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Brit Mishpakhah: Marking the Adoption of an Older Child

a portrait photo of two parents, a mother and a father, with their teenage son in the middle. All three are smiling and the mom has her hand placed on the son's chest. He has his hands wrapped around both parents.

We wrote this ritual to mark the adoption of our son, who was weeks away from his 18th birthday at the time. It was written in collaboration by Meir Hoberman, Eliana Hall, Alexander Hall, Emily Jaeger, and Rabbi Chaya Bender. We chose to model it on a wedding ceremony as a way of expressing part of the complexity of adopting a teenager. As such it includes seven blessings chosen for the occasion and the signing of a document, worded in poetic imitation of a wedding contract, which we titled Brit Mishpakhah. Some of the blessings are placed far outside their usual context, and some have called for some adaptation. As at some weddings, we chose to have them read by people close to us, including our son’s new grandparents and uncle as well as friends of the family. The brit document itself contains some words of explanation so that a guest seeing it displayed like a ketubah on the wall of our home will understand its context. We did not write the brit in Hebrew, but we welcome anyone to whom that would be meaningful to do so. Since a ketubah is traditionally written in Aramaic, we felt our current vernacular would be sufficient.


The Brit Mishpakhah

On [Secular date], the [Jewish date] on the Jewish calendar, in [City, state, country], [Parent 1] and [Parent 2] confirm in the presence of witnesses a covenant of family, Brit Mishpakhah, signifying our becoming parents of [Child]. 

This covenant represents an occasion which does not carry established Jewish ritual, the adoption of a child old enough to consent to [his/her/their] own adoption, and so we look to other examples of britot, covenants and commitments, to inform us how to proceed. 

The Torah describes God making a brit with the descendants of Abraham, an agreement that in exchange for following laws of ethical behavior and maintaining a cultural identity, God would regard the Jews as God’s own chosen people. A modern variant of the wedding contract is called a Brit Ahuvim, or lovers’ agreement; in it, those getting married agree to their terms of cooperation, fidelity, and the shared work of building a family. Before either of these, the Torah gives us the story of Noah, who survives a worldwide flood in a floating zoo, and in the end receives a promise from God, a one-sided brit symbolized by the invention of the rainbow, a promise never to destroy the world by flood again. 

From each of these britot, we draw an element to build this Brit Mishpakhah, this family agreement. From the covenant between our people and God we use this brit to identify ourselves as one family, chosen to each other, three disparate people becoming one unit without losing the separate identities that each of us bring to the family.

From the Brit Ahuvim we draw the idea of building a family on the foundation of an agreement to join together in the work of family life. 

And from the brit of the rainbow we learn that a covenant isn’t always mutual. While all three of us agree to this contract, the responsibility does not flow both ways. By becoming your parents we accept that our obligation to you is unconditional, that from this moment it endures no matter what, that our part of the contract, the role we accept upon ourselves, is unbreakable.

By framing this in the language of a brit we ask for divine blessing and the support of our community as we embark on this new phase of family life. May we be blessed with the love and understanding, insight and experience, encouragement and support to raise [Child] and guide [him/her/them] into adulthood and be there for [him/her/them] throughout our lives, as a family. 

In signing this sacred covenant, we commit to being [Child]’s parents in name as well as in actions. We commit to considering [Child] in every way a [son/daughter/child], and to including those loved ones whom [he/she/they] considers family within the family circle. We commit to providing food and shelter, education and support, guidance, companionship, and love for the remainder of [Child]’s childhood and thereafter. And we agree that this obligation exists without any reciprocal demand.

In accepting this document, [Child] agrees to this covenant.



______________________________________               ______________________________________

Parent 1                                                                              Parent 2


______________________________________               ______________________________________

Child                                                                                   Officiant

 

Blessings

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשַנִי בְּצַלְמוֹ.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who made me in God’s image.


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהַכֹל נִהְיֶה בִּדבָרוֹ.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, by whose word everything came to exist.


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַטּוֹב וְהַמֵיטִיב.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who is good, and bestows good.


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַגּומֵל לְחַיָּבִים טוֹבוֹת, שֶׁגְּמָלַךָ כָּל טוֹב.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who grants good things to the liable, and has granted you all good.


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', הפּוֹרֵשׂ סֻכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל.

Blessed are you, Adonai, who spreads the shelter of peace over us and all residents of the world.


יְהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ, שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ אֶת הזמן הַזֶּה לְטוֹבָה וְלִבְרָכָה, וְתִתֶּן לָנוּ חַיִּים אֲרוּכִים, חַיִּים שֶׁל שָׁלוֹם, חַיִּים שֶׁל טוֹבָה, חַיִּים שֶׁל בְּרָכָה, חַיִּים שֶׁל פַּרְנָסָה, חַיִּים שֶׁל חִלּוּץ עֲצָמוֹת. חַיִּים שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶם יִרְאַת שָׁמַיִם וְיִרְאַת חֵטְא, חַיִּים שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶם בּוּשָׁה וּכְלִמָּה, חַיִּים שֶׁל עשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד, חַיִּים שֶׁתְּהֵא בָנוּ אַהֲבַת תּוֹרָה וְיִרְאַת שָׁמַיִם, חַיִּים שֶׁיְּמַלֵּא ה' מִשְׁאֲלוֹת לִבֵּנוּ לְטוֹבָה.

May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to begin this time for us for good and for blessing, and give us long life, a life of peace, a life of good, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of independence. A life that includes respect for the heavens and avoidance of wrongdoing, a life that does not include shame or blame, a life of richness and honor, a life that includes a love of learning and respect for the heavens, a life in which God will fill the wishes of our hearts for good. 

 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, זוֹכֵר הַבְּרִית וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתוֹ וְקַיָּם בְּמַאֲמָרוֹ.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who remembers the Brit and is reliable in God’s word.


Following the blessings

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has given us life and sustained us and allowed us to reach this day.

יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ.

May God bless you and keep you

יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ.

May God shine God’s face upon you and be gracious to you

יִשָּׂא ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.

May God turn God’s face to you and give you peace.

 

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