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Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?

Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?

Maternal Descent In Judaism

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© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

The Code of Jewish Law clearly states that a child of a Jewish mother is Jewish, regardless of the father’s lineage, while the child of a non-Jewish mother is not Jewish.1 Matrilineal descent has been a fundamental principle of Torah since the Jewish people came into existence.

Some aspects of Judaism, like the priesthood, are clearly patrilineal (see Patrilineal Descent in Judaism, below). But the entry line into Jewishness has always been through the mother—or conversion.

There’s clear evidence There’s clear evidence of the rule of matrilineal descent in Biblical times in the story of Ezra and the returning exiles.of the rule of matrilineal descent in Biblical times in the story of Ezra and the returning exiles.

The Book of Ezra tells the story of the Jews who returned from Babylonia to finish rebuilding the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Upon their arrival they found that many of the Jews who inhabited the land had taken non-Jewish wives.

Ezra was heartbroken, tearing his garments in mourning and prayer to G‑d. A large crowd gathered, and joined with Ezra as he prayed and wept.

Next, the verse states:

And Shechaniah, the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, raised his voice and said to Ezra, "We have betrayed our G‑d, and we have taken in foreign wives of the peoples of the land, but there is still hope for Israel concerning this.”

“Now then, let us make a covenant with our G‑d to expel all these women and those who have been born to them, in accordance with the bidding of the Lord and of all who are concerned over the commandment of our G‑d, and let the Torah be obeyed.”2

If the child of a Jewish father is Jewish, why did Shechaniah suggest expulsion of the children born to these women? How was it that Ezra and all the people agreed to his advice?

Obviously, it was a given that these children were not Jewish. Furthermore, note that Shechaniah states, “and let the Torah be obeyed.” Apparently, everyone understood that this was not a new edict, but a call for obedience to the Torah as it had always been understood by the Jewish people.3

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Matrilineal Descent in the Times of Moses

Ezra is one of the last books of the Hebrew Bible. Many have asked why this issue was not raised earlier—even in the times of Moses?

If the Hebrew Bible provided a detailed exposition of every law and custom, this would be a question. But with even a cursory look it’s obvious that this is not so. Some laws, such as priestly rites and offerings, or the design and artifacts of the Tabernacle are described in detail. Others—generallyThe most common laws are presented with no specifics at all. the most common ones—are presented with no specifics at all.

For example, we are told to “rest on the seventh day” and “do no work.”4 What is rest? Are we meant to sleep the entire day? What is work? Does it mean exertion, or productivity, or just anything not enjoyable? The few details that the text provides are of little help. (“Don’t burn fire in your dwellings.”5 “No one should move from their place.”6)

Moses is told that we are to slaughter an animal “… as I commanded you.”7 But nowhere are we provided the details of just what Moses was instructed.

So why are some details provided and others left out?

One possible answer is that it is only necessary to commit details to writing that are easily forgotten. Those matters that all the people are intimately familiar with are left to be passed down organically and tacitly.

But whatever the reason, the fact that there is no explicit verse stating which parent makes you Jewish is not unusual.

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

The Earliest Reference to Matrilineal Descent

Nevertheless, matrilineal Matrilineal descent can be deduced from a passage in Deuteronomy.descent can be deduced from a passage in Deuteronomy. There, the generation that is about to enter the Land of Canaan is told:

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 turn away your son from following Me, and they will worship the gods of others, and the wrath of G‑d will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you.8

Read those verses carefully. G‑d is warning the people not to intermarry with the people of the land they are about to enter. Neither their sons nor their daughters should intermarry.

What would you expect next? “For he will turn your daughter away from Me.” Or “She will turn your son away from Me.”

But that’s not what He says. “He will turn your son from following Me.”

Who is that son? Who is the “He” that is turning that son away?

There are only two possible interpretations, and both lead us to the same conclusion.

One possibility is that this is speaking of the son of your daughter—since grandsons are often called sons in the Hebrew Bible. She is the one mentioned first in the verse, who was taken by a non-Jewish man. That is the “he” that is turning that grandson away. But that grandson is still considered your son.

