There is no formal procedure of adoption in Jewish law. Adoption as it exists in civil law is irrelevant, because civil adoption is essentially a transfer of title from one parent to another, and in Jewish law, parents do not own their children. However, Judaism does have certain laws that are relevant in circumstances where a child is raised by someone other than the birth parents.

In most ways, the adoptive parents are to the child as any birth parent would be. The Talmud says that he who raises someone else's child is regarded as if he had actually brought him into the world physically. For those who cannot have children of their own, raising adoptive children satisfies the obligation to be fruitful and multiply. The child may be formally named (see above) as the child of the adoptive parents, owes the adoptive parents the same duty of respect as he would a birth parent, and observes formal mourning for the adoptive parents as he would for birth parents.

Matters relevant to the child's status are determined by the status of the birth parents, not by that of the adoptive parents. The child's status as a Kohein, a Levi, a Jew, and/or a firstborn, are all determined by reference to the birth parents.

This issue of status is particularly important in the case of non-Jewish children adopted by Jews. According to traditional Jewish law, children born of non-Jewish parents are not Jewish unless they are converted, regardless of who raises them or how they were raised. The status as a Jew is more a matter of citizenship than a matter of belief.

If Jewish parents adopt a non-Jewish child, the child must be converted. This process is somewhat simpler for an infant than it is for an adult convert, because there is generally no need to try to talk the person out of converting and no need for prior education. It is really more of a formality. The conversion must be approved by a Beit Din (rabbinic court); a circumcision or hatafat dam brit must be performed; the child must be immersed in a kosher mikvah and the parents must commit to educating the child as a Jew.

Last updated on: 01/20/2020
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