Contemporary American Reform Responsa

92. Burial of a Young Child

QUESTION: A- four-year-old-child, daughter of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother, died, and they wish her buried in the congregational cemetery, which restricts burial to Jews. The child was named in the synagogue, and it was the clear intent of the parents to raise this girl and all subsequent children as Jews. Both parents had brought the little girl to some pre-school holiday activities and to various services intended for young children. Is this child to be considered Jewish? Would a somewhat older child not enrolled in our school be considered Jewish? (D. F., Baltimore, MD)

ANSWER: We base our decision on the resolution of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, March, 1983, and on the responsum "Patrilineal and Matrilineal Descent" (November 1983). The Resolution reads:

"The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parents and child, to Jewish life.

"Depending on circumstances, mitzvot leading toward a positive and exclusive Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Kabbalat Torah (Confirmation). For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi."

The Resolution indicates that acts of identification after birth are necessary to establish the Jewishness of the individual involved. In this instance, all acts of identification appropriate to the age have been observed, and the child has had no identification or affiliation with any Christian observances. We, therefore, consider this youngster as Jewish, and she is to be treated as a Jew in every way. In other words, although the cemetery has some restrictions on the burial of non-Jews, they would not apply to this youngster, who may be buried as any other Jew.

October 1983

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.