That being so, we see that the child of a Jewish woman, even when the father is not Jewish, is still considered Jewish—”your son.”9

The other possibility is that this is speaking of your son, the one who took a non-Jewish woman. The “he” that is turning him away is his non-Jewish father-in-law. By marrying out of the Jewish people, your son has been turned away from G‑d, because his children will not be Jewish.10

Either way leads to the same conclusion. This, indeed, is the ingenious proof text of the Talmud (in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai) when it states that a child of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is considered Jewish.11 There is no dissident opinion.12

To anyone who has studied Talmud, that itself is a stunning fact. The Talmud is replete with contending opinions over almost everything. The fact that on the issue of maternal lineage, there is one opinion, universally accepted, is nothing less than astonishing.

Unless you accept that this had always been the understanding of all Jews.13

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Did Moses Marry Out?

Here’s another common question: We see many figures in the Hebrew Bible that married out of their people. Joseph married an Egyptian woman. Moses married a Midianite.14 King David took a Philistine wife and King Solomon also took wives who were not from the Jewish people. Why is there no mention of any conversion?

But, hold on. How is it possible that David and Solomon could have abrogated a clear warning of the Torah, “You shall not intermarry with them …” and not be admonished by G‑d for such?15

Again, the question expects too much of the text.Again, the question expects too much of the text. Search through the entire Hebrew Bible, and you will find no mention whatsoever of any process necessary to join the Jewish people.

It’s not until the Mishnaic period that we find the requirements for conversion laid out. A person must go through the same process that all the Jews went through when they entered into the covenant at Sinai: Conversion essentially means accepting the laws of the Jewish covenant. The procedure is to do so before a tribunal, immerse in a ritual pool, and bring an offering to the Temple. Men must be circumcised.

Of course, you could choose to understand from this that there were no converts until the Mishnaic period. You will have great difficulty with the Book of Ruth, the story of a Moabite woman who joins the Jewish people, and with many other Biblical characters from other nations who turn up fighting in the Jewish army.

It makes more sense to go to the people to whom this text was given and ask them, “How do you understand it?” And their tradition is that converts had been accepted from day one. Why is there no mention of the process? They would answer, “Because it’s obvious. That’s how you enter into the covenant—the same way we all did!”

Here’s an analogy:

Let’s say we would write, “And then Vicki York went to Harvard and received her doctorate in sociology.” We don’t need to write that Vicki wrote a thesis and defended it; the contemporary reader understands that as obvious.

Similarly, it would be superfluous for the Hebrew Bible to account all the details of how any person became part of our covenantal people. The reader, being a member of that covenant, understands. It was, after all, an everyday occurrence for people to bring offerings and to immerse in a ritual pool.

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Is Matrilineal Descent Reasonable?

There are many things in Jewish tradition that are hard to understand. The Five Books of Moses provide many instructions, but rarely provides the “why.” And even the explanations that we do have are not the ultimate reason, as Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains. We’re speaking, after all, of the wisdom of our Creator. It’s wondrous that we understand anything at all.16

Nevertheless, Not only is matrilineal descent perfectly reasonable, it’s absurd to imagine otherwise.in this instance, writes the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, not only is matrilineal descent perfectly reasonable, it’s absurd to imagine otherwise.17

Let’s start with a simple question: To which parent is the child more biologically connected?

Yes, the father provides half the chromosomes. But there’s more to a person than two sets of chromosomes.

An embryo must sit within its mother’s womb and develop for nine months. During those months, the fetus is nurtured from the bloodstream of the mother, affected by her emotions, by the sounds she hears and the places she goes.18 And none of this, especially the birthing process, is a terribly comfortable experience for the mother.

This aside from the nursing and nurture, both physical and psychological, in the primary years that are most critical to the child’s development. Generally, that’s provided by the mother, who is capable of providing far more than the man.

Now, ask yourself, to whom would you give dominance in the fundamental identity of this child? Is it justified to ignore the woman’s role, and identify the child after the father? If the mother is, say, Cherokee, determining that the child is Jewish because the father is Jewish is in conflict with the basics of biology.19

The Rebbe sharply criticized those who insist we change Jewish law and accept patrilineal descent. Firstly, he said, they cannot succeed. Torah law does not change, and every attempt to make changes of this sort has failed in the long run.

But aside from that, these people do not realize what they are playing with. Each human being is created with a role in this world that is tied to their identity. To tell a person that he is Jewish when he is not is a crime against both mother and child. It is robbery in the worst sense to steal away a person’s identity and the fundamental meaning of their life.

That’s a point many who argue for patrilineal descent ignore. They argue that we must have compassion, that we must be more inclusive, and we should open the doors of Jewishness to those who have either a mother or father who is Jewish. Why demand a conversion in these cases?

