5768 – 2008
In mid-1995, an article appeared in the “Jerusalem Post” (1) about a man who had been adopted as a baby by a Jewish couple who had him converted to the Jewish faith. When he was about 30 years old, he discovered that his biological father was an Arab. He then unsuccessfully applied to the British courts to have his adoption nullified.
In this paper we will look at the various events in his life with particular reference to Jewish law.
Even though there have been a number of newspaper articles, (2) a television documentary (3) and the Appeal Court verdict published by BAILII, (4) all of which refer to him by his full name, in this paper he will be referred to by the letter B, as was done in many of the reports of the court verdict on his case. Similarly, the surname of his adoptive family will be referred to by the letter R, and when referring to both the adoptive parents, Rs will be used.
Periodically throughout this paper, a verdict of the English Appeal Court (5) will be referred to. This verdict will be described towards the end of this paper.
Birth of Baby
On 8 March 1959 a baby was born to an English Catholic student at London University, who was unmarried and became pregnant by a Kuwaiti Moslem who was studying for an education degree at that University. (6) The names of the two parents of this baby have never been published. It is likely that the surname of the mother was B... since this is the surname appearing on the baby’s original birth certificate. (7)
The parents had obviously separated soon after she became pregnant, since the father did not know of the pregnancy and subsequent birth. Immediately after the birth of the boy, the mother consulted with her Priest. He suggested that she take the baby to a nursing home which he knew of in Manchester, (8) an area where she was unknown which would help preserve her anonymity. (9) She therefore made contact as recommended with the Doris Court Nursing Home in Manchester, (This nursing home has since closed and whilst operating, it was run or used by the “Catholic Protection and Rescue Society.” (10))
This establishment was mainly a nursing home but it was also known that unmarried mothers could go there and receive help regarding the birth of their babies and that if they so wished, the matron, Miss W, would make arrangements for the baby to be placed for adoption. (11) The Court wrote that this matron desired to serve the best interests of the babies and there is evidence that no money changed hands. (12)
B was born on 8 March 1959. In the case of a Jewish boy born that day, the circumcision would have been on the eighth day, namely, 15 March (13) (or 16 March, had he been born after nightfall (14)). The mother and baby arrived at the Doris Court Nursing Home on 27 March, 19 days after his birth and on 4 April 1959 the baby was handed over to a Liverpool Jewish couple, Sidney and Bessie R for adoption. (15)
There is a document dated 4 April 1959 signed by the matron of the nursing home which states: “This is to certify that Baby Isaac (Ian) R son of Mr and Mrs Sidney R of … Liverpool 15, was circumcised on 17/3/59 in accordance with the Jewish faith. The operation was performed by Dr F....” (16)
This document came before the Appeal Court in England who pointed out in their judgment that “Certainly that date must be wrong and misleading because B and his mother did not arrive at the nursing home until 27 March.” (17)
This is however only one of the many problems and questions concerning this circumcision. Who arranged for the baby to be circumcised and especially why “in accordance with the Jewish faith”? Although among the non-Jewish population there were a number of parents who had their sons circumcised, it was performed purely as a medical procedure in a hospital and not “in accordance with the Jewish faith.” In addition, by 1959, the number of non-Jews opting for circumcision of their sons was decreasing, partly because since 1950 routine circumcision was no longer being funded by the National Health Service, (18) and thus parents would have had to pay a relatively large sum of money from their own pockets for this operation. Who therefore paid for baby B’s circumcision?
More especially, why was this circumcision done “in accordance with the Jewish faith”? Who assumed that the baby was Jewish? We can see from the judgment of the Appeal Court that there was contradictory evidence on this question.
The mother in an affidavit sworn in June 1993, said that she had never indicated that the father was Jewish or of Syrian/Jewish stock, and had she known that B would be placed with a Jewish family she would have had serious reservations about the adoption. She stated that she had told the nursing home that B’s father had come from the Persian Gulf area and that he may have come from a Gulf State. (19)
In contrast, the Rs said that the matron had told them that the baby was Jewish and had they not believed that, they would not have adopted him. (20)
The matron’s version of events, contained in memoranda of conversations between her and the London Beth Din in 1968, (after it was discovered that the boy was not Jewish), was that she stated that “the mother was not Jewish and that the father was a Jewish boy called David Bloom.” (21)
When the Rs learned that the boy was not Jewish, they felt they had been badly misled by the matron. She denied this and said that she had told the Rs “that the baby was half Jewish, having a Jewish father.” (22) However, in Jewish law the religion goes solely after the mother (23) and for this purpose the religion of the father is irrelevant. We can possibly resolve this by saying that the matron may have assumed that if even the father was Jewish, the child was also considered to be Jewish, and she accordingly led the Rs to understand that the baby was Jewish.
Another question is when this circumcision was performed? If it was on 17 March, as stated in the certificate, then the baby was still with the mother who would presumably not have agreed to a circumcision “in accordance with the Jewish faith” in view of her later evidence that she would have had reservations about a Jewish adoption. On 27 March, the baby was handed over to the nursing home and at some unknown date following that day, a certain Miss C was appointed the guardian ad litem. (24) She presumably would then have had the power to give consent for a circumcision. It is unlikely that she would have done so prior to a Jewish couple being found as adoptive parents, since by then routine circumcision, was becoming both unfashionable and expensive in Britain.
The most likely scenario would be that sometime between 27 March and 4 April, after the Rs had agreed to adopt the baby, believing him to be Jewish, the circumcision was performed “in accordance with the Jewish faith.”
Who was this Dr. F who performed this circumcision? Was he a mohel (ritual circumciser) or just an ordinary medical practitioner? Was he an Orthodox Jew?
