I know that the concept of godparents is originally a Christian one, but is it OK for Jews to be godparents too? What is the Jewish view on godparents?
For many Christians, choosing a godparent for their children is a very significant and important moment. Often, the godparent is responsible for overseeing a child’s religious education and being available in the absence of a parent or primary caregiver. A godparent might even be assigned a legal role in a child’s life if something happens to the adoptive or biological parent(s) or caregiver.

created at: 2013-05-30

Appointing a godparent is not always viewed as an overtly “Jewish” custom. Instead, Jews draw upon the important teaching from the Talmud, kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, translated as, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.” In the event a parent or primary caregiver is unable to provide for a child, it is the responsibility of the entire Jewish community to support the child’s development and education.

Although the entire Jewish community supports a child’s development, there still can be an important role for a Jewish “godparent.” It is just that this person’s responsibilities might be different from the Christian understanding of the role. For example, at a brit milah (circumcision ceremony) or brit bat (welcoming ceremony for a baby girl), the baby is traditionally carried into the room by a person we call the kvater or kvaterin. The translation for these two words could be “godfather” or “godmother.” In addition to this role, during the actual circumcision, a baby is placed upon the lap of someone called the sandak, which can also be understood as “godparent.” However, unless explicitly stated, the family members or friends who serve in these roles have no legal or official Jewish status. Appointing a loved one the kvater, kvaterin or sandak is a meaningful way to honor the important people in your life and mark the birth of a child. If the parents or caregiver of a child wish for these loved ones to play a longer-term, more central role, this must be discussed with the chosen godparent.

Community is a central tenet of Judaism. Each member of the Jewish community is invited to participate in the life and development of the next generation. It is a wonderful foundation and honor for our children to have adults outside of their immediate family circle who will support them on their journey. No matter the terminology you choose – kvater, kvaterin, sandek or godparent – inviting a loving, nurturing adult into a child’s life is a meaningful gift you can give to the next generation.

created at: 2013-05-30

Rabbi Allison Berry is a rabbi at Temple Shalom, a Reform synagogue in Newton. She’s expecting her second child any day now!