ADOPTION, taking another's child as one's own.
Alleged Cases of Adoption in the Bible
The evidence for adoption in the Bible is so equivocal that some have denied it was practiced in the biblical period.
(A) GENESIS 15:2–3. Being childless, Abram complains that *Eliezer, his servant, will be his heir. Since in the ancient Near East only relatives, normally sons, could inherit, Abram had probably adopted, or contemplated adopting, Eliezer. This passage is illuminated by the ancient Near Eastern practice of childless couples adopting a son, sometimes a slave, to serve them in their lifetime and bury and mourn them when they die, in return for which the adopted son is designated their heir. If a natural child should subsequently be born to the couple, he would be chief heir and the adopted son would be second to him.
(B) GENESIS 16:2 and 30:3. Because of their barrenness, Sarai and Rachel give their servant girls to Abram and Jacob as concubines, hoping to "have children" (lit. "be built up") through the concubines. These words are taken as an expression of intention to adopt the children born of the husbands and concubines. Rachel's subsequent statement, "God… has given me a son" (30:6) seems to favor this view. A marriage contract from *Nuzi stipulates that in a similar case the mistress "shall have authority over the offspring." That the sons of Jacob's concubines share in his estate is said to presuppose their adoption. Bilhah's giving birth on (or perhaps "onto") Rachel's knees (30:3; cf. 50:23) is believed to be an adoption ceremony similar to one practiced by ancient European and Asiatic peoples among whom placing a child on a man's knees signified variously acknowledgment, legitimation, and adoption. Such an adoption by a mistress of the offspring of her husband and her slave-girl would not be unparalleled in the ancient Near East (see J. van Seters, JBL, 87 (1968), 404–7), but other considerations argue that this did not, in fact, take place in the episodes under consideration. Elsewhere in the Bible the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah are viewed only as the sons of these concubines, never of the mistresses (e.g., 21:10, 13; 33:2, 6–7; 35:23–26). Rachel's statement "God… has given me a son" reflects not necessarily adoption but Rachel's ownership of the child's mother, Bilhah (cf. Ex. 21:4, and especially the later Aramaic usage in Pritchard, Texts3, 548a plus n. 5). The concubines' sons sharing in Jacob's estate does not presuppose adoption by Rachel and Leah because the sons are Jacob's by blood and require only his recognition to inherit (cf. The Code of Hammurapi, 170–1). Finally the alleged adoption ceremony must be interpreted otherwise. Placing a child on the knees is known from elsewhere in the ancient Near East (see I.J. Gelb et al., The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, vol. 2 (1965), 256, s.v. birku; H. Hoffner, JNES, 27 (1968), 199–201). Outside of cases which signify divine protection and/or nursing, but not adoption (cf. T. Jacobsen, JNES, 2 (1943), 119–21), the knees upon which the child is placed are almost always those of its natural parent or grandparent. It seems to signify nothing more than affectionate play or welcoming into the family, sometimes combined with naming. (Only once, in the Hurrian Tale of the Cow and the Fisherman (J. Friedrich, Zeitschrift fuer Assyriologie, 49 (1950), 232–3 ll. 38 ff.), does placing on the lap occur in an apparently adoptive context, but even there it is not clear that the ceremony is part of the adoption.) Some construe the ceremony as an act of legitimation, but no legal significance of any sort is immediately apparent. Significantly, the one unequivocal adoption ceremony in the Bible (Gen. 48:5–6) does not involve placing the child on the knees (Gen. 48:12 is from a different document and simply reflects the children's position during Jacob's embrace, between, not on, his knees). Furthermore, Genesis 30:3 speaks not of placing but of giving birth on Rachel's knees. This more likely reflects the position taken in antiquity by a woman during childbirth, straddling the knees of an attendant (another woman or at times her own husband) upon whose knees the emerging child was received (cf. perhaps Job 3:12). Perhaps Rachel attended Bilhah herself in order to cure, in a sympathetic-magical way, her own infertility (cf. 30:18, which may imply that Rachel, too, had been aiming ultimately at her own fertility), much like the practice of barren Arab women in modern times of being present at other women's deliveries. Genesis 50:23 (see below) must imply Joseph's assistance at his great-grandchildren's birth; or, if taken to mean simply that the children were placed upon his knees immediately after birth, it would imply a sort of welcoming or naming ceremony.
