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Is Their Baby Really Jewish?

June 4, 2014

This article was reprinted with permission from The Forward

The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Join the discussion by commenting on this post, sharing it on Facebook or following the Forward on Twitter. And keep the questions coming. You can email your quandaries, which will remain anonymous, to: seesaw@forward.com. This edition of The Seesaw features InterfaithFamily board member Ruth Nemzoff. Click here to read the other responses.

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Is Their Baby Really Jewish?

My best friend (Jewish) married a wonderful man (non-Jewish) and they had a son. Together they decided to raise their kids Jewish, but when their son was born, didn’t circumcise him or do any kind of Jewish naming ceremony.
I’m still grappling with it. Is her son really Jewish? If they don’t do circumcision – to me one of the most basic and first Jewish acts a parent can do with their child– how will they actually create a Jewish life for him? — Concerned BFF

Be Careful of Overstepping Your Bounds

Ruth Nemzoff

RUTH NEZMOFF: I will leave it to the Rabbis to give the definitive answer on whether or not your friend’s son is really Jewish. My understanding is the commandment to circumcise is binding on both the father and the child. If the father chooses not to circumcise his son, the son still has an obligation to have himself circumcised once he becomes an adult. Your friend’s son has plenty of time to fulfill this commandment. Moreover, circumcision can be postponed for health reasons. Perhaps the child has a health issue which his parents are not discussing. You do not know.

Instead of criticizing your friends, whether overtly or covertly, for not following all the commandments, try embracing the child and thanking the parents for giving the child a love of Judaism. Only then will he himself consider observing the brit milah. If all he becomes is a friend of the Jewish people who is familiar with Jewish practices, then so be it. Any attempt to convince them is overstepping your bounds as a friend and will only serve to alienate them from both you and Judaism.

Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of “Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children” and “Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family” is a resident scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She is on the Board of InterfaithFamily.

Hebrew for "covenant of circumcision," a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit."
The Jewish Daily Forward

The Jewish Daily Forward is a legendary name in American journalism and a revered institution in American Jewish life. Launched as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper on April 22, 1897, the Forward entered the din of New York's immigrant press as a defender of trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism.

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