Gay & Lesbian Adoption

With more gays and lesbians starting families, same-sex Jewish couples are faced with myriad challenges.

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Welcoming Gay and Lesbian Parents

At the same time, for rabbis--spiritual leaders of both so-called gay and [many] mainstream congregations--the traditional Jewish emphasis on family and commitment to community has provided an acceptable avenue to sanction loving relationships and alternative family constellations not found within the bounds of tradition. "The notion of a typical family doesn't exist around here. It's no longer used as a measure of family," said Rabbi Stuart Kelman whose 10-year-old Conservative congregation, Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, is known to be welcoming to gay families.
 
While gay couples seeking to adopt report great variation in how much organized Jewish support is available to them--depending on where they live--it is not uncommon in large urban centers such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, for the local Jewish Family Services to be extremely accessible. In these urban centers, JFS conducts the legally required home studies and puts couples in touch with adoption agencies and legal resources that are open to gay placement. Prussin, for example was able to turn to the Hebrew Free Loan Association of San Francisco for a loan to cover much of the expense entailed by her adoption.
 
On the whole, the gays and lesbians like Prussin who are actively engaged in the Jewish community stress the importance of formally converting adopted children. Many want to avoid any questions that may later arise surrounding the girls' Jewish identity. Not all, though, agree that conversion is the most pressing concern gay couples face when they adopt. "I don't believe in biological Judaism. It's not a helpful concept. [Therefore,] I will support [a couple's desire to convert a child], but I don't require it," asserted Rabbi Jane Litman of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco.
 
For Litman, the biggest challenge facing the organized Jewish community as it works to absorb what she perceives as an ever-growing population of children adopted by gay couples, is in education. "It's really important as Jews that when we give a first-rate Jewish education, to make clear that the family constellation, whatever it looks like, is affirmed as a Jewish way of living; that they are considered fully members of our community," she said. Because the available religious school curricular and teacher-training materials don't yet reflect what Litman called "the realities of our population," she said that Sh'ar Zahav is working to develop these.
 
Her colleague, Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Temple Emanu-El, also in San Francisco, and the first openly gay rabbi to be hired by the 1,700-household Reform congregation, had another concern. It's critical, Mintz said, that mainstream rabbinic authorities officially recognize the sanctity of gay unions, if not for the sake of the couples, then surely for the sake of their children, both adopted and biological. "As rabbis, we have to give them [the children] a legitimate identification as Jews from the beginning. If a couple feels comfortable and supported and welcome, then their children will feel positive about the Jewish community and strongly identified. A congregation and community that can be accepting of gay couples will enable their children to feel warmth about their affiliation."

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Jane Calem Rosen

Jane Calem Rosen is director of communications at the Masorti Foundation and a staff writer for the Jewish Standard .