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Matrilineality in Judaism or matrilineal descent in Judaism is the tracing of Jewish descent through the maternal line. Virtually all Jewish communities have followed matrilineal descent from at least early Tannaitic (c. 10-70 CE) times to Modern times.[1] The origins and date-of-origin of matrilineal descent in Judaism are uncertain. Orthodox Jews, who believe that matrilineality and matriarchy within Judaism are related to the metaphysical concept of the Jewish soul,[2] maintain that matrilineal descent is an Oral Law from at least the time of the Receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai (c. 1310 BCE).[3] Conservative Jewish Theologian Rabbi Louis Jacobs suggests that the marriage practices of the Jewish community were re-stated as a law of matrilineal descent in the early Tannaitic Period (c. 10-70 CE).[1]


Contemporary practice of JewsEdit

In practice, Jewish denominations define "Who is a Jew?" via descent in different ways. All denominations of Judaism have protocols for conversion for those who are not Jewish by descent.

Orthodox Judaism practices matrilineal descent and considers it axiomatic.[4][5] The Conservative Jewish Movement also practices matrilineal descent.[1] In 1986, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly reiterated the commitment of the Conservative Movement to the practice of matrilineal descent.[6] In 1983, the Central Conference of American Rabbis of Reform Judaism passed a resolution waiving the need for formal conversion for anyone with at least one Jewish parent, provided that either (a) one is raised as a Jew, by Reform standards, or (b) one engages in an appropriate act of public identification, formalizing a practice that had been common in Reform synagogues for at least a generation. This 1983 resolution departed from the Reform Movement's previous position requiring formal conversion to Judaism for children without a Jewish mother.[7] However, the closely associated Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism has rejected this resolution and requires formal conversion for anyone without a Jewish mother.[8] Karaite Judaism does not accept Jewish Oral Law as definitive, believing that all divine commandments were recorded with their plain meaning in the written Torah. As such, they interpret the Hebrew Bible to indicate that Jewishness can only follow patrilineal descent. In 1968, the Reconstructionist movement became the first American Jewish movement to pass a resolution recognizing Jews of patrilineal descent.[citation needed]

The Importance of the Matriarchal lines in the traditions of the TorahEdit

The Matriarchs of IsraelEdit

The following sections contain origin stories and oral traditions that are part of the traditions of the Torah. They are being cited here as evidence of the culture of Judaism and not as evidence of their historicity.

According to the Jewish tradition, the maternal lines of the three founding families of Israel were essential for the foundation of the Nation of Israel. The patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel established the foundation for Israel in three families over three generations. The Torah specifically emphasizes the importance of the bloodlines of the four matriarchs of Israel: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.

Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah were all family of Abraham. In the Jewish Tradition, Bilhah and Zilpah were as well.[9] The Torah lists the son-after-son descendants from Shem, son of Noah, to Terah, the father of Abraham: Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Re'u, Serug, Nahor, Terah.[10] Terach, was the father of Abraham, Nahor and Haran.[11]

In the Jewish Tradition, Sarah was the daughter of Haran[12] (the brother of Abraham) and the granddaughter of Terah. Rebekah, Rachel and Leah were each direct descendants (through Milcah, daughter of Haran) of both Haran and Nahor, the two brothers of Abraham. Rebekah was the great-granddaughter of Haran[13] and also the granddaughter of Nahor.[14] Rachel and Leah, nieces of Rebekah, also descend from both Haran and Nahor but one generation later than Rebekah.

Abraham and Sarah (who in the Jewish Tradition was greater than Abraham in prophecy)[15] migrated as a married couple out of Ur Kasdim (in Mesopotamia) to Haran (in Mesopotamia) and eventually to the land of Canaan.[16] Sarah came from the same family as Abraham. In the Torah, Abraham refers to Sarah as his sister.[17] According to Jewish Tradition, Sarah was Abraham's niece, Iscah (Jessica).[12] (Haran, brother of Abraham, was the father of both Milcah and Iscah.[18] There is a Jewish oral tradition that Milcah is the ancestor of all prophets of non-Jewish nations.[19])

Before fathering Isaac, Abraham had a son, Ishmael, with Sarah's maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian.[20] After Sarah died, Abraham also had six other children with a woman named Keturah.[21] Isaac alone came from the maternal line of Sarah. The Torah's story line continues with the life of Isaac. The Nation of Israel descends directly from Isaac, child of Sarah, and not directly from Abraham's first born, Ishmael, nor from any of Abraham's six other sons.[22]

And God said to Abraham, "Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; all that Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for through Isaac will your seed be called….”(Genesis: 21:12)

Isaac married Rebekah, who came from the City of Nahor in Aram-Naharaim [23] (in Mesopotamia). They had Jacob and Esau. Rebekah came from the same family as Abraham. Under duress, Isaac refers to Rebekah as his sister.[24] The Torah makes it clear that Rebekah was Abraham's great niece through one of his brothers and his great-great niece through his second brother.[25] According to Jewish Tradition, Rebekah was also separately the great-niece of Sarah.[12]

Esau, Jacob's fraternal twin married two Hittite women.[26] Neither were from the family of Abraham. Esau's third wife was from the family of Ishmael.[27] Ishmael's mother was Hagar. None of Esau's children are the focus of the story line of the Torah. (Esau was the progenitor of Edom.[28] One of the sons of the sons of Esau, son of Isaac, was the chieftain of Amalek.[29])

In the account of the Torah, Isaac instructed Jacob, who was to father the twelve tribes, specifically to marry a niece of Rebekah.[30] Jacob was married to Leah,[31] and then married Rachel.[32] Rachel and Leah lived in Padan-Aram (in Mesopotamia).[33] They were Jacob's first cousins. They came from the same family as Rebekah. Rachel and Leah were also both Abraham's great-great nieces and his great-great-great nieces. In addition, according to the Jewish Tradition,[12] Rachel and Leah were separately also Sarah's great-great nieces. In the Jewish tradition, Bilhah and Zilpah, handmaidens of Rachel and Leah and the birth-mothers of four of the tribes, were Rachel and Leah's half-sisters.

