Gay & Lesbian Adoption

With more gays and lesbians starting families, same-sex Jewish couples are faced with myriad challenges.

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This article was originally published on JewishFamily.com, and is reprinted with permission. 
Swimming lessons may not be high on every parent's list of appropriate activities for a 3-year-old. But they were important to Alice Prussin. Shortly after the Berkeley, California, resident adopted Rina, she made sure to take the toddler to a local pool. Together, they practiced going underwater until Prussin felt confident that Rina would be able to handle the big event her mother had planned: taking a ritual bath in a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), according to Jewish law, to mark Rina's formal conversion to Judaism.

Adoption is a Mitzvah

The experience turned out to be so powerful, said Prussin, 42, that it brought all the adults present--two rabbis and the head of the conversion program, as well as Prussin and her partner--to tears, and Rina "lit up like a lightbulb. She got it."
 
parent with child's handRina now has a 21-month-old sister, also adopted, whom Prussin, an architectural lighting designer, and her partner also plan to convert.
 
Twelve years ago, when Wayne Steinman, 48, and his partner Sal Iacullo of Staten Island, brought four-month-old Hope with them to High Holy Day services at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York's Greenwich Village, they opened the floodgates to parenthood for New York City's gay and lesbian community. One half of  the first gay couple to openly adopt a baby in the city, Steinman recalled the reaction of friends in the congregation that day. "It was a 'Wow!' reaction. No one really thought about having grandchildren before," he said
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Welcome to the late 20th-century "Gaybee Boom." And if what gays and lesbians have craved from the Jewish community has been acceptance, from the accounts of many such couples who have adopted babies, that embrace has been forthcoming--at least from Judaism's liberal denominations.
 
According to Rabbi Joel Roth, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, the academic center of Conservative Judaism, Jewish law does not expressly forbid adoption by gays and lesbians any more than it would object to placing a child with a family that desecrates the Sabbath. "It's a mitzvah (commandment) to care for an orphan," explained Roth. Beyond that, the Talmud doesn't have knowledge of adoption, in the modern sense.
 
Indeed, for a number of single-sex couples, parenting has been the way back into a form of traditional Judaism from which they had felt estranged. For others, it's been a natural extension of Jewish practice firmly ingrained either from childhood or through connections established as adults. Still others have carved out their own definitions of Judaism to fit what they believe is the best way to maintain a link with a religious and cultural identity they say they wish to pass on to their children. Finally, as with interfaith heterosexual couples, conflicts over which religion to favor are also prevalent for gay couples who don't share the same religious faith.

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Jane Calem Rosen

Jane Calem Rosen is director of communications at the Masorti Foundation and a staff writer for the Jewish Standard .