CARR 98-99


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

61. A Child Raised in Two Religious


QUESTION: A couple in which the wife is Jewish and the

husband is Christian were married by a priest and a rabbi. Their child has been baptized and

circumcised. During the early years of the boy’s life, he went to religious school sporadically, but

now the parents wish to enroll him in Hebrew classes as well as regular religious school class in

preparation for Bar Mitzvah. Further probing shows that they also intend to have him

prepared for First Communion. What is the status of this child? Should he be enrolled in the

Bar Mitzvah program? Would the answer to the question be different if the mother were

Christian and the father Jewish? (M. K., St. Louis, MO).ANSWER: The status of a

Jewish child, according to tradition, is determined by the Jewishness of the mother. We, as

Reform Jews, changed this through a resolution passed by the Central Conference of American

Rabbis, in 1983, which stated: “The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares

that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption

of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through

appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people.

The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both

parents and child, to Jewish life. “Depending on circumstances, mitzvot

leading toward a positive and exclusive Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant,

acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Kabbalat

Torah (Confirmation). For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts

or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi.” This

means that the child of a Jewish mother or a Jewish father is potentially Jewish if the parents act

to assure the Jewish identity of the child through education, appropriate ceremonies, etc. Here,

of course, the parents have done that, but have also, and at the same time, provided the

youngster with a Christian identity. Furthermore, we are faced with two religious traditions which

place exclusive claims upon a child. Traditional Judaism would insist that this child, by virtue of

its Jewish mother, remains Jewish regardless of any actions which may be taken on its behalf or

which the child may take. He would be considered an apostate because he is affiliated with

Christianity, but he would always be welcome to return to Judaism with a minimum of ceremony.

On the other hand, Catholicism places a similarly exclusive claim on the child by virtue of his

baptism, although this need not concern us. We would say to the parents that

although their family life thus far has followed a dual path, they have now come to a juncture at

which a decision must be made. It would have been much simpler if such a decision had been

made at the time of their marriage, then some of these problems would not have arisen. Now,

however, the child must follow one religious tradition or another. We can not in good conscience

prepare a child for Bar Mitzvah with the knowledge that at the same time he is being

prepared for First Communion. Furthermore, the child will not be helped by this equivocal stand

of the parents, for he will merely be confused, both now and in the future when his status will

remain a puzzle to him. This matter must be settled at this moment, and we must insist on a

decision for this child. The rabbi and the congregation should be absolutely certain that the path

upon which the parents agree will be followed and should ask for such an agreement in

writing.September 1983

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.