For over 250 years there has been in Britain an “Initiation Society” whose stated aim is “to ensure the highest medical and religious standards for bris milah (circumcision) amongst our mohelim.” (25) Every year they publish a list of such mohelim. The name of Dr. F does not appear in the list for 1959. (26) Furthermore, Yossie Spitzer who is the medical officer of the Initiation Society has confirmed that not only was Dr. F not on their lists, but they can find no record of a mohel with that name who was active in the 1950/60s. (27) A similar confirmation has also come from Alex Minn, the secretary of the Initiation Society. (28)
Dr. F was probably not an Orthodox Jewish doctor since an Orthodox Jew would not have performed a religious circumcision on an adopted baby until he had verified that its mother was Jewish. Obviously no attempt at such verification was made since questioning would soon have shown that the baby’s mother was non-Jewish.
Alternatively Dr. F may have been led to believe that the Rs were the biological parents. But such a possibility is very unlikely for the following reason. If the adoptive father Sidney R was present at the circumcision of B, it would surely have been revealed in conversation that the baby was adopted. If on the other hand he was not present, would it not have seemed strange to Dr. F?
Who arranged for Dr. F to perform the circumcision? If it took place after 27 March, by which date the baby had already arrived at the nursing home, it could well be that the matron brought him in or arranged for him to be brought in. It is also possible that he was the regular doctor attending at the nursing home.
It is customary for a Jewish boy to be given his Jewish name at the circumcision ceremony. (29) We can see from the certificate dated 4 April 1959 that he had been given the name Isaac (the English transliteration of Yitzchak). But in this case, when was B given his Hebrew name? Was it given to him by the Rs or by some other person?
On 27 May 1959, the Rs issued their originating application for an adoption order and nearly two months later, on 16 July, the Children’s Officer filed his Report which included, “The applicants [Rs] are overjoyed with the infant, who has thrived in every way since his placing on 4 April, as can be expected from all the love and care bestowed on him.” On 20 July 1959, Judge Fraser-Hanson made the adoption order in favour of the Rs. (30)
There is a fundamental difference between adoption in English law and Jewish law. As far as English law is concerned, the Adoption Act of 1976 states, “An adopted child shall be treated in law – (a) where the adopters are a married couple, as if he had been born as a child of the marriage ... An adopted child shall ... be treated in law as if he were not the child of any person other than the adopters....” (31) In the verdict in B’s Appeal Court case, Lord Justice Swinton Thomas summed this up, “The effect of an adoption order is to extinguish any parental responsibility of the natural parents. Once an adoption order has been made, the adoptive parents stand to one another and the child in precisely the same relationship as if they were his legitimate parents, and the child stands in the same relationship to them as to legitimate parents. Once an adoption order has been made the adopted child ceases to be the child of his previous parent and becomes the child for all purposes of the adopters as though he were their legitimate child.” (32) The adoptive parents even receive a new official birth certificate in which they are registered as the parents, (33) although there is a column referring to the adoption order. (34) The authorities seal the original birth certificate.
Although it states in the Talmud that “whoever rears an orphan boy or girl in his house is considered as though he had given birth to him” (35) (and this is not limited to orphans (36)), this is not a Halachic (Jewish legal) assessment. In fact adoption does not change the status of a child. The person adopting the child is just an agent of the biological parents. The biological parents always remain the only parents. All the Torah obligations, duties and prohibitions concerning the parent-child relationship still apply. (37)
Even though the adopted child does not become related to the adoptive parents, on the adoption the adoptive parents take upon themselves in Jewish law various obligations toward the adopted child. On this Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel, who is a former Chief Rabbi of Israel wrote, that when a couple adopts children, they take upon themselves the responsibility “to feed them, to sustain them, to educate them in religious and secular studies and to teach them a trade, in the same way as parents in the same financial and social circumstances feed and sustain their children.” (38)
Unlike most of Liverpool Jewry who came from professional middle class backgrounds, Sidney R was an unskilled labourer and the R family lived in the working class Toxteth area of Liverpool, (39) where very few Jews lived. According to B, they “had little contact with the local Jewish community.” (40)
However, it would seem that the Rs honoured all their obligations towards B, as he said that his mother “only wanted the best for me.” (41) For example, even though they were financially poor, the Rs bought him a suit for Shabbat and as a result “the local kids … thought we had money,” (42) and Bessie R, the adoptive mother, sewed cushion covers to pay for B’s Barmitzvah. (43) The Rs sent him to the Jewish school in Liverpool which he described as “a damn good school. I had a great time there. (44) They also sent him to the Liverpool Yeshivah. (45) Later he went on to University.
Since an adopted child is not the biological child of the adopting family, various Halachic restrictions may arise. One of them is Yichud – namely the prohibition of two people of the opposite sex being together in an isolated area; (46) another would be hugging and kissing the child. (47) This problem will be the same with an adopted child who was born Jewish or one who has been converted to the Jewish faith. (48) However, if one adopts the child as a baby, some authorities such as Rabbi Chaim David Halevi (49) and Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, (50) rule that these restrictions do not apply, the latter adding that without this permission, it would not be possible to do the mitzvah of adopting an orphan. It would seem that this opinion is, in practice followed even by “pious Jews”. (51) Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (52) permits it only so long as both adoptive parents are alive, whilst there are many others, such as the Chazon Ish, (53) Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss (54) and Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, (55) who forbid it completely.
The fact that his adoptive father was at work out of the house during the day and from B’s comments about his mother that “she was twice as protective, twice as smothering, twice as emotional” (56) it would seem that in practice she went according to the lenient opinion (although it is doubtful whether she, or for that matter, most other adoptive parents, are even aware of this particular Halachah (religious law))!
