QUESTION: A young man interested in Judaism has stated that he wishes to be considered Jewish through his descent from one of the ten lost tribes. His parents raised him in the Mormon tradition. (Mark Kaplan, Cincinnati OH)
ANSWER: Let us look at the statement on patrilineal descent. "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 in 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 indicates that if one of the parents is Jewish and the child has been raised as a Jew or has made a commitment to Judaism as an adult, we would consider that individual as a Jew. There is some debate in the tradition about apostasy in a previous generation and how the descendants should be treated (H. J. Zimmels Die Marranen in der Rabbinischen Literatur pp 21 ff). Here, however, the individual involved was raised in a Mormon family and it is from that association with the lost ten tribes that this has been derived. Joseph Smith the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints considered America colonized by two groups, both related to the Bible. The first came to this continent after the dispersion of the Tower of Babel, and the second after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587. These as well as other speculation about the American Indians as the ten lost tribes have led to various pieces on the subject (Israel Worsley A View of the American Indians, etc). We can, however, not recognize these individuals as Jews even if their claim were true. Rabbinic Judaism has developed far beyond the Biblical period. The young man, therefore, should be treated as any other convert.