CARR 69-70


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

40. A Non-Jew Raising Jewish


QUESTION: A non-Jewish spouse has lost her Jewish

husband. Prior to their marriage the couple promised to raise their children as Jews; the children,

ages eight and ten, have received some Jewish education. The widow, however, does not wish

to continue that Jewish education. She lives in a small town and has little contact with her Jewish

in-laws. Can anything be done to assure a Jewish education for these children? Furthermore, let

me also ask about a similar situation in which there has been a divorce. In this instance, the

husband is Jewish and the wife is not Jewish. The children are approximately the same age. The

wife has custody of the children who see their father only during vacations. (D. F., New York,

NY) ANSWER: Although tradition would classify these children of non-Jewish

mothers to be non-Jews, unless they had been formally converted, we presume them to be

Jewish if they act on that presumption and receive a Jewish education (Resolution Central

Conference of American Rabbis, March, 1983). We would insist that the parents affirm that

presumption through a Jewish education and other acts of identification. It will be very

difficult to do anything aside from moral persuasion with the young widow. Undoubtedly this has

been attempted. As you indicate, the relationship with her former in-laws is poor and the children

will rarely see their Jewish grandparents, so it is doubtful whether anything can be done. A

promise made at the time of marriage, even if written into the original marriage contract, would

not be enforceable in most North American jurisdictions. Furthermore, even if the courts would

rule positively in this matter, it would be self-defeating to force an unwilling widow to provide a

Jewish education. So much of the education depends upon the home, which in this instance

would have a negative rather than a positive effect. In the case of a divorce, it would

be possible in the divorce proceedings to stipulate that the children continue their Jewish

religious education and to make the father financially responsible for it. This has frequently

succeeded. If, however, the mother lives in a small town without a Jewish community, as you

indicate, then the father must do whatever can be done during the long summer vacation and at

holiday time. It is quite clear that these children are presumed to be Jewish by us, and

fortunately, they have at least begun the process of Jewish education. Hopefully, as they grow

older they will continue along this path of their own volition.June 1983

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.