There are differing opinions as to whether it is better for a Jewish couple to adopt a Jewish baby, or a non-Jewish one and have the child converted. In a meeting held in Glasgow in April 1967, Rabbi Dr. Wolf Gottlieb, the Av Beth Din of Glasgow is reported to have said, that “it was not a mitzva for Jewish parents to adopt a non-Jewish child but it was a mitzva for them to adopt a Jewish child who had been left without parents....” He personally thought it better that a Christian child should remain a Christian. (57) On the other hand there are some Rabbis who feel that adopting a Jewish child is problematic because of yichus (genealogy) of the child and thus the possibility of mamzerut (a child born as the result of a union considered adulterous in Jewish law). They therefore considered it preferable to adopt a non-Jewish child. (58)
From an article written in 1970, we can see that the National Children’s Adoption Association (NCAA) had similar views to Rabbi Gottlieb’s, although their reasons could have possibly differed. The NCAA “preferred to place Jewish children in Jewish homes and non-Jewish children in non-Jewish homes to avoid complications in adolescence.” (59) This was aptly illustrated by the words of Lord Justice Simon Brown in the ruling of the Appeal Court in the case of B who wanted to overturn his adoption order, “It is difficult to imagine a more ill-starred adoption placement than that of a Kuwaiti Muslim’s son with an Orthodox Jewish couple.” (60)
In most countries in the world, extreme care is taken by the authorities and the adoption agencies that the adoptive parents not know the identity of the biological parents, nor even the baby’s original name. (61) This however could cause serious problems when Jewish parents adopt a child. It is crucial to know, for example: What was the religion of the biological mother? If the mother was Jewish, is there a possibility of mamzerut? Who is the biological father? Have any other children of the biological mother or father been adopted, and if so, by whom? (62)
In order to obviate such problems, the London Beth Din in 1959 set up an adoption department (63) to document information about the origins and biological parents of the adopted child. The national adoption societies realised that it was in the interests of the welfare and future of babies adopted by Jewish families for the London Beth Din to have this information concerning the biological parents. They therefore permit the Beth Din to examine the original full birth certificate of the adopted child, on condition that they show it to no-one else, including of course the adoptive parents. (64)
However, not all Jewish adoptive parents are prepared to register their adopted child with the London Beth Din. In interviews conducted by the “Jewish Chronicle” with adoptive parents in 1970, one of them said, “I didn’t register them with the Beth Din. Their [biological] mothers were as anxious as anyone to preserve their anonymity and I wouldn’t expose those girls to the prying of the Beth Din. If I say, ‘these are my children and they’re Jewish it’s nothing to do with anyone else’…” (65) These parents obviously, but mistakenly, believed that they were acting in the best interests of their adopted children, but in fact in later years there could be serious religious problems and unpleasantness for the adoptees. (66)
From what occurred several years later, we can see that the Rs did not register B with the London Beth Din in 1959, possibly since the London Beth Din Adoption Department was only newly established in that year.
Conversion to Judaism
In the 1960s the London Beth Din started to investigate adoptions that had taken place in Jewish families. One of those investigated was the R adoption. The London Beth Din examined B’s original birth certificate, that of his biological mother, her mother and her grandmother and in 1968 wrote a letter to the Rs informing them that B’s biological mother was Catholic. The London Beth Din “genuinely believed, however, that his natural father was a Syrian Jew.” (67) Since Jewish status is matrilineal, B, their adopted child was non-Jewish. It is not clear how the London Beth Din came to know that a Liverpool family called R had in fact adopted a child nine years earlier! In answer to a general question submitted to the London Beth Din on this subject, they said that this could only be answered by referring to the actual file, but confidentiality and the provisions of the Data Protection Act prevented them from so doing. (68) Possibly the London Beth Din had been in contact with local Rabbis in Britain to inquire as to adoptions within their communities.
The letter from the London Beth Din came a great shock to the Rs who had been led to believe that the child was Jewish and “had brought him up as a Jew in the Jewish tradition ... [where] he had done exceedingly well.” (69)As we have already seen there was some confusion as to what information on B’s religion was given by the biological mother to the matron, Miss W and what information she had passed on to the Rs. In any case, the Rs did not want to revoke the adoption order (70) but they realised that the situation had to be speedily regularised.
At this period, the London Beth Din was not only investigating adoptions, they were trying to find solutions to the various complex problems involving adoption. They set up an Adoption Department to collate all the information regarding children adopted by Jewish parents in Britain. (71) Furthermore, one of their Dayanim, Rabbi Meyer Steinberg wrote a book on the subject in Hebrew. (72) An English translation of part of this book was also published. (73)
In this book, which was in fact a long responsum, Dayan Steinberg discusses in detail the question of adoption in Jewish law. He begins by saying that “Many parents who adopt children are under the erroneous impression that, by a decision of the civil court, a child can become the member of a family and that consequently since they are Jewish, the child they adopt, though it has a non-Jewish mother, is considered as Jewish because on the birth certificate they are registered as the parents. Needless to say, in Jewish law, only birth can determine a family relationship. Personal status depends on who gave birth to the child and not on who rears it and therefore if the natural mother is non-Jewish, then her children are non-Jewish, despite the fact that they are reared in a Jewish home.” He then stated that such a child would require conversion by a Beth Din. (74)
After bringing down sources from the Talmud, Maimonides, the Shulchan Aruch and later authorities regarding the adoption and conversion of a non-Jewish child, Dayan Steinberg concludes: “we have to consider the case where the natural mother hands over the child to an adoption society and gives permission for the child to be adopted by anyone including a Jew as long as the child finds a home, protection and parental love. In the majority of cases, the mother signs a declaration agreeing to the child being reared in the Jewish religion which means consent for conversion and the Beth Din are therefore able to accept the child for conversion.” (75)
One should mention that this was not quite so in the case of B, since the mother later stated that had she known that her baby would be adopted by a Jewish couple she would not have given her consent. However she only said this more than twenty years after B had been converted!
Dayan Steinberg continued: “Generally one can consider such a child as a foundling over which the parents no longer have any rights. Furthermore, the parents who have adopted the child bring him to the Beth Din for conversion and therefore one can rely on the concept that the child is like an orphan where the Beth Din acting in loco parentis has the child circumcised and ritually immersed because it is an advantage for him and one may act for a person in his absence to his advantage.” (76)
He then concluded that a child can only be converted if the adoptive parents are observant in Jewish practice. The reason for this is that when the child reaches his Jewish majority (13 for a boy and 12 for a girl) he (77) becomes liable for Heavenly punishment for non-observance of the Jewish commandments. If he had not observed the commandments before reaching his Jewish majority, he would, out of routine, continue with his non-observance. In such circumstances, it would not have been to his advantage, but to his detriment to have been converted. (78)
In this particular case of B, the London Beth Din “did not consider his father observant enough to guide a child through the conversion period.” (79) B then elaborated, “my father, instead of going to shul on Shabbos, would go to the pub or to football matches.” (80) B also felt that “the requirement [for him] to convert … was designed as much to help his father, a factory worker, learn about Jewish law as it was to help him.” (81) He claimed that because his father was not sufficiently observant in Jewish practice, the conversion process took three years. (82)
The date of his conversion has variously been given as 31 March 1970 (83) or sometime in 1971. (84) Perhaps the confusion arose because that it was only in 1971 that the final stage of the conversion took place making him a Jew.
