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Patrilineal or Matrilineal Genealogy in Israel after Ezra

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Abstract In this exploration of rabbinic attitudes toward the patrilineal or matrilineal determination of ethnic identity, the author affirms that Ezra did not introduce the idea of matrilineal identity and that he did not expel non-Israelite women in an effort to ensure racial purity, as some scholars argue. Ezra’s goal in expelling these women and their children, despite the latter’s Jewish identity as the offspring of Jewish fathers, was to reduce pagan influences on the Israelite community by avoiding social contacts with surrounding peoples. While maintaining the patrilineal system, the rabbis determined that in a mixed marriage, children inherit their mother’s ethnicity, irrespective of her faith. This modification of the existing practice was effected in the frame of the rabbinic transition from a general “common-sense” approach to halakic decisions to a “legal sense” conceptualization. Examples from various rules support this thesis; conflicting scholarly opinions on both ethnicity and conversion issues are disputed.

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