Contemporary American Reform Responsa
36. Priorities for an Adoption
The Jewish Family Service of this city has given first priority to families in which both parents are Jewish. Now a family in which the mother is Jewish and the father is Christian has approached the agency as they wish to adopt a child. They have a Jewish home and are committed to raising the child as a Jew. According to tradition, as well as the feelings of Reform Judaism, should the policy of the agency remain as it is or be changed to accommodate such families? (A. Marks, Dallas, TX)
There is, of course, nothing that deals specifically with this kind of situation in the traditions of the past. For that matter, the entire matter of adoption is rarely discussed in the traditional halakhic literature (W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, #63). However, we may draw some conclusions from the system of priority worked out for the recipients of charitable donations.
In this instance, as with charitable gifts, the need has always been greater than the supply and so a procedure had to be established. Charity begins at home and, therefore, members of one’s own family had an initial claim on any funds available (Sefer Hassidim, #895, 918, 1039, 1049, etc.) They were followed by individuals in one’s own city and one’s own country, and only then were funds provided for the poor elsewhere (Sefer Hassidim #869; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 251.3). Earlier, the same section explained that a woman is provided with food before a man and then in the sequence of priest, kohen, Levite, and Israelite. An exception is made for an Israelite scholar or even a mamzer who is a scholar; these take precedence over a kohen (Ket. 67a; Yad Hil. Matnat Aniyim 8.15, 10.18; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 251.8). The twelfth century Sefer Hassidim also preferred scholars and students who were poor (#860, 862, 902 ff) as well as the pious over those who were less pious (#1029).
The great work on charity, Meil Tzedaqah, by Elijah Hakohen ben Solomon (18th century), provided a similar sequence of distribution along with specific reasons (#92 f, 1435 f, 1500, 1433 f). It also indicated that we act on behalf of Jews first and Gentiles subsequently (#1434 f). Non- Jewish poor also had a claim on charity (Git. 61a) and are supported whenever possible. Jews who were open and willful transgressors were to be refused support from all sources (Shulhan ArukhYoreh Deah 251).
When we look at the other rather substantial sections of the traditional literature which deal with precedence in the distribution of charity to the poor, we see that they are primarily concerned with obtaining proper gifts from the rich and only secondarily with a system of distribution. However, the above mentioned sources are in general agreement on preferences.
We may conclude by analogy that it is proper to establish a similar system of priority in the matter of adoption. As Reform Jews we would agree with the traditional priorities. In other words, the priority which your agency has set is appropriate. Families in which both parents are Jewish (by birth or conversion) should be given preference. Within that category priority should be given to families with a real commitment to Judaism, whether Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. Families in which only one party is Jewish, and who intend to raise their children as Jews, should be placed in a second category and be given children when the first category has been exhausted. Since the passage of the Resolution on Patrilineal Descent in March of 1983(W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, Appendix), we make no distinction between families in which the mother is Christian and the father Jewish, or vice versa.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.