From the Desk - Matrilineal Lineage
Shalom Friends! I hope that you are all coping well with the weather! I have heard that some of our snowbirds are complaining that the climate in Florida is too cold. At the time of writing, it seems that the temperature has fallen to 23° and it is mostly cloudy. On behalf of all those in Montreal, we feel for you and hope it warms up soon (or at least in time for my family's trip next month). Another great thing about staying in Montreal is last week's Kehillah Shabbat in honour of Shabbat Shira! Yasher koach to Heshy Benshimon and the amazing choir as well as the special choir we put together for a beautiful rendition of the song "When You Believe"! And well done to the many members and friends who turned up to synagogue in weather of -12° and a synagogue building that was nearly as warm. In my sermon on Shabbat, we had a great interactive discussion on what makes our community special and I appealed to everyone to join the board and professional staff in exploring ideas to enhance the wonderful sense of community in Beth Ora. We have many ideas that we are planning and look forward to sharing them with you soon. In the meantime, I invite you to join the conversation and offer your own ideas for our community. Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What's the Deal with... Matrilineal Lineage? A few weeks ago, we read in the Torah about the children of Joseph who were born to Joseph's Egyptian wife. We all know that, according to Jewish law, Jewish status is determined by who the mother is. According to this, how come Joseph's children are considered Jewish? And when did the law develop determining that Jewish status follows the mother? What's the deal? With regard to Asenat (Joseph's wife), the rabbinic text Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer records a view that she was actually the daughter of Joseph's daughter Dinah. The story says that she was taken by angels to Egypt where she was adopted. But the topic of matrilineal descent is a different one entirely, which is not dependent on this Midrashic story. According to the Midrash, the principle of matrilineal descent is a law dating back at least to the time of the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Despite the fact that this law was orally transmitted and not written down for many centuries, the Rabbis refer to a number of Biblical passages which allude to it. One example is a verse in the Book of Leviticus: "The son of an Israelite woman went out; and he was the son of an Egyptian man." Despite the fact that this person's father is explicitly identified as a non-Israelite, the person himself is referred to by the Torah as being "in the midst of the community of Israel." The reason is because his mother was Israelite, even though his father was not. The Book of Ezra tells of how Ezra the Scribe returned from the Babylonian Exile to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The 40,000 Jews who accompanied him committed to observing the Torah, including separating from their non-Jewish wives and the children they had with them. The law of matrilineal descent was first codified in the Mishnah in the second century CE. It is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) without mention of any dissenting opinion. No source in any classical Halachic text raises any evidence of a differing ruling about this law. The late Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, offers an explanation of this law. An embryo sits within its mother's womb and develops for nine months. During those months, the fetus is nurtured from the bloodstream of the mother, affected by her emotions, by the sounds she hears and the places she goes. In addition, the mother tends to be more involved in the physical and psychological rearing of the child during the primary years that are most critical to the child's development. For these reasons, the woman's status is considered more important in determining the fundamental identity of the child.