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Calling Adopted Children to the Torah ??

Question: How should an adopted child of Jewish extraction be called to the Torah - as the son or daughter of the natural parents or of the adoptive parents?

By Rabbi David Golinkin


In general, it is permissible to call him or her up using the names of the adoptive parents and, indeed, this has been the ruling of most modern authorities. They derive this ruling from a number of aggadic or non-legal sources: 

1) The Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b = Megillah 13a) deduces from a number of biblical stories that “whoever raises an orphan in his home is considered by Scripture to have given birth to him”.

2) Similarly, we learn in the midrash (Shemot Rabbah 46:5) “a person who raises a child is called the father and not the person who gives birth”. 

3) Lastly, we learn in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 21a) that Ma’akhah the mother of Tamar was a “yefat to’ar” who was captured in battle and then married by King David. Tosafot (ibid.) suggest that Tamar was not really David’s daughter since Ma’akhah was already pregnant when she was captured. If so, why was Tamar called a daughter of kings (II Samuel 13:18)? They reply: “Because she grew up in the bosom of King David, she was called ‘the daughter of kings'”.

In addition to these aggadic sources, we know that the Amora Abbaye was an orphan who used to call the woman who raised him “eim” (mother – Kiddushin 31b and frequently). Finally, we have the halakhic ruling of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (Responsa Maharam, ed. Lemberg, No. 242) who was asked about Reuven and his wife who wrote a legal document to her son and nonetheless wrote “and give to our son”. He replied: “And it seems that this is fine terminology because whoever raises an orphan is considered as if he gave birth to it… so an orphan may call the person who raised him ‘my father’ and for a woman ‘my mother'”. This ruling of the Maharam was later codified by the Rema in the Shulhan Arukh (Hoshen Mishpat 42:15).

In conclusion, almost all the early sources until Rabbi Moshe Isserles assumed or ruled that a step-son or orphan who was raised by adoptive parents is allowed to call them father and mother in everyday life, in marriage contracts and in other contracts. Therefore it is perfectly permissible to  do so when calling an adopted child to the Torah.

The only problematic cases would involve a child who is a Cohen or Levi when the adoptive father is an Israelite or vice versa. In such a case, some rabbis recommend calling him to the Torah as “so-and-so the Cohen son of the adoptive father” and the like in order to avoid confusion regarding Aliyot, birkat cohanim and pidyon haben. Yet it is difficult to set hard and fast rules because such a practice may cause psychological damage to the child or to the adoptive parents. Therefore, in such delicate cases, the local rabbi must rule according to the circumstances and the people involved.

Posted on 2 March 2013

This blog aims to provide articles of interest on the weekly parashah and issues in Masorti Judaism, representing the full range of diverse views that exist among Masorti members. For guidance on any of the issues raised, please consult your rabbi.

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