School for Social Work
This study explores the ways in which disagreement within the American Jewish community regarding the legitimacy of patrilineal descent impacts the identity development of Jewish children born of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Twelve participants who self-identify as Jewish, were born to Jewish fathers, and cannot trace their Jewish descent through matrilineal bloodlines were interviewed for this qualitative, exploratory study. Data was gathered about the ways in which this population is internally impacted by this community disagreement, specifically in regard to their development, understanding, and maintenance of self. Findings of this study indicate that there is a strong connection between the amount and quality of selfobject experiences participants could access and the quality of each individual's Jewish identity. Those with greater selfobject access reported their Jewish identities to be of greater importance to them, and their narratives indicated greater connection to that identity. When participants did not have access to successful selfobject experiences, they appeared to be more negatively impacted by the patrilineal descent debate. The types of selfobject experiences that participants accessed reached beyond the three types delineated in self-psychology, ultimately suggesting that participants in this study have unique selfobject needs that were not included in Kohut's original theory that focused heavily on the experiences of the majority population.
Sosland, Elizabeth A., "Born of our fathers : patrilineal descent, Jewish identity, and the development of self" (2008). Masters Thesis, Smith College, Northampton, MA.