Project Genesis

Basics of Judaism

Who is a Jew?

Being a Jew

Question: I have long wondered how a person is a Jew. I have heard so many different things: That it is something that you are only born to; it is determined by certain personality traits; or it is a spiritual choice. What is the truth? Is it possible to be a proselyte, like an “adopted child” into this chosen people?

Answer: According to Jewish law, one’s Jewishness is determined by one’s mother: If the mother is Jewish, so is the child. The Jews are “chosen” in the sense that we have a responsibility to reveal G-d’s glory to the world and to sanctify Him. The mere fact that we are the descendants of the Patriarchs makes this our mandate and destiny, whether we like it or not. However, any individual who wishes to share in this destiny can choose to do so through a valid conversion. Some of the greatest Jews that ever lived were converts to Judaism. By the way, the Talmud does state that Jews are naturally merciful, bashful, and generous with loving-kindness – but this, by itself, does not make one a Jew.

Rabbi Shlomo Soroka

[Editor – See more posts on the definition of a Jew.]

1 Follow-up »

  1. You mention that being Jewish depends on the mother being Jewish. Where can I find this law in writing?

    The Mishna in Kiddushin 66b declares that if one of the parties of a couple is not marriageable by Jewish law, a child born to them has the status of the mother. The Talmud there (68b) elaborates on the source of this ruling. The verse in Deuteronomy states, “You shall not intermarry with them…for he [the non-Jewish father] shall turn away your son from Me…”. Rashi explains that the Torah only refers to the product of an intermarriage as “your son” when a Jewish daughter marries a non-Jew, God forbid. This implies that the child born to a non-Jewish woman married to your son is not considered your grandson (i.e. that child is not Jewish).

    All the best,

    Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

    Comment by ATR — June 26, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

We respond to every follow-up question submitted, but only publish selected ones. In order to be considered for publication, questions must be on-topic, polite, and address ideas rather than personalities.


Powered by WordPress