Genealogy and Jewish history1

Genealogical studies have been pursued for centuries, but it is only in the past forty or fifty years that they have fired the enthusiasm of a substantial number of people, leading to its having become one of the nation’s major leisure activities. There is a minor irony in the fact that the modern Jewish interest in the pastime has developed even more recently than in the wider society; for ‘in Jewish tradi? tion, genealogy is rooted in the very origins of the people itself. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, much commentary is devoted to the lineage of the Patri? archs. The very definition of who is a Jew, while not capable of being reduced down to a single concept, in the case of those born into the faith requires matrilin eal proof of identity. A wise insistence on acknowledgement of the mother for basic Judaic inheritance dates

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