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Why Is Jewishness Passed Down Through the Mother?

Why Is Jewishness Passed Down Through the Mother?

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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 Chabad.org.
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Discussion (72)
April 16, 2015
So what is the other half of my nationallity?
I have read all the reasons I am not Jewish and I can accept that....I did not grow up with my Jewish father, only my non-Jewish mother....But how do I describe the other half of me? I have the DNA of my father giving me a dark skin, eyes and hair so I don't look like my Irish mother...I get mistaken for a Latino because I live in AZ. So when people ask me if I am Latino and I say no, they want to know what I am. Now I am happy just to be me but after half a century of wondering, it would be nice to have a definitive response since I know I am not Jewish because I have not converted.
Suggestions for those of us with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother? Who do we say we are???
Danielle
Arizona
March 30, 2015
recognition

A good explanation I heard once was that it is like citizenship and you have to meet a number of criteria to be able to identify yourself as a Jew. eg. I am quarter Irish but that does not mean that I can go and live as a citizen in Ireland right now since I am not an Irish national. If people started doing that on the basis of their DNA percentage, there will be chaos. There will also be a problem of intermarriage in Judaism if one is not identified as a Jew, and then married a person born to a Jewish mother.
The children and their descendants will then be in the exact situation where a lot of people are here. It is true that people led by some like Hitler will not care how far back or on which side we may have Jewish ancestry , but it is also true that under the Orthodox Jewish auspices we're not defined as Jew or non-Jew by the criteria set by the anti-semites. It depends on who you want to be recognized by as being a Jew.
Anonymous
March 30, 2015
This is an issue that should be addressed. If nothing else we need to work out appropriate linguistic definitons. I say this because there are an enormous amount of people in the world who have Jewish blood. I would estimate over 100 million. I am at least 37.5 and as much as 62.5% jewish. I have a Jewish name and am often mistaken for Jewish by my physical appearance. what do we call ourselves? "people of part jewish blood?"
I also have a comment; while I certainly do not know, I doubt that Hitler or any anti-semetic mass attacker would accept as an excuse "My mother isn't Jewish" for someone with definite jewish physical characteristics and especially name as would be anybody with significant Jewish DNA regardless of father or mother side...

-Peace, thanks if anybody wants to enlighten
ken
nj
February 26, 2015
My Deep DNA
I am saddened to learn that my DNA, which is 7 percent Jewish, would not be considered Jewish. I love all of my family history. I will continue to learn about Jewish history and will keep an open mind. If I am correct, my mother's haplogroup K2a and my autosomal DNA which is 7 percent Jewish are from Central Europe and North Africa. Blessings to you.
Anonymous
January 25, 2015
Re: Prove it
Being Jewish is something that only the mother, and not the father, can pass on to the child. Being Jewish means being a member of the covenant G-d made with Israel at Sinai. Being a member of the covenant means being a part of the people of the Torah, who has the obligation of living fully according to the Torah, and who has the ability to bring G-dliness into the world through living according to the Torah. If a non-Jewish woman has a child, regardless of whether or not she had the child by a Jewish man, that child should not be taken away from her and relegated to the father's people.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
For Chabad.org
January 9, 2015
prove it

I would like Rabbi Moss to elaborate what he believes someone who has a jewish mother but not a jewish father possesses or has inherently and specifically different in their soul from someone has a jewish father but not a jewish mother.
Anonymous
October 13, 2014
I love this explanation. My father is Jewish and my mother Christian. I am a Christian. You put it so beautifully. Rather than being legalistic. It makes sense!
Annie
Australia
October 13, 2014
To Anthony
I suggest that you have a look at Was Jewishness Always Matrilineal? AID 945298 and Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal AID 601092 for a treatment of this issue.
Menachem Posner
Skokie
October 13, 2014
trying to make sense
I have also heard of the "Jewish soul lineage" or "DNA" , but why and how are they (the person who is given a Jewish soul) chosen? Why not just give it to someone with a Jewish lineage and make it simple?
Anonymous
October 9, 2014
Doesn't make sense?
They say being Jewish is passed down to the mother side.I'm assuming everybody who's written on here has read the Bible and according to the Bible there are only two ways to be Jewish.One must be converted or be a descendant from Abraham.Abraham was a male, King David was a male Jacob was a male and so on anybody from that descendant line is Jewish and they're all male.
Anthony
Van Nuys
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