(C) GENESIS 29–31. It is widely held that Jacob was adopted by the originally sonless Laban, on the analogy of a Nuzi contract in which a sonless man adopts a son, makes him
(D) GENESIS 48:5–6. Near the end of his life Jacob, recalling God's promise of Canaan for his descendants, announces to Joseph: "Your two sons who were born to you … before I came to you in Egypt, shall be mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are"; subsequent sons of Joseph will (according to the most common interpretation of the difficult v. 6), for the purposes of inheritance, be reckoned as sons of Ephraim and Manasseh. In view of the context – note particularly that grandsons, not outsiders, are involved – many believe that this adoption involves inheritance alone, and is not an adoption in the full sense. (M. David compares the classical adoptio mortis causa.) This belief is strengthened by the almost unanimous view that this episode is intended etiologically to explain why the descendants of Joseph held, in historical times, two tribal allotments, the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh.
(E) GENESIS 50:23. "The children of Machir son of Manasseh were likewise born on Joseph's knees" is said to reflect an adoption ceremony. To the objections listed above (b), it may be added that unlike (d), Joseph's adoption of Machir's children would explain nothing in Israel's later history and would be etiologically pointless.
(F) EXODUS 2:10. "Moses became her [= Pharaoh's daughter's] son." Some, however, interpret this as fosterage.
(G) LEVITICUS 18:9. A "sister… born outside the household" could mean an adopted sister, but most commentators interpret it as an illegitimate sister or one born of another marriage of the mother.
(H) JUDGES 11:1ff. S. Feigin argued that Gilead must have adopted Jephthah or else the question of his inheriting could never have arisen. But since Jephthah was already Gilead's son, the passage implies, at most, legitimation, not adoption.
(I) RUTH 4:16–17. Naomi's placing of the child of Ruth and Boaz in her bosom and the neighbors' declaration "a son is born to Naomi" are said to imply adoption by Naomi. But the very purpose of Ruth's marriage to Boaz was, from the legal viewpoint, to engender a son who would be accounted to Ruth's dead husband (see Deut. 25:6 and Gen. 38:8–9) and bear his name (Ruth 4:10). Adoption by Naomi, even though she was the deceased's mother, would frustrate that purpose. The text says that Naomi became the child's nurse, not his mother. The child is legally Naomi's grandson and the neighbors' words are best taken as referring to this.
(J) ESTHER 2:7, 15. Mordecai adopted his orphaned cousin Hadassah. (This case, too, is taken by some as rather one of fosterage.) This possible case of adoption among Jews living under Persian rule is paralleled by a case among the Jews living in the Persian military garrison at Elephantine, Egypt, in the fifth century C.E. (E. Kraeling, The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri (1953), no. 8).
(K) EZRA 2:61 (= Nehemiah 7:63). One or more priests married descendants of Barzillai the Gileadite and "were called by their name." This may imply adoption into the family of Barzillai.
(L) EZRA 10:44. Several Israelites married foreign women. The second half of the verse, unintelligible as it stands, ends with "and they placed/established children." S. Feigin, on the basis of similar Greek expressions and textual emendation, viewed this as a case of adoption. Since the passage is obviously corrupt (the Greek text of Esdras reads differently), no conclusions can be drawn from it, though Feigin's interpretation is not necessarily ruled out.
(M) I CHRONICLES 2:35–41. Since the slave Jarha (approximately a contemporary of David according to the genealogy) married his master's daughter, he was certainly manumitted and, quite likely, was adopted by his master; otherwise, his descendants would not have been listed in the Judahite genealogy.