But this argument ignores not only the fundamental makeup of the child, but the dignity of the mother of the child, as well as women in general. “I would have expected all the women of the world to protest,” the Rebbe said.

And it is extremely ethnocentric, as though Jewish identity exists in a vacuum. There are people in the world besides Jews, and they also have identities. By simple biological fact, that identity principally follows the mother.

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Patrilineal Descent in Judaism

Although Jewishness is matrilineal, there are many aspects of Judaism that are patrilineal.There are many aspects of Judaism that are patrilineal. But this too is eminently sensible.

For example, within the Jewish people there is a division of Yisrael, Levi and Kohen. And that’s patrilineal.

The Kohen, as long as the Jewish Temple is standing in Jerusalem, must take care of the offerings and services and live in ritual purity. The Levi is there to assist the Kohen. Someone has to go to work for six days and rest on the seventh, so that’s the rest of us—Yisroel.

How does a child know if he or she is a Kohen, Levi or Yisroel? That goes by the father. That’s what I meant when I said that Judaism is patrilineal, even though Jewishness is matrilineal.

There are other things in Jewish law that principally follow the paternal line—tribal rights, inheritance, and more. We don’t need to get into them here. Let’s keep to this question: Why the difference between determining whether you’re a Jew and whether you’re a Kohen? Once we answer that, many other questions will fall away.

The Rebbe also explained this in simple terms: These are secondary identities. They are less about who you are and more about how you are expected to be.

A kohen must learn to be extremely careful about what he eats, where he goes and how he behaves. He must learn how to do his job in the Temple. These are things a child learns a little later—and principally from his father, the one most involved in these duties.

The same applies to the Levi, who is singing in the Temple, guarding the gates, and performing other duties. And the same with this Yisrael, who must do his work and provide for the Kohen and the Levi.

So, quite sensibly, the primary identity of a child comes from the mother. The secondary identity, related more to duties and role, come from the father, who is responsible to educate and provide a role model for the child in these matters.

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Jewish Resilience

It’s vital to understand that Judaism is not a Judaism is not a book.book. Judaism is the covenant of a people with G‑d. The story of that covenant and its basic tenets is preserved in written form in what people call the Hebrew Bible. The way the people understood that covenant and its details was preserved by oral tradition for many centuries until it was slowly committed to writing.

This is crucial to know, because otherwise you might find yourself doing very strange things. Moses tells the people that no one is to leave their place on the seventh day.20 You will likely find that quite difficult—until you learn that the oral tradition understands this not as literally as you may think.

G‑d tells Moses, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”21 That could lead to a blind and toothless society—were it not for the oral tradition that this is an idiomatic expression referring to fair monetary compensation (as stated explicitly elsewhere).

Other instances abound. The point is that, yes, it is possible to read the written word and interpret matters in multiple forms. There was actually a sect—some still survive—called the Karaites, who relied entirely on their own literal understanding of the text and denied the existence of any oral tradition. They believed that the Torah was purely patrilineal. But then, they also refused to accept converts, since they saw no basis for such in the written text either.22

The Judaism that has proven sustainable, vigorous and youthful to the present day relies on a rigorous faithfulness to an accumulative oral tradition, which in turn proves itself consistent with the written word. And that Judaism has always stated without equivocation that Jewishness follows the mother.

Footnotes
1.
Even HaEzer 8:5.
3.
This proof is cited in Jerusalem Talmud 3:12 and Midrash Numbers Rabbah 19:3.
9.
This is the interpretation of Rashi on the Talmud ad loc (footnote 7).
10.
This is the interpretation of Rabenu Tam ad loc, and of Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kedusha, Hilchot Issurei Biah 12:7.
11.
See Talmud Kidushin 68b and commentaries ad loc. Ibid Yevamot 23a.
12.
A case is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud, Kidushin 3:12, where an individual named Yaakov from the town of Gevuraia considered performing a circumcision on a child of a non-Jewish woman whose father was Jewish. He was severely punished and his opinion rejected outright. (It seems this individual was known for his foolish ideas—see Midrash Rabbah, Numbers 19:3, in which the same individual claimed that fish required ritual slaughtering. He was whipped for that as well.)
13.
Rabbi David Nieto in his work Matteh Dan (London, 1714) provides another proof from Exodus 21:4:

“If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and he [i.e. the Hebrew servant] shall go out alone.”

