Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Orphans in Judaism

I can see why many religious Christians are motivated to pursue adoption. The New Testament does seem to stress orphan care in many places. But it bothered me to realize that this is not the case among most religious Jews. Why, I wondered. After all, this idea is introduced in the Old Testament.

Judaism is all about community. We are commanded to be a Light unto the Nations, not as individuals, but as a model of society. Traditional Jewish communities are very close-knit and are well set-up to take care of individuals or families that fall on hard times.  We are very much our brothers' keepers.

On the other hand, Judaism is not interested in acquiring converts.  The righteous of all nations have a place in Heaven, so there is no urgent need for gentiles to join the Tribe, as it were. A potential convert to Judaism is traditionally turned away 3 times before a rabbi will agree to begin the process. This process is long and difficult, and requires total commitment. Since Jews see each other as a very large extended family - our interconnectedness through the Patriarchs is very important - conversion basically represents an adoption. We see this exemplified in the book of Ruth, which is read on Shavuot (which just happens to come next week).

This model does not account for children who are not equipped to make that commitment on their own behalf. However, modern interpretations have allowed non-Jewish children to be adopted by Jewish parents, with the parents assuming responsibility for the kids' conversion.

While Judaism does not focus on individual orphan care outside of the faith, many Jews work tirelessly on global community-based charities in pursuit of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). They raise money to fight hunger in Africa, participate with Doctors Without Borders to bring medical help to disaster areas around the world, and are disproportionately represented in philanthropic organizations of all sorts.

I hope to use my journey - and this blog - to stretch my community in new directions, as I explore Jewish sources that can provide a spiritual framework for special needs adoption.


  1. Very well put!

    We do donate for the Tikvah orphanage in Ukraine, as part of our responsibility towards Jewish orphans, and in the days when we lived in region, we used to be able to do things with orphans and orphanages in Subotica and Novi Sad.

  2. Ooh, cool! I just googled the Tikvah orphanage - that might just be my next post...


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