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What is the Torah source for matrilineal descent?

by Rabbi Shlomie Chein

  

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Question:

Dear Rabbi, If it doesn't bother you I want to ask one more question: You wrote me that if someone has a Jewish mother he is a Jew . Can you name the source of such idea?  

Anaswer:

Deuteronomy 7:3-4 states: "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 your son away from following Me, and they will worship the gods of others".

(Immediately we see an interesting point: the verse focuses on "daughter"; giving your daughter, or taking his daughter. But more importantly...)

What does it mean "He will turn your son away"? It should either say "She (your daughter-in-law) will turn your son away" or "He (your son-in-law) will turn your daughter away"?

The Talmud1 explains that in this verse "son" actually means grandson2. Thus the meaning of the verse is as follows: in a case of intermarriage "He (the non-Jewish father) will turn your (grand)son away from following Me". The grandchild is called son (of the grandparents) because this child is still connected to the grandparents - he is still Jewish.

From the fact that the Torah does not go on to say "She will turn your son away", (i.e. the non-Jewish mother will turn your grandson away) we know that if the mother is not Jewish the grandchild is not your son - he is not Jewish.3

This teaches us that if the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish. It also teaches us that even if the child of a Jewish mother is "lead astray" G-d forbid, he is still Jewish.

Footnotes

  • 1. Jerusalem Talmud tractate Yevamot 13a, and Babylonian Talmud tractate Yevamot 23a
  • 2. It is not uncommon in the Torah for a grandparent to be called parent, or a grandchild to be called child. See for example Rashi on Genesis 20:12
  • 3. See also Rashi Deuteronomy 7:4

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Deuteronomy
The fifth of the Five Books of Moses. This book is a record of the monologue which Moses spoke to the Israelites in the five weeks prior to his passing.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.