I was adopted at birth, and had little religious teaching as a child. As a young adult I explored Christianity, but I was never able to fully embrace the concepts and beliefs that they expressed. At 40 years of age I established contact with my birth mother, who informed me that I am Jewish (she is not a practicing Jew, but is Jewish by heritage). After finding out where I come from I have spent the last few months looking into what Judaism is and what it means to be a Jew. I must admit it has awakened something inside of me, and I now think I know why I was never able to engage with Christianity. My question is how do I prove the bloodline, I have gotten mixed answers ranging from “a letter from my birth mother stating that that she gave birth to me and that she is Jewish” to “It cannot be proven and conversion is the only way,” or consult “genealogy records.” I would convert if that is the only way, but I would prefer to prove that I am Jewish by birth as I have daughters who will carry on the bloodline. What can you tell me?
There are two pieces of information that need to be verified in order to establish your status as a Jew. The first is your connection to your birth-mother, and the second is your birth-mother’s own Jewish status.
Your birth-certificate or adoption papers should be sufficient to demonstrate your connection to your birth-mother. If, for some reason, those documents are not available or are in some way unclear, a DNA test might prove conclusive.
Second, the Jewish status of your birth-mother must be authenticated. In general, Jewish law trusts individuals to verify their own Jewish status - if someone shows up in synagogue and claims to be Jewish, we include that individual without any investigation. We do, however, conduct a more thorough investigation prior to marriage since the stakes of an inter-faith marriage are so high from the perspective of Jewish Law. Furthermore, the large numbers of inter-faith marriages and conversions in recent decades has given birth to hundreds of thousands of American Jews without a straightforward Jewish status. One or more denomination might consider them Jewish, while other denominations might not.
If your birth-mother can collect evidence of her own genealogy such as ketuvot (wedding documents), pictures of tombstones, or other evidence of Jewish ancestry, that would assist you - or your daughters - should you ever wish to authenticate your Jewish status.
The Orthodox “Beit Din of America,” a rabbinic court that sits in New York, will investigate claims of Jewish status, collect and evaluate genealogical evidence, and issue a document (similar to a convert’s “certificate”) attesting to the Jewish status of the individual who submitted the request. They can be contacted via their website: bethdin.org.
I am struck that you ask not if you are Jewish, but how to prove you are Jewish. Why do you need to prove it? Who do you need to prove it to?
In today’s world most people have fluid religious identities. I doubt very many people will question you about your Jewish bona fides. However, for your own piece of mind, the most traditional Jewish sources will tell you that you are a Jew. Your birth mother was Jewish, therefore you are Jewish. If anyone asks, that is all you need to say. In the meantime, I would encourage you to take an Introduction to Judaism class, read about Judaism, and begin to experience the rituals and customs. If anyone is curious about why you do not already know about Judaism, just say that you did not come from a religious family. Most Jews today don’t.
Tell your daughters your full family history and explain their connection to Judaism as well. If you are a woman, then by Jewish law, your children are Jews as well. If you are a man and your children’s mother is not Jewish, then you will need to take them through the conversion process if you want them to be recognized as Jews.
The only place that will ask you for documentary proof of your Jewish identity is the State of Israel if you plan to move there. Only then would you need documentation from your birth mother, a letter stating that she is a Jew, a copy of her birth certificate, her parent’s marriage license, and things like that.
I am excited for you that you are embracing this part of your identify. I hope that your Jewish practice brings you great meaning and fulfillment.
According to the Reform movement you, as well as your daughters, would be considered Jewish if you wish to identify as such. The adopted child (in this case you) is given the benefit of the doubt when claiming an inherited Jewish identity, and there is no need to convert. Precedent for this is found in the Mishnah and the Talmud (Mishnah Kiddushin 4:2 and Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 73a), and in modern Israeli law. The current law, passed in 1970 reads, "for the purpose of this law [the Law of Return], Jew means a person born to a Jewish mother, or who has become converted to Judaism, and who is not a member of another religion" (Law of Return -Amendment, March, 1970, #4b; M. D. Goldman, Israel Nationality Law, p. 142; Israel Law Journal, Vol. 5, #2, p. 264).
That being said, educating yourself in Jewish religion, customs, and traditions is a critical aspect of Judaism. According to the Central Conference of American Rabbis “we distinguish between descent and identification,” and so require both (CCAR Responsa 38, October 1983). Furthermore, Jewish identity “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” (CCAR Responsa 38, October 1983).
We warmly welcome you and your daughters into the Jewish community based on the heritage of your birth as well as your interest and commitment to educate yourselves and be active participants.
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