Jewish Journal

Dear Rabbi

by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Posted on Jan. 10, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Naming a Child in an Interfaith Marriage

Dear Rabbi,

I was brought up practicing the Jewish faith. While I have not continued the practice as an adult, I do plan on being more proactive with my beliefs. My husband is Protestant and we are currently expecting our second child. I want to bring up my children to see both of our faiths.

We are currently deciding on a name for our child. My husband wants to use my name as a middle name for a girl or his name as a middle name for a boy. I have heard this should not be done. Why? I have heard you cannot use a living person's name as the first name. What about as the middle name? And why do the Jewish people not name their babies after living relatives?


Dear Michelle,

As to names: In Ashkenazic custom, the general practice is to name a child with the name of a deceased loved one as a way of making sure their name lives on. Among Sephardic Jews, it is quite common to name babies after living relatives as a way of honoring them while they can appreciate it here on earth.

The fact that Sephardic custom allows naming a baby after a living individual suggests that this is not a matter of halacha (Jewish law). In fact, Jewish law says nothing about the nature of the baby's name.

You and your husband are free, according to Jewish law, to choose any name you want. But you should consider that custom isn't trivial, and grandparents may have strong expectations about how a name will be chosen and who ought to be honored. Certainly you should consult with them, although ultimately the decision belongs properly to you and your husband.

As to faith: I hope you know that Jewish law teaches that children born to a Jewish mother are Jewish. While you should certainly teach your children to honor and respect all faiths, they cannot really do that unless they are rooted in one particular faith. Please reflect seriously with your husband, and then select a single faith for your children.

Conversion and Intermarriage

Dear Rabbi,

I know that many rabbis will not officiate an interfaith marriage, but if the non-Jewish partner has converted to Judaism, is that considered a legal, binding union in the Jewish faith? Will most rabbis officiate the marriage of a converted Jew to a Jew? Or is it still considered interfaith if one of the partners was not a Jew by birth?


Dear Francine,

According to the Mishnah (one of the earliest codes of Jewish law, and the basis for the Talmud), a convert is a Jew no less than is a person born Jewish, and to remind a convert of their former status is a sin.

Consequently, a marriage between a Jew who was born Jewish and a Jew who chose Judaism is not an intermarriage at all, and would indeed be performed by a traditional rabbi in accordance with halachah.

If a Jew and a non-Jew marry and the non-Jew subsequently converts to Judaism, then the couple would need to follow up with a religious Jewish wedding ceremony in order to meet the requirements of halachah.

B'virkat Shalom,

Rabbi Artson

Mail your letters to: Dear Rabbi, c/o The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air, CA 90077-1599; or e-mail to artson@ni.net . All letters require a valid name, address and telephone number only for purposes of verification. Names used in letters are fictitious.

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