According to the Jewish Tradition, Bilhah and Zilpah had the same father as Rachel and Leah, but not the same mother.[34] It was Rachel [35] and Leah who bore the lines of the kingship, the priesthood and the right to the double portion of the first born in Israel.

The Jewish People see themselves as descending from the three founding families of Israel.[36]

According to those who adhere to Jewish Law, Israelite Nationhood or belonging to the Jewish People via descent exclusively follows the mother's line.[37]

The Matriarchs of Israel are the mothers of the Tribes of Israel.[38]

Tamar and JudahEdit

Following the Torah, Prophets and Writings, kingship in Israel descends directly from Peretz, the firstborn son that Tamar had with Judah and not from Judah's older son, Shelah.

Judah's first wife was the daughter of a Canaani man named Shua, with whom he had three sons.[39] The first two were considered evil and killed by God.[40] The third son was Shelah.

After “Shua's daughter, Judah's wife, died;” and after “Judah was consoled,”[41] Judah had an encounter with Tamar that produced twin sons.

And it was at the time that she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb.[42]

And it was when she gave birth, that he [the infant] stretched out his hand. And the midwife took and bound a crimson thread on his hand, saying, "This one came out first."[43] And it was, as he was drawing back his hand, and behold, his brother emerged, and she [the midwife] said, "With what strength you have burst forth!" And he [Judah] named him Peretz (burst forth).[44]

And afterwards, his brother emerged, the one on whose hand was the [shining] crimson thread, and he [Judah] named him Zerah (shine).[45]

In the Jewish Tradition, in addition to Leah, Matriarch of Israel, Tamar is also considered to be the mother of the line of kingship in Israel.[36] Judah's son, Shelah, born from the daughter of Shua, was older, but Shelah did not receive the line of kingship. Instead, it went through Peretz, Judah's first born from Tamar.[46] Judah alone could not establish the line of kingship, only through Tamar could the line of kingship be established in Israel. Following the Torah, Prophets and Writings, kingship in Israel descends directly from the firstborn child of Tamar, and not from Judah's older son, Shelah.[47]

Yocheved and MiriamEdit

Another example in the Torah of the importance of the matrilineal line is the mentioning of the maternal line of Yocheved, the mother of Moses. Even though tribal affiliation traditionally passes through the father, the greatest leader of Israel, Moses, is listed as descending from the House of Levi not only through his father Amram but specifically through his mother Yocheved as well.[48] Yocheved was the daughter of Levi.[49] Correspondingly, Moses's sister Miriam was both the granddaughter of Levi and the great-granddaughter of Levi.[50]

Moses married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, Priest of Midian. They had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer,[51] both born before the Exodus.[52] The sons of Moses are not explicitly referenced anywhere in Jewish Tradition as being Israelite. The sons of Moses are absent from the genealogy of Levi in Exodus.[53]

Moses married a Cushite woman[54] (who, according to classical interpretations, may or may not refer to Zipporah).[55] The Torah makes no mention of any offspring from this union.

Aaron married a woman from the Tribe of Judah. Aaron, the first High Priest of Israel, married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab (descendant of Tamar) and sister of Nahshon,[56] Prince of the Tribe of Judah.[57] They had Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.[56] Aaron and Elisheba's four children were given the priesthood in Israel.[58]

Miriam married a man from the Tribe of Judah. Miriam, Prophetess in Israel,[59] married Caleb ben Yephunneh[60] (descendant of Tamar),[61] a leader in the Tribe of Judah.[62] According to Jewish Tradition, Miriam and Caleb were the parents of Hur,[63] leader in Israel[64] and grandfather of Bezalel (chief artisan for the Tabernacle).[65]

Moses, Aaron and Miriam were the leaders of Israel during the time periods of the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Mt. Sinai.[66]

In the Jewish Tradition, the Houses in Israel of the Priesthood and the Levites descend from Yocheved, and the House of Kingship in Israel descends from Miriam.[67]

Additional references from Prophets and WritingsEdit

Ruth the Moabitess and Naamah the AmmonitessEdit

In the accounts of the Prophets and Writings (which covers a time period of nearly a millennium) there are two cases of non-Israelite women who voluntarily (not resulting from conflict) married Israelites where their children were considered Israelite. According to the Talmud, both of these women, Ruth and Naamah, formally converted.[68] Ruth,[69] who lived centuries after Abraham,[70] came from the people of Moab who descend from the older daughter of Lot.[71] (Lot was the son of Haran and the nephew of Abraham).[72] Ruth the Moabitess became the great-grandparent of King David.

