Following a four-year effort by Rabbi Nate Crane, associate rabbi at Congregation Or Tzion in Scottsdale, there is now a Jewish ritual and accompanying documents to celebrate and mark the adoption of children of all ages by Conservative Jewish parents.
Crane authored a teshuvah, or Jewish legal ruling, called “Adoption,” which recently was approved by a unanimous vote of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the Conservative movement’s central authority on Jewish law and practices in the United States.
“This isn’t a new law as much as it’s an exploration of the halakhic status of people who have been adopted, including the parental and filial obligations involved, and offers a Jewish ritual and accompanying documents to celebrate and mark adoption,” Crane said.
The issue of whether adopted children are members of a family has been addressed in the Talmud. As Crane’s ruling points out, “The Talmudic expression, ‘whoever raises a child is like their parent,’ is a profound statement, but gives no guidance about how this is determined, and at what point the status of adoptive parent or child is binding. … there is no ritual intended to celebrate this child’s new identity as the son of his adoptive parents. In other words, we celebrate and mark his novel Jewish identity, but not his novel familial identity.”
Ritually marking the adoption of a child by a Jewish family has become more relevant with the rise of secular adoption in the modern world.
Crane’s quest to create a teshuvah on ritual adoption started with his own personal experience. Crane, whose biological mother is Jewish, was adopted when he was older by his Jewish stepfather.
“I am and was blessed to marry my college sweetheart, Rachel, and when we were preparing for our wedding, I couldn’t imagine my Hebrew name written on our ketubah not including the patronymic of the man who was my father in all ways, especially Jewishly,” Crane said.
He sought guidance on the issue from Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the rector of the American Jewish University and the chairman of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.
“He encouraged me and guided me toward crafting a ritual with supporting texts that could make that change in status possible and sacred,” Crane said.
Crane chose Teudat Immutz as the name of the sacred document for the adoption ritual. As he writes in his paper, immutz is the term the Israeli courts designated to the practice of Israeli statutory adoption.
The Teudat Immutz is comprised of the following elements:
A personal statement accepting parental obligations.
Signature of parent/s.
For children who have reached the age of majority, a personal statement accepting filial obligations.
For children who have reached the age of majority, a signature.
A paragraph that describes the date and place of record, intention of the document, identification of the parties entering into the agreement and petitionary prayer.
Signature of two kosher witnesses.
The Teudat Immutz ritual has two essential steps and an optional third step:
The completion of the Teudat Immutz.
The witnessed reading and signing of the Teudat Immutz.
A public welcoming of the adopted child to the community (optional).
The Teudat Immutz serves as the formal conclusion to the statutory adoption process after the final decree of adoption is awarded. However, it does not in any way replace the conversion process, which can begin, with the court’s permission, before the final adoption decree. In addition, the conversion procedures must be completed before or concurrently with the Teudat Immutz rituals.
The final ruling by Crane includes:
A statutorily adopted child can be considered equal in familial obligations and halakhic status to that of a biological child.
Halakhah accepts the ruling of a secular court that establishes the financial ties between an adoptive parent and adopted child.
The Teudat Immutz extends the financial ties to matters of religious obligations by adoptive parents to provide religious education to the adopted child.
The ruling in no way questions the halakhic status of previously statutorily adopted children.
Crane said he already is hearing from Conservative rabbis around the world asking about the Teudat Immutz, and locally, two families will be undergoing the adoption ritual.
“It’s an incredible honor to join those voices that came before us and connect my voice to those who will follow,” Crane said. “It’s tremendously moving and transformative.” JN