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Conservative Judaism/My Jewish identity in America and Israel?


Hi, I have a question about my Jewish identity. I found out about a year ago that my father's side of the family comes from Spanish Jews who went to Mexico to escape the Spanish Inquisition, and later (I don't know how long, in the 1800's to as late as my grandfather, I don't know because he is deceased and I can't ask) stopped practicing any religion at all, likely as a result of the Mexican Inquisition(?). The last names in Mexico since my ancestors immigrated there have changed little to none, and the Mexican population, which is made of a mix of spaniards and natives, has bred with very little outside influences at all since the Spaniards arrived, and I have heard (accurately or not?) that as many as one in three Mexicans is Jewish by blood since at the time the Jews fled Spain it had the largest Jewish population in the world, so am confident that I would belong to this group. Because of this interbreeding of various Jews within the country, it seems that even considering the native population, my family would have unavoidably mixed with other Sephardim throughout the centuries. BUT though I feel confident in my Jewish identity, there are Orthodox I believe who assert that one's grandparent must be known to be Jewish to be considered a Jew, and that only through the mother. But in biblical times to the first century, descendence was traced through the father. My father and grandfather were irreligious and I am unsure that either of them knew of their heritage as I didn't know to ask during their lifetimes. So would other Jews consider me Jewish or would they make me undergo a conversion (which I feel would be unfair)?  See, my family is considering the Israeli Law of Return and I don't know if we qualify. I follow Torah though at home not through a specific synagogue, and my wife does as well for the kids' sake though she is not Jewish by birth. Also, because the law states one's father or grandfather must be Jewish I have to ask whether what I know of them would qualify them as Jewish in the Israeli understanding or what is meant by this? I know in my heart that I am a Jew, but how to communicate this to others with such complicated definitions?? Any clarification on all of this would be very much appreciated!  Thank you very much, Derreck.

Dear Derreck,

Thank you for writing, and this is a major issue today not only for you but many many others.

I would urge you to contact Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Executive Director for the Masorti (Conservative)in Israel [Rabbi Andrew Sacks <>] for helpful information about making aliyah to Israel and your status.

Your details will be meaningful to him for his advice on how to proceed.

Best wishes and good luck.

Rabbi Dov

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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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