Reform Movement's Resolution on Patrilineal Descent
(March 15, 1983)
The Status of Children of Mixed
Following is the final text of the Report of the
Committee on Patrilineal Descent
adopted on March 15, 1983
The purpose of this document is to establish the Jewish
status of the children of mixed marriages in the Reform Jewish community
of North America.
One of the most pressing human issues for the North
American Jewish community is mixed marriage, with all its attendant
implications. For our purpose, mixed marriage is defined as a union
between a Jew and a non-Jew. A non-Jew who joins the Jewish people through
conversion is recognized as a Jew in every respect. We deal here only
with the Jewish identity of children which one parent is Jewish and
the other parent is non-Jewish.
This issue arises from the social forces set in motion
by the Enlightenment and the Emancipation. They are the roots of our
current struggle with mixed marriage. "Social change so drastic
and far reaching could not but affect on several levels the psychology
of being Jewish.... The result of Emancipation was to make Jewish identity
a private commitment rather than a legal status, leaving it a complex
mix of destiny and choice" (Robert Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish
Thought, p. 544). Since the Napoleonic Assembly of Notables of 1806,
the Jewish community has struggled with the tension between modernity
and tradition. This tension is now a major challenge, and it is within
this specific context that the Reform Movement chooses to respond. Wherever
there is ground to do so, our response seeks to establish Jewish identity
of the children of mixed marriages.
According to the Halacha as interpreted by traditional
Jews over many centuries, the offspring of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish
father is recognized as a Jew, while the offspring of a non-Jewish mother
and a Jewish father is considered a non-Jew. To become a Jew, the child
of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father must undergo conversion.
As a Reform community, the process of determining an
appropriate response has taken us to an examination of the tradition,
our own earlier responses, and the most current considerations. In doing
so, we seek to be sensitive to the human dimensions of this issue.
Both the Biblical and the Rabbinical traditions take
for granted that ordinarily the paternal line is decisive in the tracing
of descent within the Jewish people. The Biblical genealogies in Genesis
and elsewhere in the Bible attest to this point. In intertribal marriage
in ancient Israel, paternal descent was decisive. Numbers 1:2, etc.,
says: "By their families, by their fathers' houses" (lemishpechotam
leveit avotam), which for the Rabbis means, "The line [literally:
'family'] of the father is recognized; the line of the mother is not"
(Mishpachat av keruya mishpacha; mishpachat em einah keruya mishpacha;
Bava Batra 109b, Yevamot 54b; cf. Yad, Nachalot 1.6).
In the Rabbinic tradition, this tradition remains in
force. The offspring of a male Kohen who marries a Levite or Israelite
is considered a Kohen, and the child of an Israelite who marries a Kohenet
is an Israelite. Thus: yichus, lineage, regards the male line as absolutely
dominant. This ruling is stated succinctly in Mishna Kiddushin 3.12
that when kiddushin (marriage) is licit and no transgression (ein avera
is involved, the line follows the father. Furthermore, the most important
parental responsibility to teach Torah rested with the father (Kiddushin
29a; cf. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 245.1).
When, in the tradition, the marriage was considered
not to be licit, the child of that marriage followed the status of the
mother (Mishna Kiddushin 3.12, havalad kemotah). The decision of our
ancestors thus to link the child inseparably to the mother, which makes
the child of a Jewish mother Jewish and the child of a nonJewish mother
non-Jewish, regardless of the father, was based upon the fact that the
woman with her child had no recourse but to return to her own people.
A Jewish woman could not marry a non-Jewish man (cf. Shulchan Aruch,
Even Ha-ezer 4.19, la tafsei kiddushin). A Jewish man could not marry
a non-Jewish woman. The only recourse in Rabbinic law for the woman
in either case was to return to her own community and people.
Since Emancipation, Jews have faced the problem of
mixed marriage and the status of the offspring of mixed marriage. The
Reform Movement responded to the issue. In 1947 the CCAR adopted a proposal
made by the Committee on Mixed Marriage and Intermarriage:
With regard to infants, the declaration of the parents to raise them
as Jews shall be deemed sufficient for conversion. This could apply,
for example, to adopted children. This decision is in line with the
traditional procedure in which, according to the Talmud, the parents
bring young children (the Talmud speaks of children earlier than the
age of three) to be converted, and the Talmud comments that although
an infant cannot give its consent, it is permissible to benefit somebody
without his consent (or presence). On the same page the Talmud also
speaks of a father bringing his children for conversion, and says
that the children will be satisfied with the action of their father.
If the parents therefore will make a declaration to the rabbi that
it is their intention to raise the child as a Jew, the child may,
for the sake of impressive formality, be recorded in the Cradle-Roll
of the religious school and thus be considered converted.
Children of religious school age should likewise not be required
to undergo a special ceremony of conversion but should receive instruction
as regular students in the school. The ceremony of Confirmation at
the end of the school course shall be considered in lieu of a conversion
Children older than confirmation age should not be converted without
their own consent. The Talmudic law likewise gives the child who is
converted in infancy by the court the right to reject the conversion
when it becomes of religious age. Therefore the child above religious
school age, if he or she consents sincerely to conversion, should
receive regular instruction for that purpose and be converted in the
regular conversion ceremony. (CCAR Yearbook, Vol. 57)
This issue was again addressed in the 1961 edition
of the Rabbi's Manual:
Jewish law recognizes a person as Jewish if his mother
was Jewish, even though the father was not a Jew. One born of such mixed
parentage may be admitted to membership in the synagogue and enter into
a marital relationship with a Jew, provided he has not been reared in
or formally admitted into some other faith. The child of a Jewish father
and a non- Jewish mother, accoridng to traditional law, is a Gentile;
such a person would have to be formally converted in order to marry
a Jew or become a synagogue member.
Reform Judaism, however, accepts such a child as Jewish
without a formal conversion, if he attends a Jewish school and follows
a course of studies leading to Confirmation. Such procedure is regarded
as sufficient evidence that the parents and the child himself intend
that he shall live as a Jew. (Rabbi's Manual, p. 112)
We face today an unprecedented situation due to the
changed conditions in which decisions concerning the status of the child
of a mixed marrige are to be made.
There are tens of thousands of mixed marriages. In
a vast majority of these cases the non-Jewish extended family is a functioning
part of the child's world, and may be decisive in shaping the life of
the child. It can no longer be assumed a priori, therefore, that the
child of a Jewish mother will be Jewish any more than that the child
of a non-Jewish mother will not be.
This leads us to the conclusion that the same requirements
must be applied to establish the status of a child of a mixed marriage,
regardless of whether the mother or the father is Jewish.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child
of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This
presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage
is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal
acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance
of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both
parent and child, to Jewish life.
Depending on circumstances,1 mitzvot leading toward a positive and
exclusive Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant, acquisition
of a Hebrew name, Torah study, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Kabbalat Torah
(Confirmation).2 For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity,
other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after
consultation with their rabbi.
1According to the age or setting, parents should consult
a rabbi to determine the specific mitzvot which are necessary.
2 A full description of these and other mitzvot can be found in Sharrei
Conference of American Rabbis