Adopted Children, Conversion, and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah

For converted children, bar/bat mitzvah is a time for affirming their connections with Judaism.

Print this page Print this page

Occasionally I have had a family protest the requirement of conversion; they tell me that being raised a Jew should be sufficient. One family angrily cancelled their bar mitzvah in my synagogue and instead joined the local Reform temple. But most families go ahead with the conversion.

Even when the family is comfortable with the conversion, it is not always easy to explain to a 12-year-old why he or she must be immersed in the ocean before I can allow the bar/bat mitzvah to take place--after all, the youngster has usually been raised as a Jew since infancy. I tell the truth: that technically to be Jewish there must be a formal conversion, and we waited until he or she was old enough to understand and consent to the procedure. Most go ahead willingly or even enthusiastically.

Conversion Easiest in Infancy or Early Childhood

Yet life is far gentler when such a conversion takes place in infancy or when the child is very young. As I finalize bar/bat mitzvah plans with students converted as young children, I recall for them the day I helped bring them into the Jewish faith.

One could use a formal mikveh, a ritual bath often found in synagogues and maintained by the local Jewish community. But a natural body of water can serve as a mikveh as well, and I generally use the ocean, the world's largest mikveh. There is something deeply moving about immersion in the original mayim hayim (living waters) that God made on the second day of creation.

The children range from mere infants to near bar mitzvah age. Most are Caucasian, but some are Hispanic or black. More and more often they come from Asia. Some are born of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers. Sometimes the mother is also converting, but for me this is not a requirement. My only requirement is a commitment to raise this child as a Jew. I admire non-Jewish women willing to commit to raising their children as Jews. Usually these women take their commitment very seriously and bring their children to religious school and Shabbat services, sometimes more regularly than their Jewish husbands. Sometimes, a few years later, the woman herself will convert.

Most of the children I convert were adopted into Jewish families, either by Jewish homosexual or heterosexual couples or by mixed-marriage couples. The deciding factor is that the woman who gave birth to the child was not Jewish at the moment of the child's birth. In this case, Jewish law requires that the child be converted.

Requirements for Conversion of a Child

For a valid conversion, there are three requirements:

    1.        Three rabbis must be present to form a beit din, a court of Jewish law to accept the conversion.

    2.        Every boy must show proof that he had a brit, or if already circumcised, a symbolic brit. (One of our rabbis has become the expert at performing such a symbolic brit right at the ocean.)

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Michael Gold

Rabbi Michael Gold is the rabbi at Temple Beth Torah, Tamarac Jewish Center in Tamarac, Florida. He is the author of four books, and his articles have appeared in Moment, Judaism, Jewish Spectator, B'nai Brith International Jewish Monthly, and numerous other publications. He also served as co-chair of the Rabbinical Assembly's committee on human sexuality.