Thank you for writing.
As I understand you to describe the situation, you are nominally Jewish, though not practicing, and the natural mother of this child. The father is some other faith. You are legally married to the father (though it is unclear if it was in any way a Jewish ceremony). I will respond based on that situation. If things are not as I described, it could change my answer - as in so many matters, the details are important.
Frankly, I have no idea who the rabbi was that advised you, but given what you have said, I think you got bad advice. Here is why.
According to a traditional view, because you are a Jewish mother, this boy will be seen as a Jew at birth. The status of the father is irrelevant because the traditional approach in Judaism is not to recognize a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. If the rabbi advising you was basing their advice on this Halachic (Jewish law) position, they were ignoring the other side of this equation, which does not permit or recognize a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. Thus, you can either accept the traditional approach and have your child seen as Jewish, but not be married for religious purposes, or, you can be married according to secular law and for religious purposes, but not have a Jewish child.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume you choose to view your child as Jewish and don’t worry about your marital status. The failure of the Jewish parent(s) to fulfill the commandments regarding a Brit Milah (Bris), naming, and Jewish education are not factors for that traditional viewpoint as to status - but the responsibilities the parent(s) shirked are pushed off onto the child. If you do not give the child an exclusively Jewish upbringing, including the appropriate rituals, it will become his responsibility at the age of 13 (or as soon as he is able to make the choice and act) to perform the rituals missed. That means he will have to be ritually circumcised as an adult; have himself named as a Jew, reject whatever other faith he may have been exposed to, and arrange to be educated Jewishly.
I am unsure what the view of Conservative and Orthodox rabbis would be in advance, in light of the fact that you have said you plan to raise this child as some other faith than Jewish. My guess is that they might see him as an apostate – a Jew that practices some other faith, not Judaism, but that is simply a guess, and you will have to see what they actually say when they respond.
From my perspective (and from the view of the Reform movement), the religious upbringing and practice you plan makes this child not a Jew at all. If he came to me, I would require that the child (and if a minor at the time, the parents as well) go through a full conversion process and become active in the Jewish community and in participating exclusively in Jewish ritual and worship. At a minimum, I would require that the minor child be educated and see Judaism in the home as the only religion practiced before being allowed to enter religious school; let alone to marry a Jewish person.(Children can be apples or oranges, but not fruit salad. They do not handle gray areas well; developmentally they need clear black and white positions until they are teenagers, at least.)
The Reform movement has come to view this issue differently than the other two groups mentioned. First, the Reform movement has recognized that there are intermarriages (marriages between a Jew and a non-Jew), and that there can be offspring of intermarriages who may be considered Jewish. The Reform movement’s holding on the Jewish status of the child of an intermarriage is found at http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/resodisp.pl?file=mm&year=1983
. It reads in part:
The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parent and child, to Jewish life.
Depending on circumstances,1 mitzvot leading toward a positive and exclusive Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Kabbalat Torah (Confirmation).2 For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi.
[NOTE:I have added highlighting above for emphasis]
In order to overcome these problems as well as others, we now require "appropriate and timely public and formal acts..."
We are aware that we have made more stringent requirements than our tradition. We believe that this will lead to a firmer commitment to Judaism on the part of these individuals and that it will enable them to become fully integrated into the Jewish community. We have taken this step for the following additional reasons:
1. We do not view birth as a determining factor in the religious identification of children of a mixed marriage [intermarriage].
2. We distinguish between descent and identification.
3. The mobility of American Jews has diminished the influence of the extended family upon such a child. This means that a significant informal bond with Judaism which played a role in the past does not exist for our generation.
4. Education has always been a strong factor in Jewish identity. In the recent past we could assume a minimal Jewish education for most children. In our time almost half the American Jewish community remains unaffiliated, and their children receive no Jewish education.
For those reasons the Central Conference of American Rabbis has declared: "The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parents and child, to Jewish life.
“Depending on circumstances, mitzvot leading toward a positive and exclusive Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Kabbalat Torah (Confirmation). For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi."
It would seem that given the circumstances described (a nominally Jewish mother raising the child as a non-Jew, identification and practice as a non-Jew, lack of any Jewish education, signal acts, or rituals) this child would not be accepted as Jewish within the Reform movement.
The upshot of all this is that I would conclude that your son’s status would be as a non-Jew, as things stand.
Good luck to you.
Rabbi Joe Blair
Answered by: Rabbi Joseph Blair