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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 (62)
September 8, 2014
Matrilineage is the new way, patrilineage was the old way. The only reason to use Matrilineage is if you don't have DNA testing and multiple sexual partners is a regular occurrence. Which it was, and that's why Matrilineage became vogue. Now it is just stale dogma repeated by robots who do not have the will to attain to a living religion.
Izi Ningishzidda
August 9, 2014
Ethiopian Jews and lineage
As I understand it, there was initially controversy about accepting Ethiopian Jews as really Jews. As an isolated sub-group, some of their rituals and traditions evolved differently-for instance I think I recall learning that they circumcised at age 13. The reasons for the concern, however are not as relevant to my comment/question as how, their Jewishness, and thus their qualification for "Law of Return" to Israel was confirmed. From what I understand, genetic testing, through the Y chromosome, confirmed that they were in fact biologically of Jewish decent...they were "really Jews" and thus accepted into Israel as such. Now we are talking about a lot of people...I seriously doubt that each individual, man or woman was interviewed and screened to be sure that every family had a mother, or grandmother, etc was biologically Jewish or had converted according to Halakhah. So confirmation of "Jewishness" by by paternal lineage was accepted. Seems a progressive precedent was set
Marilyn Hallowell
August 6, 2014
Rabbi Aminadav Hinton
I disagree, Jewish bloodline, ancestral lineage is also provable by DNA Y chromosome Geno testing. In like manner Ha'Cohenim, Leviim are considered Jewish by their patriarchal lineage and not by their matriarchal ancestry. Jewishness in reference to Ger Tzedek is a matter of the soul, a matter of adhesion with the Creator. However we who are Jewish rather born or proven by DNA can not be dismissed. Even my own DNA states that I have Jewish Blood from Portugal, Mozambique, Nigeria and Turkey. Is this coincidental, I think not!
Rabbi Aminadav Hinton
San Antonio TX
June 11, 2014
Re: Marilyn
I believe the article itself stresses that Jewishness is not part of the DNA. With regards to the question of lineage, and whether ones Jewishness is only dependant on the mother see Isn’t Intermarriage Only With Canaanites?/ and Was Jewishness Always Matrilineal?/
Yehuda Shurpin for
June 9, 2014
DNA doesn't contain the soul. The mother was historically considered the most most influential. However, before the Matan Torah, lineage, the tribe, was determined by the father. Many verses and examples support discouraging Jewish men from marrying non-Jewish women, still there is noting that states that those with a Jewish father,only, are never Jewish. Not from the Text. Some of our respected matriachs were not born of Jewish mothers. It is explained that they converted. They couldn't have done so according to Halachah. I recall reading that some Jewish souls, present at Mt Sinai, may have gotten lost and been born to non-Jewish mothers. A lovely way to describe a Jewish convert & serves to negate prejudices. Some ideas seem contradictory . If soul isn't just nature, then soul isn't just nurture. Soul is soul. It knows who it is even before birth. No, ritual can activate something that isn't there. No rearing can create something that isn't already there.
May 14, 2014
What About Our Spiritual Mother?
Rabbi Moss, you say, "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."

Can't we also say the spiritual world is a parallel of the physical world? And if so, shouldn't we consider the role of our spiritual mother and our link with her?

I find this very interesting, especially when you consider that Sarah is our spiritual mother preceding either our physical birth to a Jewish mother or our physical birth when we arise from the conversion mikvah.

I think we should ponder that among us are people whose Jewishness is concealed though Sarah is already their spiritual mother. We have another reason to love those seeking conversion.
April 27, 2014
Oh yes it is!
I had an ancestral DNA test done and I am 48% Ashkenazi. My father is jewish and it IS in the DNA. Same test done for him Shows him as 99% Ashkenazi. My mother is 0%.
April 25, 2014
I disagree. My Soul is from G-d, that made me.
I disagree.

I'm Jewish, and my mother was of Roman Catholic ancestors and my father had Jewish ancestry.
Vero Beach, Florida
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
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