Conversion to Judaism for a male has three stages: acceptance of all the commandments incumbent upon a Jew, circumcision and immersion in a mikva (ritual bath). (85) However a child who has not yet reached his Jewish majority cannot take upon himself the first of these stages and, as we shall see, he has the opportunity immediately on reaching his majority to renounce the conversion. (86)
A question is asked as to what happens if such a child has been previously circumcised. Does he then require what is known as “hatafat dam brit” (having a drop of blood taken from the place of the circumcision)? This question is discussed at length by Dayan Steinberg. He brings the case where the biological father is Jewish, but the biological mother is non-Jewish. Despite the fact that the boy is non-Jewish, the Jewish father has had the boy circumcised. In such a case, under certain conditions (according to some opinions), should the boy later be converted, he would not require a “hatafat dam brit.” (87)
However, B’s circumstances were different and he therefore had a “hatafat dam brit.” B said that “When he was 12, he went to the rabbinical court in London where he was asked questions on religious laws and practices. When the rabbis were convinced that he knew enough to be converted, he was taken to a doctor’s office in Stoke Newington and given a symbolic circumcision [hatafat dam brit] and immersed in a mikva.” (88)
It is usual for a mohel to do such a “hatafat dam brit” and there were a number of them in the Stoke Newington area. (89) Both the “hatafat dam brit” and the immersion in the mikva must be done in the presence of a Bet Din of three. (90) Did the members of the London Beth Din accompany B after his examination at the rabbinical Court in order to be the three people present? Due to issues of confidentiality, the London Beth Din cannot answer these questions in a specific case, but they did say that this “hatafat dam brit” “would normally be carried out by a doctor who is a mohel, in front of 2 other persons who would not necessarily be Dayanim of the Beth Din.” (91)
The teenage years
B had his Barmitzvah at Greenbank Drive Synagogue, (92) an Orthodox Synagogue in Liverpool in the spring of 1972. As stated above, a person converted before his Barmitzvah or her Batmitzvah has on reaching this age the option to renounce his or her Jewish status, but it must be done immediately on reaching this age.
On this question of renouncing Jewish status, Rabbi Dr. Melech Schachter points out that there is a discussion amongst the Rabbis as to whether the convert must actively reject Judaism by, for example, demonstratively eating non-kosher food as soon as he reaches his majority, or has to make a confirmative consent by, for example, putting on Tephillin. And what if the convert does neither of these two? Rabbi Schachter concludes that to be sure that his conversion remains valid, the convert must do something active. (93)
During the teenage years of his life, B was a pupil at the King David High School, the Jewish High School of Liverpool. He also studied at the Liverpool Yeshivah, and was a member of his Synagogue’s choir. In the newspaper article of 1995, he described himself in his teenage period as “quite religious.” (94)
All this proves almost conclusively that on reaching his Barmitzvah, B did not renounce his conversion to Judaism. This is even according to the view that that an underage convert must make an active affirmation of his Judaism on reaching his Barmitzvah.
After graduating from the King David High School in the summer of 1977, B continued to Hull University to study psychology, where he was president of the Jewish Society. However B only remained in Hull for one term and then transferred to Leeds University to study Hebrew with Arabic as a minor. In Leeds, B began reading the works of anti-Zionist Israelis and joined the Palestinian Students Society. (95) He graduated in 1983 with a degree in Semitic Languages and Literature. (96)
Discovery of identity of biological mother
Before November 1975, it was not possible for an adopted child to find out the names of his biological parents. However, following the passing of the Children Act 1975 (97) (and there is identical wording on this subject in the Adoption Act 1976 (98)), it became possible for an adoptee who was above the age of 18 to obtain this information. There was however a proviso that anyone adopted before 12 November 1975 (the day the Children Act was passed) had to first discuss the matter with an approved adoption advisor. (99) The reason for this proviso, according to a booklet brought out by the Ministry of Health, was that prior to this date “some [biological] parents and adopters may have been led to believe that the children being adopted would never be able to find out their original names or the names of their [biological] parents.” (100)
Although the British legislators only came to the decision to allow adopted children to discover the identity of their biological parents in 1975, Jewish law has always considered it imperative for the reasons given above. However, even in the non-Jewish world it is considered important to ensure that a brother and sister who had been adopted by different parents would not accidently marry each other. Thus there is a proviso in both the above mentioned Children Act (101) and Adoption Act, (102) that should an adoptee get married before the age of 18, he may ask the authorities to verify that he is not marrying someone within the prohibited degrees of relationship for the purpose of the Marriage Act of 1949. But that is all the information he will receive! Adoptees, whether below or above the age of 18, are however not obligated to make such an enquiry, and there have been cases of a man marrying his sister. This recently occurred in Britain leading to the annulment of the marriage by the High Court in London in 2008 who ruled that “the marriage had never validly existed.” (103) On this case, Professor Lord Alton commented, “The right for children to know the identity of their biological parents is a human right. There will be more cases like this if children are not given access to the truth.” (104) If such a marriage can occur in the non-Jewish community in Britain which is more than 200 times the size of the Jewish community, how much more so could such an accidental marriage occur between two members of British Jewry.
