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Orthodox Judaism/halakha and adoption of jewish child


QUESTION: Hello Mr Frank,grateful for your thoughts as a Jewish Law expert.

I was adopted (it was a closed and sealed adoption) at birth to non-Jewish parents. I had limited contact with my birth mother (20 years ago) but we don't keep in touch but when we met she passed onto me that she is Jewish and told me briefly that her grandmother was an observant Orthodox Jew. She described to me her grandmother's lifestyle, including shabbos candles, sitting shiva and socializing with other Jews. She is secular but aware of being halakically Jewish.

The circumstances surrounding the adoption are sensitive and I do not have any more information than this, nor do I have access to any Jewish documents. I am now part of a reform/conservative community who accepted me based on the information I had about my background, after I went to the mikveh, and had milah. The rabbi involved said that my information was reliable and credible because there was no reason for it not to be.

Obviously my status is settled from a non-orthodox perspective.

I know that Orthodox rabbis adhere more strictly to Jewish Law rather a Conservative rabbi. What provisions are there within Orthodox halakha for me to regularize my status in accordance with Orthodox halakha, especially when I have no access to by birth family records, through no fault of my own?

Many thanks for considering this email.


ANSWER: Hi David,

Thanks for the question.
While considering this question, let me ask you a couple of my own.

1)Do you know whether your birth mother's grandmother was her maternal or paternal grandparent?
2)You mention that you underwent circumcision and mikvah. What was the objective of this ritual? Was it to create a "backup" conversion process just in case the information may be unreliable?

Typically, when there is very limited information regarding your ancestry, they will require you go through a "backup" conversion process. Unfortunately some traditionally required components of the Orthodox process are missing in the Reform and Conservative process - so it would require a "redo".
However, it sounds like your mother is still with us and can indeed be located. If this is the case, and the Orthodox Beth Din can arrange an interview with your genealogical mother it probably wouldn't require a conversion - if all the facts add up.

Let me know your thoughts!



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your prompt reply. To clarify mother's Orthodox Jewish grandma was on her maternal side, so there is an unbroken maternal line.

Second, the milah and mikveh was a backup as you suggested.

Does this extra information change anything?

Thank you so much for considering my follow-up.

Hi David,

This information just cleared up whether the Jewish Grandmother was a relevant piece of information.
Like I mentioned before, the real question is whether your biological mother is available just to verify all the details. It may preclude the necessity of a conversion et al.
I understand the information regarding the adoption is limited and sensitive but these are the questions you need answered. Is it 100% conclusive that she is indeed your biological mother and is it 100% conclusive that there is indeed an unbroken maternal chain of Jewish mothers.
If there is a grey area in this due to the sensitive nature of the adoption then you probably will have to undergo a backup Orthodox conversion. If someone can meet with her and verify the facts (possibly even without documentation - her testimony alone may be sufficient - a knowledgeable Orthodox Rabbi will have to be consulted)then you may be considered just as Jewish as the next guy.
So you have homework to do. Why use workarounds? Get to the bottom of this, if it is really important to you.

Take care David and good luck!


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Tzvi Frank


As a scholar of Judaic Studies & Ethics for close to 25 years, I am happy to answer any of your questions regarding Jewish Law and its meaning as well as general Jewish philosophy. Thousands of years of Jewish religious scholarship teaches us to always ask questions. From the Talmud to this very day, scholars have been consistently questioning premises and concepts that exist in Jewish thought. Never be afraid to ask! The answer may change your life. I will not answer questions pertaining to Christianity or Jesus.


I have been a scholar of Jewish Studies & Ethics for close to 25 years and I have been responding to online questions for close to 10 years.

Have been published in numerous (Hebrew) Academic publications.

B.A. in Judaica Studies and Ethics.

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