QUESTION: A child, a member of my congregation, has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. I understand that in accordance with the decision of patrilineal descent this child is potentially Jewish if appropriate action is taken by the family, i.e. berit, a naming, a Jewish education. The couple, however, feels that there is a period of uncertainty therefore in the child's life, and they wish to remove that uncertainty about his status. How may this be done? (Fieda Rosenfeld, New York NY)
ANSWER: The resolution on patrilineal descent (W. Jacob (ed) American Reform Responsa Appendix p 547) was designed to provide complete equality between men and women as we have done in all other matters connected with Reform Judaism. Furthermore it was intended to meet the different conditions of our own time when descent and a cohesive community no longer guarantee Jewish identity. Therefore we have placed a vigorous emphasis upon commitment to Judaism on the part of the individual in accordance with his/her ability and age. This has meant that from an adult we expect participation in Jewish life, and from a child education towards such participation. A number of responsa have discussed both the rationale behind the resolution as well as problems associated with the resolution (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa#38-42; 59-62; 96).
If parents wish to remove any doubt, and this may be desirable for a variety of reasons, they may do so through a formal gerut (conversion). By taking this step either at the time of the berit milah or later they will assure that no one can question the Jewish identity of their child. We would, of course, continue to stress the need for a Jewish education and for later involvement in the Jewish community for the infant ger.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.