(N) In addition to the above possible cases, one might see a sort of posthumous adoption in the ascription of the first son born of the levirate marriage (Gen. 38:8–9; Deut. 25:6; Ruth 4) to the dead brother. The child is possibly to be called "A son of B [the deceased]"; in this way he preserves the deceased's name (Deut. 25:6–7; Ruth 4:5) and presumably inherits his property.
Of the most plausible cases above, two (A, D) are from the Patriarchal period, one reflects Egyptian practice (F), and another the practice of Persian Jews of the Exilic or post-Exilic period (J). From the pre-Exilic period there is a possible case alleged by the Chronicler to have taken place in the time of David (M), one or two other remotely possible cases (G) and (K), the latter from the late pre-Exilic or Exilic period) and the "posthumous adoption" involved in levirate marriage (N). The evidence for adoption in the pre-Exilic period is thus meager. The possibility that adoption was practiced in this period cannot be excluded, especially since contemporary legal documents are lacking. Nevertheless, it seems that if adoption played any role at all in Israelite family institutions, it was an insignificant one. It may be that the tribal consciousness of the Israelites did not favor the creation of artificial family ties and that the practice of polygamy obviated some of the need for adoption. For the post-Exilic per-iod in Palestine there is no reliable evidence for adoption at all.
Adoption as a Metaphor
(A) GOD AND ISRAEL. The relationship between God and Israel is often likened to that of father and son (Ex. 4:22; Deut. 8:5; 14:1). Usually there is no indication that this is meant in an adoptive sense, but this may be the sense of Jeremiah 3:19; 31:8; and Hosea 11:1. (B) IN KINGSHIP. The idea that the king is
Since the divine adoption of kings was not known in the ancient Near East, and the very institution of adoption was rare – if at all existent – in Israel, the question arises as to where the model for these metaphors was found. According to M. Weinfeld (JAOS, 90 (1970)) the answer is found in the covenants made by God with David and Israel. These are essentially covenants of grant, a legal form which is widespread in the ancient Near East. In some of these a donor adopts the donee and the grant takes the form of an inheritance. Thus in the biblical metaphor God's adoption of David serves as the legal basis for the grant of the dynasty and empire, and God's adoption of Israel underlies the grant of a land (Jer. 3:19; also noted by S. Paul). According to Y. Muffs, the pattern of the covenant in the Priestly Document (P) is modeled on adoption by redemption from slavery (cf. Ex. 6:6–8). In later times adoption was used metaphorically in the Pauline epistles to refer variously to Israel's election (Rom. 9:4), to the believers who were redeemed from spiritual bondage by Jesus (Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:5; Gal. 4:5), and to the final eschatological redemption from bondage (Rom. 8:21–23). Whether Paul modeled the metaphor on biblical or post-biblical, ancient Near Eastern, or Roman legal sources is debated.
[Jeffrey Howard Tigay]
Later Jewish Law
Adoption is not known as a legal institution in Jewish law. According to halakhah the personal status of parent and child is based on the natural family relationship only and there is no recognized way of creating this status artificially by a legal act or fiction. However, Jewish law does provide for consequences essentially similar to those caused by adoption to be created by legal means. These consequences are the right and obligation of a person to assume responsibility for (a) a child's physical and mental welfare and (b) his financial position, including matters of inheritance and maintenance. The legal means of achieving this result are (1) by the appointment of the adopter as a "guardian" (see *Apotropos) of the child, with exclusive authority to care for the latter's personal welfare, including his upbringing, education, and determination of his place of abode; and (2) by entrusting the administration of the child's property to the adopter. The latter undertaking to be accountable to the child and, at his own expense and without any right of recourse, would assume all such financial obligations as are imposed by law on natural parents vis-à-vis their children. Thus, the child is for all practical purposes placed in the same position toward his adoptors as he would otherwise be toward his natural parents, since all matters of education, maintenance, upbringing, and financial administration are taken care of (Ket. 101b; Maim., Yad, Ishut, 23:17–18; and Sh. Ar., EH 114 and Tur ibid., Sh. Ar., ḤM 60:2–5; 207:20–21; PDR, 3 (n.d.), 109–125). On the death of the adopter, his heirs would be obliged to continue to maintain the "adopted" child out of the former's estate, the said undertaking having created a legal debt to be satisfied as any other debt (Sh. Ar., ḤM 60:4).
