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Ask Rabbi Simmons
Am I Jewish? How is Jewish Identity Determined? 
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Question

I've had an interest in Judaism for about 3 years, and I have wanted to convert. Then at a recent family gathering, one of my uncles said that he had been tracing the family tree back and had found that my great great great grandmother has converted from a Jew to a Catholic. So we were thinking that our family might have been Jewish afterall. Our family went to Ireland in the 1400s around the time that the Jews were expelled from Spain. If it was proven that we were Jewish in the past, would that make me Jewish even though my family has had nothing to do with Judasim for 4 or 5 genarations. What would I need to do to prove that to a rabbi? Is is there any Jewish organization that deals with this kind of research and help. Thank you

Answer

Jewish identity is passed on via the mother. If the mother is Jewish, the child is 100% Jewish. This is true regardless of who the father is, and whether he is Jewish or not, and regardless of whether the Jewish mother practiced another religion. That is the unwavering rule. At the same time, if someone's 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 3,000 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 thinks he has gone so far as to convert to another religion!

Therefore, if your mother's mother's mother was Jewish, then you would also be considered Jewish. However, because of the complexity of your situation, you will need to bring proof that your mother's mother's mother (or her daughter, granddaughter etc.) was Jewish. Proof may include birth certificates, gravestones, etc. Assuming this is too far back for you to go, then your status remains as a non- Jew.

With blessings from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Aish.com

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