Project Genesis

Basics of Judaism

Judaism Passed Through the Mother

Judaism defines as a Jew any person born to a Jewish Mother. The status of the Father is not considered, which is very humbling to the Fathers. But how, when Judaism being a Patriarchal society, in which the men are the head of the family, and the Father’s name and inheritance – money pass on to the children can this be managed? The grown child will be recognized by his Father’s name and family and not the Mother’s. If the child’s father and Family is non – Jew, how can the chid be separated from that and be declared one of Jewish community?

Thanks for asking this question. A person’s status as a Jew is completely dependant on the mother. A person could convert, but there is no such thing as “half Jewish.” I understand that this could be humbling for the father, but it should not be. As you stated, the child receives other things from the father.

The bottom line is that this issue defines one of the most interesting questions about Jewish belief in our modern society. That question is, “How are men and women different?” I am not going to go into that question now because that is not what you asked. However, suffice it to say that just like men are physically different they are spiritually different as well. The spiritual reality of a woman in many ways allows her to connect to the Highest Power easier than a man. Men need reminders to stay on focus, while women are more naturally good hearted. (This is a generalization, but even the statistics show that women commit violent crimes at a much lower rate than men do.) There are many instances where aspects of the Divine are mentioned using the feminine, not the masculine, gender. Hebrew is a gender based language, so words are either masculine or feminine.

The point is that men have many positive traits as spiritual beings, but the spiritual connection to a person’s roots goes through the person who is closest to that connection, the mother. Men, according to Jewish law, have more obligations than women do. Why? The same reason. Men need more reminders. We need to be constantly reminded to do the right thing.

One more thing. A child is the compilation of the mother and the father. Both parents have the ability to educate and give to a child. There is a three way partnership there; the mother, the father, and G-d.

Finally, the last part of your question was of patrilineal heritage. If a child’s mother is Jewish and their father is not, they are Jewish. There is no way for that child to ever convert out of Judaism. That is impossible. If a person is a Jew, they die a Jew. Can they be part of their father’s heritage? A person is always free to choose their path of spiritual
practice. The Jewish tradition teaches us that our Torah is a guide book for living. Combining that with another tradition does not complement that guide book. It simply detracts from its power. Judaism teaches us that it is not spiritually healthy for a Jew to marry a non-Jew. Such a union is not supported within Torah law. If one chooses to be in that situation we can only hope and pray that the children do not throw away their Jewish
heritage. Their parents are the ones who are supposed to infuse that heritage in their children. Refusing to make that critical decision in their lives often leads the children to have either no religious life or little spiritual development as they get older.

Be Well,
Rabbi Gershon Litt

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