matrilineal descent for lesbian couples
March 29, 2010 9:34 AM   Subscribe

queer-judaism filter: can't find an answer online: two moms, one jewish, the other not. how does traditional matrilineal descent apply to "lesbian" couples?

does it matter which mom carries the pregnancy? what if one mom carries the other mom's fertilized egg? the many other theoretical scenarios?
posted by anya32 to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, it matters who carries the pregnancy. I've heard it joked that Judaism is passed via birth canal. This question was answered when IVF started gaining traction. Doesn't matter whose eggs are used, just what womb the baby occupies.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:36 AM on March 29, 2010


I think stoneweaver's right, unless the Jewish mom in question practices in the Reform tradition. In that case it's fine, because fratrilineal descent is accepted.
posted by liketitanic at 9:47 AM on March 29, 2010


If Reform, nothing matters, it seems...if orthodox, they are outcasts.
posted by Postroad at 9:50 AM on March 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


But the kid is still Jewish. The same thing applies for Conservative Judaism, which is much more accepting of lesbians.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:55 AM on March 29, 2010


Remember, this is a set of laws that predates "lesbian" even being an accepted concept. There's no such thing as "two mothers" in traditional Jewish law; there's exactly one, which was hammered down to "the womb" when IVF came around.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The logic is pretty clear. There can always be doubt about who contributed the genetic material. There can't be any doubt about whose womb the person occupied when it was a fetus.
posted by alms at 10:06 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


As David Cross so eloquently states it: "Was your mother's vagina Jewish?...Then you're a Jew."
posted by gnutron at 10:19 AM on March 29, 2010


It isn't that "nothing matters" in reform judaism - it is a different take on descent. See here.
posted by pinky at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2010


IAmNotARabbi, but nthing above - it's the womb that matters, as far as I know.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:32 AM on March 29, 2010


Well, IAmARabbi, and that answer is correct. :O)

Yes, for traditional Judaism, the woman who carries the pregnancy determines the baby's religious status. Reform Judaism requires only that at least one parent is Jewish, and that the child be raised in a household that observes "timely and relevant acts" of Jewish life. (In other words, genetics are necessary-but-not-sufficient.)

The couple in question should consult their rabbi, though, to find out answers about adoption, for instance, and how to see to it that the non-childbearing partner's name will become part of the child's full Hebrew name.
posted by AngerBoy at 10:43 AM on March 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tomorrowful: "There's no such thing as "two mothers" in traditional Jewish law"

There's no such thing as a car in traditional Jewish law, but that doesn't keep the rabbis from interpreting new rules to cover new concepts by trying to view them in terms of the old rules. (In that case, driving a car requires little explosions in the engine, which is like starting little fires, which is one of the 39 banned activities on the Sabbath.)
posted by Plutor at 10:47 AM on March 29, 2010


Here's an article that deals with gay parents and descent, and specifically the issue of a child with a biological non-Jewish mom and a non-biological Jewish mom, albeit not from a traditional halachic perspective (it's published by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association).

Patrilineal Descent and Same-Sex Parents: New Definitions of Identity

In terms of traditional Judaism (where this issue comes up in the context of surrogacy and egg donation, not lesbians co-moms), it was my impression, as others wrote here, that it's the mother who gives birth who is recognized as the halachic mother - but apparently, as many things are in Judaism, it's not so clear cut after all and the current practice apparently is "Unless both the birth mother and the genetic mother is Jewish, a conversion is done as a stricture."

This blog post from The Sisterhood (fantastic blog, btw) brings the conflicting opinions of two very well respected modern Jewish legal thinkers and gives links to their work supporting their positions, one of which seems to be that the egg donor could be considered the halachic mother: Fractional Parenting: What Makes a Jewish Mother?
posted by Salamandrous at 12:11 PM on March 29, 2010


I don't know anything about traditional Jewish law, but if being a Jew consists in being descended from Jews (after all, that's the "lineal" part of matrilineal), then it's the mother who contributes the egg that counts, because that's who the child is descended from.

A more important question might be: does the child participate in the Jewish culture and religion?
posted by k. at 1:42 PM on March 29, 2010


I don't know anything about traditional Jewish law, but if being a Jew consists in being descended from Jews (after all, that's the "lineal" part of matrilineal), then it's the mother who contributes the egg that counts, because that's who the child is descended from.

No, you don't know anything about traditional Jewish law.

This isn't how it works, as umpteen others have explained. In the branches of Judaism that care about matrilineal descent, what matters is who bears the child. The question of contributes the egg is completely irrelevant.

It doesn't matter if you think this is logical or not. The OP wants to know how traditional Judaism actually handles this — not how you might up and decide to handle it if you were going to make up a religion out of your own head.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:44 PM on March 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


....question of who contributes the egg....
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:45 PM on March 29, 2010


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