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Bill aims to maintain adoptee’s religion

Law would require that children be raised in birth family’s faith

 
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An Orthodox Jewish member of the New Jersey State Assembly introduced a bill that would require adoptees to be placed in homes that would “maintain a child’s religious upbringing.”

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36), who represents portions of Bergen and Passaic counties, said he introduced the bill out of concern that an adoptee or foster child could be “put in a home where the parents practiced a religion other than that of the child.”

Within a day of the bill’s introduction, Schaer said, it has already received support from David Mandel, the chief executive officer of the Orthodox Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services in Brooklyn and from Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum and an advisory board member of the New Jersey Council on American Islamic Relations.

“Not only Jews and Muslims, but many smaller Protestant sects, and even some people in the Catholic community” are supporting the measure, Schaer said.

In addition, a spokesperson for the Orthodox Union (OU) is praising it as “a great bill. It is important that children remain with the same culture they had with the family they were born into,” said Teaneck resident Rabbi Josh Pruzansky, the OU’s New Jersey regional director for public policy.

The bill would require state and private adoption agencies “to maintain a child’s religious upbringing when placing a child with a guardian, into foster care, or into an adoptive home.”

Agencies and courts would be able to place a child in a setting of a different religion only with a written statement from the child’s birth parent or legal guardian, if feasible.

The bill also bars discriminating against prospective parents on the basis of age, sex, race, national origin, religion, or marital status.

“Certainly we want to make the adoption and foster care process as easy as humanly possible,” Schaer said in an interview, “but we need a fit that matches, and it matches best when religious beliefs of adoptive and foster parents meet those of the child.”

The granting of veto power to birth parents over a child’s religious upbringing, however, is a matter of concern to Marc Stern, associate general counsel for legal advocacy at the American Jewish Committee.

“When you take a kid out of the house because the parents have been drug abusers or are abusing the children, why let them and only them decide what the religious upbringing of the child should be?” asked Stern, saying he was speaking as an individual and not as an AJCommittee representative. “You don’t give parents you are taking kids away from access over anything else. Why this? I am not clear why you would give them any veto.”

However, Stern does see some merits in the bill, especially in cases where the state’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) is forced to remove abused children from their biological parents.

“It is traumatic enough to pull kids out of a home, and if you have kids who are Sabbath-observant and eat kosher food, and you put them in with the family who is up next on the DYFS list, you are adding to the trauma,” he said.

While the bill would ostensibly maintain the Jewish identity of a child born Jewish, it could also limit the number of non-Jewish children available for adoption by Jewish families.

“The number of children born Jewish who are available for adoption is very small — much smaller than the demand within the Jewish community,” said Saul Berman, an attorney and Orthodox rabbi who is a professor of Jewish law at Stern College and Columbia University in New York.

In fact, because of the complexity of determining a child’s Jewish status under halachah, or Jewish law, some Jewish parents actually prefer that an adopted child be from a non-Jewish family.

“It is often simpler to adopt a child who is of non-Jewish parentage and then perform a conversion without the need for further information,” said Berman.

The bill also requires that, in cases where a child is placed with a family of a different religious faith, provisions be made so that the child could attend services conducted in his or her own religious faith.

That clause would pose problems for observant Jewish families, said Berman. “I don’t think any committed Jewish family would want to put themselves into a situation where the adopted child practiced a religion other than Judaism,” he said.

In his former position as director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey, the OU’s Pruzansky handled two cases in which children were removed from observant Jewish households and placed in non-Jewish foster homes.

Such a situation “simply can’t be tolerated,” he said. “It is something that is detrimental to the child.”

Pruzansky said it “took a lot of work behind the scenes” to have the children removed from their non-Jewish environments and placed with Orthodox foster parents. “Up until now, there hasn’t been any regulation on the state level to protect an adopted or foster child’s religious identity,” he said.

At this point, Schaer has no cosponsors. He anticipates none until after the state legislature opens its new session in January.

New Jersey Jewish News

 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

Robert Allan Hafetz posted 17 Dec 2011 at 05:07 PM

As an adoptee, raised Jewish in an orthodox family, and as a marriage and family counselor that works with adoptive families, I oppose this bill. Adoption must be focused on whats best for the child not whats best for a specific religious sect. This bill places the need to maintain the number of Orthodox Jews above the needs of the child. The most important quality of an adoptive family is their insight and education on how to raise an adopted or foster child. Requiring a child to be kept within the birth parents religion will make it harder to adopt and delay the adoption process which will have a severe adverse effect on the childs ability to build a secure attachment with the new family. It also creates a situation where a child will experience multiple placements while the adoption process drags on.  Adoption must be crafted in the best interests of the child and this bill takes the process in the opposite direction. I will actively oppose this bad idea.
Robert Allan Hafetz MS MFT
Adoption Education & Family Counseling LLC
Education Director

William J. Grove posted 19 Feb 2012 at 11:36 PM

As a child protection worker, I have always worked to place children in the placement which best meets their needs.  When a child has been immersed in their family’s faith, I have sought out placements which match.  Consistency in care is very important and religious affiliation is one of the more important markers for identity.
What we must be mindful of is the access between child and perpetrator.  For example, if a child has been abused within a particular religious group (ie: sex cult) then of course we must remove the child from the religious community.  If the only place of worship is at the perpetrator’s place of worship, we must look at alternatives. 
We can consider placement options such as kinship and community placements to accomodate children.  Some cultures have their own support dynamics built in. 

I agree that the best interests of the child are paramount.  However, we need to consider whehter the best interests are to maintain as much of the child’s identity as possible.

 

‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Israeli band full of New Jersey locals hopes to tour U.S.

If a crowd-funding appeal is successful, the Israeli band G-Nome Project is coming to the United States.

This is not the scientific kind of genome project having to do with decoding DNA, but a musical project launched by four young expatriates — two of them from Teaneck.

It’s also a kind of chesed project. The band’s proposed 10-city “Giving Tour” aims to combine nightly gigs with days of good deeds such as visiting nursing homes and working in a soup kitchen.

This unusual twist was inspired by drummer Chemy Soibelman’s volunteering with Israeli children suffering from cancer.

 

Less is more

Moriah to institute new tuition affordability program

Good news for the middle class — and for Jewish day school affordability.

The Moriah School in Englewood, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has announced a new tuition affordability program, which will cut tuition for parents making as much as $360,000 a year.

Full tuition at the school ranges from $12,000 for kindergarten to $15,425 for middle school. (The prekindergarten program is not eligible for the tuition breaks.)

“We’ve been talking, as a board and as a community, about tuition affordability and the tuition crisis for years,” said Evan Sohn, the school’s president. “We decided this was the year we were going to address that issue.”

 

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Local exhibit looks at text and images in old and new ways

The English letters that Harriet Fincke of Ridgewood learned when she was young are straightforward symbols that combine to form words, just as they are for everyone else.

But Hebrew letters — ah, they are something else again. “They always seemed kind of solid,” she said. “They seemed more like things,” objects in their own right, opaque. “It’s both the meaning and the look, and the relationship between them,” she said.

Those letters were a foundation part of her childhood — she went all the way through school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. “I’d always had a kind of richly ambivalent relationship with my religious upbringing, and with the text,” she said.

 
 
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