Who is a Jew?

I have always been under the assumption that being Jewish meant being of the Jewish faith, and/or being of the Jewish race. Please let me know if this is correct.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

"Being Jewish" is a technical status that requires citizenship in the Jewish nation, like being a U.S. citizen. Citizenship acquired in one of two ways:

(1) Born Jew: Jewishness is passed on via the mother. If the mother is Jewish, the child is 100% Jewish. If only the father is Jewish (but not the mother), then the child is 100% not Jewish. Jewish identity passed on through the mother has been universally accepted by Jews for 3,300 years, and was decided by God, as recorded in the Five Books of Moses in Deut. 7:3-4. The Talmud (Kiddushin 68b) explains how this law is evident from those passages.

According to Jewish law, this will remain the person's status forever. There is no way one can lose his status as a Jew even if he does not formally practice Judaism, and even if he has gone so far as to convert to another religion.

(2) Conversion: If a non-Jew wants to become a Jew he can do so by converting. Because of this, Judaism is clearly not a "blood-race." There are Chinese Jews, African Jews, Eskimo Jews, etc.

Once a non-Jew converts, he becomes a Jew in every regard, and his relationship with God is on the same level as any Jew.

According to the Code of Jewish Law, there are three requirements for conversion to Judaism:

1) He must believe in God and the divinity of the Torah as well as accept upon himself to keep the commandments in the Torah.

2) If male, he must undergo circumcision by a qualified "Mohel." If he was already circumcised by a doctor, then he undergoes a ritual called "hatafas dam".

3) He must immerse in the Mikveh – a ritual bath linked to a reservoir of rain water.

All of the above have to be done before a court of three Jewish men who keep the commandments, and believe in God and the divinity of the Torah.

These are the rules that Jews have followed since time immemorial. Historically, any attempt to introduce new rules has created a tragic schism in our people. We hope and pray that Jewish groups today who are pursuing this path will realize the serious damage this can cause to the ideal of Jewish unity which we all sincerely seek.

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Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. For genealogy questions try Note also that this is not a homework service!

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