According to Torah law (see Exodus 21:9), an Israelite master may not give a Jewish bondmaid as a wife to anyone other than his own son. Therefore, Exodus 21:4 must refer to a gentile bondmaid given as a wife to a Hebrew slave. The children remain slaves when their father is freed, which demonstrates that they bear their mother's non-Jewish status.
14.
I’ve avoided the argument that matrilineal descent began only after the covenant at Sinai, since this is a dispute among commentators. See Nachmanides on Leviticus 24:10; Chizkuni ad loc. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to assume that before Sinai a person who abandoned idolatry to embrace monotheism and join the Jewish people would be considered a member of the Jewish people, perhaps without the offering or immersion.
15.
For Joseph and Moses, we can answer simply that they were married before the Torah (and therefore, this warning) was given. But for David and Solomon, that answer does not work. The story of Pinchas and the Midianite women also makes it quite clear that this sort of union was divinely prohibited.
16.
Igeret Hakodesh 19.
17.
Torat Menachem, Hitvaduyot, 5745, vol. 1, pp. 133-136 (6 Tishrei, 5745, sicha 3).
18.
Recent research indicates that cells of the unborn fetus embed themselves within the mother, acting as an agent for the child within the mother for decades. The converse also occurs, so that the mother has an actual physical presence within the child long after birth. See Boddy, Fortunato, Sayres and Aktipis, Fetal microchimerism and maternal health: A review and evolutionary analysis of cooperation and conflict beyond the womb, published in BioEssays Volume 37, Issue 10, October 2015, pp. 1106–1118. A good summary of the research can be found at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/babys-cells-can-manipulate-moms-body-decades-180956493/
19.
The Rebbe noted in that talk that this is obvious to non-Jews, as well. Of interest to note, the first non-Jewish ruling we have on this issue is from Justinian, Emperor of Rome, whose code states that the child of a union of a non-Roman male citizen with a female Roman citizen is a Roman citizen. See http://dl.ket.org/latin1/mores/law/citizenship.htm
22.
This ban was recently lifted by the Karaite Council of Sages.
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 .
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Yoram Raanan takes inspiration from living in Israel, where he can fully explore and express his Jewish consciousness. The light, the air, the spirit of the people and the land energize and inspire him. His paintings include modern Jewish expressionism with a wide range of subjects ranging from abstract to landscape, biblical and Judaic.
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Anonymous Potomac, MD December 11, 2017

Youthful Judaism or Not What an interesting final comment in a very good article:

"The Judaism that has proven sustainable, vigorous and youthful to the present day relies on a rigorous faithfulness to an accumulative oral tradition, which in turn proves itself consistent with the written word. And that Judaism has always stated without equivocation that Jewishness follows the mother." Rabbinical Judaism as practiced for more than 2,000 years relies not on blind faithfulness but on expansive debate and the finding of new and beautiful interpretations of Halachah. There is no debate on Jewishness through the Mother. The debate occurs regarding a Father passing down his Jewishness to his offspring and it is a worthy discussion. Our People are at a very serious crossroads-- when the Rabbis who demand blind faithfulness start fighting amongst themselves over who is a Jew and which Rabbis are "kasher" enough to convert or to even have an opinion, I am truly fearful for sustainable, vigorous and youthful Judaism Reply

st7672 November 23, 2017

After reading this explanation of that passage from the book of Ezra, I fail to see why the fact that Judaism is based on matrilineal descent follows incontrovertibly from this passage. You can make that argument. You can argue anything, but it does not necessary follow from the premise. Truth is the passage is never explicit about whether the offspring of parents, only one of whom is Jewish, are in fact, Jewish themselves. However, it does seem to me that matrilineal descent may be the more pragmatic approach if we are concerned about being reasonably certain that at least one parent is Jewish. At least in pre-DNA testing times, you could generally be more certain about who someone’s mother is than who their father is. Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 23, 2017
in response to st7672:

Ezra tells the people to send away their foreign wives "and all those who are born to them"—and he says that this is in accordance the Torah and commandments of G-d.

That seems about as straightforward as you can get. Someone has a child—likely many of them were grown children by then—from a non-Jewish wife, and Ezra says the child has to be sent away.

If the child is Jewish, how could Ezra possibly expel the child from the community?

