Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Does Jewish Mother=Jewish Child? Not According to Everyone!

Everyone "knows" that you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish. That is what we are always told. However, in the Gemorah in Kiddushin on 75b there is an argument among the Rishonim (Rabbis from 1000-1500 approximately) if this is true. Some of the Rishonim actually present the opinion that you are not Jewish if your father is a gentile and your mother is a Jew. Let us take a look at this now.

First, we must understand two opinions in the Gemorah, These are the opinions of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehoshua. On 70a it says:

Now he [the Tanna of our Mishnah]holds that if a non-Jew or a slave has intercourse with the daughter of an Israelite, the child is a mamzer. That is well on the view that the child is a mamzer; but on the view that it is legitimate[kasher].....

Rabbi Akiva is the opinion that holds the child is a mamzer (child born from an illicit relationship) and can not marry a regular Jew. This is seen in several places, but just to show a source here is Rabbi Akiva's statement on 75b:

R. Akiba, who said: If a non-Jew or a slave has intercourse with the daughter of an Israelite, the child is a mamzer.

So, what is the reason that a child born from this relationship, a non-Jew or slave with a Jewess, is a mamzer according to Rabbi Akiva? This is because of the Mishna in Yevamos 49a:

WHO IS DEEMED TO BE A MAMZER (a child born from an illicit relationship)? [THE OFFSPRING OF A UNION WITH]ANY CONSANGUINEOUS RELATIVE WITH WHOM COHABITATION IS FORBIDDEN (aka that leads to any punishment not just death or the soul being cut off);THIS IS THE RULING OF R. AKIBA.

Therefore, if a non-Jew cohabits with a Jewess, that is a forbidden relationship and the child is a mamzer. However, Rabbi Yehoshua says in the same Mishna that only a relationship that leads to the death penalty, like a Jew sleeping with a married Jewish woman that is not his wife, is the child a mamzer. These are the two opinions that matter for our case.

Now, let us read the Gemorah inside on 75a-75b in Kiddushin:

It was taught: And thus did R. Eleazar say: A male Samaritan may not marry a female Samaritan. What is the reason? — Said R. Joseph: He, the male Samaritan, was treated as a proselyte after ten generations. For it was taught: A proselyte, until ten generations, may marry a mamzereth (Female born from an illicit relationship); thereafter he is forbidden [to marry] a mamzereth. Others state: [He is permitted] until the name of Gentile has completely fallen away from him.

Said Abaye to him: How is this comparable! There, the case that a proselyte can marry a female mamzereth, it is a proselyte of ancient [stock] and a recent mamzereth, so it will be said: He is an Israelite marrying a mamzereth (
which is not allowed), whereas here they are both alike (they are both Samaritans and thus have the same status and should be able to marry one another)?

— But when R. Dimi came, he said: R. Eleazar agrees with R. Ishmael, and R. Ishmael agrees with R. Akiba. [Thus:] R. Eleazar agrees with R. Ishmael, who maintained: Samaritans are proselytes [through fear] of lions (
meaning their status as proselytes are questionable). And R. Ishmael agrees with R. Akiba, who said: If a non-Jew or a slave has intercourse with the daughter of an Israelite, the child is mamzer. (Therefore, Samaritans can not marry one another because they are safeik mamzers, aka we don't know if they are mamzers, kosher Jews, or non-Jews. If one is a kosher Jew and the other is a mamzer or non-Jew then that marriage is not allowed, therefore we do not allow the union.)

This seems like a good answer as to why Rebbe Elazar says Samaritans can not marry one another. However, Tosfos asks a question on this that is shocking. Tosofs says on Kiddushin 75b (DH Virebbe Yishmael):

Why do we need to say that Rebbe Elazar is holding like Rebbe Akiva that a non-Jew or a slave that has relations with a Jewess then the child is a mamzer? [Rebbe Elazar] can hold that in that situation the child is kosher [like Rebbe Yehoshua] and the problem is that we do not want a Jewess marrying a non-Jew. Why do we need the problem to be that we don;t want her to marry a non-Jew AND the child would be a mamzer (Isn't one problem enough)?

Tosfos answers:

Perhaps we can answer and say that if [Rebbe Elazar] holds the child is kosher then he also has to hold that the child takes the status of the non-Jew, THE FATHER, and this is like that which we said before on 67b, the rules of who the child follows, and we don't have to worry about a Jewess marrying a non-Jew [because the child is kosher]. Therefore, he holds the child is a mamzer and thereby the child's status is being determined through the mother and we are also now concerned that the woman should not marry a non-Jew (Basically, you can't have the problem of the woman marrying the non-Jew without having the problem of the child being a mamzer).

Before we take a step back and realize how amazing this idea is there is some clarification that is needed. Some of you might have noticed that this idea does not make sense. How could the child be KOSHER if he is going after the status of the father, the father is a NON-JEW? That would make the child a non-Jew not someone who is kosher.

The Maharsha commenting on this Tosfos (75b Virebbe Yishmael) answers this question by bringing in a Piskei Tosfos that clarifies Tosfos' meaning. When Tosfos says that the child is kosher, he means that the child is a kosher non-Jew. If the child wants to convert to Judaism he will not be a mamzer. The Maharsha goes on to explain Tosfos as not holding like this as a second option and leaves Rashi (who says like Tosfos) as a Tzarich Iyun (needs looking into), but Rav Elyashiv in his Ha'aros on 75b tells us that Rashi and Tosfos do, in fact, hold that the child would be a non-Jew (that the child follows the father's status).

So we see here it was not always so simple to say that if your mother was/is Jewish then you are a Jew. However, the way most opinions hold is that we go after the status of the mother in an illicit relationship. This would include, according to most opinions, a Jewess with a non-Jew as well. I just wanted to show that there are opinions out there that do argue. I thought is was fascinating because we always think it is a simple matter and, in truth, it is complicated and based on Gemorah, Rishonim and Achronim. All of which are part of Torah Shebaal Peh.


Anonymous said...

I have a question for you can you explain this Maharal in Gur Aryeh that explains why the snakes that healed the Jews after they had been bitten by the snake had to be copper or נחשת: He explains the fact that נחש and נחשת are similar names has a significance since names indicate the essence of a thing, the נחשת heals the נחש because of their similarity.(not so practical).

E-Man said...

Next time you can e-mail me at

What is the question you are asking? Do you want me to give you the meaning of this idea or something practical that you can learn from it?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the Plain Meaning?

E-Man said...

I think I am going to turn this into a post, why not? I hope it will answer your question.

E-Man said...

Ok, I put up the new post, I hope you like it and the answer it provides. I apologize if it does not.