Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz is working to push forward a bill seeking to cancel a law requiring an adopted child and his parents to be of the same faith.
At present, parents must be the same religion as the child they adopt. In most cases, this means that the child being adopted must be converted to Judaism, which is carried out by a special rabbinical court for the conversion of minors.
Horowitz’s law would remove this condition from the adoption process. The bill was slated for a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but it was postponed because a committee within the Ministry of Justice is currently holding hearings on the issue.
“The abuse which adopting families experience has to end,” Horowitz said. “No rabbinical agent has the right to determine for a parent which school they will send their children to, how to spend the Sabbath, or how the mother should dress.”
The MK accused the state of allowing the “rabbinical establishment” to “fill the vacuum it has left,” and the religious establishment of “imposing a haredi lifestyle on families wanting to adopt.”
According to Horowitz and others promoting the bill, the rabbinical court frequently requires adoptive parents to send the adopted child and all other children in the family to religious schools and assume a more religious lifestyle in general, including becoming Sabbath observant and observing the laws of kashrut, before the court will consent to convert the child.
According to Irit Rosenblum, founder and CEO of the New Family Organization, there are many instances in which these demands hinder the adoption of children by non-religious parents.
She points in particular to cases of second marriages after a spouse is widowed. Rosenblum says that there are 300,000 interfaith married couples in Israel, and that there are frequently instances where the non-biological parent of children in such a family cannot adopt their stepson or stepdaughter because either the child or the parent is not Jewish.
State officials claim, however, that there are few occurrences of such cases.
There are also 400 cases of surrogacy every year in which the surrogate mother is not Jewish. In many such cases, the child requires conversion in which similar obstacles are experienced by the parents.
Although children adopted abroad do not need to undergo conversion in order for them to be legally adopted in Israel, parents of such children who do wish them to be converted are also confronted with requirements from the rabbinical courts to become more religiously observant.
In one recent case, a couple adopted a non-Jewish three-year old boy, Jonathan, from Ukraine.
The conversion process was begun and Jonathan was circumcised.
However, because the rabbinical court required the couple to become more observant and send both Jonathan and their 6-year old biological daughter to religious schools, the process became stuck.
Children like Jonathan will be registered as “without faith” which will make it hard for them to marry in the future.
Danny, Jonathan’s grandfather, said that even though the family is not strictly observant, Jonathan’s parents still want him to be considered Jewish in the State of Israel.
Shaul Farber, an Orthodox rabbi and director of the ITIM religious rights lobbying group, said that there are other halachic approaches which could make it simpler for parents to “bring adopted children into the halachic community.” He cited a ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the most respected rabbinic authorities on Jewish law in the past 60 years, in which he ruled that even if an adopted child goes to a religious school, the parents of such a child do not have to be observant in order for the child to be converted.
Neither the Chief Rabbinate nor the Rabbinical Courts were available for comment on the issue.