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April 08, 1983 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-04-08

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64 Friday, April 8, 1983


A Woman Scholar's Case for Patrilineal Descent


Editor, Jewish Spectator

1983 Convention of the-
Central Conference of
American Rabbis (Reform),
the Committee on Pat-
rilineal Descent on the
Status of Children of Mixed
Marriages with a non-
Jewish wife, reaffirmed the
statement in the (Reform)
Rabbi's Manual that Re-
form Judaism accepts a
child as Jewish, without
conversion, if the father is a
Jew and the parents (and
the child at the proper time)
agree that the child shall
live as a Jew and be part of
the Jewish community.
This means that Reform
Judaism has "emancipated"
the Jewish father by recog-
nizing patrilineal descent
on a par with matrilineal
descent as conferring the
Jewish birthright upon
children of mixed marriages
with a non-Jewish mother.
According to Halakha,
Jewish identity is inherited
from the mother or it is ac-
quired by conversion. How-
ever, in the context of the
patriarchal constitution of
Judaism, the law that the
religion and Jewish people-
hood identity of the child is
that of the mother, is more
than merely perplexing.
The difficulties arising
from the matrilineal law
of Jewish identity are a
concomitant of the in-
consistent definition of
Jewish family identity

which is both patrilineal
and matrilineal. The
child is born into and
takes the religion of the
mother. He inherits,
however, the rank and
the family and tribal
identity of the father, and
is also known by his
Thus, the sun of a Kohen
(member of a priestly fam-
ily) and a mother who is not
of the priestly family in-
herits the Kehuna (priestly
status). In Israel he is bound
by the Halakha of the Ko-
hen: he is prohibited to
marry a divorcee or child-
less widow who has Halitza,
and he is expected to ob-
serve the laws of "Priestly
cleanliness," i.e., avoiding
contact with the dead, even
within such a sprawling
building as the Hadassah
Hospital in Jerusalem.
Cemeteries are out of
bounds for "priests." Only
when in mourning, for close
relatives are these laws
temporarily suspended
until after the funeral.
It has been suggested that
matrilineal Jewish iden-
tity, strange in the context
of the legal unfreedom of
Jewish women, is due to the
psychological acumen of the
Sages of the Talmud who
are said to have been keenly
sensitive to the mother's
devotion to and, hence, her
greater influence upon her
children. But this theory is
refuted by the talmudic
opinion that a father's love

is greater than a mother's
because he toils and pro-
vides for his children, while
the mother does not.
As biblical prooftexts
for the talmudic opinion
that mothers love their
children less than
fathers, the Sages quoted
the Psalmist's reference
to the father's "compas-
sion" (Psalms 103:13) and
contrasted it with the
cruelty of "compassion-
ate women who boiled
their own children for
their food" at the time of
Nebuchadnezzar's siege
of Jerusalem (Lamenta-
tions 4:10).
The Sages held that it is
only on her deathbed that a
mother's stinginess toward
her children is being miti-
gated. It is only in extremis
that maternal love equals
paternal love. In this con-
text of legal reasoning,
Jewish law exempts the
mother from all parental ob-
ligations. In the case of or-
phans or the incapacity_ or
refusal of the father to pro-
vide for the children, the
Bet Din (court) and not the
mother is to take on the pa-
rental role and guard-
The sentimental view of
the superiority of maternal
love was not shared by the
talmudic sages. On the con-
trary, they held that "the
son feels drawn to the
father." Daughters, of
course, were in a class by
themselves as they always
stayed with the mother.