And how could he say that this is in accordance with the Torah? Reply

st7672 November 24, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

That does not seem straightforward to me. The conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. On the other hand the statement: "Only children born of Jewish women are Jewish at birth", is clear, unequivocal, and straightforward. Reply

st7672 November 24, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

I don't know what Ezra's motivation was when calling for the expulsion of all children born of non-Jewish wives. The mere fact that he called for their expulsion does not necessarily mean that he did so because those people were not Jewish. There could be other reasons. Many non-Jews have lived in the midst of Jews both in ancient Israel and modern Israel. Those non-Jews were not expelled. If the Torah said explicitly that children born of non-Jewish women are not Jewish, then the Torah's position on this matter would be clear. Reply

elisheva mt November 7, 2017

Thank you for this clear, simple to understand article. The artwork is amazing. My life is enriched from Chabad online. Thank you for your daily efforts in keeping us connected in a fragmented world. Reply

Anonymous November 14, 2017

I am 70 years old. My parents were Jewish, my father from Poland, and my mother from the US. Whereas my one (younger) sister and I respect and appreciate our background, we have observed that the atmosphere in the home associated being Jewish with an absence of joy, indecision, prohibitions, dreariness, no community involvement, little if any spiritual training, in short, nothing positive, and none of the joy I have seen at the Chabad House I have visited (good for them!). So as a result, we did not marry Jewish men. Three of our four kids, now grown, did not or are not seeking Jewish spouses. One did, but is a lukewarm participant.
My point here for the public is, if you want to impart Jewish culture to your children, believe in it firmly, and inculcate it with joy. Children feel what you feel even more than what you say.
Best of luck. Reply

Anonymous San Francisco November 12, 2017

As a convert I winced at one spot in this otherwise excellent article.

This had to do with how low the Israelites Ezra found upon return had fallen in taking nonJewish wives and husbands. It is comments like this by some Jews that inadvertently fan the flames of anti Jewish sentiment across the world.

Of course the practices of these nonJews were abhorrent, likely to lead their Jewish spouses away from Judaism. But painting all non Jews as inferior to Jews, as the outset of the article suggests with the language of fallenness, is a broad brush approach that sows further enmity in the world.

To your credit--assuming the reader is not turned off and has already quit reading--you go on to point out that righteous nonJews like Moses's wife or Ruth--have always been permitted to convert. You could have also added that all the righteous of the world--be they Jewish or non-Jewish--have a place in the World to Come.

Thanks for an otherwise interesting and informative article. Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Thank you for pointing that out. The offensive text was unnecessary and has been deleted. Reply

Chana Mattison Florida November 12, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

I am sorry but the writer must have misunderstood the meaning: marrying non-Jews as marrying below their rank. Every and each group of people tries to intermarry with their own kind. The area where I live has many Greeks, a Greek community. Obviously they want to find a Greek spouse. This is conserving and maintaining their religion and culture. That is all that was. This is my opinion. Reply

Anonymous November 12, 2017

Yoram Raanan's illustrations are absolutely awesome Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA November 12, 2017

I think this group ought to be warned about Genetics discussions. Genetics is not a subject that one can read a few articles on something like wiki to grasp the discipline. If someone has a Biology degree, I think posting on basic concepts in Genetics might be okay. In college, I took an entire course called, "Genetics," that had Bio 101, and Bio 102 as prerequisites. I erred on this subject as well. For example, I had a kit that I mailed away because I was interested in my ancestry. I have tried to communicate possible results to various people, and to my surprise: they don't understand. For example this; "While a man's DNA (Y chromosome) never changes and is the same throughout all the generations," does not account for haplogroups. Haplogroup J is usually considered to be a Jewish Y chromosome, but beyond that the Y chromosome of Jewish males evolves, so that one can guess males that belong to the same family. Keep this in mind if you should be writing about genetics. Reply

Anonymous Havre de Grace, MD USA via harfordchabad.org November 11, 2017

Shalom~! Perhaps my point is already raised somewhere in these comments, perhaps not~! There is one comment which touches on the subject partially and that is the current knowledge of DNA.
Today we are told that a woman's particular DNA, mitochondrial DNA, only shows up for a few generations and then may change and/or disappear. While a man's DNA (Y chromosome) never changes and is the same throughout all the generations. Every Jewish male descendant has the Y chromosome. This seems to make a stronger case for the argument that a child born of a Jewish (Hebrew) father is always technically Jewish; while, what may start out as a Jewish woman's mitochondrial DNA may change over time and not show as being Jewish. All this with the understanding that this science didn't exist back then. It was a logical way to proceed in the past, probably still is, but doesn't Judaism ever change with the progress of time and learning~? Should it~? If parts of the Torah become out-dated, what then~? Reply

