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I was adopted around the time I was three months old by my parents who are both Jewish. I do not know what religion my biological mother was, in fact I have very little detail about her at all. I was raised in a Reform Jewish household, celebrated Jewish holidays, I became a Bar Mitzvah, and always considered myself Jewish.

However, reading many questions on here, for example this one, it's clear that to be Jewish one's mother has to be Jewish. An orthodox friend of mine also said I was not really Jewish, despite the way I was raised.

What is the official view on adoption in the Jewish religion? When I read that my mother must be Jewish for me to be Jewish, does that mean my adoptive mother (the person I have always known as my mother) or my biological mother (a woman I have never met, never knew, and who has no connection to me other than that we share similar DNA and that she carried me for nine months and bore me)?

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Josh, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for sharing your fundamental question here! I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Jan 12 '12 at 21:50
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Please don't stop yourself from asking questions because you think they're too basic! We intentionally have "and anyone interested in learning more" as part of the definition of our target audience in our FAQ, to indicate that we want the community of experts gathered here to be a resource for anyone who's got a question about Judaism. It couldn't hurt to Google first, to see if your answer's already easily-findable out there, but if you're curious about something Jewish, and the Internet as it is isn't immediately helpful, do it a favor and add your question to it here! –  Isaac Moses Jan 12 '12 at 22:08
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Incidentally, re "and who has no connection to me other than DNA": presumably she also carried you for nine months and bore you. Halacha does discuss egg donation and surrogate motherhood; I don't know what the rabbis have had to say about these, but (at least conceivably) who's considered a mother in halacha might not be dependent on DNA. –  msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 22:08
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@Josh, it's kinda similar to medical history. Although your adoptive parents are Mom and Dad, you cannot base your medical risks on their history. Same with Judaism which bases religion on ancestry, not family. –  YDK Jan 13 '12 at 0:50
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@yoel, a citation would be invaluable. –  msh210 Jan 16 '12 at 6:56

4 Answers 4

Josh, welcome to the site. In answer to your question, a distinction needs to be made between normative Halachic practice (aka Jewish law) and streams of Judaism that do not consider Halachah as binding (like Reform Judaism).

I am not an expert in Reform conversion or synagogue standards, but my understanding is that the Reform community will welcome you as a member in a synagogue and allow you to participate fully, since they recognize both their own conversion (which you probably underwent as a young child) and also recognize as Jewish, or are at least open and welcoming to, those who are fully involved in Jewish life (in Reform Judaism, someone who has had a Bar Mitzvah is considered to be a prime example of this done right).

In order for you, as an adopted child, to be Jewish according to Jewish law, you would have to either be descended biologically from a line of Jewish women (yes, even if you never knew your biological mother), or convert according to Jewish law. Whether and how to convert is very complex and outside the scope of this forum, so you would have to consult a competent Halachic authority, or in the parlance of the site, CYLOR (consult your local Orthodox rabbi).

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+1. Re "Whether and how to convert is very complex and outside the scope of this forum", I agree, but see also judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/12648. –  msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 22:03
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To consider someone Jewish Reform Judaism requires a Jewish parent or converstion regardless of participation in the community. Participation is evidence of intent, but that's necessary, not sufficient. –  Monica Cellio Jan 12 '12 at 22:04
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Thanks Seth! I am accepted by the reform Jewish community and was interested to know what an Orthodox or Conservative community would say. It's also unlikely I would do anything, I am very comfortable in my identity now,I am mostly curious and looking to learn. Your answer is informative, thanks! –  Josh Jan 12 '12 at 22:10
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@SethJ, from what I have seen the norm in Reform congregations is that the non-Jewish parent can participate with the Jewish parent (or child) but cannot do acts alone that are restricted to Jews, such as have an aliyah or make kiddush for the congregation. Still you are right to be cautious; there's a spectrum and who knows whether there's a congregation out there with much looser rules? –  Monica Cellio Jan 12 '12 at 22:22
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@SethJ I just noticed, a year later, that I didn't answer part of your question. As far as I know, Reform Judaism requires formal conversion for an adopted child where we don't know anything about the birth parents. –  Monica Cellio Mar 20 '13 at 19:20

There are two ways to be(come) Jewish: have a Jewish birth mother, or convert. It is possible that your adoptive parents had you converted when they adopted you, and that would be something to investigate. (Depending on who did the conversion and how, some in the community might not accept it as valid. You will probably want to obtain a copy of the conversion certificate so you can investigate further.)

If your parents did not convert you as a child and you want to be recognized as Jewish by the community, you can convert as an adult. If you are already part of a congregation then you can start by asking your rabbi for guidance; otherwise there are many resources available to you, including other questions on this site.

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+1 for the answer. Excellent point re "It is possible that your adoptive parents had you converted". –  msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 22:10
    
Thanks Monica! I am not sure if I was converted as a child. I know I had a bris. I'll research this further. As far as converting, as I said to Seth, I don't intend to convert, I am very comfortable in my identity and was just looking to learn more about the law. –  Josh Jan 12 '12 at 22:14
    
@Josh, glad to help and I hope we see more of you here. –  Monica Cellio Jan 12 '12 at 22:25
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Another +1 for this answer - The conversion process when one is very young is extremely different than that of someone who wishes to convert later in life. –  Daniel Jan 12 '12 at 22:38

I feel as though the other answers don't really answer your question.

If a child is adopted, then generally the child goes through a conversion. However, that conversion is not valid until the child is Bar or Bat Mitzvah age. At that point in time, the child must accept the mitzvot upon themselves at their Bar / Bat Mitzvah.

There are different opinions as to what ceremony the child must go through at that point, however in Orthodox circles, if the child was raised Reform they would need to go through a full conversion ceremony. (Just in case the conversion was not done properly by the parents at the time they did it.)

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I was at the bar mitzvah of the adopted son of Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, shlita. At the bar mitzvah, the rabbi explained that his son had been converted conditionally as a small child by putting him in a mikvah and by the parents committing themselves to raise him as a Jew. But since the child cannot yet speak for himself (until he reaches 13 -- or 12 for a girl), he has to reaffirm the decision to convert when reaching bar mitzvah age. After that affirmation, he is 100% and irreversibly Jewish.

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