CCAR RESPONSA

New American Reform Responsa

109. Berit and Baptism

QUESTION: A mohel has been asked to officiate at a berit milah of the child of a mixed marriage. The mother is Jewish with a strong Jewish identity and background. The father is a believing Catholic. They have agreed that the child should have a berit and then be baptized. He is to be educated in both religious traditions so that he may make a choice at the age of maturity. Should the mohel conduct the berit? (Lewis M. Barth, Berit Milah Board of Reform Judaism, Los Angeles CA)

ANSWER: We might argue that it is our task to bring the child into the covenant of Abraham, and the later actions of the parents are not our primary concern; this finds some justification in the tradition. As the child is Jewish by matrilineal descent, irrespective of what is done, the child would be considered potentially Jewish by us and fully Jewish, but an apostate, by traditional Jews. This would be true whether he is circumcised or not. We should remember that duty of circumcision rests upon the father (Kid 29a; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 261.1); a secondary obligation rests with the bet din (Ibid). If the mother does not have her son circumcised, the duty falls upon him as an adult (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 261).

These reasons might move us in the direction of a berit, however, in this confused setting should we permit it? Had the parents indicated that they would have a berit but no baptism, and that they would determine the religious education of the child later, then we could, in clear conscience, proceed. The berit would represent an initial tentative step toward Judaism. In accordance with our decision on patrilineal descent other steps must follow. Even without a berit we would later accept the child in our religious school.

A berit now, without baptism, would provide some time for discussion and persuasion about the needs of a Jewish religious education. However, in this instance they intend to have a baptism immediately after the berit, and continue this dual path through the child's life. He would be brought to Religious School and Hebrew School and as well catechism instruction. He would celebrate all the Jewish and all the Christian holidays and later prepare for Bar Mitzvah and First Communion simultaneously.

We cannot condone such religious syncretism and must avoid it from the beginning of the child's life. We must indicate to the family that this is the time to choose one religious path or the other for their child. If they are not prepared to make this choice, let them surgically circumcise the child so that a possible entry into the covenant can later be effected by the painless tipat dam.

A choice at this junction will avoid confusion for the child and problems with various Jewish authorities throughout his life. This has been our decision in an earlier question which dealt with a child raised in two religious traditions (W. Jacob, Contemporary American Reform Responsa #61). We would recommend the same path here at the beginning of life and we cannot proceed with the berit.

September, 1987

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.