Would someone with Jewish heritage from a distant foremother on their maternal grandfather's side be considered Zera Yisrael?

In other words, does the person fit the definition of Zera Yisrael since their status as a Jewish person is in doubt, but it is acknowledged that they have Jewish ancestors?

  • They would not if they can be proven to be Jews Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 22:41
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    Is Zera Yisrael a technical term? I mean, I know what those words mean, but is it a halachic category or something? Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 17:26
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    @MonicaCellio "Zera Yisrael" is essentially not a technical term or a halachic category. The term was concocted in part based on a responsum by R' Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer where he waxed poetic when discussing a reason to condone a Jewish father who wants to circumcise his non-Jewish child (especially since such a child would be more likely to want to convert in the future when compared with a typical child with no biologically Jewish parents). He suggested that if this child would eventually decide to convert, it will have been meritorious to take anticipatory action to prevent him from...
    – Fred
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 5:28
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    ... facing a painful circumcision as an adult. As an afterthought, he poetically described this preparatory action as a means of participating in a metaphysical rectification of sorts for the original corruption of the father's "holy seed" which is being returned to its holiness. The responsum indicates that such a conversion is only laudable if it is sincere and warranted on its own merits, implying that it's inappropriate to encourage conversions that should otherwise not be conducted. However, this responsum has recently been used to fuel an aggressively proactive conversion agenda.
    – Fred
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 5:31
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    @Fred, thanks for the explanation! It would be great if that information could be summarized or linked in the question. Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 12:51

2 Answers 2


From the intro to chapter 5 in זרע ישראל by Rav Amsalem, he describes Zera Yisrael as:

ויש להם לרוב צד יהדות ברור, שאביהם או סבם או סבתם וכדומה היו יהודים שנשאו נכריות

So he does include a Jewish grandparent in his definition. In almost every example after that, the book seems to uses the case of a Jewish father, but it seems that Rav Amsalem views it more broadly, with "צד יהדות ברור" (clearly somewhat subjective) as being the key deciding factor.

  • SkinnyJ, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for contributing this on-point answer! I hope you'll look around and find other questions of interest, perhaps starting with our collection of 100+ am-yisrael-jewish-nation questions.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 4:02
  • Although the OP doesn't really ask if "zera Yisrael" is a legitimate halachic category, I should mention that, from what I have read (a substantial amount) of R' Amsalem's book, almost none of the many sources he cites actually support his thesis that "zera Yisrael" is a real halachic category that deserves special accommodation wrt the laws of גרות (except for the opinion of R' Uziel, which is widely rejected by poskim).
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 2:49
  • You might have some valuable information to offer on this recent question. cc @Fred
    – MTL
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 23:29

As I understand it, Zera Yisrael(Seed of Israel) IS a halachic concept, applicable to non-jews who are patrilineal descendants of Jews. That is, some forefather along their direct paternal lineage was halachically Jewish, whether it was one generation ago or a descendant of the Bnei Anusim of the inquisition period or anything in between. This can mean they are either direct paternal descendants or it can mean a distant forefather's mother was Jewish. However if the father is not a halakhic jew or paternal Zera Yisrael, the children are not Zera Yisrael.

So if the only Jewish heritage is on your maternal grandfather's side.. Even assuming so far that your maternal grandfather is a halachic Jew... it would at most make your mother a Zera Yisrael, but not you.

I understand there is a lot of debate today, especially in the area of conversion of descendants of Bnei Anusim and other 'Crypto-Jewish' populations, and ESPECIALLY among paternal "half-jews".. whether Zera Yisrael should have a special status for an expedited conversion or even just be fully accepted as Jews. I am not informed enough to speak further on that.

Still, if you are a potential convert with any Jewish heritage, or none at all for that matter, and you seriously want to become an official member of the tribe, you will be more than welcome.

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    Hayim, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for submitting this answer! It could be made much more valuable if you would edit in sources for your understandings. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 4:04
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    The nascent notion of "zera Yisrael" is sometimes attributed to responsa about the B'nei Anusim (e.g. Rashbash, §368). However, these responsa are not talking about children of Anusim fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Rather, they are talking about B'nei Anusim who are actual Jews.
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 3:17

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