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Why Is Jewishness Passed Down Through the Mother?

Why Is Jewishness Passed Down Through the Mother?



Why is Judaism passed down through the mother? I understand in olden times it was easy to know who your mother was and there was no way of proving fatherhood. But these days we have DNA testing, so why can't someone be Jewish even if only their father is Jewish?


Jewishness is not in our DNA. It is in our soul. The reason it is passed down through the maternal line is not just because it is easier to identify who your mother is. It is because the soul identity is more directly shaped by the mother than the father.

Jewishness is not in our DNA From a purely physical perspective, a child is more directly connected to their mother. The father's contribution to the production of a child is instantaneous and remote. The mother, on the other hand, gives her very self to the child . The child is conceived inside the mother, develops inside the mother, is sustained and nourished by the mother, and is born from the mother.

This is not to say that a father and child are not intimately attached. Of course they are. But as deep and essential as the bond between father and child may be, the child's actual body was never a part of her father's body. But she was a part of her mother. Every child begins as an extension of their mother's body.

This is a simple fact. It doesn't mean she will be closer to her mother, or more similar to her mother, or follow her mother's ways. We are not discussing the emotional bond between parent and child, but rather the natural physical bond. There is a more direct physical link between mother and child, because a child starts off as a part of her mother.

The body and its workings are a mirror image of the workings of the soul. The physical world is a parallel of the spiritual world. And so, the direct physical link between mother and child is a reflection of a soul link between them. While the father's soul contributes to the identity of the child's soul, it is the mother's soul that actually defines it. If the mother has a Jewish soul, the child does too.

If the mother is not Jewish but the father is, his Jewish soul will not be extended to the child. There may be a spark of Jewishness there, but if it was not gestated in a Jewish mother, the child will have to go through conversion for their Jewishness to be activated.

Jewishness is passed down by the mother because being Jewish is a spiritual identity, it defines our very being. And our very being we get from our mother, both in body and in soul.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
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Discussion (54)
March 27, 2014
Re: But where is the Halakha that says so
The halacha is discussed in various places, among the in the Talmud Yevamot 23a and Kiddushin 66b, 68b (codified in the Code of Jewish Law, Even HaEzer 8:5).

This law can be seen in the Torah itself. The verse in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 states:

"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 after Me and they will worship the gods of others."

Since the verse states "for he (ie a non-Jewish father) will cause your child to turn away ... ", this implies that a child born to a Jewish mother is Jewish whereas, if a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, the child is not Jewish.

Another source is the verse in Leviticus 24:10: "the son of an Israelite woman went out - and he was the son of an Egyptian man." This person is described as being "in the midst of the community of Israel" – i.e. Jewish.

Additionally, we find in the book of Ezra (10:2-3) that children from a non-Jewish wife are not considered halachikly Jewish: "We have trespassed against our G-d and have taken foreign wives of the people of the land. Yet, there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Therefore, let us make a covenant with our G-d to put away all the wives “and such as are born to them,” according to the counsel of the L-rd and of those who assemble at the commandment of G-d; let it be done according to the law."
Yehuda Shurpin for
March 23, 2014
But where is the Halakha that says so
The question asked was a good one, but the answer given was less than sufficient. What is the Halakhic basis by which we consider a child Jewish or not? The author of this article didn't say anything about the law. We are a people of spirituality, but we are also people who adhere to a certain set of laws and codes. We can not just base everything off of spirituality or meaningless comments like "Jewishness is not in our DNA. It is in our soul." If that's the case, every non-Jew who has ever wanted to convert, shouldn't have to because in their souls they're Jewish. In a response to such a serious question, I would like to see some basis in Jewish law.
Thank you
New Jersey
March 18, 2014
Tribal Affiliation
While one's JEWISHNESS is passed down via the mother, one's tribal affiliation comes from the father. This is clear throughout the Torah. Being from David on one's mother's side is not significant to make a child considered from the tribe of Yehuda.

This is all in addition to the many other reasons he is not a candidate for being the Moshiach.
Cary, NC
February 19, 2014
Olden times
This allows for children of men who get around to be left out in the cold. As people in olden times understood men could have accidents and would prefer to be seperate from them.
January 31, 2014
To Trudy
Was Jewishness Always Matrilineal
- for a discussion on this topic.

Regarding these specific examples, the Midrash tells us that Bilhah and Zilpah who later married Jacob, were Rachel and Leah's half-sisters, daughters of Laban from a different mother. There is also an opinion in the Midrash that Osnat, wife of Joseph, was not the biological daughter of Potiphar; rather, she was adopted. The Torah describes how Dinah, daughter of Jacob, was kidnapped and raped by Shechem. As a result of this union, Dinah gave birth to a daughter, Osnat. Jacob gave Osnat a locket which described her lineage, and an angel carried her to Egypt, where she was adopted and raised by Potiphar and his wife.

Ruth converted to Judaism and joined the Jewish nation.
Rochel Chein for
January 23, 2014
Leah & Rachel's servant girls. What nationality were they?
Leah and Rachel each gave their servant girls to Jacob and he had children with them. These sons are counted in the 12 tribes. What nationality were the servant girls? Is there a confirmed record that they were Jewish? How likely was that, considering that Sarah who gave her servant girl to Abraham and he had Ishmael, her servant girl was not Jewish. So again, how does the bloodline of the mother matter? If key Jewish figures came from non Jewish mothers, then are they not Jewish then?
Trudy Beerman
January 1, 2014
To Justsaying
You raise an important question that rabbis today do indeed wrestle with, namely what the status is of a child conceived using the egg of one woman but incubated by a surrogate mother. Interestingly, there are Talmudic cases which are brought to attempt to determine this question (see On a spiritual level, we know that there are people with souls of varying degrees of Jewishness, such as the soul of a convert pre-conversion. The "test-tube baby" may indeed have a soul of quasi-Jewish status, and the doubt not be in our minds, but in the nebulousness of the soul itself.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
December 8, 2013
You say 'the baby is conceived within the mother'. But that may not be the case these days, it may have been conceived/fertilised via ivf using a donor egg before being placed in the 'mother'. The sperm might also be from a donor. True, the baby is nourished via the 'incubator mother' in her womb, but the baby is not biologically hers. Is the baby Jewish? I really do not think that these complex queries can be answered satisfactorily by rabbis in a Jewish halachic way in light of today's scientific advances. They, the rabbis, can only voice their opinions, and guess at what the halachah in regard to a child's 'Jewishness' is.
October 25, 2013
Jewish Grandmother
To become a citizen of Israel, one has to be Jewish. Interestingly, Israel will extend that to those who have a "maternal grandmother" who is Jewish.
Nepean, Canada
September 6, 2013
The rabbi does not appear to be speaking of ethnicity but of religion. A child of a mother who was Jewish is automatically accepted into the religion, whereas any other child will need to convert. It doesn't look like they are excluding anyone from being Jewish. You could be born of any mother and feel drawn to Judaism and convert. Just as any child of a Jewish mother could feel drawn to another religion, or none, and take that route. A religion is changeable, your ethnicity, your DNA is not. A friend, although not religiously Jewish, is ethnically Ashkenazi jewish. She has the BRCA gene mutation (and subsequent mastectomies) to prove it. Obviously this is not something she wanted, many of her relatives died from it, but it is her inheritance. On a census she puts jewish as her ethnicity.
As far as the parental bonding, look at it as by the time the child has been born, it has already been practicing the religion as an extension of the mother. It merely means does not have to convert.
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