CURR 196-199


There are a number of children born out of wedlock of Jewish mothers and Negro fathers. Are these children Jewish? They can be given for adoption to Negro families. Should they be given to those Negro families which call themselves Jewish, belonging as they do to “Jewish Negro” congregations in New York? (From Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin, Commission on Synagogue Relations, Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.)

ONE might imagine that marriage between the races, producing half-breeds and people of skin colors which have not existed before, would indeed be a violation of the commandments implied in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9, where one is forbidden to sow with mixed seeds or to breed animals of different species. None of the earlier com-mentators offer any explanation as to why it should be wrong to mix breeds of plants or animals. The first to offer any explanation was Nachmanides (thirteenth century). Nachmanides, in his commentary on Leviticus 19:19, sug-gests a reason why such mixing of separate species is a sin. It is due to the fact, he says, that the man who creates such new breeds implies that God, Who created the present spe-cies and gave them the power to perpetuate themselves, had not done a perfect work at Creation, and that there is now need of new species of plants and animals, etc. In other words, the species as they exist are God’s work and presum-ably are perfect. To make new species is, therefore, a sin. This is a general consideration, but let us consider specific-ally the question of mixing the human races.

In Numbers 12:1, we are told that Miriam and Aaron rebuked Moses for “the Ethiopian woman” (Cushite) whom he had taken. The Targum (evidently in defense of Moses) translates “Cushite” as “the beautiful woman” and the Talmud (Moed Katan 16b) also explains away the word “Cushite” by saying that this is really his wife Zip-porah and that she was called “Cushite” because, being a Midianite, her skin was deeply tanned by the desert sun. The Talmud in the same passage explains away the Ethi-opian benefactor of Jeremiah, Ebed Melech, and implies that he was a Hebrew named Zedekiah.

Nevertheless, all this explaining away of the word “Ethi-opian” by Targum and Talmud does not necessarily indi cate that racial prejudices were involved. Also, the Talmud (b. Berachoth 59b) states that he who sees an Ethiopian must make a special blessing: “Praised be Thou, Who hast made a variety of creatures,” but this, too, is not anti-Negro prejudice because the same blessing must be recited, according to the Talmud, when one sees an unusually short man or an unusually tall man. So the law is recorded in the Shulchan Aruch, Orah Hayyim 224:9.

Nowhere does the Bible prohibit the admixture of races. Ezekiel, speaking to the Children of Israel in Chapter 16, verse 3, says: “The Amorite was thy father and thy mother was a Hittite.” So, too, with regard to the vast mixed multitude which came out of Egypt. While this mixed multitude is sometimes deprecated as the source of sinfulness, there is no statement which I remember to the effect that the descendants of the Twelve Tribes kept from intermarrying with the mixed multitudes. (See above Chapter 30.)

Since the status of a child of a mixed marriage depends upon the status of the mother, a child born of a Jewish mother is a Jewish child and must be so considered, no matter what the color of its skin may be. However, the question asked goes further: Should we consider the members of Negro congregations who call themselves Jewish as being truly Jewish? The question must be settled before the Jewish Federation can give a Negro Jewish child to such a family for adoption. Whether any family is Jewish depends upon whether it is descendant from a Jewish mother. The rest, as we have mentioned, makes no difference. But if it is a family not descendant from a Jewish mother, as is the case with most, if not all the people in these “Negro Jewish” congregations, then they are not Jewish unless they are correctly converted to Judaism. Those who have been correctly converted to Judaism are Jews in every sense of the word. Those that are not so converted are only Jews if they are descendants of a Jewish mother.

May the child be given to such a family, if the family is not considered Jewish? This is, likewise, a religious problem. May we give a Jewish child to a Gentile family to be raised and, indeed, adopted? Clearly, most Orthodox authorities would say “no,” but in this case, liberal opinion would say “yes.” The liberal opinion would be based upon the realities of social life in America. If we Jews fight for the right to have Christian children adopted in Jewish families, we should not object under special circumstances if Jewish children are adopted in Christian families. In this special case, this dark skinned Jewish child will have no home at all unless given to this Negro family for adoption.