by Marsha Raynes, Program Manager, Adoption and Infertility Support
November is National Adoption Month, intended to raise awareness of foster care adoption and a time to celebrate all families created through adoption. Not that we have to wait for November – we can celebrate the diversity of Jewish families created through adoption throughout the year!
Adoption is an honored way to create or add to a family. Our Jewish text and traditions support this: As stated in the Talmud, “He who brings up a child is to be called its father, not he who gave birth” (Exodus Rabbah 46:5). “Whoever raises a child in his home, it is as if he had begotten him…Whoever teaches Torah to the son of his companion, Scripture considers it as if he begat him.” (Sanhedrin 19b)
Adoption as a legal construct is a relatively recent development, but Judaism has a long and treasured history of people raising children who were not their biological children. Here are some examples: Abraham adopts his adult servant Eliezer to be his heir; Jacob claims his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own; Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and Mordecai brought up his orphaned cousin Esther.
While adoption is a wonderful way to build a family, it poses some unique challenges for Jewish families, including:
- There may be questions about conversion, when a family has adopted a child who was born to a non-Jewish birth mother.
- Parents may wonder how to nurture a positive Jewish identity in their child while honoring their child’s birth culture/family.
- A family with a child becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah may wonder about incorporating adoption or a child’s birth heritage in this important life-cycle event.
- In transracial adoptive families, parents may be concerned how their teen and young adult children will be accepted when they start to date.
- Grandparents may have questions about their grandchild’s “open adoption.”
For these and other questions related to adoption and the Jewish family, JCFS Chicago can help. Our adoption and infertility support services help strengthen, educate and connect diverse Jewish adoptive and prospective adoptive families, couples, and individuals to resources in their community.
The author wishes to thank Rabbi Joseph Ozarowski, Rabbinic Counselor and JCFS Chicago Chaplain, for his consultation on this article.