My father is Jewish and my mother is not. I live in a Jewish community and have Jewish friends. I attend Jewish lessons every Monday, and dinners with rabbis on the Jewish holidays. If I date a Jewish girl, will her family not want her to marry me because my mother is not Jewish? I have half-brothers and a sister who are totally not Jewish. I'm a bit confused.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts.
It appears that your confused identity is a tragic result of intermarriage.
According to Jewish law, you are not Jewish.
Jewishness is passed on via the mother. If the mother is Jewish, the child is 100% Jewish. This is true regardless of who the father is, and whether he is Jewish or not.
So now you are in a terrible quandary. You identify as a Jew, but you are not Jewish. Who should you marry? An Episcopalian? I think not.
It appears there are two options for you right now.
Judaism presents seven mitzvot for non-Jews to observe. These are the pillars of human civilization, and are named the "Seven Laws of Noah," since all humans are descended from Noah. As explained in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 58b), they include the prohibition against theft, murder, and sexual immorality.
Maimonides explains that anyone who faithfully observes these laws earns a proper place in heaven. Today, there are many active groups of non-Jews called "Bnei Noach" who faithfully observe the Seven Laws of Noah. The Bnei Noach are people have a very "Jewish" feeling, but are not Jewish. For example, see this article: www.aish.com/jw/s/80405497.html
To learn more about the origins and ideals of Bnei Noach, see an excellent book on the topic, called "The Path of the Righteous Gentile," by Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky.
The other alternative is to pursue conversion to Judaism. This is not simple, given that you will want to make sure it is "kosher" from a Jewish legal perspective. According to the Code of Jewish Law, there are three requirements for a valid conversion:
1) Mikveh – All converts must immerse in the Mikveh – a ritual bath linked to a reservoir of rain water.
2) Milah – Male converts must undergo circumcision by a qualified "Mohel." If he was previously circumcised by a doctor, he then undergoes a ritual called "hatafas dam."
3) Mitzvot – This is the clincher. The convert must believe in God and the divinity of the Torah, as well as accept upon himself to observe all 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah. This includes observance of Shabbat, Kashrut, etc. – as detailed in the Code of Jewish Law, the authoritative source for Jewish observance. This means that a motor vehicle is not used on Shabbat, that cheese is eaten only with kosher supervision, that a woman uses the mikveh every month, and much much more.
The conversion process must be done before a court of three Jewish men who themselves believe in God, accept the divinity of the Torah, and observe the mitzvot. In the case of someone who denies fundamental principles of Jewish belief (such as, the word-for-word divinity of the Torah), or offers to perform the conversion without requiring full mitzvah observance, the conversion would be invalid according to the Code of Jewish Law. As you could imagine, this would create a variety of confusions regarding the person's religious identity, and that of their children. And in your case, this would only further complicate things.
There are two excellent books which are helpful for conversion:
- "To Be A Jew" by Chaim Halevi Donin – www.amazon.com/dp/0465086322
- "Becoming a Jew" by Maurice Lamm – www.amazon.com/dp/0824603508/
Also recommended are two real-life accounts of non-Jews who converted to Judaism:
- "Migrant Soul" by Avi Shafran – www.amazon.com/dp/0944070450/
- "The Bamboo Cradle" by Avraham Schwartzbaum – www.amazon.com/dp/0873064593/
You have a special soul which is yearning to find truth. For the sake of your spiritual health, I suggest you start immediately!