(Photo/Pixabay CC0)
(Photo/Pixabay CC0)

Can I still be a Jew if I’ve been baptized?

Dear Mensch: I was born to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, and raised in a mildly observant Jewish home where we attended synagogue on Yom Kippur, held a seder and lit candles on Shabbat (when my Jewish grandparents were over). Indeed, it is because of my affection for my maternal grandfather that I am drawn to explore Jewish life more thoroughly. I have been attending services with a local Chabad rabbi and exploring the possibility of joining a synagogue.

Here is my problem: My mother recently revealed to me that, in a gesture to please my paternal grandparents, I was baptized as a baby. I am quite shocked by this revelation and concerned about what it means for my pursuit of a more Jewish life. Will it prevent me from being accepted into an observant community? Will I have to convert back to Judaism? I am fearful of revealing this secret to my Chabad rabbi and also very angry at my parents for this betrayal. How shall I proceed? — Jack

Dear Jack: Your story of growing up and coming closer to Judaism is an inspiring one. You might want to go a little easier on your parents. They raised you in a home with Jewish traditions and enabled you to foster a close relationship with your Jewish grandfather. If an on-the-sly, inconsequential baptism is the most consequential infraction your parents committed, you are ahead of most.

Your situation is hardly unique among the growing number children of interfaith couples and, you will be pleased to learn, no impediment whatsoever to deepening your Jewish life. Jewish law is quite clear that being born to a Jewish mother guarantees you entrance into the club, and Mensch could find no evidence of anything to change that. As Allison Joseph has written in her column at jewinthecity.com, “being a Jew is like being in the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

There is no reason to be angry at your parents or ashamed of this aspect of your upbringing. You are not obligated (nor should you be afraid) to broach this topic with your rabbi or synagogue community. Your observance of Jewish law and custom can be whatever you make it. And if a symbolic restart is something that would be meaningful to you, Rabbi Shmuel Kogan at chabad.org recommends you consider visiting a mikvah (ritual bath) in order to “cleanse yourself of your past and recommit to a Jewish future,” something with which your Chabad rabbi can help.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at advicemensch@gmail.com.