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Issues in Jewish Ethics: Adoption

Although Jewish tradition considers the most acceptable option for a couple is to reproduce and bear their own offspring, adoption is a possible solution for couples who cannot have children. The adopting family is responsible for the child’s upbringing and needs, including food, clothing and an education. According to Jewish law, the biological parents are still compelled to make sure the child has a decent childhood. Once a child has been adopted, the adoptee must be treated as if it were biologically the adopter’s own. The adoptee is required to honor and respect his/her parents in accordance with the laws of the Torah. Furthermore, while the child is not required to mourn, sit shiva, or recite the Kaddish at the loss of a parent; due to the emotional connection it is accepted as common practice.

If the child is not Jewish upon adoption, he (or she) must go through a full conversion ceremony prior to the adoptee’s Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah. Additionally, a child adopted from unknown parents must also go through a conversion to be considered Jewish. Upon the date of the Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah the child must choose whether or not to accept Judaism. Once the adoptee has consented to the values and responsibilities of becoming a Jew, he (or she) is considered a full member within the Jewish community.

While the adopted child may be permitted to take on the name of the assuming family, according to Jewish law the child is hereditarily tied to his (or her) biological parents. If the child’s biological father is a Cohen or Levi by Jewish tradition, and the child is a boy, so too must he accept these priestly customs. Although discouraged, the adoptee child may even marry a person from the adopting family. Since the child is not from the adopting family’s hereditary blood this marriage would not be considered incest.

Sources: Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004; Kolatch, Alfred J. The Jewish Book of Why/The Second Jewish Book of Why. NY: Jonathan David Publishers, 1989. .