I have often read a biography of some celebrity or another that states the religion of their father and the religion of their mother and then concludes the celibrity is either Jewish or they are not Jewish. But in many cases (in fact, it seems like in **most **cases). the author gets it wrong.
The law for determining whether or not someone is Jewish was once explained to me by an ordained rabbi as follows:
A person is Jewish if and only if … their mother is Jewish and their mother’s mother is also Jewish.
As a result, it can be said that Judiasm is a matriarchal religion - meaning it is passed down from mother to daughter.
I am not entirely certain why the law cannot be simply expressed as, “A person is Jewish if and only if their mother is Jewish”. After all, if their mother is Jewish, wouldn’t that automatically mean their mother’s mother must have also been Jewish? Or perhaps it can be more accurately stated as, “if their mother’s mother is Jewish, then their mother must have also been Jewish.”
In any case, when it comes to determining whether someone is Jewish or not, their father’s religion is immaterial. All that matters is their mother’s religion.
I hope that I have remembered and interpreted this law correctly. If I have not, I’m fairly certain that someone will be along shortly to correct my mistake.
The only reason that occurs to me why both the mother and mother’s mother are important depends on whether one of them converted from another religion to Judiasm. However, I am not at all certain how this would affect the religion of the child. Would anyone care to hazard a guess about that?