Parashat Emor 5770/ May 1, 2010
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
From the “son of an Israelite woman” to “Jewish stock”
the Jewish Status of Immigrants from the Former
Dr. Yoel Shiloh
“There came out among the Israelites one whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. And a fight broke out in the camp between that half-Israelite and a certain Israelite” (Lev. 24:10).
According to the plain sense of the text, two people came to blows, one of them designated as the son of an Israelite woman, and the other, an Israelite. In the course of the fight, the son of the Israelite woman cursed G-d and was punished by the death sentence. Scripture explicitly mentions that the half-Israelite was the son of Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan but does not give the name of his Egyptian father. On this, Rashi cites the midrash that the father was the Egyptian whom Moses had killed: 
The Egyptians were the taskmasters, and the Israelites, the foremen. Each taskmaster was in charge of ten foremen, and each foreman was in charge of ten men… A taskmaster came early one morning to the house of a foreman and said to him, “Go and gather your ten workers.” When the taskmaster entered the foreman’s house the latter’s wife smiled at him… As soon as her husband left, he came in and misconducted himself with her. The foreman turned around and saw the taskmaster coming out of his house. The taskmaster, realizing that the foreman had seen him leaving, kept beating him all day, saying to him, “Work hard, work hard,” meaning to kill him.
At that moment the Holy Spirit began to stir in Moses, and he saw what the taskmaster had done to the foreman in his house and what he was planning to do to him out in the field,… so forthwith “he struck down the Egyptian” (Ex. 2:12).
According to this
legend, the half-Israelite was born of this incident after his Egyptian father
had died. Presumably he grew up in his
mother’s home, an Israelite in every respect, and left
There came out … one whose mother was Israelite – from whence did he come out? Rabbi Hiyya says: He came out as a result of the section regarding pedigrees. For he sought to pitch his tent in the camp of the Dannites, but they said to him, “What right have you to pitch your tent among the Dannites?” “I am the son of a Dannite woman,” he responded. They said, “Scripture says, ‘Each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral [lit. fathers’] house’ (Num. 2:2), not their mothers’ house.” He appealed to Moses’ court, and lost his case, so he rose and reviled G-d.
According to this midrash, the pedigree of the half-Israelite is determined by his Egyptian father, not his Jewish mother,  but in view of the prohibition against mixed marriages – “You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons of take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn our children away from Me to worship other gods, and the Lord’s anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out” (Deut. 7:3-4) – the Sages established matrilineal descent. 
also emerges from the narrative about the gentile wives taken by the returnees
Throughout the ages there have been many posekim who were inclined not to entirely deny the Jewish status of children born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, but called them “of Jewish stock” even though they were not Jewish by the Halakhah.  The amora Rav Assi held that a marriage to a gentile might possibly be kosher, since he might be a descendant of the Ten Tribes, who married gentile women.  Therefore, the gentile might be “like a Jew,” or “have a Jewish stock in him.” 
Over sixty years ago Rabbi Uzziel published his view that one should be lenient in converting the son of a Jewish father and a gentile mother: 
A gentile, son of a Jewish father and gentile mother, was brought by his father to be converted, for the court had to convert him since, even though he is the son of a gentile woman, he is not altogether outside of the Jewish people… the actions of a Jew who circumcises his son born of a gentile women prove that he wishes not to have his son cut off from the Jewish people; except that he fell in love with a gentile woman and could not bring himself to leave her, therefore he circumcised his sons with the intention and desire of including them in the covenant of the Jewish faith.
