General Question

waterskier2007's avatar

Why is judaism most commonly passed on through the mother?

Asked by waterskier2007 (2050points) June 3rd, 2008

pretty self explanatory

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15 Answers

willbrawn's avatar

dunno, possibly because more women care about raising a child with a religious background than fathers typically do.

Mtl_zack's avatar

i think its because judaims isnt a recruiting religion. you always know who your mother is, and she always raises you, hopefully, in this case, as a jew. however, you might not meet your father so if it went through the paternal side, you may not grow up jewish because you never had a father who was jewish.

Michael's avatar

Jewish law, as traditionally practiced, holds that a child is Jewish only if his or her mother is Jewish. This is called “matrilineal descent.” More recently, the Reform Movement decided that a child is considered Jewish if either parent is Jewish. This position is not shared by Conservative or Orthodox Jews.

For much of Jewish history, this aspect of the religion was close to irrelevant. There was very little inter-religious marriage until about 200 years ago, and even then it was rare. Thus, until relatively recently, there was never a question about the religious or ethnic identity of a child. It is only in modern times that this even comes up.

occ's avatar

Yes, historically it is because you couldn’t be fully sure who the father was – there were no paternity tests in biblical times – but you always know who the mother is. As Michael mentioned, the Reform branch of Judaism now recognizes patrilineal descent – but only if the child considers him/herself Jewish and does not practice another religion. Reconstructionist and Renewal branches of Judaism also recognize patrilineal descent.

omfgTALIjustIMDu's avatar

Michael hit it on the nose. In Judaism, someone is considered Jewish if and only if their mother is Jewish.

pixiequeen12's avatar

Actually, Michael is correct in differentiating between different sects within the religion at large: Reform movements will usually consider a person to be Jewish if he has a Jewish parent, maternal or paternal.

In the early days of the Torah (bible), a person’s Jewish identity was passed on through his/her father, as evidenced by the importance that was placed, for example, on being a Cohen or a Levi… Eventually, however, it did become matrilineal. Many people trace the changing point to times of occupation, attributing the change to the frequency with which Jewish women were being raped. Rather than trying to find the father, they just tried to get through the hard times and raised their kids Jewish.

ezraglenn's avatar

Every answer to this question is great so far.
I will add the following anecdote:
my ex-girlfriend had a Jewish father and a half-Jewish mother who was raised catholic. My parents have a rule that their children must marry Jewish (although I am the only remaining child who hasn’t broken it or isnt about to break it.) So when I told my parents about her, the first thing they asked was “is she Jewish?” I told them three quarters, and they of course asked which quarters. When I told them it was her maternal grandmother who comprised the christian quarter, they said she wasn’t Jewish enough. When I told my parents we broke up, they were overjoyed. I guess this is only funny from my perspective. Oh well…

willbrawn's avatar

@ezraglenn yup only your perspective

shilolo's avatar

@Ezra. Thanks for sharing your personal experience, even is some people don’t appreciate it (and might even be downright rude about it)!

occ's avatar

Ezra, I really appreciate your story! ;)

srmorgan's avatar

@ezraglenn, you are either Jewish or not Jewish. There is no “Jewish enough” category.

That being said, if your girlfriend (ex) had a Jewish father, how did the parents run their home? Did this girl go to temple or to church, if at all.? What tradition was she raised in?

Judaism traditionally does not seek converts but if she was raised in the tradition, conversion might not be a big deal for her to swallow. Just a thought.

@pixiequeen – The unbroken chain, Cohens and Levis, passes from father to son to son.
My daughter’s children can not be Levis unless her husband is a Levi, but my sons’ sons would be Levis . But you can not pass this tradition to an adopted son, only a biological children.

SRM (heLevi)

shrubbery's avatar

@srmorgan, there are different levels to different people, his parents obviously think there is a “Jewish enough” category.

If anyone is interested enough in this I suggest reading Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner. Fantastic book, she converted from Judaism to Christianity and talks about both in great detail.

gooch's avatar

Tradition.. Mary mother of Jesus is the bloodline traced backward in the Bible… It is a religion which made in tradition.

FusionGyro's avatar

One possible reason “why” this is the case, from my Rabbi, is that historically it was much easier to know with certainty who your mother was than your father.

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