The Freedom of Spe ech Issue


Perlmutter is national di-
rector of the Anti-
Defamation Le'ague of
Bnai Brith. This article is
reprinted from the April
issue of the ADL Bulle-
There was a sourly famil-
iar irony in the concluding
line of a recent article dis-
cussing the violence erupt-
ing during the course of an
anti-Klan demonstration in
Washington, D.C.: "It is at
least noteworthy that the
anti-Klan demonstrators,
in chanting pro-PLO slo-
gans and denouncing
`Zionism,' were expressing
the views of the Ku Klux
Klan itself."
Several weeks ago at the
University of California
Berkeley campus, the tur-
bulent birthplace of the so-
called Free Speech Move-
ment, United Nations Am-
bassador Jeane Kirkpat-
rick's freedom of speech was
muffled and drowned. By
whom? By self-righteous
protestors indulging their
own freedom of speech,




while aborting hers.
It's all reminiscent of an
old TV news sequence show-
ing hundred's of students
massed in front of a hotel in
which Presidential candi-
date Ronald Reagan was at
a campaign meeting. Their
right arms extended in the
Nazi salue, the students
were mockingly chanting,
"Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg
Heil!" Animated hyperbole,
rhythmically, insistently,
declaring "Reagan equals
Hitler, " "Reagan equals
Hitler," "Reagan equals
Hitler," and all the while

Their training was her re-
sponsibility. The idea of
women as persons in their
own right was alien to the
Some scholars, notably
Viktor Aptowitzer, regard
the matrilineal determina-
tion ofJewishness as a resi-
due of matriarchy. Ap-
towitzer argued that origi-
nally the Jewish society was
a matriarchy; hence, the
law that the child is of the
mother's religion is a mat-
riarchal relic.

In fact, however, the
matrilineal determina-
tion of religion in the pat-
rilineal Jewish society is
a relic of biblical
polygamy and of Jewish
family law which is more
than merely partial to
polygamy. In 'post-
biblical times, polygamy
was rare, but it was never
forbidden. Rabbenu Ger-
shom's (ca. 960-1028)
prohibition of polygamy
was "conditioned by his
time and place," i.e.,
Ashkenazi Jews living in
a monogamous Christian
society. This prohibition
was never binding on
Jews in Muslim and other
non-Christian countries
where polygamy was not
regarded as odious.
Moreover, Rabbenu Ger-
shom's prohibition was
limited to a span of 1,000
years and halakhically it is
no longer in force.
In polygamous societies,
the wives live in separate
dwellings with their chil-
dren and the husband is a
visitor in his wives' house-
holds. "Sending away a
wife" is common in
polygamous societies. When
the "wife who no longer
pleases the husband" is sent
back to her family, she is
also expected to take her
minor children — and al-
ways the girls. The tal-
mudic sages reckoned with
this sociological fact and,
hence, they based the law
that "the child is identical

with the mother" respecting
Jewish status (Yevamot 22a
and 23a) on the Pentateuc-
hal legislation concerning
the Hebrew slave, who must
be set free after serving six
The law is:
"If he came single, he
shall leave single; if he
had a wife, his wife shall
leave with him. If his
master gave him a wife,
and she has borne "him
children, the wife and her
children shall belong to
the master, and he shall
leave alone." (Exodus
As many talmudic laws
which the rabbis deduced
from the Pentateuch, the
law that the child takes the
religion of the mother be-
cause the wife of the He-
brew slave and her children
belong to the master is not
very convincing. It would be
much more logical if the law
"the child is identical with
the mother" respecting reli-
gion were based on Ab-
raham's dismissal of Hagar
together with Ishmael, his
first-born. (Genesis 21:8)
In the context of the
mores of the Jewish society
as determined by Halakha,
the matrilineal determina-
tion of Jewish status stands
out as alien to the definition
of who are relatives and who
are not. The law is: "The
family of the father is fam-
ily, the family of the mother
is not family" (Yevamot
54b, and numerous other
places). This patriarchal
principle is based on the
census in the wilderness of
Sinai which listed "the
names of every male, head
by head" according to "their
father's clans" (Numbers,
chapters 1 and 2).
The ancient Israelites
were known as sons and
daughters of their fathers,
although the Hebrew Bible,
in some cases of men with
several wives, identified the
children also as sons and
daughters of their mothers.

