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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha 5773

Ask the Rabbi: How to Name the Child of a Gentile Father

by Rav Daniel Mann

Question:  As a mohel, I sometimes perform a brit for a baby whose mother is Jewish but whose father is not Jewish. When giving the baby’s name, what should be said as his being son of (ben …)?


Answer:  In the case of intermarriage, not only does the mother determine the child’s religion (Kiddushin 68b), but the child is considered related only to her, not his father (ibid. 66b). The question of how to refer to someone whose biological father cannot be used for Jewish identification arises in several cases and contexts from which we can extrapolate.

Regarding the writing of a get for a convert (who loses his halachic relationship to his parents) and one whose father’s identity is unknown (a shtuki), the Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 129:9) says to write just the person’s given name without mentioning a parent. Elsewhere the Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 20) writes that for a convert we write that he is “the son of Avraham Avinu,” who is a catchall father for Jews of any lineage. The Levush (EH 129:9) says that we can also mention Avraham for a shtuki. However, the Get Pashut (129:48) says that this is not accurate as it makes the shtuki seem as if he is a convert, which is false (such an inaccuracy can invalidate a get).

The Rama regarding calling up for aliyot (Orach Chayim 139:3) says that for a shtuki we would refer to the person as the son of his maternal grandfather. The Taz (139:1) objects because it is inaccurate, and if he will follow this lead of self-identification, a get he might someday give would be invalid. He suggests calling him the son of Avraham (it is not clear whether he intends to say “Avraham Avinu” or just “Avraham”- see Pri Megadim ad loc.). Others do not understand why being called “the son” of his grandfather is less accurate than “the son” of Avraham. (For a convert, the description of “son of Avraham Avinu” is a special, positive designation-  see Beit Yosef, OC 47, but we do not find this for other people).

The gemara unobtrusively raises an attractive possibility. Rachel, the daughter of the Amora Shmuel was captured by non-Jews and raped by one of them. She had a son from that event, by the name of Mari, and he actually became a talmid chacham (see Bava Batra 149a and Rashbam ad loc.). The gemara consistently calls him Mari bar Rachel, identifying him as the son of his mother. The Dagul Meirevava (to Even Haezer 129:9) suggests doing the same for a shtuki, but decides that a shtuki, who has a halachic father, just that he is unknown, cannot be compared to Mari bar Rachel. He argues that when there is a halachic father, one cannot use the mother’s name in a halachic context (certainly, regarding a get), whereas when one has no halachic father, it is appropriate to identify him by means of his mother. The Get Pashut (129:51) and Chatam Sofer (IV:41) take as a given that one should use the mother’s name when she is Jewish and the father is not and claim that using the mother’s name is even appropriate for a shtuki. The Igrot Moshe (Yoreh Deah III:106.3), in the context of a ketuba, says not to write the mother’s name for a shtuki because that is the system to use for a case where the mother is Jewish and the father is not. He argues that it is important not to confuse between the two because the two categories have different halachic statuses (see Kiddushin 69a). 

To summarize, the most accurate way to identify a child of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish biological father is as the mother’s child. In regard to being called for aliyot, which is not very formal or halachic, the factor of embarrassment plays a major role (see Rama, OC 139:3). However, regarding such a brit, not only is the matter more formal, but usually whoever is present is aware of the child’s lineage. There need not be problematic sensitivities of acknowledging that his Jewish identity is through his mother. (Obviously, the union itself is highly problematic). Therefore, using the mother’s name is the correct approach. (You can ask again regarding exceptional cases, e.g., if the father converted after conception, brit for an adult, etc.)  


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