Reform Jews Discuss Patrilineal descent at Worldwide Reform Conference

Almost no congregations accept patrilineal descent outside U.S.

Published: February 20th 2011
in News » World

World Union for Progressive Judaism

Reform Jews discussed accepting patrilineal descent outside of America at the biennial conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in San Francisco last week.


Few Reform congregations outside the United States accept matrilineal descent- which accepts as Jews those born to just a Jewish father and contradicts standard Jewish law that a Jew must be born to a Jewish mother-but there is one in England, one in Ireland and one in Holland, reports Cleveland Jewish News.


For 30 years the American Jewish Reform movement has accepted patrilineal descent as long as the child has been raised Jewish. No Conservative or Orthodox Rabbis accept it.


The doctrine has not spread even in countries with high rates of intermarriage, where it would certainly grow congregations. According to Reform rabbis at the conference, it is mainly because they want to get along with other Jewish movements in their country, there are concerns about not being eligible for marriage with other Jews, and problems the Jew would face should he or she move to Israel.


Rabbi Robert Jacobs, a South African Reform Rabbi explained that Israel requires proof of matrilineal descent for wedding ceremonies and burials, so if his congregation accepted matrilineal descent, it would be hard for them to move to Israel, which many South African Jews do.


“South African Jews live with a particular angst,” Jacobs said, reports Cleveland Jewish News. A 1983 non-binding resolution from Reform Rabbinical body of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) passed acceptance of patrilineal descent, even though it remains controversial and they knew many movements even within Reform would not accept it.


Even in Canada, patrilineal descent is not accepted.


“At the time, the Canadian rabbis made it clear they would not accept it, so it’s not surprising that other Reform groups outside the U.S. don’t accept it,” said Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, president of CCAR, reports Cleveland Jewish News.


Although the issue was debated, it is highly unlikely that many more Reform Rabbis around the world will accept it.


Cleveland Jewish News repots that Jean-Francois Levy, former president of France’s Liberal Jewish Movement said “We meet people sympathetic to us, and I’m afraid that those who might join us would not do so if we embrace patrilineality,” Levy said. “They would say, 'Look, they don’t even know the most basic Jewish traditions.'”

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