In the state of
The question of defining
who is a Jew came to the fore again in the 1990’s, following the great wave of
immigration from the former
In 1998 Rabbi Menashe Klein, admor of Ungvar, called for doing all one could to save the remains of Soviet Jewry. He considered this a task of saving lives, plain and simple, for if one is supposed to try to save a person’s body, all the more so should one try to save a person’s soul. However, he thought we should give preference to those whom we know are surely Jewish or of Jewish descent, and not seek out those who are far from Judaism: 
Most of our brethren who remained behind the Iron Curtain, from the day they were born never saw the light, but were pursued by the evil regime which sought to eradicate every trace of religion, especially our holy Torah… Therefore most of them became assimilated among non-Jews, marrying gentile women, so that their offspring were cut off from the faith, or the women married gentile men and bore children for whom Judaism passed into oblivion, even though in fact they were Jews… Be that as it may, we should do all we can for those people who were born proper Jews but, due to the circumstances and the times fell victim to Communism and Nazism. But as for seeking out the children or grandchildren of those who have long since been lost, in my humble opinion I see no point in doing so… Surely every Jew shares responsibility for other Jews, but still one must make a reckoning and first take in those who are close to us, and tend to those who are far away later.
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef went even further, recommending that immigrants be recognized as Jews even solely on the basis of their own declaration: 
I have seen fit to discuss the matter of the new wave of immigration from the Soviet Union, with which we are now graced, proclaiming liberation for the captive, freeing prisoners from their bonds, from behind the Iron Curtain, where they have been for over seventy years, under a cruel and hostile Communist regime, and now are coming to Zion in masses, thousands and myriads.
questions arise concerning this wave of immigration, for by what we hear there
is reason to worry that many non-Jews are taking advantage of this wave of
immigration due to the economic shortages in the Soviet Union, and are joining
the Jews immigrating to Israel. We must
know when a person comes to register as a Jew if he is acting in good faith,
even if he has no documents attesting that he is a Jew, and it suffices for us
to have his declaration that he is a Jew, or whether he must prove it with
reliable witnesses… Most of the
immigrants coming from
We must do everything
possible to bring closer to Judaism those immigrants from the former
Raise your eyes and
look about: they have all gathered and
come to you. Your sons shall be brought
from afar, your daughters like babes on shoulders” (Isa. 60:4).
Who are these that float like a cloud, like
doves to their cotes? (Isa. 60:8). And
the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with shouting to
 Leviticus Rabbah, ch. 32.
 See Nahmanides’ commentary on this, where he cites Tosafist (French) sources which say that prior to the giving of the Torah pedigree followed the father, as was the practice among other nations. Nahmanides, however, does not agree with this view. See other interpretations of his and those of other commentators on this passage.
 Kiddushin 68b.
 There were also posekim who took the opposite approach, requiring conversion of anyone born of a Jewish mother and a gentile father and raised by the father. Cf. Hiddushei Yom-Tov Algazi, Bekhorot 47a. In practice, the Rabbinical High Court of Appeals ruled explicitly that the law does not follow Yom- Tov Algazi (Appeal no. 730/79). Cf. M. Corinaldi, Hiddat ha-Zehut ha-Yehudit, Hok ha- Shevut Halakhah le- Ma`aseh, Serigim-Leon 2001, p. 197.
 Yevamot 16b, Rashi, s.v. ma`aserot.
Yevamot par. 98, Or Zarua
part I, par. 607,
 Responsa Piskei Uzziel bi-She’elot ha- Zeman, par. 64. Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uzziel was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi from 1939 to 1953.
 HCJ 58/68, Shalit v. the Minister of Interior, 23(2) PD 472.
 Amendment no. 2, 1970, art. 4b.
 In this regard one should note the support given by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at the time the first version of the Law of Return was enacted, despite his personal views: “Any person who comes to me and says, ‘I am a Jew,’ and I have no reason to think he is a criminal and wished to tell me that he is a Jew in order to commit a crime – I would accept as a Jew.” Cf. M. Leibowitz et. al., Mi-hu Yehudi be-Yameinu, Tel Aviv 2006, p. 64.
 Even the first version of the Law of Return, from 1950, stipulated (article 4A [a]) that the rights of an oleh “are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew,” i.e., utter non-Jews. see http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1950_1959/Law%20of%20Return%205710-1950]
 Resp. Mishneh Halakhot, part 15, par. 99.
Yabia Omer, part 7, Even ha-Ezer, par.
1. This halakhic ruling was also
accepted by the special court for clarifying questions of Jewish identity set
up by the Chief Rabbinate in