As a Jewish expectant parent or a Jewish hopeful adoptive parent, you may be wondering how Jewish adoption works. As a birth mother, you may want to place your child with a Jewish family so that he or she is raised in your faith and culture. It may be important for you to ensure your child is raised in your religion. Similarly, as a hopeful adoptive family who is of Jewish descent or is religious, you may want to better understand how the process of adoption works. You may have preferences to adopt a child who is born from a Jewish mother or you may be wondering how the process of conversion works if your child is born to a non-Jewish mother. This article will help to answer all of your questions.

1. Jewish Adoption in the Bible

Jewish adoption has been recognized since biblical times. In Genesis 15:2-3, Abraham discusses adopting his servant Eliezer to his heir because Sarah is unable to bear any children. In Genesis 48: 5-6, Jacob adopts his son Joseph’s children, Ephraim and Menasseh. In Exodus 2: 9-10, Moses is adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter, Batyah, after she finds him on the banks of the Nile River. In Esther 2:7, Mordecai adopts his orphaned cousin Esther and raises her as his daughter. 2 Samuel 6:23 states “to her dying day Michal, daughter of Saul, had no children.” Michal was King David’s wife. However, in 2 Samuel 21:8 it mentions her having five sons which the Talmud reflects were born by her sister Merab but were raised by Michal. This sets the precedent in Judaism that whoever raises the orphan in their home is regarded as the parent. These are just a few examples of adoption in the Bible and Talmud.

2. Jewish Law and Adoption

Adoption does not exist formally as a practice in Jewish Law. However, Judaism has favorable attitudes toward adoption and looks at it as good. Adoption practiced in modern secular society derives from Roman Law.  The secular procedure for adoption involves the removal of all rights and responsibilities from the biological parents which are then transferred to the adoptive parents. Judaism differs from Roman Law because the adoptive parents do not entirely replace the role of the biological parents. In Jewish Law, the birth parents determine the religious status of the child which cannot be removed by a legal procedure.

If a birth mother is Jewish, this means that her baby is also Jewish. However, if the birth mother is not Jewish, then the child is also not born Jewish. Prospective adoptive Jewish families adopting a child who was not born to a Jewish mother will have the child go through a formal ceremony to convert the baby to Judaism. The adopted baby’s conversion will usually consist of a ceremony in the presence of three Rabbis. The baby will likely have an immersion ritual in the mikvah or ritual bath, and there will be a ceremonial circumcision for male babies. This ceremonial circumcision is called a bris and is done by a Jewish mohel with a baby naming ceremony.

This conversion serves as a symbolic rebirth. The baby naming ceremony is for both children adopted from Jewish or non-Jewish birth mothers. When your adopted child turns thirteen years of age, he or she will choose whether or not to accept this conversion at his or her Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The process to convert the child to Judaism does differ based on the age of the child, so it is best to consult with your adoption agency or adoption attorney to better understand what the process is for conversion.

It is important to remember that different Jewish religious communities have varying opinions regarding the adoption of non-Jewish children to Jewish adoptive families. This is not different from non-Jewish opinions about adoption. Often others have opinions about things, and you will learn as an adoptive family or a birth mother creating an adoption plan for your baby that you will need to ignore many of these opinions or use the opportunity to educate others on the beauty of the adoption journey. You may need to educate members of your Jewish community on how the adoption of a non-Jewish child works and that you will be raising your child in the Jewish faith and with Jewish values.

Many adoptive families and expectant parents deciding on an adoption plan may have questions regarding interfaith families. Interfaith families, or those who plan to raise their children in both of the parent’s respective faith or religious traditions, are becoming more common. As a hopeful adoptive family, you may need to be clear when you create your adoptive family profile for expectant parents about your plans to raise any child you adopt in your family’s faith .

Expectant parents creating an adoption plan will also need to think about any preference they may have regarding the faith or religious tradition they want for their baby to be raised in. It is important, as a birth mother, to think about these preferences as you interview hopeful adoptive parents for your child. As a Jewish expectant mother, you may want your child raised in a Jewish family. You may not have a preference or you may be open to your child being raised in an interfaith family.  If you are Jewish, it may be important for you that your child knows he or she is of Jewish descent. This is something to communicate with the prospective birth parents and the adoption agency or adoption attorney you choose to use to help you finalize your adoption.

Judaism has always looked favorably on adoption as a means to build a forever family.  The 2000 National Jewish Population Study reported that over 5% of Jewish homes had an adopted child living in the family. These statistics show Jewish families have double the number of adopted children in their homes compared to the rest of the United States population.