In 1978, (105) whilst studying at Leeds University, B made enquiries with the Leeds Social Services (106) and as a result he managed to learn the identity of his biological mother who he discovered was an English Catholic from Yorkshire. (107)
After graduating from Leeds University, B went to Israel in 1986. He lived at Beit Milman, which was then an absorption hostel in North Tel Aviv and taught English at a school in Bat Yam and made a point of not becoming involved in any kind of politics during his stay in Israel. However he stated that because of his dark skin, he was often mistaken for an Arab and even had an unpleasant encounter as a result. (108)
The British Olim Society in Tel Aviv “suggested he go back to Britain and think things over” which he did. A few weeks later he received a letter from them “stating that his aliya was not considered a success, and that he would no longer be welcome in Israel and might be prevented from returning.” This was later confirmed in a letter to his lawyer by the Israeli Embassy in London, though no reason was given. (109)
It is rather hard to explain why he received such letters. Under the terms of the Israeli Law of Return of 1950, “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh” unless he “is engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people” or “is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State” (110) or has “a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare.” (111) B was certainly a Jew, having been converted by the London Beth Din and having none of the disqualifications specified by this law, had every right to live in Israel.
Although the Israeli Law of Return was passed by a secular parliament, namely the Knesset, it is anchored in Jewish law. According to the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) there is a positive commandment in the Torah for a Jew to live in Israel and he lists it as one of the 613 commandments in the Torah. (112) Although the Rambam (Maimonides) does not list it as one of the 613 commandments (and there is much discussion to explain this fact (113)), he clearly rules in his Mishneh Torah, “A man should always live in Israel, even in a city where the majority of the inhabitants are non-Jews, and not live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority are Jews,” (114) and “It is forbidden to leave Israel for a Diaspora country ….” (115)
Furthermore, throughout all the generations during the last two thousand years, the return of the Jewish people to Israel has always been mentioned in a Jew’s daily prayers. For example in the weekday prayers –“and gather us from the four corners of the earth to our Land,” (116) and in the Sabbath prayers – “lead us up in joy into our Land.” (117) This gathering together of the Jewish people in Israel was mentioned by several speakers in the Knesset debate preceding the passing of the Law of Return (118) and following its unanimous acceptance in the Knesset, the Speaker concluded that this law “symbolises the aspirations of our people for two thousand years.” (119)
Relationship with Biological Parents
In about 1989, B traced his biological mother (120) who was then living in London. She wrote to tell him that his father was a Kuwaiti Arab and not a Syrian Jew as he had thought. B resolved to meet her and he rode on his motorcycle all the way from Leeds, where he was then living, to London, (121) a journey of about two hundred miles. His mother had meanwhile converted to Liberal Judaism in order to marry a Jew. (122) Such a conversion would not be recognised by Orthodox Jewry! B then changed his name by deed poll from Ian R to the name he received at birth from his biological mother. (123) He reported that “ever since [this first meeting with her] we’ve had a very good relationship.” (124)
Soon after, he managed to trace his biological father who had been a Kuwaiti cabinet minister. He had been looking for B for twenty years and “was horrified that B had been brought up as a Jew.” (125) He came to know of B’s existence a year after he was born, when he met up with his biological mother whilst stopping over on his way to America. (126) B rang him up and met him several times in his apartment in one of the more exclusive parts of London. B reported that “things did not develop quite so spontaneously” but later “a warm relationship soon developed.” (127) However as a result of the Gulf War, their relationship was disclosed and his father then “refused any contact with him.” (128)
Jewish law discusses the commitment and attitude of an adopted person to both his or her biological and adoptive parents. In this case however, since B was converted to the Jewish faith, he is regarded as a “new born person” and is no longer related to his biological parents. (129)
Even though honour to parents is not one of the seven Noachide laws incumbent on a non-Jew, we can see from the incident of Noah’s son Ham who was punished for dishonouring to his father (130) that it is the proper behaviour for a non-Jew to honour his parents. Therefore the Rabbis obligated a convert to continue to honour his biological parents and if they become ill, to pray for their recovery. (131)
The question is also raised as to whether after the death of his biological parents, the convert should say Kaddish for them. According to Rabbi Aharon Wolkin, he may do so and indeed it is even proper to do so. In addition he can recite Psalms and learn Torah in their memory. (132)
Relationship with Adoptive Parents
His adoptive father Sidney R died in April 1988 and his adoptive mother Bessie in February 1991. (133) On the death of his adoptive mother, B was bequeathed a legacy of £10,000. (134)
Under Jewish law adopted children do not automatically inherit from their adoptive parents, although the adoptive parents are permitted to give them part of their estate. (135) In Jewish law the adopted child does however inherit from his biological parents. (136)
After they had died, B spoke about his relationship with his adopted parents. He had found it difficult to get on with them and remembered “his father as a short-tempered bigot.” However he had “fonder memories of his adoptive mother. He described her as “a real Jewish mother who only wanted the best for me, but had had to go on her hands and knees to get me. As a result, she was twice as protective, twice as smothering, twice as emotional’.” (137)
Dayan Steinberg discusses, utilising sources in the Talmud and the Midrash, the obligations of an adopted child towards his adoptive parents. He concludes that even though there is no positive commandment to honour the adoptive parents, it is the proper thing to do in the same way as it is to honour anyone who does one a good turn. (138) Rabbi Schachter goes possibly even further and writes that “the adopted child is ethically bound to display the highest regard for his adoptive parents and hold them in the highest esteem, possibly even surpassing the one displayed by children towards their own parents.” (139)
With regard to mourning adoptive parents after their death, although there is no religious obligation to do so, Dayan Steinberg writes that if the adopted child feels sad at their death, there is no prohibition over observing the laws of mourning and saying kaddish for them. (140) Again here, Rabbi Schechter goes further and states that “the adopted child should obviously mourn the loss in a proper fashion, including the recitation of the kaddish” but he then adds that the adopted child is not obligated by all the laws of mourning. (141)
B did not mention in the various articles (in our possession) what he did in this respect.
