CARR 71-72


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

42. Jewish Status and Mistaken


QUESTION: A young woman has been raised to consider herself

as Jewish. Her mother assured her that her “real” father was Jewish and that she herself had

some Jewish lineage in her genealogy. She did not receive any kind of Jewish education, but

had Jewish friends and occasionally attended some Jewish ceremonies at home and in the

synagogue. Upon reaching maturity she discovered that there was, in fact, no Jewish ancestry at

all. What is her status? (Rabbi E. H. Hoffman, Brookline, MA)ANSWER: This young

woman will undoubtedly need some counseling in regard to her Jewish identity and probably also

in connection with her family life. After all, she grew up thinking that someone who was actually

her father was not her father. We should be sympathetic to her and guide her in every way

possible so that she may overcome whatever difficulties are present. As far as her

Jewish identity is concerned, we would follow the ruling of the Central Conference of American

Rabbis: “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 statement indicates that

identity is conferred through lineage and acts of identification. In this instance the young woman

in question has not fulfilled either one of these requirements, so we would encourage her to

become Jewish through conversion. It might make her feel better to realize that even if there had

been one Jewish parent and she lacked a formal Jewish education, the requirements would have

been the same. A young woman like this will need some special attention above and

beyond what we normally provide for those who join us, and that should certainly be

given.July 1985

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.