Contemporary American Reform Responsa

59. Three Generations of Mixed Marriage

QUESTION: A young man who grew up in the South is the product of three generations of mixed marriage. His great grandfather was Jewish and his great grandmother was Christian. His grandmother was raised as a Christian, but married a Jew. Both of his parents come from mixed marriages, and have provided him with no formal religious education. He would now like to claim his Jewish heritage and feels that the recent decision of the Central Conference of American Rabbis would make this easier for him. (H. S., Washington, DC)

ANSWER: The resolution of the Central American Rabbis, passed in 1983, has stated:

"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."

This resolution deals with the current generation and cannot be applied retroactively. In any case, there was no Jewish education or commitment in the previous generations. This young man has been raised in a secular fashion which has been colored by Christian traditions. Although there was very little formal Jewish education for three generations, some Jewish heritage survived. Otherwise, the young man in question, who now lives in a slightly larger town, would not be interested in reclaiming his Jewish identity. From a traditional Jewish point of view, he would not be considered Jewish as the link was broken in the second generation in which the father was Jewish and the mother non-Jewish. Had this not been the case, traditional Judaism might consider him as a Jew in accordance with the view of Solomon ben Simon of Duran (Rashbash, Responsa #89). He was concerned with the offsprings of Marranos and considered them Jewish indefinitely if the female Jewish lineage remained unbroken. Most authorities would insist on some form of haverut to mark a formal re-entry into the Jewish community (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.10 f; Ezekiel Landau, Noda Biyehudah, #150, etc.) We, however, feel that there must be a strong educational component which will create a positive identity, and so would demand more regardless of matrilineal or patrilineal descent. As this young man and his forefathers had no Jewish education or contact, we should treat him as a convert to Judaism and welcome him to Judaism. In the process of conversion and the final ceremony, we should stress his links to a Jewish past which he now wishes to establish firmly for himself and for future generations.

September 1983

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.