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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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Anonymous Michigan March 20, 2017

Recent genetic testing data reveals that among current Jewish males a striking similarity in their Y chromosome resemblance to one another. However, among Jewish females there is notable variation and dissimilarity in the mitochondrial data suggesting that Jewish males have chosen non-Jewish females over millenia.
If the Jewish "soul" resides in the female as this article argues, then what is the Jewish soul? Spirituality, the notion of race and religion, identity and genetics etal, the contradictions are interesting aren"t they? Reply

Ralph Moran Arizona January 13, 2017

Rabbi Aron Moss why is it then in the Holy Scriptures it is always the sons of the father that are the only ones listed even in the TORAH only a few daughters are spoke of and never the mothers. Yes the fathers are only there for a short time at conception but then they are the dominate one that raises the children and the sons become the next leaders of the family and tribes. Nowhere is there a matriarch that rules as a tribe or one that G-d speaks to to lead or rule from the time of Moshe up until the late Golda Meir, yes there have been strong women in our history but not as a common historical leader. Why was Abram told he would have a son and Sarah laughed because she was too old but G-d made it so and then because Abram had sex with Sarah's hand maid our life long enemy was created for which we will fight until G-d ends this madness between the muslims and jews. Reply

Alene NYC January 12, 2017

Jewish religion passed down from female interesting also to note that DNA in mitochondrial cells,
is inherited from the mother only, and does not get mixed with each generation. Reply

Ralph Arizona, USA June 15, 2016

I am a Jew Abraham was a jew, Nowhere in the TORAH does it say the mother has to be a JEW but it does say the Father is a Jew. In most cases we never knew who the mother was in the scriptures but we knew who the Father was because it says the fathers name who begat who. The TORAH always says who the father was and didn't G-d tell Abraham HIS seed would be many. G-d didn't tell Sarah this. Now who did Moshe marry was his wife a Jew? Who did Isaac marry? Was she a Jew?
In the TORAH the book of B'RESHEET (GENSIS) Chapter 36:1 It tells of Esau's Descendants and it says that Esau took hi wives from the women of Kena'ani (Canaan) that means his wives were Canaanites. So who is a JEW?? Rabbi's cannot change who is who because they want to. Also in chapter36:3 it says Esau took his wive Adah daughter from Eilon the Hittite and another from Hivite. So now who is a Jew. How can you be from a Canaanite woman and a Hebrew father and be a Jew, but this is what G-d put in place Reply

Anonymous June 10, 2016

Who is a Hebrew I think the idea of using the moms is a way to cover up the exploits of males who went through out the whole world bearing wives that were not Jewish and having offspring that were mix ancestral bloodlines .. Large number of men took on foreign wives in Europe and had offsprings from those wives who are not Jewish women there from the tribes of the foreign locations where they settled ; it so if you want to take that premise then the offsprings would not be excepted by the Orthodox but yet they are that is a contradiction ... Theoretically man passes his seed to woman, God sees Abraham seed as it is passed down through generations after generations we are connected through Abraham's blessing from God and you are of Abraham seed says the Lord ..God blessed Abraham seed..and example would be saying I'm related to my mother and I'm not related to my father that is idiotic.. Reply

Anonymous CA April 21, 2016

Jewish Lineage Could it be that a pure Jewish lineage results from the condition that to be Jewish one's mother must have been. I don't think it has anything to do with identifying parents and it is insulting and antisemitic to insinuate Jews wouldn't know who their fathers are. A pure Jewish lineage that goes back to Moses resides in all Jewish woman who house the miracle of life and birth. Reply

Chantal Toronto March 19, 2016

DNA I was raised Jewish with it's traditions and religion so I always identified myself as a Jew but I got my DNA tested recrntly by a reputable scientific organization and the reaults came back saying I have Ashkenazi Jewish genes. So I guess it is in our soul as well as our DNA. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org January 11, 2016

Re: David With regards to the question of IVF and surrogate mother's see: In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/536755 and Reproductive Options and Artificial Insemination Part 1/ www.chabad.org/2660300
Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary NC December 21, 2015

You are correct it is not a race. There are black Jews, white Jews, Asian Jews.
But neither is it only a religion. There are folks who (sadly) deny their Jewish faith and yet they are still very much a Jew if they were born a Jew! The Jewish spark can be buried under many other layers...
Perhaps the best word for Judaism would be a family.
And the Torah tells is one is part of the family if they either have a Jewish mother or were adopted into the family through a Halachic conversion. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary July 29, 2015

Re You mention a few Biblical examples of where the Jewish identity came from the father. But that shouldn't be a surprise as the examples you bring were all from before the giving of the Torah! Back then there was indeed not this clear-cut definition of a who is Jew and the system of matrineal identity. Rather, anyone who married into the family and adopted those traditions became part of the clan.

But following the giving of the Torah, this all changed. More here:
www.chabad.org/945298 Reply

Rochel Chein June 17, 2015

Adam Abraham was the first to recognize G-d on his own, and he taught others about G-d as well. Abraham is therefore known as the first Jew. The formation of the Jews as a nation occurred at Mount Sinai, and since then, Judaism is passed from mother to child.

Rabbi Judah Halevi, in his philosophical work, the Kuzari, explains that Adam was handcrafted and chosen by G-d. However, until Abraham, those who served G-d did so only as individuals; it was only after Abraham that these traits were passed down as an inheritance. Reply

Anonymous London England June 14, 2015

Is Adam who God formed from dust Jewish? Reply

Ralph Moran May 27, 2015

What makes a person Jewish I ask because all Jews are not religious and when you plant a seed it grows to what plant it is. When a man plants his seed in a woman it then grows into a human. The woman supplies the egg but by itself it can not grow it needs the man. ELOHIM always tells the man it is his seed that will multiply. ELOHIM does not tell the woman her seed will multiply. It is the man who teaches his seed who they are and what their responsibility is to ELOHIM and family and community is. I find that it is always the man who is expected to do more in the faith, work, family, and community and country.
ELOHIM told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, not Sarah to do it. I have been asked by friends and others about this because after World War 2 a lot of families were destroyed and there were not a lot of records. Many of the men knew their fathers were jewish but did not follow the faith as many of them had changed to the Christian faith to flee Europe. Reply

Anonymous May 13, 2015

Jew via the mother ? I wonder if there was already a conversion process in place by then ?
Perhaps different from now, but there must have been some sort of process where by the bride(gentile) was accepted into the clan.
For example would they have already had the custom of ritual immersion (mickveh) ? Reply

Ben Fox DENVER May 13, 2015

Jew via the Mother? Read Kings both books, read Chronicles and the seed of the father, not the mother. The seed of Abraham not Sarah, Issac married a gentile, Jacob married a gentile, Joseph married a gentile, Moses married a gentile so how did the seed come via the mother, that is not in Torah or anywhere else. Reply

Danielle Arizona 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??? Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

ken nj 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 Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For Chabad.org 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. Reply