Indeed, in principle neither the rights of the child toward his natural parents, nor their obligations toward him are in any way affected by the method of "adoption" described above; but in fact, the result approximated very closely to what is generally understood as adoption in the full sense of the word. The primary question in matters of adoption is the extent to which the natural parents are to be deprived of, and the adoptive parents vested with, the rights and obligations to look after the child's welfare. This is in accordance with the rule that determined that in all matters concerning a child, his welfare and interests are the overriding considerations always to be regarded as decisive (Responsa Rashba, attributed to Naḥmanides, 38; Responsa Radbaz, 1:123; Responsa Samuel di Modena, EH 123; Sh. Ar., EH 82, Pitḥei Teshuvah 7).
Even without private adoption, the court, as the "father of all orphans," has the power to order the removal of a child from his parents' custody, if this is considered necessary for his welfare (see *Apotropos). So far as his pecuniary rights are concerned, the child, by virtue of his adopters' legal undertakings toward him, acquires an additional debtor, since his natural parents are not released from their own obligations imposed on them by law, i.e., until the age of six. Furthermore, the natural parents continue to be liable for the basic needs of their child from the age of six, to the extent that such needs are not or cannot be satisfied by the adopter; the continuation of this liability is based on Dinei Ẓedakah – the duty to give charity (see *Parent & Child; PDR, 3 (n.d.), 170–6; 4 (n.d.), 3–8).
With regard to right of inheritance, which according to
halakhah is recognized as existing between a child and his natural parents only, the matter can be dealt with by means of testamentary disposition, whereby the adopter makes provision in his will for such portion of his estate to devolve on the child as the latter would have gotten by law had the former been his natural parent (see Civil Case 85/49, in: Pesakim shel Beit ha-Mishpat ha-Elyon u-Vattei ha-Mishpat ha-Meḥoziyyim be-Yisrael, 1 (1948/49), 343–8). In accordance with the rule that "Scripture looks upon one who brings up an orphan as if he had begotten him" (Sanh. 19b; Meg. 13a), there is no halakhic objection to the adopter calling the "adopted" child his son and the latter calling the former his father (Sanh. ibid., based on II Sam. 21:8). Hence, provisions in documents in which these appellations are used by either party, where the adopter has no
In the State of Israel, until 1981, adoption was governed by the Adoption of Children Law, 5720/1960, which empowered the district court and, with the consent of all the parties concerned, the rabbinical court, to grant an adoption order in respect of any person under the age of 18 years, provided that the prospective adopter was at least 18 years older than the prospective adoptee and the court were satisfied that the matter was in the best interests of the adoptee. Such an order had the effect of severing all family ties between the child and his natural parents. On the other hand, such a court order created new family ties between the adopter and the child to the same extent as are legally recognized as existing between natural parents and their child – unless the order was restricted or conditional in some respect. Thus, an adoption order would generally confer rights of intestate succession on the adoptee, who would henceforth also bear his adopter's name. However, the order did not affect the consequences of the blood relationship between the adoptee and his natural parents, so that the prohibitions and permissions of marriage and divorce continued to apply. On the other hand, adoption as such does not create such new prohibitions or permissions between the adopted and the adoptive family. There was no legal adoption of persons over the age of 18 years.
