Report of the Committee on Patrilineal Descent
on the Status of Children of Mixed Marriages
Adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis
at its 94th Annual Convention, March 15, 1983
The purpose of this document is to establish the
Jewish status of the children of mixed marriages in the
Reform Jewish community of North America.
One of the most pressing human issues for the North
American Jewish community is mixed marriage, with all
its attendant implications. For our purpose mixed mar-
riage is defined as a union between a Jew and a non-Jew.
A non-Jew who joins the Jewish people through conversion
is recognized as a Jew in every respect. We deal here
only with the Jewish identity of children born of a
union in which one parent is Jewish and the other parent
This issue arises from the social forces set in
motion by the Enlightenment and the Emancipation. They
are the roots of our current struggle with mixed mar-
riage. "Social change so drastic and far reaching could
not but affect on several levels the psychology of being
Jewish.... The result of Emancipation was to make Jew-
ish identity a private commitment rather than a legal
status, leaving it a complex mix of destiny and choice"
(Robert Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought, p. 544).
Since the Napoleonic Assembly of Notables of 1806, the
Jewish community has struggled with the tension between
modernity and tradition. This tension is now a major
challenge, and it is within this specific context that
the Reform Movement chooses to respond. Wherever there
is ground to do so, our response seeks to establish
Jewish identity of the children of mixed marriages.
According to the Halacha as interpreted by tradi-
tional Jews over many centuries, the offspring of a
Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is recognized as a
Jew, while the offspring of a non-Jewish mother and a
Jewish father is considered a non-Jew. To become a Jew,
the child of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father
must undergo conversion.
As a Reform community, the process of determining
an appropriate response has taken us to an examination
of the tradition, our own earlier responses, and the
most current considerations. In doing so, we seek to be
sensitive to the human dimensions of this issue.
Both the Biblical and the Rabbinical traditions
take for granted that ordinarily the paternal line is
decisive in the tracing of descent within the Jewish