QUESTION: A non-Jewish woman, previously married to a non-Jew, with an eight year old daughter, has married a Jewish man. They have had a child who has been named in the synagogue and is being reared as a Jew. The second husband has now adopted the older daughter. She wishes to become Jewish; should there be a formal conversion or may she be considered under "patrilineal descent?" (Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein, South Bend IN)
ANSWER: Whenever we discuss individuals and patrilineal descent, one of the physical parents must be Jewish. When there is one Jewish parent, either father or mother, a potential for Jewish life exists. The Central Conference has therefore declared "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" (W. Jacob (ed) American Reform Responsa p 550).
In this instance the child has no Jewish parents and is being adopted relatively late in her life. She should therefore be formally converted. This would, of course, be different from the conversion of an adult and would consist of her enrollment in religious school at the appropriate grade level, and a formal ritual in the synagogue, as well as immersion in a miqveh, if that is customary. These acts on her part would make the religious transition real and undoubtedly be important to her. They will strengthen her ties to her new family and should be considered an extension of the formal adoption which has taken place.