Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone

Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?

Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?

E-mail

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.
© 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.
E-mail
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (125)
January 5, 2015
@ NATHAN
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
January 2, 2015
Safek Jew
My great, great, great grandmother was Jewish (5 generations back), does that make me Jewish or do I have to convert?
Lisa
January 1, 2015
It is so tribal-- this tracing of a birth to a mother only, and so on. As I have said before: No one has any control whatsoever over the circumstances of his or her birth. My Jewish son-in-law, for example, found someone new and converted to Christianity (supposedly) while my daughter decided to keep the children in the Jewish faith. And my new great grand daughter is being brought up Jewish! That is four people right off-- for those to whom numbers are important. I see that there is a very conservative letter-of-the-law ultra religious wing of Judaism here-- just as in Christianity and Islam.
Elaine Thompson
December 19, 2014
So let me get this right... rather than the child being paternally jewish and possibly turning away from the faith, they just say the child is not jewish from the jump? wouldn't you want more people in the faith? How is a 0% chance better than a 50% chance?
There's nothing stopping a maternally jewish child from turning away from the faith, so why not include as many people as you can?
Is this an arcane belief or is it still held up by the modern jewish faith?
Nathan
July 10, 2014
Thank you for clarity and logic and reason, Anonymous.
Flowers by Name
Seattle
June 10, 2014
"f YItzac is the father of both Yakov and Esau, who were twins from Rivkah, how can we say that Yakov is Jewish while Esau is not? They had the same mother after all and if she were Jewish, (according to tradition) then both kids would be Jewish and if she were not Jewish, neither would be. Yet, we know one is the father of our people, Yisrael, and one is the father of the Edomites." Ha ha, I was going to say. But you said it.

That story sure is a mystery isn't it? It's the very one that got me to thinking about the bible being a book of blessings and curses, and got me to marveling at how much power the father has to carry these out. Yakov was seen as more civilized, cultured, and intelligent by the mother, and did not want the barbaric Esau inheriting the spoils of a new civilization - a new kingdom - a new land. Could be Esau had a different mother? I need to review the story, but as a child of Esau myself, I am rather fond of lentil soup.
anonymous
ottawa
June 9, 2014
jewishness/matrilineal
to anonymous - i like your comment
valerie j becker
akron
June 9, 2014
But...
If YItzac is the father of both Yakov and Esau, who were twins from Rivkah, how can we say that Yakov is Jewish while Esau is not? They had the same mother after all and if she were Jewish, (according to tradition) then both kids would be Jewish and if she were not Jewish, neither would be. Yet, we know one is the father of our people, Yisrael, and one is the father of the Edomites.

Furthermore, the women of Yisrael are never mentioned in the Torah when lineage is the issue; it is always who fathered who with no mention of wether the mother was Jewish or not. I trust El Shaddai and his premise for the status of his people.

Since the first Jewish family was 12 sons, and none of them married their sisters (and thus did not marry women of Israelite lineage) it is absurd to assume that only matrilineage confrims Jewish identity.
Anonymous
October 2, 2013
jewishness
ref. Anonymous in Salem - just read what you wrote. it really affected me. being far from learned, definitely not ultra religious, i am of Jewish descent. no matter what i did, or do, or will do, that won't change. my sister is a born again fanatic - and with that - she was born Jewish even though she plans to be buried in a non-Jewish cemetery, the whole nine yards. it's sad to me, but true. it's more than a kinship, it's something so deep, the heart and soul, i guess. but remember Ruth and others in the Bible....G-d knows what's really in a person's heart!
valerie
usa
September 30, 2013
if a person loses his or her id card are they still the same person?
If a person of Jewish descent is separated from their parents and they are raised Catholic are they still Jewish? Likewise if a person converts to Judaism because he or she feels a kinship with the Jewish community are they any less Jewish than a person of Jewish lineage?
Anonymous
salem
Show all comments
Load next 50
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG