US Jewry

Patrilineal Descent in American Reform Judaism

The American Jewish Reform movement’s 1983 Patrilineal Descent decision declaring that the children of Jewish fathers have the same Jewish status as the children of Jewish mothers affected all of American Judaism, because more American Jews call themselves Reform than any other wing of Judaism.

Many advocates, including the influential Rabbi Alexander Schindler, celebrated the decision as promoting “the full equality of men and women in religious life.” However, Sylvia Barack Fishman’s in-depth study of the sociological results of the Patrilineal Descent decision over the past 30 years reveals many unintended consequences.

Patrlineal Descent accelerates declining numbers of mothers in Jewish families who identify as Jews, increasing Patrilineal Jewish families with Jewish fathers who are among the least Jewishly connected Jews in America today. The study documents the differences between inmarried, Patrilineal, and Matrilineal Jewish families and offers policy suggestions based on that research.

To read full paper: Fathers of the Faith? Three Decades of Patrilineal Descent in American Reform Judaism