Patrilineal Progress

I was delighted to read my colleague Rabbi Marmur’s comments in an article in the Canadian Jewish News (October 26, 2006) regarding his change in position on patrilineal descent. I have supported the notion of patrilineal descent since it became a cause celebre of the Reform movement 25 years ago. Perhaps where its leaders erred was in linking it to an increase in interfaith marriage. Instead, patrilineal descent could have and should have emerged out of the Reform movement’s commitment to equality—across the board. If men and women are equal, then Jewish identity and descent should be egalitarian.

As you know, a lot of time has passed since the Reform movement’s initial decision. What is certainly clear is that while the intermarriage rate may have stabilized in the United States but it is certainly increasing in Canada. And the total number of intermarried families is increasing as a result. The Jewish future depends on how well we welcome them into our community. That’s why our work at the Jewish Outreach Institute is about making sure that as many of those families as possible raise Jewish children and that the community is open and supportive to those families raising Jewish children. That is precisely why we have developed The Mothers Circle as one of our signature programs—designed for women of other religious backgrounds raising their children as Jews. Lowering the barrier for “who is a Jew?” makes that even more possible. As I am fond of saying, “interfaith marriage is not the end of Jewish continuity. Not raising Jewish children is the end of Jewish continuity.”


  1. I am not a Reform Jew, but I do support patrilineal descent based upon the words of the Miq’ra (Tanakh) alone, for in examination of all Rabbinical proof texts within the Miq’ra for matrilineal descent one clearly finds that the language of the text along with the context of the text does not support matrilineal descent, and this should be the determining factor for us as Jews – what does the Miq’ra state on the subject, even more so what does Sefer HaTorah state.

    Given, Sefer HaTorah prohibits us from marrying with various tribes from among the Kena’anim, but it prohibits both are male and female children from doing such, for it said these people would lead us astray.

    And we are prohibited from marrying the descendents of Lot for 10 generations (even though some people think it tells us we are prohibited forever), but still this is only a prohibition for a period of time. But never are we prohibited from marrying outside of our people save for the tribes prohibited in Sefer HaTorah.

    And Orthodox Judaism attributes the incident in Sefer Ez’ra as prohibiting us from marrying gentile women in general, and stating that our children will not be Jewish if we do such, but in truth, the incident recorded in Sefer Ez’ra relates back to the prohibition found in Sefer HaTorah, for our descendents had realized that they were marrying among the tribes prohibited there while they were having the Torah read to them, and thus they realized their error, and put away these wives along with their offspring from such prohibited unions.

    I am sorry, and I understand tradition, but tradition needs to equate back to what is written in the Miq’ra, and if it does not then it is an invalid tradition.

    The problem though is that to those who uphold this tradition, fight tooth-and-nail to equate the matrilineal within Mishnah back to the Miq’ra, despite the fact that the context of the Miq’ra does not support such a halakhic decision. And since of course they are the majority they believe that they have the right to establish who is, and who is not a Jew based upon their tradition. And when you argue with them they merely state that you are a heretic, and who gives you the right to change a tradition that has been the cornerstone of our faith for centuries, when it has not, because there has always been groups of Jews who have not accepted matrilineal descent over patrilineal descent, but I guess it’s one of those things of who is in power controls the destiny of things while they are in power?

    May the Beyt HaMiqdosh be rebuilt in our lifetime, and the Kohanim be re-established, and the Urim and Thummim once again reside among us, so that we can once again have true Judaism among us, and we can once again return to the ancient paths.


    Comment by Yohanan bin-Dawidh — January 18, 2007 @ 9:04 am

  2. Thank you for your comments. I am not sure at this point in Jewish history who holds the power. I know that it seems in a democratic American society, people indeed vote and vote with their feet.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — January 18, 2007 @ 11:47 am

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