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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 (65)
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 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
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
USA
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
Ohio
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?/w.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1741789 and Was Jewishness Always Matrilineal?/w.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/945298
Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org
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.
Marilyn
Ohio
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.
Charles
Honolulu
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%.
Ellina
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