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Considering that the very first mitzvah (commandment) in the Torah is “to be fruitful and multiply,” it should come as no surprise that nurturing a family is considered of utmost importance in the Jewish tradition. Creating a Jewish family has been thought of not only as a matter of personal desire but also as an act that will have lasting impact on the greater community. As a minority culture in the world at large, the creation of Jewish families concerns emotional and spiritual issues of legacy and continuity. As far back as the archetypal stories of the Hebrew Bible, choosing the right marriage partner is given great significance. Today, having children and instilling Jewish values in them is seen as a counterbalance to the shrinking Jewish populace, and some Jews believe they have a responsibility to create Jewish children in part to make up for the vast number of Jews lost during the Holocaust.
Challenges to the Jewish Family
The contemporary Jewish community confronts the many social issues that are shifting the look and definition of “Jewish family.” An increasing number of Jewish families today do not conform to the traditional image of the “nuclear” family that has two parents–a man and a woman married to and living with each other–with 2.5 children. Jewish families today come in many different configurations, from single-parent families, to blended families, to families headed by a gay or lesbian couple.
Jewish marriages are no more immune from divorce than any other group in North America, in which one of every two marriages dissolves. Divorce impacts the Jewish family, though, in specific ways, as parents need to come to some consensus on how observant to raise their children and whether to send them to Jewish schools. In particular, holiday celebrations–where the emphasis is on family and home–present increased stress for divorced families, creating fewer opportunities for children to get to know extended families on both sides.
Adoption in Jewish Families
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