Askmoses-A Jews Resource
Why do mourners tear their clothing?
Browse our archives

The Scholar is ready to answer your question. Click the button below to chat now.

Scholar Online:

Type in your question here:

Click the button below to either CHAT LIVE with an AskMoses Scholar now - or - leave a message if no Scholar is currently online.


Why is a child's Judaism determined by the mother?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer


Library » Daily Life » Family Life | Subscribe | What is RSS?


The Mammas and the Pappas are both winners, but not in the same game.

Jewish identity is due to matrilineal descent, meaning the Mommy determines the child’s identity—Jewish or not.

This law comes from the Torah1, which is the constitution and deciding factor for Judaism. 

One of the reasons offered to explain this is law is though both parents contribute to the genetic make-up of a child, the father’s involvement in conceiving the child is fleeting compared to the pregnancy and birth that the mother experiences. Clearly the mother’s involvement in the child’s formation is incomparably greater than the father’s.

Furthermore, much has been scientifically demonstrated that aside from genetic make-up, a baby is greatly influenced by the conditions of the womb, and these factors have long-term effects on that person. So even before birth, a baby’s life-long being is deeply bound with that of his or her mother. All this considered, it is no surprise then that the very essence of the child – who he or she will be – is determined by the mother. Whether a child is Jewish or not is not a minor detail of the child’s composition, it is a question of his or her very identity—thanks to Mom.

Whether a child is Jewish or not is not a minor detail of the child’s composition, it is a question of his or her very identity—thanks to Mom
On the other hand, tribal association is via paterilineal descent, so the Dad determines if his offspring are Kohanim, Levites or Israelites (and specifically which Israelite tribe).

All three tribal divisions have the common essential factor of being Jewish, as determined by the mother. The difference in these three is their function— their Jewish job-description. A Kohen, Levite and Israelite each have his (or her) unique spiritual profession, whether it be in the Temple or in the office. This secondary identification is passed on through the father.

[In the case of a person born of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, the tribe association is irrelevant since the child is not Jewish. In the reverse situation—Jewish mother and non-Jewish father—the child is Jewish and a (tribe-less) Israelite.]


  • 1. See Deuteronomy 7:3-4 and Rashi there. See Jerusalem Talmud tractate Yevamot 13a, and Babylonian Talmud tractate Yevamot 23a. See also,2133686/What-is-the-Torah-source-for-matrilineal-descent.html.


Please email me when new comments are posted (you must be  logged in).


When did jews begin to consider only mom's as detirmining factor?

Posted by: Andy Rubin, San Diego, CA on Nov 28, 2007

I understand that today it's only via the mother however my question is when did this begin? Was it always like this? what about the stories in the bible? was it at the giving of the Torah? was it during the time of king david? I hear many things and I'm trying to get to the root of it.



Editor's Comment

This began with the giving of the Torah and is rooted in the law in Deuteronomy. Prior to the giving of the Torah Jews (weren't realy a People or a Nation, they) were just a Family, and didn't have any real laws establishing the definition of Jew.


Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew?
Life Cycle » Marriage » Family Life
Jewish Identity » Kohains and Levites » The Holy Tribe

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.
A descendant of Levi, son of Jacob. The Levites were the teachers and spiritual leaders in the Land of Israel. They had various responsibilities in the Holy Temple, including choir and orchestral duties.
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.