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My mother was raised as Jewish, and I was given a Bris as a child and was exposed to some culture in the form of songs and food and celebrating Jewish holidays (mainly at home or with my more observant uncle), but we very rarely went to temple and I only learned very little Hebrew. She converted to another religion before my Bar Mitzvah, about 25 years ago. I in essence became atheist/humanist over the years, I still self identify with the Jewish ethno-cultural group although my knowledge is admittedly limited.

Now I have a son of my own, I would like to know more about my own heritage so that I can address questions he might want answered. I am looking for a place or source of information, and am hesitant to ask a rabbi as I am not religiously observant. I understand that there are many differences in the religion, the ethnic identity, and the nation founded with Judaism at its base.

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  • Is your wife Jewish? – cham May 14 '15 at 18:37
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    kleineg, welcome to Mi Yodeya! It's not quite clear to me what your goal is in this communication your son. Naturally, the only one who can determine what your heritage means to you is you. What, at least somewhat specifically, is it that you want your son to take away from the conversation? If you can edit this question to be sharper, preferably stated in a way that's applicable to anyone in a similar situation, that could go a long way to making this more answerable. – Isaac Moses May 14 '15 at 18:41
  • She is not. As such I understand that my son is not technically considered Jewish as per religious belief, I don't know if that translates into the ethno-cultural side. – kleineg May 14 '15 at 18:46
  • @IsaacMoses Does that help? I suppose that I am actually asking for myself, and that the question has only come up in me because I want to be more sure of my own heritage before being asked by my son, or deciding on a method of exposing him to different religions and cultures. (One thing that was done at the church my mother went to was for the youth group to go to other places of worship including Temple and take part as much as was permitted to see what other religions practice and believe). – kleineg May 14 '15 at 18:57
  • kleineg, I think your edit did help. If I understand correctly now, recommendations of books, websites, classes, etc. could fit the bill. – Isaac Moses May 14 '15 at 19:29
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Since your wife is not Jewish, as you mention in the comments, your son is also not considered Jewish per halacha. That doesn't mean that you can't tell your son a bit about his Jewish ancestry. Whatever aspects are important to you, you can simply tell him.

If you love doing volunteer work and feeding the hungry, you can tell him about how Judaism believes strongly in those things. If you like a good potato kugel, you can serve that in your house and tell him that it's a Jewish dish that you have a connection to. Basically, you can teach him whatever is of value to you.

If you are looking to learn more about Judaism to teach your son, this site is actually a fantastic place to find information! There are thousands of questions about Judaism that have already been asked and answered. And if you have a question that you want to know the answer to which hasn't been addressed here, you can always ask just like you did here!

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    What makes potato kugel a Jewish dish, just because Jewish people eat it? – cham May 14 '15 at 21:47
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    @chaim yep that's about it. AFAIK, most non-Jews would have no idea what a potato kugel is. – Daniel May 14 '15 at 21:54
  • @cham oops I misread your name as chaim – Daniel May 14 '15 at 22:58
  • It should be noted that the matrilineal-only definition of "Jewish" is not accepted by Reform Judaism, or Reconstructionist Judaism. – Hypnosifl May 14 '15 at 23:23
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    "If you love doing volunteer work and feeding the hungry, you can tell him about how Judaism believes strongly in those things." … don't most people? This doesn't seem like much of a religious idea. – bjb568 May 15 '15 at 2:44
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Depending on where you live, you might actually be able to take a class. In many cities (at least in the US) there are "Introduction to Judaism" classes, taught by local rabbis. These classes are mainly aimed at people considering conversion to Judaism, but they are also attended by people like you -- born Jews who for whatever reason don't know much about Judaism and want to change that. Sometimes they're attended by couples where one is a Jew and the other is considering conversion; in that case sometimes the Jew needs to learn as much as the would-be convert, and that's considered normal and acceptable. It wouldn't be weird for a Jew to take such a class, in other words.

The only obligation arising from these classes is to pay the course fee; there is no presumption that non-Jews will actually convert or that any attendee will join a synagogue or become more observant. (But if that's what someone seeks, the class provides an entry point and an opportunity to "shul shop".)

There are also many fine books and online resources (including Mi Yodeya!). What a class gives you is the direct human element; interacting with the same group of fellow learners over a period of time strengthens you in ways that it's harder to get when working alone. Fortunately it's not either/or but both/and. :-)


That's all about how you learn your heritage. As you noted, your wife is not Jewish and so your son is not Jewish per halacha. It is best if you do not, therefore, tell him he is Jewish. But he is your son and has your heritage as part of his history. Focus on that.

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    There are also a lot of free classes out there for beginners. – Fred May 14 '15 at 21:07
  • My local intro-to-Judaism class is nearly free (or was last I heard). They only charge for books, and I imagine that more and more moves online every day. Last time I taught a session people were using their tablets, not paper editions, to look at torah text, for instance. (Obviously this was not on Shabbat.) I mean, you're going to want a chumash and a tanakh on paper eventually, but the course used to distribute copies at cost. – Monica Cellio May 14 '15 at 21:17
  • Teaching goyim Jewish subjects (umishpatim bal yedoum) – cham May 14 '15 at 21:49
  • @cham the topics are pretty basic (it is an intro class) and the course is generally taught by rabbis. (I've helped some when there have been scheduling problems because the rabbis involved specifically know me. That's not usual.) – Monica Cellio May 14 '15 at 21:56

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