The English Courts
In the early 1990s, after his adoptive parents had died and he had made contact with his biological parents, (the father having been a Kuwaiti minister), B wanted to go and work in one of the Gulf States. He thus sent off various resumes for jobs but without success. He put this down to his Jewish background. (142)
In particular he was angry with the matron of the nursing home “who he believed had been responsible for the religious and racial mix-up of his adoption” and he had plans to take legal action against her. (143)
He thus found himself persona non grata in both Israel and Arab countries! Since he had been legally adopted, in English law his adoptive father had become his legal father but, in order to obtain a Kuwaiti passport and have the freedom to “move around the Arab world,” he needed a certificate of parentage that his biological father was his legal father and this involved having his adoption set aside. (144)
Therefore on 27 January 1992, B applied to the Family Division of the High Court for an order to revoke his adoption order of 1959. (145) The case first came up in the High Court under Justice Sir Stephen Brown, but on 29 April 1994 B’s application was dismissed. (146) He then took it to the Appeal Court. B was represented by the Jewish barrister Allan Levy Q.C. who was a family law expert. Levy had an uphill battle and he tried to argue that “the court has an inherent power to set aside an adoption order made in circumstances such as these where … the order was made under a fundamental mistake of fact.” (147) In this case the “fundamental mistake was the parties’ belief that a Jewish baby was being matched with Jewish parents whereas that was not the true position.” (148)
Levy found two precedents from the rulings of the courts in New Zealand to overturn adoption orders. However, the law in New Zealand on adoption was different from that of England. (149) He did however find one precedent in England but the justices declared it to be quite different from B’s particular case. (150)
In their judgment, all three justices, whilst having sympathy with B’s plight, said that they had no power to overturn the adoption order of 1959. They all felt that such a decision would “undermine the whole basis on which adoption orders are made, namely that they are final and for life as regards the adopters, the natural parents, and the child.” (151)
B described himself as “gutted” after this ruling, (152) and commented, “The adoption 36 years ago is still having an impact on my life. I cannot travel or work without experiencing extreme difficulty in doing so. I now have a family and would like to make my life in Kuwait.” (153) He added that he wanted to bring his case to the House of Lords and if that failed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. (154)
As far as Jewish law is concerned, there is no such concept as adoption and the biological parents always remain the only parents. (This is unless the adopted person was a non-Jew who converted to the Jewish faith. He is then classed as a “new born person.”)
There is however a further question. We stated above that there are obligations of adoptive parents towards their adopted child, such as feeding, sustaining and educating. Can such a child when he is grown up and is capable of making his own decisions, decide to abrogate his contact with his adoptive parents and return to his biological parents? Rabbi Mordechai Hakohen answers this question in the affirmative on the basis that no man is enslaved to any other person. (155) (He doesn’t mention whether this also applies if the biological parents are non-Jewish and he has been converted. However it would seem that he could still break off contact with his adoptive parents.)
A question to be asked in the case of B regards his Jewish status and whether it can be reversed. For a person who converts after the age of Barmitzvah or Batmitzvah, the process is completely irreversible. (156) If the person is converted before this age, then he or she has the option to renounce, but it must be done immediately on reaching Barmitzvah or Batmitzvah. (157) It is not the practice of the London Beth to inform a minor who is being converted of this possibility of renouncing. (158) As far as informing a minor that he was converted, both Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (159) and Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss (160) specifically state that one should do so before the child reaches the age of Barmitzvah or Batmitzvah.
But what happens if an adopted child is not informed of his adoption before reaching the age of majority, namely he only learns for the first time after Barmitzvah (or in the case of a girl Batmitzvah) that he was not born Jewish, but had been converted as a minor. (This could occur if the child had been converted at a very young age.) In such a case has the convert lost the opportunity to renounce the conversion? The Rabbis have ruled that in such a case the conversion can be renounced immediately the convert learns that he was converted. (161)
There is a further question as to the position of a convert who knows that he was converted as a minor but had not been informed by his Barmitzvah of the right to renounce the conversion immediately on reaching Barmitzvah. It has been ruled that in such a case a convert may renounce immediately on learning of this right, irrespective of his age. (162)
How does B fit in with these principles? Although he was adopted when he was only a few weeks old, his adopted parents never concealed the fact he was adopted, “My parents used to tell me the story of how they chose me from a line of babies, because of my eyes.” (163) He was converted by the London Beth Din at about the age of 12 and so he was fully aware that he had been converted. As stated above, it is not the policy of the London Beth Din to inform a minor that he will have the right to renounce his Jewish status when he reaches Barmitzvah.
We do know, as already stated above, that he had a Barmitzvah in an Orthodox Synagogue, in his teenage years studied at a Jewish High School and at the Liverpool Yeshiva, was in his Synagogue choir and described himself as “quite religious.” All this clearly indicates that he did not renounce his Jewish status. Even in the mid-1990s, when he was trying to abolish his adoption order, “he stressed … that his action did not mean that he was trying to renounce his Jewish past.” (164) From all this we can conclude that, unless he was unaware that he could renounce his Jewish status, (irrespective of whether he could or could not abolish his English adoption order), in Jewish law B remains a Jew for life.
Following his defeat in the Appeal Court, B said that he would consider taking legal action to even higher courts. He also had plans to have his autobiography published within the next year. (165)
In searches on the Internet and in various library catalogues, nothing further has been located on B. The only mention of him has been a passing one in the Obituary of his lawyer Allan Levy in 2004. (166)
One can sum up B’s case in his own words, “It was so simple. I went into the back door of the nursing home an Arab baby and came out the front door a Jewish baby.” (167) (168)
(1) Gideon Keren, “Torn between two names, two countries, two religions”, Jerusalem Post, 27 July 1995, p.5, (henceforth: JPost).
(2) e.g. Doreen Wachmann, “Adopted Boy finds Father is Kuwaiti Minister”, Jewish Telegraph (Manchester, 23 August 1991, pp.1,8, (henceforth: JTelegraph); Helen Jacobus, “Between two cultures”. Jewish Chronicle (London) 20 May 1994, p.28, (henceforth JC 1994); “Son of a Muslim loses fight to annul Jewish adoption”, Jewish Chronicle (London), 24 March 1995, p.7, (henceforth: JC 1995); JPost, op. cit.
(3) Everyman: Jon’s Journey, BBC 1, 22 May 1994, 23.10 hours, duration 50 minutes, Production Company: Cicada Films, London, (reported in The Times (London), 21 May 1994, vision supplement p.2). [The author of this paper did not have a copy of this television documentary.]