Chana Mattison Florida November 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Thank you for this new information - I was not aware of this. I think your understanding is right, but Judaism does not change and if it does, it does very little. This is a strength and a weakness at the same time. Strength because it ensured the survival of Judaism, weakness because by being inflexible it also made the Jews a target of discrimination and persecution. Nobody likes something they don't understand and the Jews stood out in the population. That is only my opinion of course. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman November 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Our understanding of DNA is also changing, year by year. It was once thought that everything about a person can be found in those chromosomes. Now that’s strongly challenged.
Why change the terms of an eternal covenant to align with an understanding that’s here today and gone tomorrow? Reply

Anonymous Havre de Grace, MD USA via harfordchabad.org November 14, 2017
in response to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

No disrespect please; but what exactly is the eternal covenant you refer to, and why would you say "here today and gone tomorrow~? First everything, G-d forbid, can be gone tomorrow, and second, how temporary can it be if what they say scientifically is true that all Jewish males have this Y chromosome~? Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

We have an eternal covenant since Abraham. So far, about 3800 years. We've lasted through every attempt to destroy us over that time, only due to that covenant.

The terms of the covenant include matrilineal descent—as we see explicitly from the story of Ezra.

The science of genetics is still in its infancy. There are surprises at every turn. For example, please see footnote 18. The mysteries of mitochondrial inheritance are also mostly unanswered.

So we as a people and our covenant with G-d are eternal, but the current state of science is constantly changing. Reply

Akiba Torrance November 10, 2017

Fence Around The Torah Holdings Customs Not Binding Law When no legal basis exists for a Fence Around the Torah holding, arguments proceed similarly. Its proponents find situational statements appearing to support their view and claim it as precedent. Conflicting situations are often declared not of meaning, etc. Ancient era scrolls / books were few and far between. Their scattered content do not define societal norms despite historians, archeologists, or other claiming so. Claiming that the lack of dissenting writings or opinions indicate wide acceptance is reputiated by the fact these opined holdings were those of a few self appointed persons — not elected to represent the Jewish People. Modern DNA studies indicate in ancient times substantial numbers of non-Jewish women once married Jewish males and entered into the Jewish community over the ages. There is no historical record of mass conversions of them or their children taking place over time. DNA studies prove it was the norm to marry non-Jewish women and their offspring to be Jews. Reply

sunil subba India November 9, 2017

They say that a daughter is close to the father and the son to the mother but when it comes to communication both are close to the mother.The woman being jewish helps as i feel that she wont forget her roots and would definately help the child whether male or female to learn about Judaism compared to the male who marries a non jew as the original religion might be forgotten and the womans religion might be employed.Whether son or daughter both want the mother to solve their issues concerning life especially so when they are growing ,the father at times is often discarded in these matters especially so with the daughters issues. Reply

Jean Oakes November 9, 2017

The mother's blood Another teaching I heard on this subject refers to the biology of the mother and child. Blood is very important in Judaism. "The life is in the blood" and is why we drain the blood from the meat we eat, and other things.
The child shares the same blood, and blood type with the mother and shares her life. Before the medical skills we now have, if the mother died, the child died. This is not true with the father.

I recently read how the unborn child can taste what the mother eats, so that it is pre-conditioned to like the food it will eat when it is born. If the mother eats Kosher, the baby will prefer Kosher. How cool is that?

G-d in His Wisdom, created this biology before we ever discovered it. How arrogant to think we know enough to second guess our loving Creator. Reply

Anonymous November 29, 2017
in response to Jean:

The child does not necessarily have the same blood type as the mother. A man with blood type A produces a child with a women with blood type O, and that child can have A or O blood type. A man with blood type A mates with a woman with blood type B, and they can produce a child who is blood type A, B, or AB. Reply

Pete WA November 9, 2017

What makes four people who are actually called Jews, or from the tribe of Judah, Jewish? Namely, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Mordecai. They refuse to bow to earthly rulers. Reply

