Conservative Judaism/Jewish lineage


Hello, Rabbi, please explain to me the following: we consider a person to be a native Jew if they are born by the Jewish mother. Where can I find the proof of that? I have looked in the Torah several times-nowhere this law can be found.

Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks for writing.

Modern Judaism is called "Rabbinic Judaism" which replaced Biblical or "Israelite Judaism"
certainly no later than the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by Rome in 70 CE.

The definition of who is a Jew changed during that transition to Rabbinic Judaism for many various reasons and theories of law.

Biblical law in the Torah holds that a child born of Jewish parents and a convert to Judaism are considered legitimate and complete status of "membership" in the Jewish People with all of its obligations and responsibilities. See Ex 196.

After an incredible period of time encompassing two times that the Jews were a sovereign nation of nearly 800-1000 years, the rules for being considered a Jew changed by the time of the Mishnah, approximately 200 CE, if the child of a Jewish mother even if the father were even if the father were non-Jewish, and if the mother were non-Jewish even if the father were Jewish, in order for the child to be considered Jewish it would be converted ritually - (Kid. 3:12; Yad, Issurei Bi'ah 15:34). "Thy son by an Israelite woman is called thy son, but thy son by a heathen woman is not called thy son" (Kid. 68b).

Today, the Reform movement first proposed the "patrilineal descent" by which if either the father or mother were Jewish, and the child was raised uniquely within the Jewish community and educated as a Jew, participating in all of the normal "native" Jewish rites and rituals, that child would be considered a Jew even without ritual immersion.

That issue is still one of discussion and dispute for the Conservative Movement. Unfortunately too many Jews believe that it is as simple when one of the parents is a Jew, then the child is considered a Jew - even if the parents decide to raise the child in both traditions; that is not to my knowledge the official policy of the Reform movement.

Good question and good luck. Happy Hanukkah.

Rabbi Dov

Conservative Judaism

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner


Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.


I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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