(4) Open Law, JISC BAILII, Re B (Adoption Order: Jurisdiction to Set Aside)  EWCA Civ 48 (17 March 1995), (Internet: www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/1995/48.html).
(5) Cited as:  Fam 239,  3 FCR 671,  EWCA Civ 48,  Fam Law 469,  3 WLR 40,  3 All ER 333,  2 FLR 1.
(6) JPost, op. cit.
(7) JC 1994, op. cit.
(8) JPost, op. cit.
(9) The Weekly Law Reports, 1995, vol.3, (  3 W.L.R.), (London: The Incorporated Council of Law reporting for England and Wales), In re B. (Adoption: Jurisdiction to set aside), (henceforth: WLR), p.42.
(10) Adoption Search & Reunion, Doris Court Nursing Home, Whalley Range, Manchester, Lancashire, (Internet: www.adoptionsearchreunion.org.uk/search/adoptionrecords/homeDetail.aspx?id=423).
(11) WLR , op. cit., p.42.
(13) Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, chap.262, par.1.
(14) Ibid., par.4 – even if the baby is born at twilight, the circumcision is held on the 9th day.
(15) WLR, op. cit., p.43.
(18) CIRP, History of Circumcision, (Internet: www.cirp.org/library/history).
(19) WLR, op. cit., p.43.
(23) Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer, chap.8 par.5.
(24) WLR, op. cit., p.42.
(25) Initiation Society, (Internet: www.initiationsociety.org).
(26) The Jewish Year Book 1959, ed. Hugh Harris, (London: Jewish Chronicle Publications) advertisement by Initiation Society of Mohelim registered with the Society, p. x.
(27) e-mail from Yossie Spitzer, Medical Officer of the Initiation Society to author of this paper, 29 June 2008.
(28) Letter from Alex Minn, Secretary of the Initiation Society to author of this paper, 4 July 2008.
(29) Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah, chap.265 par.18.
(30) WLR, op. cit., p.43.
(31) Adoption Act 1976, s 39 (1a), (2).
(32) WLR, op. cit., p.44.
(33) Dayan Meyer Steinberg, Likutei Meir, (London, 1970), (henceforth: Likutei Meir), p.20; Dayan Meyer Steinberg, Resposum on Problems of Adoption in Jewish Law, ed. and trans. Rabbi Maurice Rose, (London: Office of the Chief Rabbi, 1969), (henceforth: Responsum), p.14.
(34) Adoptions, Adoption certificates, (Internet: www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/adoptions/adoptioncertificates/index.asp).
(35) Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 13a, Sanhedrin 19b.
(36) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.22; Responsum, op. cit., p.16.
(37) Michael Broyde, The Establishment of Maternity & Paternity in Jewish and American Law, part 4, Adoption and Establishing Parental Status, (Internet: www.jlaw.com/Articles/maternity1.html).
(38) Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel, Sha’arei Uziel, part 2, (Jerusalem, 1946), p.184.
(39) JPost, op. cit.
(40) JC1994, op. cit.
(41) JPost, op. cit.
(42) JC 1994, op. cit.
(45) Until about the mid 1950s it had been a full time Yeshivah. However after that period it became an institution for teenage boys for Sunday mornings and a few evenings during the week, but it still retained the name “Liverpool Yeshivah.”
(46) Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer, chap.22.
(47) Ibid., chap.21.
(48) Rabbi Chaim David Halevi, Mayim Chaim, (Tel-Aviv, 1991), p.251.
(49) Ibid., Aseh Lecha Rav, part 3, [n.d.], pp.194-201.
(50) Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer, vol.6, (Jerusalem, 1961), pp.226-28.
(51) Rabbi Azarya Berzon, “Cotemporary Issues in the Laws of Yichud”, Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society, (New York: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School), vol.13 (1987),, p.111.
(52) Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer, vol. 4, (Bnei Brak, 1985), chap.64 part 2, (p.126).
(53) Rabbi Avraham Halevi Horowitz, Dvar Halachah on Hilchot Yichud, (1963), chap.7 par.20, quoting opinion of Rabbi Avraham Yeshaye Karelitz (Chazon Ish).
(54) Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss, Minchat Yitzchak, vol. 4, (Jerusalem 1993) , chap.49 par.9, (p.116).
(55) Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, Shevet Halevi, vol.5, (Bnei Brak, 2002), chap.205 par.8, (p.224).
(56) JPost, op. cit.
(57) “Glasgow Beth Din on adoptions”, Jewish Chroncle (London), 14 April 1967, p.53.
(58) Bayla Sheva Brenner “Creating Jewish Families Through Adoption, Jewish Action, (New York: Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America), vol.66 no.3, Spring 2006, p.21.
(59) “Trials of the Childless Couple”, Jewish Chronicle (London), supplement, 24 April 1970, p.23.
(60) WLR, op. cit., p.48.
(61) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.19; Responsum, op. cit., p.13.
(62) Ibid., pp.20-21; Ibid., p.14.
(63) Jewish Chronicle supplement, op. cit., p.22.
(64) Responsum, op. cit., p.11.
(65) Jewish Chronicle supplement, op. cit., p.27.
(66) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.20; Responsum, op. cit., p.14.
(67) JPost, op. cit.
(68) Two e-mails from David Frei, Registrar, London Beth Din to author of this paper, 16 July 2007.
(69) WLR, op. cit., p.43.
(70) Ibid., p.44.
(71) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.21; Responsum, op. cit., p.14.
(72) Likutei Meir, op. cit.
(73) Responsum, op. cit.
(74) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.63; Responsum, op. cit., pp.26-27.
(75) Ibid., p.69; Ibid., pp.31-32.
(76) Ibid., p.69; Ibid., p.32.
(77) Unless the context indicates otherwise, whenever “he” appears in this paper, it should be read as “he or she.”
(78) Ibid., p.70; Ibid., p.32; similarly Rabbi Dr. Melech Schechter, “Various Aspects Of Adoption”, Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society, (New York: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School), vol.4 (1982), p.38.