they were indulging their
own freedom of speech and
of assembly they were frus-
trating Reagan's.
The relationship of this
episode to the Klan protes-
ters and Kirkpatrick's tor-
mentors? That all three
groups seemed to pleasure
in their hatred, a hatred,
ironically, steeped in pro-
fessed social virtue. And in
a fast-acting alchemy, the
students damning Reagan,
the anti-Klan marchers
damning the Klan, the
neo-Free Speechers damn-
ability to survive physi-
ing Kirkpatrick, them-
selves became the menace
Seven Arts Features
But those valid con-
they attributed to their
turbulent debate cerns cannot justify any
Of course, there is a world in the New York City Coun- discrimination or denial
of night-and-day differences cil over the Gay Rights bill of basic human rights to
between the Klan on one was a sorry chapter in the any American citizen, in-
moral life of this great city. cluding gays. Under no
hand and our UN Ambas-
The Catholic Church and circumstances can those
sador and the President on
Protestants and concerns justify the
the other. But that simply
underscores the lesson of Jews vigorously oppose obscene and vulgar at-
homosexuality and les- tack made by one tradi-
the happening:
as serious viola- tional rabbi against
Freedom of speech re-
ceives sustenance from tions of Biblical standards elected city officials dur-
those whose expressed for normal human sexual- ing his vituperative tes-
views may offend some, and ity. Traditional Jews are timony.
The great rabbis of the
is drained of meaning by especially concerned over
condemned slander
those who, in exercising
homosexuality, because as never justifiable. The
theirs, destroy others.'
homosexual liaisons do not .penalty for slander, the
give birth to children, and Talmud declares, equals
family life will be that of all the cardinal sins.
weakened, if not under-
The Orthodox Jewish
Press, which opposes the
The Jewish birth rate Gay Rights bill, wrote a
today is the lowest of any commendable editorial on
religious-ethnic community March 4, disassociating it-
and Jews have a quite self from that rabbi's state-
legitimate reason to fear ment. "We disassociate our-
any trend that will threaten selves from anyone (even if
the Jewish community's he be a rabbi)" the Jewish

Jewish peoplehood is
rooted in the belief of the
special relationship of this
people to God, the covenant
sealed by the Torah. "We
are a people by virtue of the
Commandments," as
Saadia, the first of the
medieval Jewish rationalist
philosophers, summed up
Jewish distinctive identity.
But acknowledging
that Jewish peoplehood
and Jewish religion are
inseparable does not
imply consent to the no-
tion that the command-
ments are beyond in-
terpretation. Judaism is
not literalistic. The very
derivation of the law that
the child follows the reli-
gion of the mother proves
that talmudic jurispru-
dence was not in bondage
to the words of the Bible
but rather used them in a
free style of interpreta-
The literalistic 'Karaites
who, some two centuries
after the close of the tal-
mudic period (ca. 500), re-
jected the laws of this free-
style interpretation and in-
sisted that the Torah com-
mandments are meant to be
literally observed, were ex-
Ina polygamous society it
is in the best interests of all
that the children follow the
mother's religious identity
because they do not live
with the father under one
roof- Moreover, in case of di-
vorce they usually went
with the mother, especially
in biblical times.
Contemporary Jewry is
monogamous and the nu-
clear family is the accepted
norm. Yet the in-
polygamy-rooted law that
the child follows the reli-
gion of the mother is still in
force, although this law is
incongruous in the context
of the patriarchal Judaism.
It is time for reinterpreting
Halakha and giving the
father equal rights for
transmitting Jewish iden-
tity to his children.

Judaism, Slander, Gay Rights


Press said, "whose zeal and
outrage against homosexu-
ality would lead him to
make disgusting and
obscene remarks against
certain government offi-
cials. The same Bible that
condemns homosexuality
also condemns speech and
the use of gutter language
to tear down individuals
. . . Let us not substitute
one evil for another."

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