as there are those whose ancestors lost their paperwork during the Inquisition, etc. and are not considered Jews even if they are basically Torah observant. On the other hand there are non observant nominal Jews that are accepted as Jews even if they run and rub Buddah’s belly basically because their paperwork is in order. Fair? Reply