As discussed earlier, if the child was born to a Jewish birth mother, then there could be an emphasis on some Jewish traditions for the adopted child to know about their Jewish lineage. In some orthodox Jewish traditions and other Jewish denominations, it is critical for the adopted child to have their tribal affiliation identified. That is, is the child Kohen, Yisrael, or Levite. The reason for this determination is often due to marriage laws when the child is grown. If a child who is adopted is born to either one or two Jewish birth parents, some Jewish denominations believe it is important for the adoptive family to maintain proof that the child is Jewish and what tribal affiliation the child has so that they can help assist the child when he or she is a grown adult. If, for example, the child wishes to move to Israel to live, marry a man or woman inside an orthodox Jewish community, or some other denominational Jewish community, then it may be necessary to have proof of Jewish lineage.

One issue that may arise in traditional orthodox Jewish communities is whether the child is a mamzer or a child born of adultery or incest. This may prevent the child from being married into an orthodox union. So, it is important for some orthodox adoptive families to have that proof of lineage from the birth mother and birth father for later in the child’s life. These are just some things for the adoptive parents to think about as they go through the adoption journey.

3. The Process of Jewish Adoption

The process for Jewish adoption is no different from any other adoption. Additionally, the decision to place your child for adoption or to adopt a child to raise Jewish is one of the most important decisions you will make in your lifetime. It may be one of the easiest decisions you have ever made or it may be a difficult one for you and your family. In either case, seeking help and support along the way from friends, family, your rabbi, or support groups for counsel and guidance will help you make the best decision. Educating yourself by reading articles on adoption.com, talking to other expectant parents or adoptive parents on adoption forums, or finding a Jewish adoption support group can all be helpful at this point, really at any point, in the process!

A great adoption agency or adoption attorney is also helpful in guiding you through the next steps. You can begin the process of interviewing adoption agencies or adoption attorneys at any time. Interviewing adoption service providers are a great first step in your adoption journey. They will help answer your questions and give you information on each step of the Jewish adoption process. Your adoption journey will look different than any other; no two adoptions are the same. However, your adoption service provider can assist in the steps and legal paperwork to complete your adoption. You have no obligation to work with any adoption agency or adoption attorney. You can interview them, ask questions, or attend an information session before deciding to move forward with the adoption agency or adoption attorney. Even if you commit to working with one adoption agency or adoption attorney, it is important to know you can change your mind at any time. This is true for an expectant parent or prospective adoptive parent. You have no pressure to complete an adoption, no matter where you are in the journey. This is your decision and your decision alone.

It should go without saying that if you feel pressure at any point in the journey, you should walk away from that adoption service provider. Coercion or pressure should not be tolerated. You should feel safe and that your decisions are supported at every step in the process. There are lots of wonderful adoption agencies and adoption attorneys out there. As the former Executive Director of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, I was often asked which are the best. The best adoption agency or adoption attorney is the one you feel the most comfortable with using for the most important decision in your life. There are many agencies that specialize in Jewish adoptions; however, all good agencies can help assist in your desire to adopt a Jewish child or place your child in a Jewish family. One great agency is The Gladney Center for Adoption. They support Jewish expectant parents and Jewish hopeful adoptive parents all over the country.

One thing that is important after you decide which adoption agency or adoption attorney to use is the type of communication you would like with your birth child (if you are an expectant parent) or with the birth parents (if you are looking to adopt). Most families and expectant parents today wish to have some level of openness. This is also critical in Jewish adoption if your denomination places importance on tracing the Jewish lineage of the birth parents. Deciding the level of relationship and communication with the birth child and the birth parents is important. Your adoption agency or adoption attorney can help you work through the level of openness in your adoption. It may be just a few letters a year or as much as regularly meeting in person. That is for you to decide before the adoption is finalized.

It is important to remember that in every adoption triad (the adoptive parents, birth parents, and child who is adopted) is very unique. If you choose to place your child for adoption with a Jewish family, the relationship you agree to have with the adoptive parents and your baby is up to you as the birth mother. As you begin this journey of Jewish adoption as an expectant parent or hopeful adoptive parent remember to be gentle with yourself, practice self-care, and learn as much as you can so you can make the best decision for you and your family. Ask questions, seek information, lean on your support system, and above all trust your gut. Adoption is a lifelong journey and you are taking the best first step in gathering as much information as you can regarding Jewish adoption.