In the account of the Book of Ruth (which is part of Writings but is set in the time period of the Judges), Naomi was the wife of Elimelech of Bethlehem, Judah. Due to famine in the land, Elimelech went with his family to live in the fields of Moab and then died.[73] Naomi's two sons married Moabite women. Mahlon (Sickness) married Ruth, and Chilion (Obliteration), Orpah.[74] Naomi's two sons then died.[75] In a state of poverty and accompanied by her former daughter-in-law, Ruth the Moabitess,[76] Naomi journeyed back to Bethlehem, Judah.[77] Then in selling her late husband's land in Judah and the estates of her sons, Naomi set up the stipulation that her financial redeemer also marry her former daughter-in-law.[78] The first potential redeemer declined, lest this [marriage] ruin his inheritance.[79] Boaz, the next of kin and descendant of Tamar, became Naomi's redeemer, married Ruth and became the father of Obed.[80]

And Naomi took the child and placed him in her bosom, and she became his nurse.[81] And the women neighbors gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi," and they called his name Obed- he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.[82]

Naamah,[83] who lived centuries after Abraham,[70] came from the people of Ammon who descend from the younger daughter of Lot.[84] Naamah the Ammonitess, was the mother of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon and a Judean king of the Davidic Line.[85] Naamah is the only presumed wife of Solomon[86] mentioned by name in Jewish scripture.[87] Rehoboam is the only child of Solomon mentioned at all in Jewish scripture.[88]


The Jewish Oral Tradition cites the Book of Ezra, Chapters 9, 10, regarding the law of matrilineal descent in Judaism.[3] In the book of Ezra, Ezra the Scribe, (c. 400 BCE)[89] returned to Judea from the Babylonian Exile with more than forty thousand Israelites in order to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.[90] They re-committed to observing the Torah, including separating from their non-Israelite wives (their marriages to Israelites notwithstanding) and the children they had with them (and irrespective of whether or not they had children with them).[91]

And when these were completed, the chiefs approached me, saying "The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites were not separated from the peoples of the lands, like the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.[92]

…And when I heard [of] this matter, I rent my garment and my robe, and I tore the hair of my head and my beard, and I sat bewildered.[93]

…And now, let us make a covenant with our God to cast out all the wives and those born to them, by the counsel of the Lord and those who hasten to [perform] the commandment of our God, and according to the Law it shall be done.[94]

Ezra designated Elders in Israel who convened on the first day of the tenth month to investigate the matter (of Israelite men who needed to separate from their non-Israelite wives- a matter that could require a judicial determination unlike the status of the children that would simply result from this determination) until the first day of the first month when the task was completed.[95]

Following the account of Ezra in the Book of Ezra, one hundred and twelve Israelites[96] (out of a congregation of more than forty thousand Israelites)[90] were listed as having been found wanting in this matter "and some of them had wives by whom they had children."[97]

Ezra 10:15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supported them.

Tamar, daughter of king DavidEdit

The medieval French commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE) in his commentary on Prophets references the law of matrilineal descent regarding Tamar, daughter of King David.[98] In the account of the Prophets, in an attempt to stave off Amnon (oldest son of king David)[99] who was obsessed with a sickness over her, Tamar let him know that she was open to a legitimate marriage with him.[100] Tamar and Amnon both had the same father, King David (c. 9th century BCE). Still, Tamar says that King David would permit them to marry legally: “for he will not withhold me from you.” Although they were half siblings biologically, by law they were not related. Tamar's mother (at least at the time when she was conceived) was not Israelite, her mother was Maacah the daughter of Talmai the king of Geshur.[101] According to what Tamar claimed in the account of the Prophets, the law would disregard the biological fact that they shared a father. (In the Jewish Tradition, Amnon was mutilated by Tamar,[102] and in the account of the Prophets, he was killed by Tamar's brother, Absalom, two years later.[103])

References from Hellenistic historiesEdit

The Hellenized Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE – 50 CE) calls the child of a Jew and a non-Jew a nothos (bastard), regardless of whether the non-Jewish parent is the father or the mother.[104]

While Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 CE), the Romanized Jewish historian, writing about events that were alleged to have occurred a century prior, has Antigonus II Mattathias (c. 63-37 BCE), the last Hasmonean king of Judea, denigrating Herod –whose father's family were Idumean Arabs forcibly converted to Judaism by John Hyrcanus (c. 134-104 BCE)[105] and whose mother, according to Josephus, was either an Idumean Arab[106] or Arabian (Nabatean-Arab)[107]– by referring to him as "an Idumean i.e. a half-Jew" and as therefore unfit to be given governorship of Judea by the Romans:

But Antigonus, by way of reply to what Herod had caused to be proclaimed, and this before the Romans…said that they [the Romans] would not do justly, if they gave the kingdom to Herod, who was no more than a private man, and an Idumean, i.e. a half Jew, whereas they ought to bestow it on one of the royal family, as their custom was; for that in case they at present bear an ill-will to him [to Antigonus], and had resolved to deprive him of the kingdom, as having received it from the Parthians, yet were there many others of his family [the Hasmoneans] that might by their law take it, and these such as had no way offended the Romans; and being of the sacerdotal family [the Hasmoneans], it would be an unworthy thing to put them by.[108]

Beliefs and practicesEdit

Orthodox Jewish beliefs and practicesEdit

Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Jewish Oral Law of matrilineality in Judaism dates at least to the time of the Receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (c. 1310 BCE).[3] The law of matrilineal descent was first codified, as all Jewish Oral Law, in the Mishna (c. 2nd century CE).[109]

The Talmud[110] (c. 500 CE) adduces the law of matrilineal descent from the Torah: "you shall not intermarry with them: you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son. For he will turn away your son from following Me, and they will worship the gods of others…"[111] The Talmud interprets "For he" as the non-Jewish father and the concern is that "he will turn away your son from following Me." The Talmud understands that the offspring of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother is "your son" as opposed to the second situation mentioned of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father where the Torah comments no further because the offspring, according to the Torah, is not Jewish and is not bound to keep the Torah.[112]

This Jewish Law is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (1563 CE)[113] without mention of any dissenting opinion. No source in any classical Halachic text raises any evidence of a differing ruling about this Jewish Law.

