CNN’s Belief Blog recently described how Archie Bunker, a caricature of a pre-civil-rights-movement bigot and the patriarch on the television series All in the Family, is taken to task by his liberal son-in-law for being an anti-Semite. To convince Archie to abandon his anti-Semitic views, Archie’s son-in-law reminds him that Jesus was Jewish. Archie comically quips back, “Only on his mother’s side.”
Archie’s rejoinder is interesting on many levels. If (as according to Christian theology) Jesus is the son of God, Jesus’ non-maternal lineage actually bolsters (not lessens) the point that Archie should not have ill-feelings towards Jews.
Archie’s response also strikes another religious chord; according to generally accepted Jewish beliefs, a child is Jewish if his mother is Jewish. Under this view, Jesus’ maternal Jewish lineage is the all that matters, which also supports Archie’s son-in-law’s argument.
Apparently, the writers of All in the Family were not Karaites.
The traditional (i.e., historic and majority) Karaite position is that a person is Jewish (or, more precisely, an Israelite) if his father is Jewish. This belief is derived from the Tanakh, which contains innumerable verses suggesting that lineage passes through a child’s father. As just one example, in the opening chapter of the Book of Numbers, the Israelites are conducting a census. (See Numbers 1:2.) In that census, all references to genealogy are patrilineal. (E.g., Numbers 1:18: “[A]nd they declared their pedigrees after their families by their fathers’ houses.”)
Most Jews intuitively understand the traditional Karaite position, as they readily recognize that the status of Cohen or Levite passes patrilineally from father to son. We may revisit the issue of Jewish descent in the context of Karaite-Rabbanite marriages down the road.