Yeshiva Education & Intermarriage

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At some point I got signed up for a “Daily Halacha” email by a Rabbi Eli Mansour. Usually, I’m most interested by the topics he chooses to cover, but yesterday’s really caught my attention.

The question being addressed: May a Yeshiva Accept a Child Born to a Jewish Mother and Non-Jewish Father?

Rabbi Mansour writes:

The question was posed to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Russia-New York, 1895-1986) whether a Yeshiva may accept a child born to a mixed marriage, where the mother is Jewish but the father is not. According to Halacha, the child’s status in such a case follows the mother, and therefore the child is a full-fledged Jew. But is there any reason for a Yeshiva to refuse to accept such a child, or for a congregation not to allow this child to observe his Bar Mitzva in their synagogue?

Rabbi Feinstein ruled (Iggerot Moshe, O.C. 2:73) that a Yeshiva should not accept a child born to a mixed marriage, and a congregation should not agree to host the Bar Mitzva celebration of such a child. Accepting the child in the Yeshiva or hosting his Bar Mitzva celebration may easily be misconstrued as implicit approval of his parents’ lifestyle. In order to firmly establish the Torah’s strict opposition to intermarriage, Yeshivot should not accept children from mixed marriages, and synagogues should not host Bar Mitzva celebrations of such children.

Needless to say, if the mother performs Teshuva, then clearly the Yeshiva or synagogue should welcome the child, even though he had been born to a non-Jewish father. It should be noted that certain communities (for example the Syrian Sephardic Community in Brooklyn New York) are strict in all these situations no to accept.

I must say, I was surprised by this ruling, i.e. the calculus that it’s better to strip a Jewish child of a Jewish education than to give the impression that intermarriage is acceptable, i.e. that this sort of collective punishment (punishing a child for — what they consider — the “sin” of its mother) is acceptable.

Perhaps, most interestingly, Rabbi Mansour seems to essentialize the condition of the child: “a child born to a mixed marriage.” Even according to Orthodox Jewish law, a child born to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is 100% Jewish. Yet it seems as if this child’s birth taints it, in a sense.

Even according to his own logic, I’m surprised Rabbi Mansour doesn’t discuss what happens if the parents are now divorced. Unless, that’s what he means when he writes: “if the mother performs Teshuva [repentance], then clearly the Yeshiva or synagogue should welcome the child.”

Perhaps, here, “repentance” is a euphemism for divorce.

I’m guessing that non-Orthodox schools need to have a policy on children born to non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers (i.e. does the school accept patrilineal descent or not?), but it’s interesting to know that Orthodox schools (who certainly don’t accept patrilineal descent) have their own issues with lineage.

Posted on January 2, 2007

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