Shavei Israel | Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Why bring the lost sons back to the Jewish people? Don’t we have enough troubles of our own? Why should we deal with people who aren’t Halachically Jewish?

This is a conceptual, Halachic, moral and current question. A number of “historic accidents” have brought people to abandon their Jewish roots. Sometimes this took place of their own free will but most of them had to act this way unwillingly, beginning with the Inquisition, through anti-Semitism, Communism and the Holocaust, all of which attempted to displace the Jews from their Judaism and from their brethren. However, in spite of everything, Israel is not alone, and God, who appears as the Angel of History, brings our brethren back home, back to their family.

Very few think about the future of the Jewish people. Many deal with the past, with history, but only a few give thought to the future: What can we do to prevent the loss of the Jewish people in the Diaspora and perhaps even in Israel?
One cannot speak about the Jewish people only in terms of numbers and statistics. As of now, the Jewish people are showing signs of spiritual and demographic weakening – the Holocaust, assimilation, loss of identity, estrangement form Judaism and a contraction in the number of Jews in the world. Despite that, there are recognizable signs of spiritual awakening, people returning to religion, spiritual searching and searching for their roots. Therefore, it seems that despite all the efforts in the realm of education in order to bring people closer to religion, through an effort of strengthening the people from within, we must go and search out our lost brethren, flesh of our flesh, in order to fully strengthen the Jewish people.
Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin taught us that when we speak about the ingathering of the exiles and the return of lost Jews, we do not mean those who are certainly Jewish but also those who aren’t Jews according to Halachah, or don’t even know that they are of “Jewish seed” in actuality and spiritually.

How do we know that they are really of Jewish descent?

In some cases, their Jewish origin can be proven though the existence of documents or objects that were handed through the generations in the family. Another way to research their roots is through finding the source of the family name. The problem is that these are not final proofs for a number of reasons: Firstly, because of the fact that any family name was the name of a Jew does not prove that it was only a Jewish name. In addition to this, even if it was a Jewish family name, without a genealogy that can cover several generations, one cannot say with certainty anything about a family’s Jewish heritage. But there is a third method: In many cases, the traditions that were passed down through the generations have produced in a person clear and incontestable belonging. Sometimes, this very feeling of belonging becomes the strongest drive for returning to the Jewish people.

What is the Halachah’s attitude on this subject?

Our modern arbiters of Halachah, such as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, Rabbi Benzion Uzziel, expressed their opinion on this important topic for our generation. The Halachic response is clear and simple: A person’s religion is according to his mother. If the mother is not Jewish, the son is not Jewish. Nobody argues on this point. Anyway, what is to be our attitude to such an offspring? Is he like the other nations? Does he have a unique status? Is it a Mitzvah to bring him closer to Judaism or to distance him?

Rabbi Kalischer wrote important thoughts on this topic: A child whose father is Jewish but his mother is not, we must open the door before him in order for him to return and to bring him into the covenant of Avraham our forefather at the proper time. When he grows up he can act in accordance with his father’s will and immerse in a ritual bath. If he chooses not to be circumcised, we will distance him with both hands from the Jewish people and not observe the verse: Do not distance to the lost ones. It is the father’s responsibility because he is of the “holy seed”, so if it is possible to save this root from the impurity that it is, to free it from its prison and return him to holiness, this is a worthy thing to do.”
In some of his Halachic responsa, Rabbi Uzziel innovated the concept of “holy seed” to apply to the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. In his opinion, it is a mitzvah to bring him into the fold of the Jewish people for his father’s sake and for the sake of the entire Jewish people. According to his words, it is a mitzvah to accept his request to convert in order not “to distance the lost ones.”

What can I do in order to return to Judaism?

In general, the return process includes several preparatory steps. On the one hand there is an intellectual preparation that includes, in the main, studying. In order to become part of the Jewish people, it is very important to reclaim the lost memory, to know its history, customs and thought. Furthermore, it is very important that this knowledge break through the barrier of theory, become a way of life, that the traditions and customs become part of everyone’s daily life. These two aspects can be completed by self-learning, through reading and studying or with the assistance of a teacher, instructor or rabbi. On the other hand, there is an additional requirement of integrating into communal life. Judaism was always characterized by its social life. Therefore, there is the highest importance for meeting within a Jewish context. In this aspect, the best decision is to approach the closest local community.

In summation, coming closer to the Jewish people has a tripartite dimension: Knowledge, emotion and Jewish experience. These three fundamentals are the secret of returning to the Jewish people.