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Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?

Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?

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Question:

Why does whether you’re Jewish or not depend on if your mother is Jewish? Why doesn’t the father’s Jewishness count?

Answer:

First, the biblical inference for matrilineal descent:

“You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, for he will cause your child to turn away from Me, and they will worship the gods of others” (Deuteronomy 7:3–4).

The implication is that children from such a union will be torn away from Judaism. Since the verse states “for he (i.e. a non-Jewish father) will cause your child to turn away . . . ,” this implies that a child born to a Jewish mother is Jewish (“your child”), whereas if a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, the child is not Jewish—and as such there is no concern that “she,” the child’s mother, will turn the child away from Judaism.1

Although one’s Jewishness is dependent on the mother, other genealogical factors important in Judaism, such as one’s tribal affiliation, are contingent on the father. Thus, whether one is a Kohen, Levite, or Israelite depends on the father’s lineage.

The reason for this is as follows.

There are two basic components to a human being: (a) his essence, and (b) that which he projects forth, such as his talents and abilities. In Kabbalistic terminology, this second component is referred to as “revelations” of himself, as opposed to his essential self.

The creation of a child requires both a man and woman, but for entirely different functions. The mother provides the essence, while the father adds the potential for what the child will eventually project—the revelations of his self.

This is due to the different natures of male and female souls. The male soul emanates from G‑d’s emotive qualities, such as kindness, discipline and harmony—qualities that do not define G‑d Himself, but rather are the means through which He relates to His creations. The female soul, on the other hand, originates in G‑d’s attribute of malchut, royalty. According to the teachings of Kabbalah, malchut is rooted in the essence of G‑d that transcends all divine “revelations.”

The essence of a Jew is his Jewish soul, his Jewish identity. This is inherited from the mother. His tribe—a revelation or projection, the way his Judaism is practiced and actualized—is begotten from the father.

For more on this topic, see our Knowledge Base articles on Essence & Expression; Etzem & Giluyim.

Footnotes
1.

Excerpted from What Is Wrong with Intermarriage? The original exegesis appears in the Talmud, Yevamot 23a and Kiddushin 68b, and Pesikta Zuta on this verse.

Malkie Janowski is an accomplished educator who lives in Coral Springs, Florida. Mrs. Janowski is also a responder on Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (140)
March 15, 2017
King David's ancestress Ruth converted to Judaism, as did Moses's wife Tzipporah. The Midrash teaches that Joseph's wife, Osnat, was actually a granddaughter of Jacob and part of the family of Abraham. A convert is just as much a Jew as one born Jewish, and children born to her after her conversion are like all other Jews born to Jewish mothers.

Regarding the quoted verses in Deuteronomy, the significant point is that the Torah's reasoning of "he will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others," is specifically referring to the male partner causing a Jewish child - "your child" - to turn away from the Jewish nation. The Torah does not cite the same concern regarding a non-Jewish wife doing this to her children with a Jewish man because those children would not have been Jewish. In either case mentioned (giving your Jewish daughter to a gentile man or taking a gentile woman for your Jewish son) it would be an ill suited marriage, but the problem of Jewish children being turned away by a non-Jewish parent is only an issue when that parent is the father, ie: "He will cause your child to turn away..."

Let me know if this helps,
Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org
Chabad.org
March 3, 2017
R. Krohn has a valid point. The Torah does not state that Jewishness stems from only the mother by any stretch of the imagination. Many examples in the Torah seem to disprove this.
The logic for Deut. 7: 3-4 could be that the women usually didn't have a choice in the marriage, so the person choosing her spouse shouldn't give her to someone who was ill-matched?
Seanna
February 18, 2017
There are matriarchal societies in south India example:bunt community of western coast india any relation to Jew's or having common ancestary?
Anonymous
February 12, 2017
Biblically, this reasoning is not sound. Was not King David himself descended from Gentile women? Moses took a Gentile (Ethiopian) wife, was his line cut off from the children of Israel? What of Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Mannasseh? Their mother was Egyptian...
R Krohn
Winnipeg MB
October 28, 2016
Other explanation
But I read somewhere else that this law came from the Romans, and we adopted their law so there would be less Jews for them to try to convert to their pagan religion? Have you heard that before?
Sarah
June 13, 2016
understanding
Doesn't he from the phrase for ''he will cause your child turn away from Me'',refers to the goy?
laur
bucharest
June 6, 2016
Anyone born to a Jewish mother, including a mother who became a Jew by conversion, is Jewish.
Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org
Chabad.org
June 5, 2016
Does it make any difference if the mother was a convert or born Jewish?
Meira
Slovakia
January 24, 2016
"Like said before; it is not how the child will act later in life, but at time of birth, Jewishness can only be passed by the mother; it is a spiritual matter. It may be difficult to understand, but it is "not up for discussion". ~Anonymous, NYC

To which I reply: You post this in a forum where many are having the discussion. I do apologize for getting a little curious. Heaven forbid I should try to learn something.
Nathan
January 24, 2016

Before the giving of the Torah, there was no Jewish nation. Thus, Moses' wife and Joseph's wife and the wives of Jacob's sons or even the matriarchs were not Jewish in the same way the Jews are Jewish today - that is, through being born to a Jewish mother. Rather, they chose to follow G-d and join the family of Abraham.

Since Sinai, however, anyone born to a Jewish mother is irrevocably Jewish, regardless of what they do or don't practice.
Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org
Chabad.org