[Ben-Zion (Benno) Schereschewsky]
In 1981 the Knesset repealed the Adoption of Children Law, 5720/1960 and enacted in its stead the Adoption of Children Law, 5741/1981 (hereinafter – the Law), empowering the Family Court to issue adoption orders. The Law and its subsequent amendments provide for two substantively different modes of adoption. The first is local adoption, in which the Child Welfare Authority – a branch of the Welfare Ministry – functions as an adoption agency: it determines the adoptive parents' eligibility and even initiates adoption proceedings of the minor in the court, by way of special welfare officers for adoption. Proceedings to declare a minor adoptable can only be initiated by these welfare officers. The Child Welfare Authority is similarly responsible for the removal of a child from the custody of his natural parents against their wishes, for purposes of adoption. Occasionally, and under special circumstances, even prior to the child being declared adoptable the Authority may hand over the child "to a person who has agreed to receive him into his house with a view to adopting him" (§12 (C) of the Law). The second mode is that of "intercountry" (i.e., international) adoption, in which the adoption is undertaken by non-profit organizations under the supervision of a "central authority," i.e., the Child Welfare Authority.
The difference between the two kinds of adoption is as follows: local adoption also involves numerous cases in which the biological parents do not consent to hand their child over for adoption, in which case, quite naturally, the identity of the adoptive parents is withheld (closed adoption) to protect the adopted child from potential harm at the hands of his natural parents. In international adoption, the adoption is the product of negotiations between the prospective adoptive parents and the natural family. Under the Law, the rabbinical court is also permitted to issue adoption orders with the consent of all the parties, i.e., the parents (or adoptive parents, respectively) and the minor (when the case concerns a minor above the age of nine) or with the consent of the attorney general (in cases of a minor below nine). Even in those cases in which the rabbinical court has jurisdiction pursuant to the parties' consent, it is nevertheless obliged to comply with all the provisions of the law (§27).
The arrangements for international adoption were transformed when the law was amended in 1996, in accordance with the format of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which Israel ratified in 1993. Together with the incorporation of the Convention's provisions in the Law, the legislature also addressed a particular problem, unique to the State of Israel by virtue of its Jewish character. Under section 5 of the Law: "The adopter shall be of the same religion as the adoptee." How then can a Jewish family receive an adoption order for a non-Jewish child, brought to Israel from abroad? The legislature resolved this problem by amending section 13A of the Capacity and Guardianship Law, 5722/1962, which now provides that the court may give an instruction for the minor's religious conversion "to the religion of the person who provided for the minor with the intention of adopting him, during the six months that preceded the filing of the application for conversion."
In addition to the court's authorization, the minor who is a candidate for adoption must undergo a conversion process; according to the halakhah, a minor who is to be converted must be ritually immersed for conversion through the authority of the bet din. This is so, "because it [the conversion] is a benefit to him" (Ketubot 11a). The Israeli rabbinical courts have avoided converting minors who are candidates for adoption when the prospective adoptive parents will not provide him/her with an education based upon religious observance.
The case law of the Israel Supreme Court on adoption (given by Deputy President Menachem *Elon) emphasized the extensive impact of Jewish law on actual adoption procedures. The Law provides that "the adoption shall not affect any legal prohibition or permission as to marriage or divorce" (§16(c)); accordingly, the Adoption Register may be inspected by a marriage registrar in the course of carrying out his official function (§30 (2)). In doing so he raises the legal "veil" separating the adopted child from his natural family in order to establish the "legitimacy of his pedigree"; in other words, to prevent marriages between a brother and sister, etc. Furthermore, an adoption performed "for the benefit of the adoptee"
As a rule, there is no discussion of the "child's best interests" until after examination as to whether there is any statutory ground for "removing the child from the natural guardianship of his parents and placing him in the home of the adopters" (H.C. 243/88 Konsols v. Turgeman, 45 (5) P.D. 837, 848). For the same reason, all possible efforts should be made to avoid ordering that the adoption of the minor be a "closed" adoption, which separates the minor from his natural identity. Indeed, in its capacity as the "father of minors," the court is commanded to "ensure the welfare and the future of the minor" and order that he be severed from his natural family – but this, only done when the court is convinced that leaving the minor with his family, or placing him with a foster family or in an "open adoption" will cause him terrible suffering due to his parents' incompetence (Elon, in the following judgments: C.A. 310/82, 37 (4) P.D. 421; C.A. 3763/92, 47 (1) P.D. 869). Similarly, the court will order the Child Welfare Service to seriously consider a request from the natural family that their child be given to "a family belonging to their own religious community, that maintains a religious lifestyle" (C.A. 3063/90 45 (3) 837) and, in exceptional circumstances, consider assenting to the parents' request that their child be adopted by their relatives who have no children of their own. This is in accordance with the prevalent custom in a number of Jewish communities whereby "when a couple belonging to the extended family is childless, another couple in the family, blessed with children, gives one of them to the couple that was denied their own offspring, and the latter can adopt and raise the child, as if he was their own child" (C.A. 568/80 35 (3) 701, 702).