Andrew Red Bud, IL November 9, 2017

I am Catholic, but very much enjoy reading your articles. I have learned that you need to know the Jewish faith and history to truly understand Catholicism. When you speak of oral tradition and not just the written word, you describe also how the Catholic faith continues this practice, as well. The Catholic Church does not rely solely on the literal sense of the Bible as many Protestant faiths do. G-d bless you. Reply

June PA November 9, 2017

Could it be that Jewishness is carried by the mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother? Could conversion by Mikvah somehow cause a change in the mitochondrial DNA?
p.s. Gorgeous paintings!! Reply

Samantha Leon November 9, 2017
in response to June:

How would that come about? Reply

brett summerland bc November 10, 2017
in response to June:

basic biology A popular orthodox Jewish man named Ben Shapiro has made it clear that you cannot change your gender because you cannot magically decide to change your DNA.
If your saying what HaShem creates is now mutable, then i guess Sabbath, souls, and gender are also changeable by this logic. Reply

June PA November 10, 2017
in response to Samantha Leon:

Energy is transferred in ways we as yet don't understand Reply

Chana Mattison Florida November 12, 2017
in response to brett:

Exactly. Thank you! I am tired of the crazy world "genderless" children neutral bathrooms, gender identity, etc. G-d made us who we are and we have to accept it. When you reject what G-d made, you make your life miserable and unhappy. Same goes for all the laws. HaShem made the laws and they are unchangeable . This is like you would say gravity is no longer valid. The law is the law. Reply

Pete WA November 9, 2017

All the Hebrew/Jewish characters in the Torah descend to Egypt and raise from Egypt.

Then if matrilineal means, descendant of Matsor, it is true that all Jews, at one time, decended to Egypt. And are drawn forth from it. Reply

Anonymous Sandwich, MA November 9, 2017

Having a son was one of my greatest dreams. He was born by c-section, and the doctors placed him in my hands first. When my wife went back to work, I raised him with my hands. My wife had a job. I did not have a job. I fed him by bottle. It was the most difficult of a job that I have ever had. He would cry unless I carried him, which made my back sore because he wanted to be carried all day long. I still savored every moment. I completely understand that this is biologically backward.
I too favored my dad. When I was born, he quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey. I had never smelled alcohol on him. He was hard working. He was very encouraging. I know my mom put in a lot of work, but it never seemed good enough for me. For instance, I remember mom frequently dipping into her pants and scratching her butt while cooking. It was nice to have a meal though.
However, matrilineal descent is true. Tamar, the prostitute, proves it. One can only be certain of the mother. Reply

Chana Mattison Florida November 9, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Very true. My father also said that the reason for the matrilineal descent is because way back then there was no DNA and the only sure thing was the mother. Reply

AA Ellingham November 29, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I had the same thought. The only certainty is the mother. If she says “your people are my people, and your G-d my G-d”, she, unlike the foreign women of Ezra, have made herself and her offspring one people through her conversion. Reply

jamie moran London, UK November 9, 2017

There is increasingly evidence in psychology, neurology, and therapy, of just how crucial is the bond between mother and very young child, from infant to at least 5 years. If the bond is loving, then this is what triggers the brain structure key to the development of 'emotional intelligence' [empathy, fellow feeling, etc]. If however the bond is not loving, but damaging [in various ways], then this actually stunts the brain structure undergirding the growtrh of emotional intelligence. The 'quality' of the relationship has a causal power vis a vis the neurology of the brain. Other problems can develop from poor bonding between mother and child= this 'early damage' is widely documented. [See S Johnson, 'Character Styles', for an account.] The mother seems to be our welcome [or not] into the world. A primal trust, and much else, flows from such welcome. Values, in so far as they are rooted in love, seem more to come from 'good mothering.' The human father is permore like a mentor role?. Reply

Chana Mattison Florida November 9, 2017
in response to jamie moran:

Thank you for your input. I was born of a Jewish woman and a Christian man. My parents diseased before I was 3 yrs old. I was adopted by a Jewish family, who had no other children. My mother had a boy before me who died of Tay-Sachs disease but she always wanted a girl. But she was very cruel and inpatient with me. I tried to please her, never worked. She ruled the family so my father did not dare to speak up on my behalf. The only person who kept my sanity was my grandmother who was my mother's mother but she was completely her opposite. She gave me love when she could, but it had to be within limits since she was supported financially so she had to be loyal to my mother. I rebelled and left home for a short time and I think my whole life would have turned out better if we had a good relationship with my mother. I left the country and went to the US as an adult but kept in touch with her. I still loved her. When she died she apologized not being a good mother. Sad story, isn't it? Reply

Anonymous USA November 9, 2017

What is the answer for in vitro births? Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 9, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

You've hit on a fascinating halachic issue. It's still a matter of heated debate among the experts. What if one mother provides the ovary, and another carries the embryo?

