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Adoption and faith

Childless Israeli couples interested in adoption inevitably face the prospect of adopting a non- Jewish child. The strong ethos of childbearing in our society, which puts pressure on childless couples to do everything in their power to have a child – whether via artificial insemination, surrogate mother or adoption – also creates a situation in which there are very few children – if any – up for adoption. Add to that the ample availability of free abortions and the result is a serious dearth of adoption options locally.
Israeli couples who decide to adopt are forced to look elsewhere for prospective children in Romania, the Ukraine or elsewhere. And these children are rarely, if ever, Jewish. It used to be that in order to adopt a child abroad, the adopting parents had to convert the child to Judaism. This was in accordance with section 5 of the Adoption Law which states that “the adopter shall be of the same religion as the adoptee.”

But after signing on to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption, Israel was forced to amend the law. Israel could not be a good-standing member of international conventions governing adoption policy if conversion to Judaism – including the immersion of the adoptee (usually a minor) in a mikve and circumcision (for boys) – remained a condition for adoption.

Unfortunately, the amendment, made in 1996, was restricted to cases of inter-country adoptions. In other cases of adoption, the requirement remains that the adopter and the adoptee be of the same religion. This has created enormous hardship. For instance, if an Israeli Jew marries a non-Jewish Israeli woman – say one of about 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who is not Jewish according to Halacha – if she has non-Jewish children from a previous marriage, they cannot be adopted by the Jewish father.

Or, if an infertile Jewish couple decides to have a child via a non-Jewish surrogate mother outside Israel (in Israel only Jewish women can be surrogates), this child cannot be adopted. That’s because according to some halachic opinions a child born to a non-Jewish woman is a non-Jew even if the sperm and the egg were provided by Jews. And this was the position adopted by the State of Israel. MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) has proposed putting an end to this absurd situation in which the people who effectively fill the role of parents for their “adopted” children nevertheless lack the legal standing of parents. Horowitz, in cooperation with Irit Rosenblum of New Family, an organization that promotes a separation of religion and state, has proposed a bill that would remove altogether the stipulation that “the adopter shall be of the same religion as the adoptee.”

Admittedly, Horowitz’s bill, which was slated to be discussed Sunday in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, has close to no chance of passing under the current political constellation. Even the discussion has been postponed after the Justice Ministry claimed that there is a special legal committee currently reviewing the whole issue of adoption.

But adopting Horowitz’s amendment is the right thing to do.

When conversion becomes a condition for adoption, inevitably pressure is brought to bear against the rabbinical conversion court judges to make the conversion process more lenient, thus violating these judges’ religious autonomy. And when secular parents are expected to convert their child as part of the adoption process they are inevitably also put under pressure to put on a show for the rabbinic conversion court as though they were leading a religious lifestyle – observing Shabbat, eating kosher food, attending synagogue – when in reality they have no religious sentiments whatsoever.

Religious faith should not be a precondition for adopting a child, rather economic and psychological stability and – above all – large quantities of love should be. At the same time, rabbis should not be expected to introduce leniencies to their interpretation of “who is a Jew” in order to accommodate secular parents interested in adopting a child.

The time has come to separate religion from the adoption process.