(79) JPost, op. cit.
(81) JC 1994, op. cit.
(82) JPost, op. cit.
(83) WLR, op. cit., p.44.
(84) JPost, op. cit.
(85) Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, chap.268 par.3.
(86) Ibid., par.7.
(87) Likutei Meir, op. cit., pp.102-04.
(88) JPost, op. cit.
(89) The Jewish Year Book 1970, ed. Michael Wallach, (London: Jewish Chronicle Publications), advertisement by Initiation Society of Mohelim registered with the Society, p. iv.
(90) Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, chap.268, pars..2, 3, 4.
(91) Two e-mails from Frei, op. cit.
(92) JTelegraph, op. cit.
(93) Rabbi Schachter, op. cit., pp.39-42.
(94) JPost, op. cit.
(96) WLR, op. cit., p.44.
(97) Children Act 1975, s 26 (2).
(98) Adoption Act 1976, s 51.
(99) Ibid., s 51 (6).
(100) Department of Health, England, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Vol 9 Adoption Issues (HMSO, 1991) par. 3.11.
(101) Children Act 1975, s 26 (2) (2).
(102) AdoptionAct 1976, s 51 (2).
(103) “Twins who were separated at birth ‘in accidental marriage’,” Times online, 11 January 2008, (Internet: www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3171716.ece).
(105) WLR, op. cit., p.44.
(106) JTelegraph, op. cit.
(108) JPost, op. cit.
(110) Law of Return 5710-1950, pars.1, 2 (bet) (1) (2).
(111) Ibid., (Amendment) 5714-1954, par.1 (3).
(112) Ramban, commentary on the Torah, Numbers, chap. 33 verse 53; Ramban, Sefer Hamitzvot of the Rambam, addition number 4 to the list of positive commandments brought by the Rambam.
(113) e.g. Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, Pe’at Hashulchan, (Jerusalem: “Yad Binyamin”, 1968), chap.1, fn.14; Talmudic Encyclopedia, vol.2, (Jerusalam: Talmudic Encyclopedia Publishing, 1956), p.223.
(114) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim, chap 5, halachah 12.
(115) Ibid., halachah 9.
(116) Weekday Amidah, 10th Berachah.
(117) Shabbat Mussaf Amidah, 4th Berachah.
(118) Divrei Haknesset, (Jerusalem), 3/5 July 1950, e.g. pp.2038, 2040, 2102.
(119) Ibid., 5 July 1950, p.2107.
(120) WLR, op. cit., p.44.
(121) JPost, op. cit.
(122) JTelegraph, op. cit.
(123) JC 1994, op. cit.
(124) JPost, op. cit.
(125) JTelegraph, op. cit.
(126) JPost, op. cit.
(129) e.g. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 22a, 97b.
(130) Genesis chap.9 verse 25.
(131) Meorot Hadaf Hayomi (Bnei Brak), no.469, 13 Iyar 5768 (18 May 2008), pp.2-3.
(132) Rabbi Aharon Wolkin, Zekan Aharon, part 2, (New York, 1951), Yoreh Deah, chap.87.
(133) WLR, op. cit., p.44.
(135) Sha’arei Uziel, op. cit, p.186. It should be done in a manner which conforms with the Jewish law of gifts and inheritance.
(136) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.112; Responsum, op. cit., p.35.
(137) JPost, op. cit.
(138) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.109; Responsum, op. cit., p.36.
(139) Rabbi Schachter, op. cit., p.32.
(140) Likutei Meir, op. cit., p.110; Responsum, op. cit., pp.36-37.
(141) Rabbi Schachter, op. cit., pp.32-33.
(142) JTelegraph, op. cit.
(144) JC 1995, op. cit.
(145) WLR, op. cit., p.41.
(146) Ibid., p.42.
(147) Ibid., p.45.
(148) Ibid., p.46.
(149) Ibid., p.47.
(150) Ibid., pp.46-47.
(151) Ibid., pp.48-51.
(152) JC 1995, op. cit.
(153) Martin Whitfield, “Arab’s son loses adoption plea”, The Independent, (London), 18 March 1995, (Internet: findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_19950318/ai_n13971982?tag=artBody;col1).
(154) JPost, op. cit.
(155) Rabbi Mordechai Hakohen, Halachot v’halichot, (Jerusalem: Yad Rama, 1975), p.175.
(156) Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, chap.268 par.2.
(157) Ibid., pars.7, 8.
(158) e-mail from Frei, op. cit.
(159) Igrot Moshe, op. cit., Yoreh Deah, (New York, 1968), chap.142, (p.323).
(160) Minchat Yitzchak, op. cit.,vol.3, (Jerusalem 1993), chap.99, (p.169).
(161) Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, op. cit.
(162) Ibid; Rabbi Shaul Israeli, B’mareh Habazak, vol.1, (Jerusalem: Hatora v’Hamedina Research Institute, 2000), 2nd ed., p.147.
(163) JC 1994, op. cit.
(164) JC 1995, op. cit.
(165) JPost, op. cit.
(166) Jewish Chronicle (London), 22 October 2004, Obituary, Allan Levy, p.34; Guardian Unlimited, Obituary, Allan Levy, 29 September 2004, (Internet: www.guardian.co.uk/child/story/0,,1315221,00.html).
(167) JPost, op. cit.
(168) Grateful Acknowledgments are due to (in alphabetical order): Ms. Anita Dixon, Public Communications Unit, Department for Children, Schools and Families, England; Mr. David Frei, Registrar, London Beth Din; Librarians at the Jewish National and University Library, Givat Ram, Jerusalem; Librarians at Kiryat Arba Municipal Library; Mrs. Vicki Krausz of the Jewish Children’s Adoption Network; Librarians at the Law Library, Hebrew University, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem; Mr. Alex Minn, Secretary of Initiation Society, London; Dr Yossie Spitzer, Medical Officer of Initiation Society, London; Users of Wikipedia Reference Desk who answered my questions; Librarians at Yeshivat “Nir” Kiryat Arba Library.