Orthodox Jewish practicesEdit

Orthodox Judaism follows matrilineal descent. Orthodox Judaism holds that anyone with a Jewish mother also has irrevocable Jewish status; that even were such a Jew to convert to another religion, that person would still be considered Jewish by Jewish Law.

Conservative Jewish beliefs and practicesEdit

Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who was the founder of the Masorti (Conservative) Jewish Movement in Britain and a well-known theologian writes regarding his review of an article by Professor Cohen on matrilineal descent in Judaism:

There has been a development of the law in these instances from Biblical and pre-Rabbinic times. The attempt to find reasons for the change, however, has proved to be elusive and is quite unnecessary since it can be explained entirely economically by the logic of the law itself and is typical of Rabbinic thinking in general. But the development in the law had already taken place before the redaction of the Mishnah at the very latest. With the exception of the Rabbi in the Jerusalem Talmud (Qiddushin, 3:12) who permitted the child of a gentile mother and Jewish father to be circumcised on the Sabbath and whose opinion was vehemently rejected, the law is accepted unanimously in both Talmuds. It is recorded as the law in all the Codes without dissenting voice and has been the universal norm in all Jewish communities. For such a law to be changed, only the weightiest religious and ethical advantages will suffice and it is difficult indeed to discover any such in the change in this particular instance. To change this particular law would strike at the heart of the whole halakhic process and would involve a theological as well as an halakhic upheaval. And for what? The potential loss is great. The gains, if any, are few and the price is far too high.[1]

Shaye J. D. Cohen of Harvard University and formerly a Dean at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, questions the date of origin of matrilineal descent:

The preexilic portions of the Hebrew Bible are not familiar with the matrilineal principle. Numerous Israelite heroes and kings married foreign women; for example, Judah married a Canaanite, Joseph an Egyptian, Moses a Midianite and an Ethiopian, David a Philistine, and Solomon women of every description. Although Exod. 34:16 and Deut. 7:1-3 prohibit intermarriage only with the Canaanites, a prohibition that was supposed to have originated with the patriarchs Abraham (Gen. 24:3) and Isaac (Gen. 27:46-28:1), some Israelites extended the prohibition to include all foreigners (Judg. 14:3). But it never occurred to anyone in preexilic times to argue that such marriages were null and void. Marriage was the non- sacramental, private acquisition of a woman by a man, and the state had little or no legal standing in the matter. The foreign woman who married an Israelite husband was supposed to leave her gods in her father's house, but even if she did not, it never occurred to anyone to argue that her children were not Israelites. Since the idea of conversion to Judaism did not yet exist, it never occurred to anyone to demand that the foreign woman undergo some ritual to indicate her acceptance of the religion of Israel. The woman was joined to the house of Israel by being joined to her Israelite husband; the act of marriage was functionally equivalent to the later idea of conversion. In some circumstances biblical law and society did pay attention to maternal identity-the children of concubines and female slaves some- times rank lower than the children of wives-but it never occurred to anyone to impose any legal or social disabilities on the children of foreign women.[114]

In his review of Cohen's article, Rabbi Jacobs accepts that the law may have changed in the early Tannaitic period (circa 10-70 CE): "From the historical evidence marshalled by Professor Cohen it would appear that the change from the patrilineal to the matrilineal principle for the offspring of mixed unions of Jew and gentile took place in the early Tannaitic period."[1]

But Jacobs dismisses Cohen's suggestion that "the Tannaim were influenced by the Roman[115] legal system..."[1] and contends that "even if the Rabbis were familiar with the Roman law, they might have reacted to it [instead] by preserving the patrilineal principle, holding fast to their own system."[1]

Instead, Jacobs offers another explanation. Jacobs believes that an Israelite man who married a non-Israelite woman and had a child, that woman and child were considered not part of the "family clan" and therefore were not considered Israelite: "A child born of a Jewish father and a gentile mother cannot be given the status of the father since the patrilineal principle is stated only with regard to unions within the clan. How can the father who steps out of the clan bestow a clan status on the child whom he sires?"[1]

Therefore, Jacobs hypothesizes:

The child of a Jewish father and a gentile mother is not a gentile because of the application of any matrilineal principle...He is a child without Jewish parentage since the patrilineal principle cannot operate for a union carried out beyond the limits of the clan. The child is not a gentile because his mother is a gentile but because the only way a child can be born as a Jew is for him to have the Jewishness of his father transmitted to him and this cannot happen where the union is outside of the clan limits. Thus, for the Rabbis there is no switch here from a patrilineal to a matrilineal principle. The patrilineal principle still stands, only it cannot operate in this instance.[1]

The Ratner Center for the Study of Conservative Judaism conducted a survey of 1,617 members of 27 Conservative congregations in the U.S. and Canada in 1995.[116] 69% of respondents to the Ratner Center survey agreed that they would regard personally as a Jew anyone who was raised Jewish—even if their mother was Gentile and their father was Jewish (Wertheimer, 59). In this same survey, 29% of respondents indicated that they attended Jewish religious services twice a month or more and 13% that they engage in the study of a Jewish text once a month or more (Wertheimer, 55-57).

