TEL AVIV, June 15 (JTA) — King Solomon himself might have been vexed by this battle over an Israeli baby claimed by two sets of parents. The plaintiffs in Tel Aviv District Court are a young couple that regretted giving up their child for adoption. The defenders are the adoptive parents, who have no intention of returning the 13-month-old boy. A gag order may be keeping these characters’ names from publication, but media leaks have put them squarely on Israel’s center stage. First, the Welfare Ministry let it be known that the adoptive father is on dialysis for kidney failure — a condition that, for all the good intentions he and his wife have voiced, could impair the defendants’ ability to provide for the child. But a more recent revelation could overturn the entire case by tapping into the issue of Jewish identity. On Monday, the attorney for the plaintiffs revealed that the baby is not technically Jewish, which could retroactively invalidate the adoption. According to Israel’s 1981 adoption law, children may be adopted only by guardians of the same religion. “Many questions arise from this case,” said Dean Adani, attorney for the plaintiffs. “We spoke with religious authorities who have told us that the way the social services allow couples to adopt children of a different religion is against the law and is something that needs to be changed.” But the biological mother, a Christian who emigrated from Romania with her Jewish husband under Israel’s Law of Return, may herself have sealed the child’s fate by requesting, upon giving him up for adoption, that he be raised as a Jew. Israeli media on Tuesday said the boy was circumcised and his adoptive parents are religiously observant. That prompted Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, to suggest that a de-facto conversion may have taken place. “According to Jewish law, a mother does not have the right to give up her son,” Metzger said at a Jerusalem ceremony for swearing in new judges. “But given that in this case a Christian mother has made clear her assent that her son should undergo a process of conversion to Judaism, the matter is ambiguous. If the boy’s conversion has indeed been completed and in accordance with Jewish law, the mother has no more claim on her son.” However, if the conversion process had not yet been completed, the biological mother could regain custody of the child if she regretted giving it up for adoption, Metzger said. Court officials said the child’s religious status was being investigated. But the jurisprudence did little to calm jitters among other adoptive parents in Israel. “People are in great fear and uncertainty,” adoption expert Ruti Eldar told the Jerusalem Post. “Adoptive parents are constantly afraid of this situation,” that the mother will return for her child or that the child will reunite with the biological mother. According to Israel’s Welfare Ministry, only 70 Israeli newborns were put up for adoption over the past year, while between 200 and 250 Israeli couples adopted children from abroad.
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Dan Baron is a contributing writer to JTA.
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