Welcoming Entire Jewish Families

Judaism has survived and grown because of its ability to adapt to its surroundings. The Torah is an “expressly patrilineal document,” said Mike, a second year rabbinical student at American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism). It was in the time of the writing of the Mishna (background on Jewish law) that Judaism started to move towards matrilineal descent. This proves that “leaders of the people have the authority to introduce changes consistent with our tradition.”

Writing in his personal blog, Mike thinks it’s time to revisit and reverse the notion of matrilineal descent. He makes the argument not only theologically, but also as a practical matter. Since the reform movement began allowing for patrilineal descent in 1983, those kids are now grown up and getting married. Since they were raised as Jews, Mike said, they might “have an interest in marrying other Jews.” And they just might want to do this at a conservative synagogue. Is the Conservative Movement ready to shut their doors or welcome them in?

The doors should be wide open, and Mike points to recent changes within the Conservative movement that demonstrate the agility of Judaism to cope with modern times. Mike writes:

“It is frankly bizarre that the Conservative Movement can twist itself into knots for the laudable goal of welcoming openly gay and lesbian rabbis, but when the issue of patrilineal descent comes up, we start singing “Tradition!””

There are a number of reasons to rethink notions of patrilineal and matrilineal descent, but none as important as the “moral obligation” to embrace and engage those in our midst. If a Jewish father and a mother of another religious background raise their children as Jews, the last thing we should do is tell them they are not a part of the community. Mike puts it best when he says: “I hope to soon see the day when Conservative rabbis and congregations welcome entire Jewish families, including the children of Jewish fathers.”


  1. 1/ So let me see. The Torah (allegedly) says that Judaism is passed down patrilinearly exclusively. The Mishna says matrilinearly exclusively.

    But if you go both, aren’t you going against both sources?

    2/ The comment is correct that the Conservative movement has twisted itself in knots to accept g/l rabbis but won’t accept patrilineal descent.

    However using Mike’s logic, if the Conservative movement accepted pig-eating the thing for the Conservative movement to do would be to accept patrilineal descent since they accepted pig-eating.

    The correct response would be for the Conservative movement to reject accepting pig-eating and patrilineal descent and not to accept both.

    Comment by Dave — January 25, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  2. Kudos to Mike.

    For those interested in a detailed theological, scriptural and historical argument for allowing patrilineal descent, see J.R. Wilhelm’s “The Truth About Matrilineal Descent” (

    Comment by Micah Sachs — January 26, 2009 @ 10:27 am

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