Where does the basis for Jewish matrilineal descent come from?
Matrilineal descent is derived from Deuteronomy 7:4 according to the Talmud (Jewish Commentary on the Bible) The Talmud was begun in 188 CE with the Mishnah, but not completed until about 474 C.E. The closest we can get to when the matrilineal descent became fixed in Jewish Law would probably fall within that period.
Part of Jewish law (called the Oral Torah) as contrasted with G-d’s Torah reasons that if a woman is married then the assumption is that her children came from her husband. This is true even if she is raped. If she isn’t married then there is no question that the rapist is the father. Most rapes of Jewish women were from invaders who were clearly not Jewish. The only question then was if a child was from a non-Jewish invader, who is not Jewish, is the child Jewish, and Jewish tradition clearly states the child is Jewish.
What is the origin of Matrilineal Descent? The Oral Torah does not always state every law explicitly nor can it always be determined when it specifically became part of Halakhah (See above). This is one of those laws where Jewish law might be compared to the Catholic Cannon Law, except it is not considered superior to G-d’s law. .
An explanation of the practice as derived from: Deu 7:4
“Because he will lead astray your son from before Me” We must look at the preceding verse to understand this verse. “And you shall not intermarry with them, your daughter you shall not give to his son and his daughter you shall not take for your son.” Verse 4 should have stated, “Because She will lead astray your son” for the non-Jewish girl that your son married (your, meaning Jewish) should be the one that would lead your son astray. So, who is the “He”? It might be the girl’s father, but in general, women leave their father’s house and live in their husband’s house; they would then not be living with her father. Hence, it would not make sense for the girl’s father to lead “your son” astray if your son does not live with him.
The Rabbis concluded that ‘HE’ is the man that your daughter married, and ‘your son’ mentioned in verse 4 is your grandchild, meaning Jewish grandchild. Thus, verse 4 is referring back to the middle section of verse 3. It reads like this, “Your daughter you shall not give to his son because he will lead astray your son” This shows that the child of a Jewish girl and a non-Jewish boy will be Jewish.
It is not uncommon for the Torah to refer to a grandchild as an actual child. For instance, 1 Kings 15: 11 states, ” And Asa did that which was correct in the eyes of G-d just like David his father”. David was not Asa’s father. He was his great-great-grandfather.
Additionally, Leviticus 24:10 speaks of the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man as being “among the community of Israel” (i.e., a Jew). On the other hand, in Ezra 10:2-3, the Jews returning to Israel vowed to put aside their non-Jewish wives and the children born to those wives. They could not have put aside those children if those
children were Jews.
An analysis on: Intermarriage where the mother is a Gentile and the father Jewish.
Intermarriage, which took place before Sinai (The giving of the Law, Torah), such as Moshes’ marriage to Tziporah is irrelevant because before the Giving of Torah even born Jews did not have the full status of Jews as the term is used today. All Jews were considered converts at Sinai.
Marriage to converts such as Ruth should not be considered intermarriage
Actual intermarriage is not acceptable Jewish practice and an example is given in Ezra 9:1 and is strongly condemned later by Ezra and Nehemiah.
Many people argue that the Bible showed lineage from the father and why now from the mother. In the Bible, the lineage listed was for inheritance rights and not to show ethnicity. Daughters in biblical times had no rights of inheritance, therefore the lineage shown is tribal and from the father to prove legal inheritance rights of the eldest son.