Contemporary American Reform Responsa

39. Patrilineal Descent and a Questionable Background*

QUESTION: A young man who grew up in England was a child of a mixed marriage and now wishes to marry an American Jewish girl. His father was Jewish and his mother was Anglican; both are deceased. The father was affiliated with the United Synagogue and the youngster believes he was ritually circumcised (berit milah) and named in the synagogue, although no formal record of this exists. He has had virtually no Jewish education. What is his status as far as we are concerned? We should note that the couple intends to settle in England. (A. D., New York, NY)

ANSWER: We base our decision on the resolution of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, March, 1983, and the responsum"Patrilineal and Matrilineal Descent." The Resolution reads:

"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 parents and child, to Jewish life.

"Depending on circumstances, 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). For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi."

As this young man can produce no evidence that he was ritually circumcised and named in the synagogue, and as he has had no Jewish education nor been involved in any subsequent acts which would affirm his Jewish identity, we would require conversion on the part of this young man as the affirmative way of establishing his Jewish identity.

October 1983

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.