By most authorities, there is an opinion that goes back centuries (at least to the time of the Spanish Inquisition), that someone who is a Jew but “leaves the fold” is still Jewish, according to halachah (Jewish law). Therefore, by the matrilineal line of descendancy, the son is also Jewish.
That said, should the son wish to re-enter his identification as a Jew, I think I would encourage some sort of “affirmation” – likely including the ritual of mikveh and an intentional brit milah (circumcision). While it may be true that the letter of the law does not mandate a conversion, he would still be obligated the mitzvah of circumcision (and the other mitzvot) by virtue of the fact that he is Jewish. An affirmation of this would be meaningful – not to mention clarifying, in his own spiritual journey.
Of course, a halachic definition of Jewishness does not fully give someone a Jewish identity. He is a Jew; but does he live Jewishly or identify Jewishly? For all people, regardless of birth, conversion, Jewish parentage or not, education and living with a connection to Judaism, practice and peoplehood, is extremely important.
In short, legal identity and religious identification are two different things. The son is Jewish, recognized as such by Jewish law and community and tradition. Now, what will he choose to do about it?...
Wishing you and yours wholeness on the path toward Jewish identity and meaning-making!
Thank you for asking this question. I have personally encountered a number of variations of this situation in my career. At the core of all the question is the status of the child when the mother had converted away from Judaism. (For the purposes of this answer, I am ignoring the Reform Movement’s positive ruling on patrilineal descent – since it was asked about a mother who converted.)
Allow me to give two answers: The first is technical - and the second is practical.
As a technical matter, when somebody converts away from Judaism, they are considered an apostate - someone who has chosen to deny their Jewish birthright and live religiously outside of the Jewish community. And yet, should they decide to rejoin the community and positively identify themselves as Jewish – let us ask: what would be the ceremony for them to rejoin? The answer is – there is no ceremony to rejoin! This is a good way for us to understand that once you are born of a Jewish mother (or convert to Judaism), then there is no way to ever become technically non-Jewish. There will always be the Jewish bloodline.
When someone is born Jewish - or converts to Judaism – that blood line remains a valid identifier – even if they convert out.
On this level, the child of the convert to Christianity could still claim a legal Jewish identity through the bloodline. That is a technical understanding of the situation. Now, on to the practical.
Practically, that child in our scenario will not have been raised in a Jewish home. They will never know Shabbat, or the Jewish holidays, or Hebrew, or kashrut, and so on. How then can that child come to practically claim their Jewish identity just because of their mother's bloodline? In my opinion, it cannot be that simple.
If someone came to me and told me that their Jewish mother had converted to Christianity before they were born - and they had they themselves had been raised as a Christian - and now they wanted to claim their Jewish identity, I would shout: Mazel Tov! Welcome Home!
But, there would have to be some sort of process of affirmation. It's not a conversion, but a period of study and integration into the Jewish community so that the child can connect with their Jewish heritage. In the end, it often depends on the rabbi that you contact as to what the process would be for reclaiming a Jewish identity.
To your technical question – “is the son still Jewish by blood?” – the answer is yes. To the practical connection to the Jewish community – the answer is: let’s talk.
On a personal note, I acknowledge the complication in the matter. Someone who is a bloodline Jew – but raised in a different religion – should not claim themselves as Jews (even with the technicality.) If that person was ever truly interested in identifying as a Jew, then they need to contact a rabbi and engage in some form of reconnection with the community through study and observance.
I hope this answers your question. I wish you luck as you continue on your journey with this question.
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