Is there any rabbinical precedent, ancient or recent, to tell somebody (for any reason) that they are Jewish (if such a person is unaware and does indeed have matrilineal Jewish descent)?

Scenarios I am thinking of, though not limited to such a scenario, is somebody (Jewish or not; related or not) who might be privy to adoptions, babies given up during the Shoah or the like, etc....

  • Are you asking that maybe if a person does not know they are Jewish; but we do know, then its best for us to let them live a life convinced they are Gentile??! I find that assumption hard to stand up to logic. Why would you think that? Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 4:31
  • @DavidKenner I do not where you came up with, "then its best for us to let them live a life convinced they are Gentile?"
    – ninamag
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 5:25
  • 3
    Your question asks for some Rabbinical source that we should inform a Jew (who does not know he/she is a Jew) that they are in fact Jewish. Why in the world would you think it is OK to hide this fact from them? Why do you need a source for what should be obvious? Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 7:01
  • 1
    If you know that someone is Jewish, but you don't tell them about it, that by definition is hiding info that you know about them.
    – aBochur
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 11:56
  • 1
    Sorry, I should have been clear that I was replying to your comment which said "On the other hand, you keep presenting a premise of "Ok to hide this fact from them", that does not exist in this post? Explain yourself" I'm saying that not telling them that they are jewish is actually hiding the info. || But i definitely like your question, and I was the first to upvote. Even though it's obvious that you have to let a Jew know that he's Jewish so he can start keeping torah etc..
    – aBochur
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 14:07

3 Answers 3


"Kol Yisrael areyvim zeh lazeh" "All Israel are responsible for one another" (see Talmud Sanhedrin 27b; Shavuos 39a)

This talmudic dictum is the source that we are responsible as Jews to make sure (to the best of our ability) that our fellow Jews also keep Torah and mitzvos.

Rashi in his commentary to Deut. 29:28, explains that once Israel crossed the Jordan and accepted the oath on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eval, they became one community and obligated (for all time) to make sure that none of their fellows would sin, or else be punished themselves for lack of taking responsibility for their neighbors actions.

So, if your fellow Jew sins, and you could have prevented it, you are also liable to punishment, and are obliged to try and stop the other person from sinning.

Levit. 19:17 states: ("Hocheyach Tochiyach") "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account."

From here we learn the general obligation that every Jew is obligated to rebuke another who is sinning.

Levit. 19:14 also tells us: "lifnei iver" "...You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person..."

It is a mitzvah to not cause another Jew to violate a Torah prohibition. (see Rambam Sefer HaMitzvos negative command 299)

Based on these verses and chazal, it is instantly understood that one must help a Jew who does not know they are Jewish by letting him/her know and showing them how to practice Judaism. Certainly, one should not be a party to allowing a Jewish child to be given to a gentile family.

A "tinok shenishbah" or an "infant that was captured" by gentiles, is the subject of Talmud shabbos 68b. There, Rav and Shmuel both agree that although the child will spend many Sabbaths violating the laws of Shabbos unknowingly and unwittingly, the child will eventually be obligated to bring a korban (sin offering) as soon as they find out they are Jewish and what Shabbos really means. (even Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish agree that the child is living a life of sin albeit forcibly, so as not to require the official offering) The Rambam paskens (decides) according to Rav and Shmuel, that the Halachah requires such a person to make up for their sins with a korban. (see Rambam Hilchos Shegagos 2:6 ; 7:2)

Therefore, we certainly have an obligation to help such a "tinok shenishbah" become aware they are Jewish, so they can stop sinning and keep Shabbos (as well as all the Torah).

The Rambam says that anyone who does not believe in Torah sheh'baal peh, is not even considered in the category of "Israel". However, if a child of such a person grew up in that father's community, (of heretics) we should treat that child as a "tinok shenishbah" and try to speak with that child in a peaceful manner in order to bring them back to Judaism.

(see Rambam Hilchos Mamrim 3:2-3 )

It should be learned from this Rambam, that a Jewish child living among gentiles (who are certainly not in the category of "Israel") would also be treated like a "tinok shenishbah". We would have to inform the child he is Jewish and re-affiliate them in a friendly way.

Gemara Gittin 47a:

"If someone sells himself and his children to idol-worshippers, we do not redeem him but we redeem the children."

"(We redeem the children) because of the ruin (that may befall them), how much more so, where there is a chance of murder."

From here we see that even if there is no risk of murder, we would redeem children (even without their parents) back into the Jewish community.

Gemara Gittin 57a:

The Rabbis taught: It once happened that Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Chananya was travelling to a great city in Rome. They said to him, "There is a baby in the prison who has beautiful eyes and a fine appearance, and his locks are arranged in curls"....

The story continues that R' Yehoshua found out he was a Jewish child and redeemed him. The child grew up to be R' Yishmael ben Elisha.

R Eliezer Silver - Vaad Hatzalah story:

In 1945 R' Eliezer Silver (eventually chief Rabbi of the United States and Canada) and Dayan Grunfeld of London, both went on a mission to post war Europe. They were tasked with finding lost Jewish children in orphanges. They came to a monastary in France which housed an orphanage for victims of the war years. R' Silver asked that the Jewish children be handed over. The priests denied there were any Jewish children there. So, R' Silver went to the children by bedtime and started reciting the bedtime Shma Yisroel verses out loud. Suddenly, many children in the crowd started crying for their parents and answering the shma. R' Silver liberated those children.

The story is mentioned in a recent post by Aish.com here:


  • @David_Kenner I understand and can agree. In fact, I upvoted. In case I missed it, did your answer indicate that Jewish adoption mediators, Jewish judges, Jewish rabbis, Jewish doctors, etc., need not abide under confidentiality agreements?
    – ninamag
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 5:45
  • @ninamag Thanks for your vote. If you had wanted to choose this answer as accepted you would have needed to clik "accept" as well besides upvoting. Since you spent on a bounty, you may wish to review bounty rules to know how to allocate your points, as they can become lost even if you upvote someone. I didn't know if you knew that or not. I did not mention that such people do not need to keep any such confidentiality agreements. Such a question was not in the OP. But its obvious that we cannot be held by any agreement to violate the Torah. Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 10:29
  • @Kenner I believe your great answer came just after the bounty had ended.
    – ninamag
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 13:57
  • @ninamag thanks for the compliment and the accept. :) Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 15:58

Their is a famous legend [link]of "Elchanan The Jewish Pope" in the time of the Rishonim. He was kidnapped and baptized as a child. His father came to plead to him on behalf of the Jewish community and in the course of this suprised the pope by beating him at chess (He had been taught chess as a child by his father). In the end of the story the father revealed his identity to his son, and the pope fled.

  • it was not clear from the link given that the person in question did not know he was Jewish born. Is there a more clearer source of the same story?
    – ninamag
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 4:25
  • sorry, I have heard the story many times. The link was the first one I found with google, I didn't even read it Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 20:43

Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:14)

You also must love other jews and you must be kind and merciful.

Doing kiruv is just that.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .