Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Vayigash
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
"The sons of Asher... and their sister Serach" (46:17)
"Serach was Asher's stepdaughter, but because he raised her,
people called her 'Asher's daughter" (Ramban Bamidbar 26:46)
ADOPTION IN HALACHAH
QUESTION: What are the possible halachic problems and solutions regarding
A. IS IT PROPER?
When the adoption process conforms to halachic guidelines, it is considered
to be an extremely noble and rewarding deed. In numerous places in the
Talmud, our Sages praise one who raises another person's child as his
B. CHILD'S ORIGIN - JEW or NON-JEW?
Both of these choices have their advantages and disadvantages.
Theoretically, a Jewish child would be preferable, since it is a great
mitzvah to raise a Jewish child who may otherwise not have a Jewish home. In
practice, however, it may prove difficult to verify the lineage (yichus) of
the child, in which case unforeseen problems may arise regarding the child's
future entry into a Jewish marriage. Thus, before adopting a Jewish child,
one should thoroughly investigate the child's background to clarify his
A non-Jewish child, however, has no yichus problem. At the time of adoption
the child undergoes conversion, which allows the child to marry any person
permitted to wed a convert. The drawback, however, is that the child must(2)
be told of his conversion when he or she reaches the age of maturity,
thirteen for a boy and twelve for a girl. At that time, the child is given
the option to reject the earlier conversion which took place without his
consent. Should the child choose to reject his conversion, he would be
rendered a non-Jew. Obviously, a non-Jew would not be adopted or raised as
one's own child.
[There is a possible solution that circumvents this eventuality. At the
time of adoption, the parents can stipulate that the child is being
halachically bought as an eved . When the time comes, the parents will
halachically "free" the child. Freeing him renders him a complete Jew (a
"righteous convert") who cannot reject his conversion(3).]
C. HOW CLOSE A RELATIONSHIP?
Adopted children should be told of their origin at the earliest possible
time(4). People who choose to hide the origin of their adopted children from
them may unwittingly cause grave halachic hardships or complications in the
future and it is forbidden to do so(5).
Although in a spiritual sense an adopted child may be considered as one's
own child, the poskim stress that this does not apply to physical contact.
Yichud (being alone), hugging, kissing, etc., are not permitted as they are
with one's natural child. Most poskim strictly forbid this type of physical
contact(6). Yichud with an adopted child may even be more stringent than
with a stranger, since it would fall under the category of "libo gas
bah"(7). [Note that these halachos apply to foster children and stepchildren
There is, however, a view(8) that tends to be lenient on this issue. This
view holds that when a child is adopted at a young age, we assume that a
basic father/daughter or mother/son relationship has developed between them.
We do not fear that any illicit relations will take place and hence do not
restrict the parents from treating their adopted children as their own. This
leniency applies only to children who were adopted before the age when
yichud is prohibited, three for a girl and nine for a boy(9). A couple may
not adopt a child of an older age unless they observe all restrictions of
yichud and physical contact(10).
Harav M. Feinstein(11) also holds that yichud is permitted with adopted
children, but for a different reason. No adoptive father, he suggests, would
dare commit an illicit act with his adoptive daughter for fear of being
found out by his wife upon her return home. That intimidation factor alone
is enough to permit yichud. Consequently, as long as both adoptive parents
are alive, married and living together in one home, yichud with a stepchild
[in their home] is permitted(12).
According to Harav Feinstein, it is also permitted to kiss and hug an
adopted child, since the kissing and hugging is done as any parent does to
his or her child, which is permitted(13). Others allow this only till the
age of five or six(14). As we mentioned earlier, most poskim do not agree
with this approach altogether. In their opinion, an adopted or a stepchild
is just like any other stranger with whom yichud, hugging and kissing etc.,
D. HOW IS HE CALLED TO THE TORAH?
The poskim disagree as to whether an adopted child should be called to the
Torah as the son of the adoptive father(15). Harav S.Z. Auerbach(16) rules
that if the biological father's name is known, then the child should be
called to the Torah by that name. If the biological father's name is not
known, then he may be called to the Torah as the son of the adoptive father.
1 Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky, among other eminent Torah giants, endorsed the
practice for those unable to have children of their own ? See Devar Halachah
(addendum to fourth edition). See also Chazon Yechezkel (preface to Tosefta
Yevamos). R' Shlomo Kluger (Chochmas Shelomo E.H. 1:1) holds that the
mitzvah of procreation can be accomplished through adoption. Most other
authorities do not agree with this.
2 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:161-162; Kisvei Harav Henkin 2:86.
3 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:162, who notes that it is permitted to free a slave if
the original purchase was made in order to be able to free him. Obviously, a
complex halachic procedure such as this can only be done under the direction
of a rav who is well-versed in these halachos.
4 Harav Y. Kamenetsky (oral ruling) advised that adopted children be told of
their origin before their teenage years.
5 Igros Moshe E.H. 4 64-2; Kisvei Harav Henkin 2:99; Minchas Yitzchak 4:49;
5:44; 9:140; Otzar ha-Poskim vol. 9, pg. 130; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in
Nishmas Avraham vol. 5, pg. 132).
6 Chazon Ish (quoted in Devar Halachah 7:20); Otzar ha-Poskim. vol. 9, pg.
132 ? written responsum from Tchebiner Rav and Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky; Minchas
Yitzchak 4:49; 9:140; Shevet ha-Levi 5:205; 6:196; Devar Yehoshua E.H. 3:16;
Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Nishmas Avraham vol.
5, pg. 134. See also Yashiv Moshe pg. 191).
7 Devar Halachah 7:20.
8 Tzitz Eliezer 6:40-21; 7:44, 45. Note that his view is stated as a limud
zechus and in order to make it easier for abandoned children to find good,
Jewish homes that would adopt them.
9 See Discussion on Parashas Vayishev and Hebrew Notes, pg. 237, for an
elaboration of the halachos concerning the age when yichud applies.
10 Tzitz Eliezer, ibid.
11 Igros Moshe E.H. 4:64-2. See also E.H. 4:71 [concerning marrying a woman
who has a daughter].
12 Harav Feinstein also does not limit this leniency, as the Tzitz Eliezer
does, to a child who was adopted before the age of three for a girl or nine
for a boy. See also Avnei Yashfei 2:89-12. For further discussion, see
Hebrew Notes, pg. 240.
13 Based on the Shach Y.D. 157:10.
14 Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav Y.Y. Neuwirth (quoted in Nishmas Avraham
vol. 5, pg. 135). For further explanation, see Discussion on Parashas
Vayeishev and Hebrew Notes, pg. 237.
15 Minchas Yitzchak 4:49; 5:46; 6:151 strictly prohibits this practice,
while other contemporary poskim find room for leniency ? see Lev Aryeh 1:55
and Nachalas Tzvi pg. 31.
16 Quoted in Nishmas Avraham vol. 5, pg. 136. The same ruling applies to
writing the adopted child's name in a kesubah or a get. See, however, Igros
Moshe E.H. 1:99.
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
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Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
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