QUESTION: During a bitter divorce settlement a non Jewish father took his four year old and had her baptized as an Episcopalian. This was without the mother's consent. Now he wishes to have the child raised one Sunday in a Jewish Religious School, and one Sunday in an Episcopalian Religious School and he used the child's baptism as part of the rationale. What is the Jewish attitude toward this? (Rabbi Joseph Levine W. Palm Beach FL)
ANSWER: As you know, according to tradition, the child of a Jewish mother remains Jewish irrespective of baptism. An individual who was baptized was considered an apostate, a sinner who remained a Jew (San 44a), and the act of baptism itself has been considered irrelevant by the Tradition. We as Reform Jews have, however, recognized the right of an individual to choose a religious identity and would honor the baptism of an adult who willingly and knowing joined a Christian denomination. We would consider such an adult a Christian with the concomitant conclusion that should the individual wish to rejoin us more than a simple statement would be required (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa #64, 65; Solomon B. Freehof Modern Reform Responsa #30).
Your case is, however, somewhat different as we are dealing with a child, whose baptism occurred without the mother's consent, and as this was part of a bitter divorce proceeding we would, therefore, not recognize the baptism and follow our earlier tradition in this matter. if it is not too late, the religious identity of the child should be firmly established in the divorce document. The suggestions that the child attend a Jewish Religious School on one Sunday and an Episcopalian Religious School on the other is not acceptable or practical. Such a child will possess no religious identity and will get very little out of either of these Religious School experiences.
What is perhaps more important than the Religious School training is the actual religious life of the child. If the child lives with the mother and therefore spends most of her time in a Jewish environment, then there is at least a good opportunity to raise this youngster as a Jew. If, of course, the bitterness of the divorce has led the father to emphasize Christianity during his time with his daughter then the mother's efforts will be partially compromised.
It is important for these parents to settle the religious identity of their daughter outside their own bitter struggle. It cannot be postponed by attempting to raise the child in two religious traditions - that simply will not work. Naturally the child should be raised in such a way that she has respect for the religious tradition of the parents whose religion that she has not followed, but this is very different from attempting to be part of two traditions.
We would encourage the mother to raise her daughter as a Jew. We reject any attempt to follow two religious traditions.