Judaism is clear on the matrilineal descent. Yet it's not clear to me that the Matriarchs after Sarah were "Jewish" - they were Abraham's relatives, they were not Canaanites as requested by Abraham, but were they followers of Hashem as Abraham, Eliezer, Isaac was? I'm not clear on this distinction of being "Jewish" vs. being a "Hebrew." Abraham is the first Jew, but the Jewish people do not "officially" exist until Sinai.

Same goes for Joseph's wife - I've been told she underwent a conversion, but if Judaism didn't necessarily exist, then how? What's the difference then between her and Isaac and Jacob's wives?

Bottom line: Were the matriarchs after Sarah explicitly Jewish?

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    See judaism.stackexchange.com/q/8646/732 – Shmuel Brin May 16 '12 at 19:49
  • FWIW, There are opinions who say that Joseph's wife (Osnas) was actually the daughter of Dinah (and Sh'chem) which would make her Jewish matrilineally (assuming Dinah was). – HodofHod May 16 '12 at 20:06
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    echoing the ideas in the related question, Abraham was not Jewish (both the term and the binding Mosaic law are anachronisms). Monotheistic followers of hashem were not identified as Jews nor were they bound by laws and titles given later, so the question's premise is flawed. – rosends May 16 '12 at 23:36
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    Note that before Matan Torah Judaism went through the father (see Rashi at the end of Emor regarding the Mekalel's motivation to curse). This doesn't really help, though, since their wives weren't daughters of Avraham and his children. – DonielF Aug 5 '16 at 21:24
  1. A Jew is someone who is either born to a knowingly Jewish mother or officially converted.

  2. Although we never witnessed an explicit conversion for our foremothers, it is implied by all interpreters, same as Avraham is considered a Jew just by converting. This principle also applies to all other non-Jewish wives (like those of the 12 tribes) prior to Mt. Sinai event - they are considered 100% Jewish by conversion only.

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