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Jewish Lineage


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Sivan 17, 5774
Dear Rabbi, If a person’s great-grandmother had been halachically Jewish and there had been a matrilinear line of Jewish women (in other words: a person’s mother’s mother’s mother was halachically Jewish) , however the generations after the grand-grandmother (and possibly the great-grandmother herself) indeed practiced christianity, what is the status of the person? Is he Jewish according to the halacha and do the mitzvot (specifically the prohibitions) that apply to Jews also apply to him? I got to know a man with this specific lineage. He was told by someone that "after three generations" (it was not elaborated of what exactly (three generations of what?)) the Jewish status would not be conserved. I was sceptical if this was true, since it seemed to me that the principle by Jewishness is determined is by uninterrupted matrilinear descent. I read about other cases that the person would have to undergo symbolic conversion. However I would wonder if in a strict sense the person would not be Jewish (and in a strict sense the mitzvot (for example not eating pork) would also apply to him) Is there any such principle that it would make a difference how many (matrilinear) generations one would be removed from the last Jewish ancestress who did not practice a foreign religion? If such a number exists, in how far would the fact the ancestresses practiced christianity be of importance? From my understanding, the person is interested in a clarification of his status and is interested in Judaism (and whether or not he would undergo a conversion to Judaism - on the premise that he was not Jewish because of the number of generations from his great-grandmother) and he does not believe in christianity (even though his mother practiced christianity). Thank you very much in advance! It is highly appreciated
ב"ה Shalom Since as described in the question you are talking about an actual individual and not a theoretical one, this question must be presented to your community Rabbi because of the practical ramifications. I will answer in general guidelines since I also have already answered a similar question previously. See In general one does not lose his Jewishness neither can he renounce it and even if one has knowingly decided to adopt a different religion he will be held accountable for his transgressions. Although, he is penalized in different ways. The case is somewhat different if one grew up in an atmosphere not knowing that he was Jewish or even knowing that he was Jewish but received no Jewish education. (See Rambam in his letter to the Jews of Yemen, Rambam Hilchot Mamrim 3:3, Hilchot Shgagot 2:6). All the best
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