I had a child with a Jewish man 33 years ago. At the time he wanted me to get an abortion, but I did not, and I did not tell him. He just found out of our son's existence a year ago.
What if any are his obgligations to this child? He left when he found out I was expecting. We are now in contact with each other, and he came to meet his son this last month. Is this child entitled to have his father's last name? The child has always known who his father was. I raised this child by myself as I don't believe in abortion. His father and I do talk often now. For a lot of years I had no way to contact his father. didn't know where he was, but recently I found him and told him he has a son. I am not Jewish and don't know the laws in that faith, or if he has any obligations to his son. Any answers would help me. Thanks.
Anyone reading your question, most passionately presented, cannot help but feel for you and your son. You have endured so much. It does seem that on your own, you and your son are attempting apparently successfully, to resolve longstanding open wounds.
At times, we can only deal with a real life issue on the human level, rather than resorting to the law, whether civil or religious.
I believe that the purpose of JewishValuesOnline.org is to deal primarily with issues from varying Jewish perspectives. My purpose is to be helpful to readers by presenting a halakhic (Jewish jurisprudence) understanding wherever possible. In addition, my presentation is to be true to a traditional reading of Judaism.
That being said, much of what you have written would fit into the category of ‘dina d’malkhuta dina’ (the law of the land is the law).
This is very much true since the status of your son ‘Jewishly’ from an orthodox view, is not truly Jewish. This is true, since in accordance with Jewish Law (the Halakhah), your son does not receive Jewish religious status from his father since you are not Jewish (by your own admission).
‘Jewish status,’ from the halakhic point of view, can only be conferred by being born to a Jewish mother, or, through the process of giyur (conversion) culminating in a valid halakhic conversion by a recognized ‘beit din’ (Rabbinical court).
In the eyes of Jewish Law, your son is not religiously his father’s son, but rather your son.
I know that this cannot be happy information for you to receive; however, we are here dealing with whatever it means to be ‘Jewish.’
Your question is presented as a mixture of ‘Jewishness’ and the father’s responsibilities to your son, who is not Jewish by traditional Jewish legal sources.
The foundation documents of Rabbinic Judaism to be found in the Mishnah and the Talmud—the Oral Torah, deal directly with the obligations of a father to his Jewish son who is a minor. I will quote from these sources.
The Mishnah in Kiddushin says, “All obligations of the son upon the father, men (fathers) are bound, but women (mothers) are exempt.”
The Talmud elaborates defining what is meant by obligations.
“Said Rav Judah: This is the meaning: All obligations of the son, [which lie] upon the father to do to his son, ‘Men [fathers] are bound, but women [mothers] are exempt.’
We thus learned [here] what our Rabbis taught: the father is bound in the a) respect of his son, b) to circumcise, c) redeem, d) teachhim Torah, e) take a wife for him, and f) teach him a craft. Some say, to g) teach him to swim too.” (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Kiddushin 20a)
Moses Maimonides (Egypt, 12th century) codifies the above six (seven) obligations of the father in his Mishneh Torah.
Beginning with the obligations that women, slaves and minors are exempt from, he writes, “Nevertheless, a father is obligated to teach his son Torah while he is a minor, as [Deuteronomy 11:19] states: "And you shall teach them to your sons to speak about them." (Laws of Torah, Chapter 1)
The legal and moral literature dealing with these subjects is voluminous. Naturally, we cannot enter into a discussion of everything available.
In the case you have presented, your son is—from a traditional standpoint—not a born Jew, so these religious obligations do not take effect. For this reason, religiously, the boy’s father does not have these obligations.
(Please note that I am not making a juridical decision in this case, rather presenting a response as a review of the religious issues involved.)
Of course, this does not preclude the later development of strong bonds between son, father and mother, which may be happening in your situation. Perhaps, much positive can come in the future and with G-d’s help it will.
I sense, in your words, both a desire to look toward the future now that you and your son are in touch with your son’s father after so many years of your being the only parent in your son’s life, but also some pain and confusion as to the way in which this situation evolved.
From what you write, I am not sure whether your son is now independent or whether he is still dependent upon you. What seems clear to me is that you have been blessed with a son who is now an adult. You have raised him and carried all the parental burdens and responsibilities for him on your own until now. But, you have let him know who his father is from the very beginning. Now your son and his father have actually met, I can only hope that, over time, the relationship between them will become more and more meaningful and will add an important dimension to your lives.
