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If Jewish parents adopt, is the child automatically Jewish?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller


Library » Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


According to Jewish Law, a person is Jewish if s/he was born to a Jewish mother or if s/he converted according to Jewish Law. If the religion of the child’s biological mother is unknown, we go by the majority of the population, which (outside of Israel) is assumed to be non-Jewish. Because of the intricacies of Jewish Law a competent Orthodox rabbi or Beth Din (Jewish Religious Court) must be consulted regarding the conversion process.

In general three requirements must be fulfilled in order for a convert to be accepted as a Jew: 1) in the case of a male, he must undergo proper circumcision (standard hospital procedures do not fulfill this requirement. If the child has been circumcised medically a competent orthodox rabbi should be consulted). There is no corresponding rite for a female; 2) the person must immerse in a Mikvah; 3) the person must accept upon themselves to live in accordance with Jewish law. All of the above must be done under the guidance and supervision of a qualified orthodox rabbinical court.

Proper conversion is an absolute requirement of Jewish law, and dispensing with it may have serious consequences later in life
Parents of an adopted child under the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah (13 for a boy; 12 for a girl) are permitted to have the child undergo a conversion process1 , which entails circumcision (for a male) and immersion (for both male and female). The parents must undertake to teach the child the laws of Jewish faith and practice, as well as provide a proper setting for those laws to be fulfilled (i.e. Shabbat observance, Kosher home etc.).

If the child does not undergo a proper conversion, then the adoption by Jewish parents per se does not render the child Jewish.

Proper conversion is an absolute requirement of Jewish law, and dispensing with it may have serious consequences later in life, such as when the person wishes to marry or send his/her children to a Jewish school, only to be told that he or she is not really Jewish. We have all seen a tremendous return to traditional religion in the last few years. It is devastating for a young adult to find out after years of practicing Judaism that he or she is in fact not Jewish.

See also Why should I choose an Orthodox conversion? 


  • 1. There are instances in which a child can retroactively reject his/her conversion when s/he reaches adulthood - Bat/Bar Mitzvah (See Maimonidies Laws of Kings and Wars Chapter 10:4). However, this is not a one-size-fits-all law and a qualified Rabbinical court has to determine if and/or when that is possible.


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Posted by: Anonymous, Pt. St. Lucie, Florida, USA on Sep 17, 2005

I have a related question, not really a comment. My son was adopted when he was 1 day old, born to a women not Jewish, he had a bris, will do the mikvah within the fiest year.

My husband and I are both Jewish, we keep kosher, have recently moved to a new area, have not yet found a new Shul. Question: My husband is a Levite, will our son also be or will he be an Isrealite?

Editor's Comment

Mazal tov! May you have much nachas from your new -- Israelite -- son, once he undergoes his conversion.


Posted by: Anonymous, Plainview, NY on Dec 12, 2005

is it not logical to say that two unobservant jewish parents who adopt a non-jewish child will raise that child jewish after a conversion but how is that child expected to follow "according to the laws of the torah" if the parents are not shomer shabbat. it is an unrealistic expectation that the child will be shomer shabbat if the parents whose raising him or her are not. it also forces jewish parents who are not observant and cannot bare their own children, G-D FORBID, TO LIE IN ORDER TO HAVE THEIR ADOPTED CHILD BE CONVERTED. DO YOU MEAN TO SAY THAT A JEWISH COUPLE WHO ARE NOT observant cannot adopt and convert a non-jewish child because that child will not be raised shomer shabbat! is it not a given that if the jewish couple is not shomer shabbat, then the child also will not be.


Posted by: Hinda, Honolulu, HI on May 01, 2007

So does that mean that if my two adopted children (younger than bar/bat mitzvah age) are circumcised, go in the ocean (our mikvah) and agree to be Jewish as their conversion that when it comes time for their bar/bat mitzvot they would not need to do anything further if they agree to continue their lives as Jews?

Editor's Comment

1) They would have to do the entire process under the auspices of a qualified orthodox rabbinical court. They can't just go to the ocean and say "we accept Judaism". 2) Once they go through a proper conversion with a qualified rabbinical court and choose to accept that choice when they reach bar/bat Mitzvah, they are Jewish and there is nothing else they have to do for their conversion. However, there is always more that a Jew must do; s/he never reaches a plateau. So even after they undergo conversion their lives will constantly be filled with the richness of Jewish observances and the responsibility to study more Torah.


Jewish Identity » Conversion
Life Cycle » Birth » The Laws

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
A ritual bath where one immerses to become spiritually pure. After her menstrual cycle, a woman must immerse in the Mikvah before resuming marital relations.
Beth Din
(Lit. House of Law). Rabbinical court.