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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 10.11:
What is the origin of Matrilineal Descent?

Answer:

The Torah does not always state every law explicitly. In the case of Matrilineal Descent, the practice is derived from Deuteronomy 7: 4, "Because he will lead astray your son from before Me" To understand this verse, look at the preceding verse, which states: "And you shall not intermarry with them, your daughter you shall not give to his son and his daughter you shall not take for your son". Verse 4 should have stated "Because SHE will lead astray your son", for the non-Jewish girl that your son married ('your' meaning Jewish) should be the one that would lead your son astray. So who is the 'HE'? It might be the girl's father, but in general, women leave their father's house and live in their husband's house; they would then not be living with her father. Hence, it would not make sense for the girl's father to lead "your son" astray if your son doesn't live with him.

The Rabbis concluded that 'HE' is the man that your daughter married, and 'your son' mentioned in verse 4 is your grandchild, meaning Jewish grandchild. Thus, verse 4 is referring back to the middle section of verse 3. It reads like this, "your daughter you shall not give to his son because he will lead astray your son" This shows that the child of a Jewish girl and a non-Jewish boy will be Jewish.

It is not uncommon for the Torah to refer to a grandchild as an actual child. For instance, Kings I 15: 11 states, " And Asa did that which was correct in the eyes of God just like David his father". David was not Asa's father. He was his great-great-grandfather.

Additionally, Leviticus 24:10 speaks of the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man as being "among the community of Israel" (ie, a Jew). On the other hand, in Ezra 10:2-3, the Jews returning to Israel vowed to put aside their non-Jewish wives and the children born to those wives. They could not have put aside those children if those children were Jews.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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