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Shalom Aleichem, I am considering a halachic conversion to Judaism after having converted (along with several family members of mine) with a reform rabbi several years ago. In my research and studies, I have come across the term "Zera Yisrael", which I understand loosely means one of Jewish descent who is not halachically Jewish. I am wondering where the term comes from, what traditional contexts it is used in, and who the term specifically applies to. My curiosity stems in large part from an article by Rabbi Hyim Shafner (see source below) which seems to apply the definition liberally to include "someone who is not technically Jewish by birth but has some connection to the Jewish people, a Jewish father or grandparent, or perhaps lives in the Jewish country fighting its wars and casting their lot with its people". Does the traditional definition of "Zera Yisrael" include individuals of non-Jewish descent (and have yet to convert) who have cast their lots with the Jewish people and Yiddishkeit?

In your response, please include sources. Thank you!

(Source: http://morethodoxy.org/2010/04/03/why-we-need-a-reversion-of-conversion-by-rabbi-hyim-shafner/)

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    Welcome to MY, and good luck on your journey! You might want to have a look at this related question for more info. – MTL Apr 14 '15 at 23:28
  • Thanks, I actually read that question prior to posting but it did not quite answer my question. – user9289 Apr 15 '15 at 15:44
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Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer was the first to coin the phrase: Zera Yisrael

Rabbi Kalischer used this in reference to someone born to a non-Jewish mother but had a jewish father. He referred to them as Zera Kadosh - Holy Lineage. However, Rabbi Kalischer did not use it in a halachic context.

The most vocal and bold Halachist to apply this concept was the Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel Rav Ben Zion Meir Chai Uziel (שו”ת משפטי עוזיאל, כרך ב יו”ד סי’ נב) who argued that the concept of Zera Yisrael is considered so legitimate that it can be applied to determine lineage. For example, if the non Jew -zera Yisrael father is a Kohen, despite his mother being a gentile, once he converts his "zera Yisrael" kicks in and he is considered a full fledged Kohen and can partake in the many benefits/ prohibitions that apply to Kohanim.

Rabbi Uziel was deeply concerned about the fate of children born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Such children, although of Jewish stock (zera Yisrael), are in fact not halakhically Jewish. Children raised in such intermarriages will be lost to the Jewish people entirely. Thus, it is obligatory for rabbis to convert the non-Jewish mother in order to keep the children in the Jewish fold. Rabbi Uziel noted: “And I fear that if we push them [the children] away completely by not accepting their parents for conversion, we shall be brought to judgment and they shall say to us: ‘You did not bring back those who were driven away, and those who were lost you did not seek.’ (Yehezkel 34:4).”

Some (source for quote above as well) have argued that the concept of Zera Yisrael is also used as a justification to streamline the conversion process. Where traditionally a certain amount of time is given in order to bring the prospective convert up to speed in torah knowledge, or acclimation to an observance life, as well as to discern their true motivation for conversion. Some have argued that in the case of a Zera yisrael, we speed up the process and accept them right away as it is a mitzvah to bring that back under The Wings of the Schechina.

However, this concept (if legitimate) is only limited to those that are literal descendants of Jewish lineage.

  • See my comments on this question and also my comment on an answer there. – Fred Jul 24 '16 at 4:22
  • If you take a look at this responsa, it's not clear that he is making any halachic arguments or rulings, but just discussing an interpretation of a passage in the gemara. The entire responsa is just a few lines long. If he had any intention to make a halachic ruling, a few lines would not justify a decision with such a grave issue. – user8726 Dec 18 '17 at 7:03
  • Can you source this Mishpetei Uziel? Especially vol. 2. is Even HaEzer and not Yoreh Deah – Shmuel Brin Aug 8 '18 at 5:32
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Judaism is a 'reshus' (domain), so that people within that domain (of God) are Jewish and people who are not within that domain are not Jewish.

The halachah determines who is and who is not in this domain, for example the halachah determines that a black convert is Jewish, because they are within this reshus, and the child of an inter-marriage (Jewish father) is not because they aren't.

I.e. the definition of the Jews is not a 'people' but an amalgamation.

The fact that the progenitor of a person not within this reshus may have been Jewish is therefore irrelevant to their Jewishness.

  • The question was not about "Jewishness" but about whether they are part of a separate category called "zera yisrael". – Alex Jan 11 at 18:23

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