Conservative Jewish PracticesEdit

The Conservative Movement practices matrilineal descent. In 1986, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly reiterated the commitment of the Conservative movement to the law of matrilineal descent. Furthermore, the movement stated that any rabbi who accepts the principle of patrilineal descent will be subject to expulsion from the Rabbinical Assembly. Still, the Conservative Movement affirmed that "sincere Jews by choice" should be warmly welcomed into the community and that "sensitivity should be shown to Jews who have intermarried and their families." The Conservative movement actively reaches out to intermarried families by offering them opportunities for Jewish growth and enrichment.

Reform Judaism beliefs and practicesEdit

In 1983, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution waiving the need for formal conversion for anyone with at least one Jewish parent who has made affirmative acts of Jewish identity. This departed from the traditional position requiring formal conversion to Judaism for children without a Jewish mother.[7] The 1983 resolution of the American Reform movement has had a mixed reception in Reform Jewish communities outside of the United States. Most notably, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism has rejected patrilineal descent and requires formal conversion for anyone without a Jewish mother.[117] As well, a joint Orthodox, Traditional, Conservative and Reform Bet Din formed in Denver, Colorado to promote uniform standards for conversion to Judaism was dissolved in 1983, due to that Reform resolution.[118] However, in 2015 the majority of Britain's Assembly of Reform Rabbis voted in favor of a position paper proposing "that individuals who live a Jewish life, and who are patrilineally Jewish, can be welcomed into the Jewish community and confirmed as Jewish through an individual process."[119] Britain's Assembly of Reform Rabbis stated that rabbis "would be able to take local decisions – ratified by the Beit Din – confirming Jewish status."[119]

Other movements within the World Union for Progressive Judaism also adopted essentially the same position. These include: Liberal Judaism in England; Progressive Judaism in Australia; one congregation in Austria; some congregations in Eastern Europe. Note that Reform Judaism in Canada and England adopts a different position, similar to that of Conservative Judaism (though there may be an accelerated conversion process for the children of Jewish fathers).

Karaite Judaism belief and practicesEdit

Karaite Judaism does not accept Jewish Oral Law as definitive, believing that all divine commandments were recorded with their plain meaning in the written Torah. As such, they interpret the Hebrew Bible to indicate that Jewishness can only follow patrilineal descent. Karraite Judaism does not accept the authoritativeness of the Talmud or Jewish Oral Law.

Karaite Judaism practicesEdit

The majority view in Karaite Judaism is that Jewish identity can only be transmitted by patrilineal descent[120][121][122] They argue that only patrilineal descent can transmit Jewish identity on the grounds that all descent in the Torah went according to the male line.[123] Only someone who is patrilineally Jewish (someone whose father's father was Jewish) is regarded as a Jew by the Mo'eṣet HaḤakhamim, or the Karaite Council of Sages based in Israel.

Reconstructionist Judaism belief and practicesEdit

Reconstructionist Judaism, which values equity and inclusivity, was the first movement to adopt the idea of bilineal descent in 1968.[citation needed] According to Reconstructionist Judaism, children of one Jewish parent, of either gender, are considered Jewish if raised as Jews.

Additional notesEdit

The State of Israel adheres to the Jewish law of matrilineal descent for matters which could affect Israeli family law.[124]

Seven marriage contracts that took place before the 13th century between Karaite and Rabbinic individuals have so far been discovered in the Cairo Genizah.[125] In the 12th century, approximately 25,000 Jews lived in Egypt, mostly in Cairo.[126] A percentage of the Jewish community was Karaite.[127] Moses Maimonides became one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Egypt shortly after his arrival there in 1165 CE. Virtually all Jews in the world at this time including the Egyptian Jewish Community followed matrilineal descent. In fact, Maimonides (1138-1204 CE) himself re-codified the law of matrilineal descent in his compilation of Jewish Law:

This is the general rule: The status of an offspring from a gentile man or from a gentile woman is the same as his mother's; we disregard the father.[128]

The Egyptian Jewish Karaites, however, followed patrilineal descent.[129] Still, these same 12th century Egyptian Karaites forbade marriage with non-Jews[130] and also did not allow converts into their community.[131] In effect then, 12th century Egyptian Karaites required that both parents be Jewish, but they referred to this requirement as patrilineal descent. Marriages between Karaites and the Rabbinic community came to a halt in the thirteenth century when Maimonides ruled for a specific serious reason that there was a problem with them.[132] This specific ruling by Maimonides also means that Maimonides considered the Karaites of 800 yrs ago of the 12th century Egyptian Jewish community to be Jewish on their mother's side as well.

Additional reference from Jewish ScriptureEdit

Samson, from the tribe of Dan served as Judge of Israel for twenty years.[133] According to current scholarship, the most recent likely date for the authorship of the Book of Judges is approximately 500 BCE.[134] The reaction of Samson's parents to his desired marriage to a Philistine woman may indicate the cultural expectations in Israel regarding marriage at this time:

And his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brothers and among all of my people that you should go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?”… [135]

In the account of the Book of Judges, Samson married this woman and soon killed thirty Philistine men in Ashkelon.[136] (Samson's wife was then given to another man by her father who said that Samson utterly hated her.[137] Samson then set the fields of the Philistines on fire.[138] The Philistines then went and killed this woman and her father.[139])

