It takes a village -- or a court order
It's not always easy to raise children Jewish in America. Our holidays are no match for the big C, bacon is America's favorite food, and to top it off, your ex might baptize your children when you're not looking. That's what happened to Rebecca Reyes, a Jewish woman going through a divorce.
After her husband, Joseph Reyes, baptized their 3 year-old daughter in the Catholic Church against her wishes, Rebecca Reyes got a temporary restraining order to keep him from exposing their daughter to any religion other than Judaism. He violated this order when he invited the media to watch him take his daughter to church. He is now facing up to 6 months in prison for the stunt. Here's the rub: Joseph Reyes is technically Jewish himself; he converted to Judaism when he got married.
It seems clear to me from watching his interview that Joseph Reyes is more interested in drawing attention to himself and annoying his ex than he is in Judaism or Catholicism. Reyes is pleading "not guilty" because, as he told Good Morning America, he was under the impression that "Catholicism falls right under the umbrella of Judaism." He also refers to Jesus Christ as "perhaps the most prominent Jewish rabbi in the history of this great planet of ours."
Though the Reyes case seems to have begun as bitter media stunt, could it set new precedent for divorce law? Should the custodial parent have the final say in their child's religious upbringing? What is the right answer when parents disagree, and what is the role of the court?
This issue extends beyond interfaith marriages; it applies to families with two Jewish parents as well. Even if both parents wish to raise their children Jewish, the plurality of Jewish identity and Jewish practice leaves plenty of room for disagreement (Reform v. Conversative v. Orthodox; day school v. public school; kosher v. non-kosher). Does one parent have more authority than the other? Should they? I'm curious to know what you think about this issue and how you have dealt with it in your own family. Hopefully, no one has gone to jail.
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "It takes a village -- or a court order." 17 February 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 26, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/raising-kids-jewish-by-court-order>.
Having been raised Catholic and schooled in it, I can say that baptism of an infant would not be considered a forced conversion by the church. Many/most Catholic parents have their children baptized; the parents and the godparents choose to have this done for the infant on behalf of the infant.
Today, I doubt that even a conversion of a tweeny or teen would be considered forced by the Catholic Church unless the child themselves protested it to the church.
It seems to me the Roman Catholic Church should be saying something about all of this. Does the baptism count and the Church now considers her to be Catholic, or does it not count because it may be against a court order. If the Church says she is now a Catholic can the court order the Church not to so recognize her? In most religions nowadays forced conversions are not accepted as valid, but this is a young child with limited capacity to understand the implications of what was being done. If anyone knows the Church's teaching and position on these issues, I would be interested to know what it is.