Where the question arose of severing an adoptee minor from the religion of his natural parents, Justice Elon raised another consideration for withholding authorization of an adoption performed against the natural parents' wishes, or with their coerced consent: "We remember the battles fought by Jewish families and institutions in order to restore Jewish children to their families and religion. Prior to being sent to the death camps and gas chambers these families placed their children with Christians to care for them and raise them. It is befitting that we emulate their conduct in similar situations, when the tables are turned and the context is no longer the death camps but rather gangs of avaricious criminals" (the case of the "Brazilian girl" who was abducted from her natural mother; H.C. 243/88, 45 (2) P.D. 652).
In describing the character of the institution of adoption, its interpretation and implementation by the Israeli judiciary, Justice Elon further stated:
And, in another decision:
[Yisrael Gilat (2nd ed.)]
BIBLE COMMENTARIES: J. Skinner, The Book of Genesis (ICC, 19302); E. Speiser, Genesis (1964); N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966); W. Rudolph, Ruth (1962); M.J. Dahood, Psalms, vol. 1 (1966). GENERAL: T.H. Gaster, Myth… in the Old Testament (1969), 448–9, 741–2; de Vaux, Anc Isr, 51–54, 111–3 (bibl. 523); S. Feigin, in: JBL, 50 (1931), 186–200; idem, Mi-Sitrei he-Avar (1943), 15–24, 50–53; H. Granqvist, Birth and Childhood Among the Arabs (1947), 60, 114, 252–9; M. David, Adoptie in het Oude Israel (Dutch, 1955); Z. Falk, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (1964), 162–4; F. Lyall, in JBL, 88 (1969), 458–66; H. Donner, in: Oriens Antiquus, 8 (1969), 87–119; H.E. Baker, Legal System of Israel (1968), index. SPECIAL STUDIES: B. Stade, in: ZAW, 6 (1886), 143–56; G. Cooke, ibid., 73 (1961), 202–25; C. Gordon, in: BA, 3 (1940), 2–7; H.H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord… (1952), 163–86 (= HTR, 40 (1947), 77–99); I. Mendelsohn, in: IEJ, 9 (1959), 180–3; R. Patai, Sex and Family in the Bible and the Middle East (1959), 42, 78–79, 92–98, 205, 224; W.F. Albright, in: BASOR, 163 (1961), 47; H. Hoffner, in: JNES, 27 (1968), 198–203; J. Preuss, Biblisch-Talmudische Medizin (1923), 460–1; S. Kardimon, in: JSS, 3 (1958), 123–6; J. van Seters, in: JBL, 87 (1968), 401–8; Z. Falk, in: Iura, 17 (1966), 170–1. JEWISH LAW: J. Kister, Sekirah al Immuẓ Yeladim… (1953); G. Felder, Hakohen, in: Sinai, 48 (1961), 204 ff.; Findling, in: No'am, 4 (1961), 65 ff.; Ezraḥi, ibid., 94 ff.; Rudner, ibid., 61 ff.; B. Schereschewsky, Dinei Mishpaḥah (19672), 395 ff. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Jewish Law – History, Sources Principles (1994), 827, 1763–1765; idem, Jewish Law (Mishpat Ivri): Cases and Materials (Mathew Bender Case Books, 1999), 313–22; A. Abraham, "Imuẓ Yeladim," in: Hama'ayan (1994), 29; "Sample of Adoption Order given
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