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reviewed by Louis Jacobs, [1] Originally published in Judaism 34.1 (Winter 1985), 55-59.
  2. ^ Schaapkens, Natan. Inside Orthodox Judaism: A Critical Perspective On Its Theology. ISBN 978-1-365-39059-3. Also, from the perspective of classical Jewish belief, the primary identity of all people follows the mother. Genesis 20:12, Rashi.
  3. ^ a b c Midrash Rabbah, Numbers, 19
  4. ^ see Rabbi Moses Feinstein’s re-affirmation of matrilineal descent, Elberg, Rabbi S., September, 1984, HaPardes Rabbinical Journal, Hebrew, vol.59, Is.1, p. 21.
  5. ^ see Torat Menachem, Hitvaduyot, 5745, vol. 1, pages 133-136
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Reform Movement's Resolution on Patrilineal Descent
  8. ^ Reform Judaism in Israel: Progress and Prospects Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Gen. Rabbati, Vayeze, p. 119; Yalkut Shimoni, Vayetze- Remez 125.
  10. ^ Genesis 11:10-26
  11. ^ Genesis 11:27. The Talmud, Sanhedrin 69B, suggests the possibility that the Torah may be establishing an order of wisdom rather than birth.
  12. ^ a b c d Genesis 11:29 see Rashi, Sanhedrin 69b
  13. ^ Genesis 11:29 and Genesis 22:20-23
  14. ^ Genesis 22:20-23
  15. ^ Rashi Genesis 21:12
  16. ^ Genesis 11:31
  17. ^ Genesis 20:2. Interestingly science currently believes that mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA), a human genome that is exceptionally both circular and distinct from Nuclear DNA, is unique in that it is transmitted exclusively by a mother to both her daughters and sons. (Nuclear DNA in a human consists of 22 pairs of autosomes and two sex chromosomes. The 22 pairs of autosomes are derived half from each parent. The two sex chromosomes, XX in females XY in males, are also derived half from each parent. A female inherits one X from her father and one from her mother. Y-DNA, inherited exclusively by a male from his father, contains fewer genes than an X chromosome because it is shorter and is one of his two sex chromosomes, the other being the X that he inherits from his mother.) The Torah may similarly be suggesting that a brother and sister from the same mother are closer than a brother and a sister from just the same father (Genesis 20:12).
  18. ^ Genesis 11:29
  19. ^ see Yalkut Shimoni, Parshat Balak, 23
  20. ^ Genesis 16:3,15
  21. ^ Genesis 25:1,2
  22. ^ Genesis 25:6. And God said, "[no] for Sarah your wife will give birth to a son for you, and you shall name him Isaac, and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his seed after him…”(Genesis 17:19)
  23. ^ Genesis 24:10
  24. ^ Genesis 26:7
  25. ^ Genesis 11:29 and Genesis 22:20-23. Also Genesis 22:23 Rashi that this whole genealogy was written just for Rebekah.
  26. ^ Genesis 26: 34,35
  27. ^ Genesis 28: 9
  28. ^ Genesis 36: 1, 8, 9, 19, 43
  29. ^ Genesis 36: 16. The mother of Amalek was Timna, concubine of Eliphaz. Genesis 36: 12. The Horites lived in the land of Seir before Edom migrated there. Genesis 36: 8, 20, 22, 30.
  30. ^ Genesis 28:2
  31. ^ Genesis 29:22-26
  32. ^ Genesis 29:28,29
  33. ^ Genesis 28:2, Genesis 28:18-30
  34. ^ Gen. Rabbati, Vayeze, p. 119; Yalkut Shimoni Vayetze- remez 125; Targum Yonasan Gen. 29:24; Targum Yonasan Gen. 29:29; Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer chapt. 36
  35. ^ see Genesis 31:4, Tanchuma Buber; Bava Batra 123A
  36. ^ a b Based on Jewish scripture and oral tradition.
  37. ^ See
  38. ^ The Torah (Genesis 3:20) uses the term "mother of" regarding Eve: "and the man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life."
  39. ^ Genesis 38:2-5
  40. ^ Genesis 38:6-11
  41. ^ Genesis 38:12
  42. ^ Genesis 38:27
  43. ^ Genesis 38:28
  44. ^ Genesis 38:29
  45. ^ Genesis 38: 30
  46. ^ Genesis 38:29-30 and Ruth 4:18-22
  47. ^ i.e. see Ruth 4:12: "And may your house be like the house of Peretz, whom Tamar bore to Judah..."
  48. ^ Exodus 2:1 and see Numbers 26:59
  49. ^ Numbers 26:59
  50. ^ Numbers 26:59 and Exodus 6:16-20
  51. ^ Exodus 18:3-4
  52. ^ Exodus 18:1-10
  53. ^ Exodus 6:16-27 also see Numbers 3:1-4, Numbers 26:58-61
  54. ^ Numbers 12:1
  55. ^ See Rashi on Numbers 12:1 also see Ibn Ezra there
  56. ^ a b Exodus 6:23
  57. ^ Numbers 1:7,16
  58. ^ Exodus 28:1 and see Ramban there
  59. ^ Exodus 15:20
  60. ^ Sotah 11b, Rashi on Exodus 17:10, Targum Yosef on Chronicles I, 2:18,19 and Ex. Raba 1:17
  61. ^ Sotah 11b-12a and Chronicles I, 2:18,19
  62. ^ Numbers 13: 2-6,30 and Numbers 14: 6-10, Numbers 26:65
  63. ^ Sotah 11b and Sanhedrin 69b also see Rashi on Exodus 17:10 and Rashi on Exodus 24:14; Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer chapt 45; Midrash Tanchuma Ki Tisa- section 13: "Bezalel ben Uri ben Hur".
  64. ^ Exodus 17:10 and Exodus 24:14
  65. ^ Chronicles I, 2:19, 20 and Exodus 38:22 and Exodus 31:1-5
  66. ^ Micah 6:4
  67. ^ Exodus 1:21, Rashi
  68. ^ Yevamoth 77a, 47b
  69. ^ see Ruth 3:10 where Boaz of Judah blessed Ruth for her extraordinary kindness both to Naomi of Judah and to the Judean People. (Ruth is seen in the Jewish Tradition as in contradistinction to the peoples of Moab and Amon in general who are noted in Deuteronomy 23:5 for their lack of kindness. see Rashi Deut. 23:5.) Also, see Ruth Rabbah 2:9 that Ruth was the daughter of Eglon, the king of Moab.
  70. ^ a b see Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 41:5
  71. ^ Genesis 19:37
  72. ^ Genesis 11: 27, 31; Genesis 14: 12
  73. ^ Ruth 1: 3
  74. ^ Ruth 4:10
  75. ^ Ruth 1: 1-5. Naomi’s husband predeceased their two sons.
  76. ^ Ruth 1: 22
  77. ^ Ruth 1: 19
  78. ^ Ruth 3:1-5, 4:3,9
  79. ^ Ruth 4:6
  80. ^ Ruth 4: 13, 18-22
  81. ^ Ruth 4:16
  82. ^ Ruth 4:17
  83. ^ Naamah is noted favorably by the Talmud, Bava Kama 38b. See that Naamah was the granddaughter of Nahash, a king of Amon.
  84. ^ Genesis 19:38
  85. ^ Kings I, 14:21, 31
  86. ^ The Prophets describe how Solomon's foreign wives not only did not follow the Israelite beliefs of their husband, King Solomon, (I Kings 11:8) but instead they drew King Solomon away from a whole hearted belief in the God of Israel (I Kings 11:3-4):

