QUESTION: A Russian Jewish family arrived in this country a decade ago. They lived a Jewish life, the family belongs to a synagogue and the two children continue to be educated in the Religious School. Now the woman, in order to clear her conscience, has stated that she was not born of Jewish parents, never informed her husband of this fact and pretended to be Jewish in order to preserve family harmony in Russia and to simplify immigration. She has considered herself Jewish for more than a decade and a half. What does she need to do to change her status? (Paul Simon, Boston MA)
ANSWER: We should treat this woman with considerable understanding when she pretended to be Jewish for the sake of family harmony in the Soviet Union. This was not an easy choice. She has since, along with her husband, lived a Jewish life and obviously intended to become part of the Jewish community. We should now accept her with only a minimal amount of additional study and proceed with the usual conversion ceremony. As the couple was married in the Soviet Union and therefore did not have a Jewish wedding ceremony, they wish to have the wedding ceremony or something akin to it now, but this is certainly not absolutely essential. There is no question about the status of the children as their father was definitely Jewish at the time of their birth and they are receiving a Jewish education. This is in keeping with the resolution of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
"The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parents and child, to Jewish life.
"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."
We should wish this family well and will gladly accept the woman formally into the Jewish community.