Who is a Jew?
Question submitted to “Ask the Rabbi” by:
City: Annapolis, MD
School: Public school
“I have a fully Jewish mother but a Christian father. I do know that Judaism is passed on maternal lines, and I was raised Jewish, but being the product of a mixed marriage, does that make me any less Jewish? Going to synagogue, when I say my last name, I often get the impression ‘something isn’t right.’ Yet, if my father was Jewish, and my mother was Christian, I wouldn’t be Jewish but would have a Jewish last name, and my Jewish identity would be seemingly less questionable. What are your thoughts?”
Rabbi Tully Bryks responds:
As you correctly pointed out, one’s Judaism is defined exclusively by the mother (or through a proper conversion). Perhaps one of the reasons is a recognition of the greater impact that the mother typically has on the home. An amazing study was done by a major magazine asking people to consider who, among all candidates, from presidents to dictators to doctors to business leaders, had the greatest impact on their life? Remarkably, most people replied that “the single person who had the greatest impact on my life was my mother.” But regardless of the reasons that G-d established it this way, it is clear that you are just a much a Jew as someone who is born to two Jewish parents. And if your mother was not Jewish, even if your father was and you had a Jewish last name, you would not be Jewish.
It is also important to note that, who you really are, and what you amount to, is really in your hands. Ultimately, our greatness is not measured by our lineage and not by the skills and talents that G-d has given us. Rather, G-d is looking to see what we do with those gifts and what we make of ourselves.
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