QUESTION: A mixed married couple were members of a congregation. The woman had no desire to convert to Judaism but was committed to raising her son as a Jew. She became a regular Temple goer and has continued after his death. She had another child by a non-Jewish man with whom she had a brief relationship. she intends that the child be raised as a Jew just as his brother. Should a mohel perform a berit milah on this child? (Lewis Barth, Los Angeles CA)
ANSWER: The newborn baby here is clearly non-Jewish. The fact that the mother was not married to the father plays no role in our discussion. It has always been possible for bet din converting a young child and thus stand in loco parentis. We have used this procedure since Talmudic times (Ket 11a) although in modern times we refrain from it as we do not want to convert any minors who may come to us because of specific family problems or some temporary youthful attraction. We have frequently counseled teenagers with an interest in Judaism to study it academically but not to convert (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa #50). In this instance, of course, we face a different situation as this is a baby and is not the child of an outsider, but of an individual who has made a commitment to Judaism albeit without conversion. The mohel should circumcise this child as an act of conversion with the appropriate special blessing; milah leshem gerut is frequent among us. Tevilah should also be considered in accordance with local custom. Technically the child possesses the right to renounce his conversion when he reaches maturity (W. Jacob Contemporary Reform Responsa #49). The previous actions of the mother guarantee that the child will be raised as a Jew along with his older brother.
The rabbi should take whatever opportunities this and other occasions present to encourage the young woman to convert to Judaism and in this way to bring religious unity to her young family. Without this step and therefore without a Jewish parent in the home it will be difficult to raise these children as Jews. We should encourage her in every way possible.