Many argue that the child has two mothers. Others argue that we don't know which is the mother.

Basically, if the child wants to be considered a Jew without doubt, he or she would opt for a "giur m'safek"—meaning, a conversion "just in case."

There are many other halachic issues concerning these forms of birth. A halachic authority must be consulted before proceeding. Reply

Anonymous November 9, 2017

I am not sure why the entire passage of Deuteronomy Chapter 7 is being taken out of context to prove the point of Matrilineal descent. The entire passage relates to our entry into Canaan and that we are not to intermarry specifically with the listed Canaanite tribes in Verse 1. The "them" in verse 3 relates to these Canaanite tribes. Expanding this to prove that HaShem commands matrilineal descent isn't right. Taking Ezra out of historical context also isn't right. On the return from Babylon our ancestors were faced with persecution by Samaritans and other tribes in Jerusalem. That is the context of the verses in Ezra. Papering over our Biblical history of children being considered as members of the Father's tribe to fit into the later Rabbinical command for matrilineal descent does a disservice to understanding our history. The horror of our rebellions against Rome in the 1st and 2nd centuries is the core for matrilineal descent in our law- so we did not lose our children. Reply

Jennifer Canada November 8, 2017

If none of the twelve tribes, or I should say, sons of Jacob, married Jews, then how do you explain Jewishness to be descended from the mother only? The Bible says: son of Abraham, son of Isaac, son of Jacob, son of David. It doesn't say son of Sarah, son of Rebecca, son of Leah or Rachel, nor does it say son of Bathsheba, yet Solomon was king over Israel. My thinking is if you are Jewish then your descent came from one of Jacob's twelve sons. Reply

Jennifer Menier Port Coquitlam November 14, 2017
in response to Jennifer :

did not receive an answer / response to comment above. Reply

Anonymous Havre de Grace, MD USA via harfordchabad.org November 14, 2017
in response to Jennifer :

Your answer, Jennifer, makes the most sense of all the listed answers. It was, of course impossible to tell back then regarding the DNA; however nowadays, at the least, men who have the Y chromosome, regardless of the DNA of the mom, should be considered Jewish legally. Children born of a Jewish mom should also retain their Jewishness. Or really, shouldn't we refer to these people as Hebrews~? Reply

Tzvi Freeman November 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Jennifer, how do you know that the twelve sons of Jacob did not marry Jews? What is a Jew? What made Abraham Jewish? Why do you assume it was not possible to become Jewish?

In fact, there are two opinions concerning Jacob's sons. One is that they married their sisters. Another is that their wives joined the tribe of Jacob.

Please read the article and consider the information contained therein.

One thing that continues to astound me: Here is a clear case where Judaism stands for the dignity of the woman, and their centrality to our identity. You would expect all women to support it. Why are these women so ready to sacrifice their dignity to male lineage? Reply

Anonymous Havre de Grace, MD USA via harfordchabad.org December 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

You touched on an interesting point. Shouldn't Jewish people really be referred to as Hebrews~? Why do both words mean the same thing~? Or, do they~? Doesn't the noun Jewish come from the word Yiddish, derived from followers (if you will) that came or live in Europe~? Reply

Jennifer Canada November 27, 2017
in response to Tzvi Freeman:

Rabbi Tzvi, I am not assuming that it was not possible to become Jewish. I know it's possible through conversion. Who is a Jew? One who is circumcised in the heart as well as the flesh, one who loves the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am only thinking as Anonymous above indicated, whether one parent or both parents are Jewish, then their children should also be considered Jewish naturally, and not limited to just if the mother is Jewish. Your are right. the Torah does not state who all of the sons of Jacob married, except a few. Thank you for the reference of the article written by two Rabbis. I did read it. I don't like to think that someone today who has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother is not considered a Jew. I do know people today who have said to me they are not Jewish or that they are only half-Jewish because their mother is not Jewish. Sad. I do hope your last paragraph is not a put down because of my question, but thank you for taking the time to respond. Reply

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