One of the things that I most appreciate about Judaism is that it gives us space to grow. We can all make amends for transgressions and for omissions we may have committed in our past, and we can adjust our course throughout life. The fact that we made mistakes in the past, does not preclude us from spiritual atonement or from strengthening our connection with God and with our fellow human beings in the present. The message is that we can try to move through our pain and suffering and we can always hope to find joy in creating a better environment for ourselves and for others in world.
Interestingly, one of the most powerful expressions of that kind of hope and promise is found in the prophetic words of Malachi (Chapter 3:23-24) letting us know that a day will come when Elijah the Prophet will “restore the hearts of parents to their children, and of children to their parents.” This vision, which gives expression to a heartfelt yearning for reconciliation, places family connections at the very core of Jewish tradition, as it is read each year on Shabbat HaGadol, the Sabbath immediately preceding the celebration of Passover. Yet, we know that there are often challenges to this ideal. We know that, at times, we are plagued by difficult realities as we navigate the deep waters of familial relationships.
You ask what are the father’s obligations to his son. A parent’s obligations to a young child are different than those of a parent of an adult child. The primary parental moral and religious obligation of maintenance - making sure a child has food, clothing, shelter and education are the obligations of a parent to a young child.
We can see from discussion in the Talmud that in ancient times it was assumed that fathers have a moral obligation to feed and to support their children (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 49a-49b). Nevertheless, as it became apparent that not all fathers lived up to this ideal, the Sages began to discuss and to define legal obligations of fathers toward their children. And so, for example, we read in the Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 29a):
“The father is bound in respect of his son, to circumcise, redeem, teach him Torah, take a wife for him and teach him a craft. Some say, to teach him to swim too.”
Sages effectively extended the obligation of a parent to support a child beyond those early years by invoking the laws of charity and reiterating that the religious obligation to give charity begins with one’s closest relatives.
When one’s child becomes an independent adult, the obligations of the parents in relation to the child adjust accordingly. So, for instance, in childhood, the obligations are largely obligations of the parent toward the child, but with an adult child, there are mutual obligations of respect and of support between parents and children. And, Jewish tradition teaches us that the adult child is obligated to honor and revere his/her parents.
You ask whether your son is entitled to his father’s last name. If by that you mean to ask whether he is recognized as his father’s son, then the answer is that in Jewish tradition carrying a father’s last name is not the test, nor is it proof, of relationship.
Religious ritual rights that traditionally devolve from a Jewish father to his son, such as belonging to the Priestly lineage, or to the tribe of Levi, do not devolve to a child who is not Jewish and Jewish tradition regards the child’s religious status to be determined by the religion of the mother. However, the obligations of child support and education apply to all children, regardless of their religious status (see Responsa of Mishpetei Uziel, Volume 2, Yoreh De’ah, 60).
For more detailed information on the Jewish approach to abortion, as well as on the obligations of parents toward children, see the relevant sections in the book: The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews, edited by Martin S. Cohen and Michael Katz.
It is important to note that Jewish tradition includes the concept of dina d’malchuta dina - respect for the laws of the land in which we reside. Therefore, if there are, in your particular circumstances, secular legal obligations that would devolve upon a father in relation to his adult son, those legal obligations are to be respected and taken to heart. As I am not an expert in the secular legal obligations that may or may not exist in this case, I cannot advise you on that. I can only say that it would be my hope that the newly found connection between your son and his father will support the familial ties and strengthen all of you emotionally and spiritually.
It is important to begin by stressing the Jewish Talmudic principle of dina demalkhuta dina, that the law of the land (i.e., applicable state and federal law) should be followed. Therefore questions such as “is the child entitled to his father’s name” and the extent of specific obligations of the father toward his son can and should be addressed by competent counsel. The fact that the child is now 33 may make some of these questions moot.
Jewish tradition recognize many obligations of a parent toward a child and a child toward a parent. For example, the Talmud teaches that a father is obligated to have his son circumcised (Yad, Milah 1:1; SA YD 260:1), teach him Torah (sacred texts and Jewish traditions: (Yad, Talmud Torah 1:1; SA YD 245:1), teach him a trade and find him a wife. Similarly, a Jewish child has many obligations relating to the commandment to honor his/her parents. Since the question asks specifically about Jewish obligations, it is important to recognize that no Jewish movement would recognize this child as Jewish. The Reform movement, which recognizes patrilineal descent, considered the child of a Jew and a non-Jew Jewish only if the child has been raised Jewishly, which does not appear to be the case here. The fact that the father is Jewish does not make the child "half Jewish" or "of Jewish blood" under Jewish law.
Jewishly speaking, the father (who is Jewish) may well have obligations and the right to be a father to his son. Since the son is now an adult, he, with his father, can determine how their relationship will grow.
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