“The same thing applies to the study of Torah: It is a positive biblical precept for the father to teach his young son Torah [Kiddushin 29a]. The same is not true of the mother. Since she herself is not obligated in the mitzvah of Torah study, she is not obligated to teach Torah to her children (Rambam on the beginning of Hilchot Talmud Torah).
“Nevertheless,” the Rebbe continues, “if she helps her son or husband with her physical and/or material involvement to insure that they study Torah, she earns a portion of their merit, as the Gemara (Berachot 17a) states: ‘What is the great merit of women? That they bring their children to the synagogue and that they await their husbands as they study.’ ”
Finally, the Rebbe cites the all-important fact that a child’s very Jewishness is determined by his mother.
Our sages derive this from the Deuteronomy 7:3-4, which adjures us regarding the gentile nations: “ve’lo titchaten bam, bit’cha lo titen livno, u’bito lo tikach l’vincha – you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son.” Why? “Ki yasir et bin’cha me’acharay ve’avdu elohim acherim – For he will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others.”
R. Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon b. Yochai (Kiddushin 68b) derives from these two verses that a son who comes from an Israelite woman is “your son” while a son who comes from a gentile woman is not referred to as “your son.” It is the gentile father who will cause your son – that is, the son of your daughter – to turn away from G-d. Nevertheless he – your grandson – is referred to as your son.
Rashi and Tosafot have different perspectives on these verses, but either way it is clear that a son born of a Jewish woman takes on her Jewish status.
The Rebbe writes, “If the mother is Jewish, then the son is also Jewish, and it matters not who the father is or the situation the father finds himself in. From this,” the Rebbe concludes, “we see the great merit and responsibility that has been invested in the mother in relation to chinuch. This is a clear indication that educating a child to be a [proper] Jew is dependent upon the mother.”
True, circumstances have left you in a difficult situation, but ultimately you are the one who is the greatest determining factor in raising your children as good, G-d-fearing Jews. May Hashem bless you in this lofty task and may we all merit the redemption with the arrival of Moshiach, speedily in our days.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.