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To Whom Does a Child Belong?

320px-US_Supreme_Court_BuildingWhen a Jewish child is adopted and raised by non-Jews and not brought up to observe Judaism, traditional Jewish law calls him or her a “kidnapped child” (תינוק שנשבה). Still considered Jewish, they have been torn from their people and are raised without the knowledge of how to be a Jew, and thus cannot be held responsible for their transgressions of Jewish law. (This concept has been applied by some also to Jewish children raised by Jews who do not practice or teach them ‘proper Judaism’, as defined by those applying the term.) Historically, captive children were sometimes torn from their communities without their parents’ consent, but not always. Many of the Shoah’s “hidden children,” for example, were raised by non-Jews, sometimes without even the knowledge that they had been Jewish. Their lives were saved and that is a blessing, but from a traditional communal perspective, there is also tragedy. Some Orthodox Rabbis still prohibit Jewish women from donating an egg to a non-Jewish woman or acting as a surrogate for a non-Jewish woman, out of concern that this might lead to a Jewish child being raised as a non-Jew.1

In not so distant American history, Native American children were taken from their communities in such numbers (25-35% of Native children2) that leaders, already struggling with the after-effects of centuries of broken promises, exploitation, oppression, and multigenerational poverty, feared for the future of their community and their children. Rather than supporting Native American communities to provide for and protect their children, predominantly white government representatives ‘saved’ native American infants and gave them into the hands of outsiders.