CCAR RESPONSA

Contemporary American Reform Responsa

51. Japanese Jewish Child

QUESTION: A young couple consisting of a Jewish father and a Japanese mother have raised their child in the synagogue, and at the same time made every effort to imbue him with some knowledge of his Japanese heritage in a series of classes held each week. This includes the Japanese language and customs, as well as a knowledge of the Shinto religion. Is this a conflict with the young man's Jewish identity? (O. T., Pittsburgh, PA)

ANSWER: It is clear that this individual has been introduced to Judaism from his earliest age onward. There was a berit milah, and Jewish customs are observed in the home. The family attends synagogue with some regularity, and so although there has been no conversion on the part of the child's mother, it is clearly the intent of these parents to raise their child as a Jew. He is currently enrolled in Bar Mitzvah classes and has a considerable knowledge of Hebrew, as well as Jewish history and customs.

The effort to also provide a Japanese cultural background should not stand in the way of his Jewishness. The introduction to the Shinto religion may very well have religious overtones for several of the other children in the group, as they are neither Jewish nor Christian. They are seeking an identity in the Shinto/Buddhist religious life of Japan. However, for this young man, who is a committed Jew, such instruction will be similar to hearing about Catholicism or Episcopalianism in a parochial school. As long as the instructors realize that this young man is Jewish and do not try to infringe upon his Jewish identity, there is no harm in learning about the Shinto religion and the part in which it has played, and continues to play, in Japan. We should consider this young man as fully Jewish through his identification with the Jewish community.

October 1983

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