American Reform Responsa
60. Children of Mixed Marriages
(Vol. XXIX, 1919, pp. 76-77)
On January 1, 1919, I received the following sheela: “A member of my congregation approached me with the following difficulty. His wife was a Christian (Methodist), and a New York rabbi had married them. The woman is now pregnant, and the man wanted me to advise him in what faith the expected child is to be raised. His wife never accepted Judaism, though she attends services more regularly than many of my Jewish women, but she goes to her Methodist Church frequently also. Her mother is a strict Methodist; his mother is a Jewess, and each want the child in her respective faith. I have made inquiry of the New York rabbi who married them, and he assures me that he never married a couple under such circumstances without getting the promise of the alien party to raise the children in the Jewish faith and to study (by himself or herself) some guide of Jewish instruction. He also tells me that they abjure their old faith in his presence and promise to cast their lot in with our people. He remembers marrying this couple and is certain that he exacted such a promise from this woman. I have not spoken to this couple since I saw the rabbi in question. I will, when I am ready to give my answer, even if she denies or forgot the promise under those circumstances. (This rabbi does not go through the formality of issuing a paper of conversion in the presence of witnesses.)
I feel that I would not be justified in saying that the child should be raised a Jew, if the mother is and intends to remain a Christian. It would be dividing the home and the child would hardly be Jewish. It would be a mockery and hypocrisy. On the other hand, how could I, a Jewish teacher, tell the parents to raise the child a Christian? If the child is to be raised in the Christian faith, the father cannot remain a Jew without–in later years–taking the consequence of having children who would mock and scoff and deride him. If this is not a certainty, it is–to say the least–a possibility and a probability. Again, then, how can I, or how dare I, advise this man who wants to remain a Jew (or he would not belong to a congregation and be a frequent attendant at services) to become something else? I will, of course, urge the mother to become a Jewess. But if she refuses, what shall my advice be? This is my she-ela. I remember the passage in Kiddushin: ‘Bincha haba miYisre-elit karuy bincha, ve-ein bincha haba min hanochrit karuy bincha, ela benah.’ Likewise, the passages in Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer: ‘Yisra-el sheba el achat me-elu, havalad kemotah,’ and ‘Velad shifcha ve-akum kemotan.’Do the passages have their force with us?”
To this I reply:
The Talmud (Kid. 68b; Yev. 23) and the Shulchan Aruch (ch. 44) you refer to are certainly in force, and consequently the child of a non-Jew has its character determined by the mother. The Christian wife of your member should, therefore, be persuaded as far as possible–especially for the sake of the husband who wants to have a Jewish home–to become a Jewess in order to have her expected child born as a Jew–leidato bikdusha. The mode of her conversion and adoption into Judaism might in this case be facilitated. Of course, when raised as a Jew, the child could afterwards, through Confirmation, be adopted into the Jewish fold like any proselyte. On the other hand, it must be stated that the rabbi who solemnized the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jewess did not act in conformity with the Jewish law, no matter whether she promised to raise her children as Jews or not. Mixed marriages belong before the civil magistrate, who is to give them legal sanction. The Jewish religion cannot consecrate a home divided by two different creeds, as you well state.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.