    King Solomon loved many foreign women and the daughter of Pharaoh; Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites. (I Kings 11:1)

    Of the nations about which the Lord had said to the Children of Israel, "You shall not go (mingle) among them and they shall not come among you, for certainly they will sway your heart after their deities." To these did Solomon cleave to love [them]... (I Kings 11:2)

    ...And it was at the time of Solomon's old age, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not whole with the Lord, His God, like the heart of David his father... (I Kings 11:4)

    As a result of King Solomon's behavior, according to the accounts of the Prophets and Writings, the Kingdom of Israel was dissolved (I Kings 11:11-13) and the ten northern tribes revolted against the House of David until today (I Kings 11:16-21, II Chronicles 10:16-19, II Chronicles 11:1-23):

    And the Lord said to Solomon, "For as this has been with you, and you have not observed My covenant and My statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and I shall give it to your servant. (I Kings 11:11)

    ...And all of Israel saw that the king [Rehoboam] did not listen to them, and they replied to the king saying: "What share do we have in David? And no heritage in Jesse's son. To your homes, O Israel! ...(I Kings 11:16)

    ...So Israel revolted against the House of David until this day. (I Kings 11:19, also see II Chronicles 10:19)

    ...there was none that followed the House of David except the tribe of Judah alone. (I Kings 11:20)

  87. ^ see I Kings Chapter 11, I Kings 14:21, 14:31; II Chronicles 12:13
  88. ^ see I Kings 11:43, 14:21-31; II Chronicles 9:31-12:16
  89. ^
  90. ^ a b Ezra 2:64 and Nehemiah 7:66
  91. ^ Ezra 10:3, Ezra 9:2-10:44
  92. ^ Ezra 9:2
  93. ^ Ezra 9:4
  94. ^ Ezra 10:3. Rashi in his commentary on "and according to the Law it shall be done" writes: he who performs this act, who will cast out his gentile wife and children
  95. ^ Ezra 10:16-17
  96. ^ Ezra 10:18-44
  97. ^ Ezra 10:44 and Rashi there: "They cast out all of them, both the wives and the children."
  98. ^ II Samuel 13:13, Rashi
  99. ^ II Samuel 3:2
  100. ^ II Samuel 13:13
  101. ^ II Samuel 3:3, II Samuel 13:1
  102. ^ II Samuel 13:15, Rashi
  103. ^ II Samuel 13:23-39
  104. ^ On the Life of Moses 2.36.193, On the Virtues 40.224, On the Life of Moses 1.27.147
  105. ^ Josephus, Antiquities, 13.9.1.
  106. ^ Josephus, Antiquities, 14.7.3.
  107. ^ Josephus, Wars, 1.8.9.
  108. ^ Josephus, Antiquities, 14.15.2.
  109. ^ Kiddushin 3:12. see Rashi on Kiddushin 66b. In Judaism, tribal affiliation follows the father of a child but is only applicable if the marriage of the parents is viable according to Jewish law (where both parents are Jews). In a case where the mother of a child is not a Jew, the child is the same as the mother, "is like her" i.e. the investigation stops there.
  110. ^ see Kidushin 68b and Yevamot 23a
  111. ^ Deuteronomy 7:3-4
  112. ^ Kiddushin 68b and see Pesikta Zuta and Rashi on Deuteronomy 7:4
  113. ^ Even HaEzer 8:5
  114. ^ The Origins of the Matrilineal Principle in Rabbinic Law, Shaye J.D. Cohen, AJS Review, V. 10.1, 1985, 19-53
  115. ^ In Roman law, without connubium, the right to contract a legal marriage according to Roman Law (i.e. where both parties are Roman citizens and where both parties gave consent), the marriage was not a justum matrimonium, a legal Roman marriage and the children from a such a union had no legal father and therefore followed the status (i.e. Roman citizenship status) of the mother. Interestingly, “[t]hese restrictions as to marriage were not founded on any enactments; they were a part of that large mass of Roman law which belongs to Jus Moribus Constitutum [unwritten Roman law].”*/Matrimonium.html
  116. ^ Cohen, Steven M. “Chapter 1: Assessing the Vitality of Conservative Judaism in North America: Evidence from a Survey of Synagogue Members”. In Wertheimer, Jack (2000). Jews in the Center: Conservative Synagogues and Their Members. Rutgers University Press, p. 20. Steven M. Cohen who co-conducted this survey (Wertheimer, 5) notes that the sample under represents congregants from certain major metropolitan areas (the New York region being represented by only one congregation and the Toronto and Montreal regions having no representation), over represents socially upscale congregants, and under represents congregants under the age of thirty-five. (Wertheimer, 20)
  117. ^ Reform Judaism in Israel: Progress and Prospects Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  118. ^ Wertheimer, Jack (1997). A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America. University Press of New England.
  119. ^ a b Lewis, Jerry. "UK Reform rabbis accept patrilineal descent - Diaspora - Jerusalem Post". Retrieved 2015-07-19.
  120. ^ Karaite FAQs; Congregation Or Saddiqim, Giyyur
  121. ^
  122. ^
  123. ^
  124. ^ For the re-affirmation of matrilineal descent by the Chief Rabbinical Board of the State of Israel see Elberg, Rabbi S., September, 1984, HaPardes Rabbinical Journal, Hebrew, vol.59, Is.1, p. 21.
  125. ^ See

