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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Zera Yisrael

Harav Yosef Carmel

We have been dealing, over the last few weeks, with ideas to help integrate olim from the Former Soviet Union into Israeli society as full Jews. A group with a real obstacle is children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers.

They are, of course, not Jewish unless they undergo conversion. Yet, it is our opinion that we should not look at them as if they have, in the meantime, no connection to the Jewish People. The great majority were treated as Jews in the Soviet Union, where a citizen’s nationality is determined by his father, not his mother. As a result, they suffered from anti-Semitism. How shocked were many, upon arriving in Israel, to find out that halacha does not view them as Jewish and that they cannot get married here?

Many of these people declared, by making aliya and by the way they integrated into Israeli society, that they view themselves as Jews. “Your nation is my nation,” as Ruth declared, they fulfilled. Yet, before them still stands the demanding process of conversion, which includes the acceptance of “your G-d is my G-d.”

Let us try to understand what the difference is between those with a matrilineal and a patrilineal link to Judaism. The gemara (Kiddushin 68b) learns from the p’sukim  “Do not marry them [non-Jews],” followed by “for he will remove your son from Me” that one’s son from a Jewish woman is considered his son, whereas his son from a non-Jewish woman is not the son of his Jewish biological father. This is the unanimous ruling of all halachic authorities.

Rav Moshe Isserles, the preeminent codifier of the Ashkenazi community, taught us the following novel idea on the matter in his notes to the Tur, Darchei Moshe (Even Haezer 156). He cites the Ohr Zarua, a great, early Ashkenazi Rishon. He raises the possibility that the idea that a Jewish male’s child from a non-Jewish woman is not considered his is true only on the level of Torah law, but that Rabbinically he might be considered the Jew’s son. What does it mean to be his son Rabbinically? We certainly cannot let him or her marry a Jew! We can’t count him for a minyan! Rather, one prominent ramification is that the father has the responsibility to try to bring him into the fold by arranging for him to accept the Torah and convert.

Based on this and other sources Sephardic Chief Rabbi Rav Uziel came to the conclusion that there is a concept of zera Yisrael (the seed of Israel), which gives responsibilities to the Jewish father of the non-Jewish child. Arranging for the conversion is a form of atonement, so that his biological son does not stray further from Hashem and certainly does not come to hate Hashem and His mitzvot, including those in which even a non-Jew is commanded. We rely on the training he should receive under his father’s tutelage to cause him to uphold the commitments accepted with conversion.

We certainly should not create unnecessary obstacles and push away the candidate, as we often do for other candidates, regarding the child of a Jewish man. To the contrary, the State of Israel should try to bring close all the members of this group to avoid further assimilation and distress. If they are ready to undergo a serious conversion process, let us welcome them with open arms and a warm smile.

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