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I have heard some talk to the effect that as long as an American Jew can trace his/her maternal lineage back to prewar Europe, he/she can be assumed to be Jewish.

Is this true? I assume there must be a point at which one can stop tracing one's maternal lineage -- but where is it?

Is there a time before which [we consider that] people simply didn't lie about being Jewish? When?

I ask for the purposes of:

  • Aliyah
  • Marriage, burial, and other lifecycle rites
  • Counting in a minyan
  • Touching wine

...And the many, many other purposes for which it matters whether someone is halachically Jewish.

  • 3
    Note that this only applies to Ashkenazim. Most American Sephardim are of North African or Middle Eastern descent – Noach MiFrankfurt Dec 7 '15 at 3:07
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/47968/1516 – SAH Oct 13 '16 at 7:58
  • Aliyah is dependent on current Israeli law and is hence off topic. – mevaqesh Oct 16 '16 at 19:05
  • @NoachMiFrankfurt And some Jews immigrated to the Americas long before World War II. :) – ezra Feb 9 '18 at 14:47
  • @mevaqesh Aliyah L'Torah is what she meant. :) – ezra Feb 9 '18 at 14:48
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in regard to aliya, touching wine, and counting for minyan one can rely on chazka that if someone was assumed a Jew he is. when it comes to marriage so long as there is no reason to suspect one can rely on chazka and does not need to research there yichus. Should there be a reason to suspect otherwise, you must trace back until there is no more reason for suspicion. (and then once again you can rely on chazaka)

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya. Since the vast majority of us don't know who you are, we have no reason to believe what you say. Therefore, you should edit into your answer a source for each of its claims. – msh210 Dec 7 '15 at 4:33
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The answer (supported by comments here) is that one must trace one's maternal line until one reaches a "confirmed" Jew (i.e., by an Orthodox ketubah, or some other formal endorsement of one's Jewishness by an Orthodox musmakh--perhaps also including a beit din record, a burial, etc.).

  • This seems like a link only answer. Additionally, I don't even see any sources in those comments. – mevaqesh Oct 16 '16 at 19:11
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UPDATE:

There are various batei din around the world who will do a "birur yahadut," an investigation, and then issue you a "Teudat Yahadut" or a "Teudat Ravakut" or an "Ishur Yahadut." They will tell you exactly what you need. The RCA for example asks for this:

Copies of passport, birth certificate, driver's license, teudat zehut (if you are Israeli); passport photo; family tree going back at least 3 generations with as many details as possible; mother's birth certficate; letter from a rabbi confirming you are jewish; parents' ketubah; any other documents (including diploma from jewish day school, grandparents' burial records from jewish cemetery, letters from family members describing jewish practices).

(I was told that census records and even pictures of your ancestors may also carry some weight, though I'm not sure how much.)

The Sydney Beth Din asks for:

Copies of birth certificate, mother's birth certificate, driver's license, parents' ketubah, parents' marriage certificate, and get or death records in case of remarriage; affirmation that you are Jewish by 2 Jewish people not related to you nor 2 each other.

It is not exactly clear from the above how much you need for a proof. However, in my experience, it seems you need either one Orthodox religious document from the maternal line (=ketubah/get/conversion certificate/record of burial in an Orthodox cemetery), or two letters from Orthodox rabbis attesting that you are Jewish. However, I was asked for more, and it seems some people are asked for less.

For practical purposes, it may be best to contact a local beis din and try to get a teudat yahadut from them; if this fails, you can then try in higher batei din. If all that fails, you may need a giur l'chumra or even a giur.

  • Note that this is dealing with people whom the beit din has reason to question. There is no indication that an average Jew needs to start investigating whether he is Jewish, as the question insinuates. – mevaqesh Sep 28 '17 at 3:51
  • @mevaqesh In many communities, if you want to get married, you need to do it. Also, some of us want to make aliyah – SAH Sep 28 '17 at 3:52
  • @mevaqesh Also, I know you didn't mean it, but your comment is a little insulting. I had to go through this process and so did other prominent users of this site. It doesn't make us any less than "average Jews," I don't think. – SAH Sep 28 '17 at 3:53
  • You misunderstood. The point is that if some random (average as in randomly selected) Jew wakes up in the morning he doesn't have to start question whether he is Jewish. The default is not questioning ones identity, but assuming it. Only in a case of doubt does the question begin. || Someone unsure of his identity is not less than someone sure of his identity. A person's value is a combination of inherent human value, and value through behaviour. || A non-Jew is not less valuable...Nor is someone unsure of his identity. But I digress. – mevaqesh Sep 28 '17 at 4:09
  • The point is that the question was how much proof is necessary to prove someone is Jewish for touching wine for example. If Bob lived his life as a Jew and was told by his parent he is Jewish, and touched wine, it isnt presumed to be stam yeynam until he meets the criteria in this question. | He counts in a minyan, etc. – mevaqesh Sep 28 '17 at 4:11

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