    PERMISSIBILITY OF MARRIAGE In order to contract marriage, the parties must be "marriageable," that is: the partners must be Jewish, the woman must be unmarried, and the parties should not fall into any of the kinship categories prohibited by Karaite law. 1. The parties' religious affiliation

    Marriages with non-Jewish partners are not acceptable for Karaites. Marriages with Rabbanite partners were perfectly legal and commonly practised before the thirteenth century. Medieval Karaism was and saw itself as an integral part of Judaism, and such marriages did not entail any form of "conversion" of any of the parties. Seven marriage contracts involving Karaite and Rabbanite individuals have so far been discovered in the Cairo Genizah. These marriage contracts stipulated the mutual tolerance of those practices in which the Karaites and the Rabbanites differed. These specific stipulations concerned differences in dietary law, such as the Rabbanite husband's promise not to bring to their house parts of animals authorized by the Rabbanites but forbidden by the Karaite halakhah (the fat tail, the kidneys, the lobe of the liver, the meat of a pregnant animal). Other stipulations concerned the Karaite restrictions on lighting the Sabbath candles and the promise of Rabbanite husbands not to make love to their Karaite wives during Sabbath and festivals—practices strictly forbidden by Karaite law. Due to the calendrical differences, Karaite and Rabbanite festivals did not coincide, and the marriage contracts always included a clause which guaranteed that both parties would be allowed to observe their festivals on their respective dates.

  126. ^
  127. ^ It is not specifically known what percentage of the 12th century Egyptian Jewish community was Karaite. As of 1906, it was estimated that there were approximately 12,000 Karaites worldwide with fewer than 2,000 estimated to possibly be in Egypt. See Today, there are 11 Karaite synagogues in Israel. See
  128. ^ Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (c. 1170-1180 CE), Laws of Forbidden Relationships, 15:4
  129. ^ Yaron, Y., Joe Pessah, and Abraham Qanai. An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice, and Culture. N.p.: Qirqisani Center, 2003. Print.
  130. ^

    PERMISSIBILITY OF MARRIAGE In order to contract marriage, the parties must be "marriageable," that is: the partners must be Jewish, the woman must be unmarried, and the parties should not fall into any of the kinship categories prohibited by Karaite law. 1. The parties' religious affiliation

    Marriages with non-Jewish partners are not acceptable for Karaites...

  131. ^ But see Footnote 22 that today "This ban was recently lifted by the Karaite Council of Sages."
  132. ^ In the 13th century Maimonides ruled that they fell under the classification of mamzerut. See

    Marriages between Karaite and Rabbanite partners came to a halt when Moses MAIMONIDES (Rambam, 1138–1204) argued that while the Karaite marriage itself was binding, their bill of divorce was invalid (probably because of its formulation in Hebrew). Since the children issued from the second union of a Karaite divorcée would be illegitimate (mamzerim), and since it was not always possible to ascertain that a divorce had not occurred [sic] in previous generations in a Karaite family, Maimonides decided to consider all Karaites as potential mamzerim, and therefore prohibited for marriage.

  133. ^ Judges 13:25, 15:20
  134. ^ : “Hence the compilation of the stories of the five Great Judges must be dated soon after the division of the kingdom. Single passages… may be much older. The editor who combined his own additions with the book containing the stories, producing thereby the earlier Book of Judges, probably wrote in the last decades of the kingdom of Israel. The Deuteronomistic edition was undertaken during the Exile at which time the other additions were probably also incorporated….”
  135. ^ Judges 14:3
  136. ^ Judges 14
  137. ^ Judges 15: 2
  138. ^ Judges 15:3-5
  139. ^ Judges 15: 6

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