Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review August 30, 2001/ 11 Elul 5761

Jewish 'godparents'?; summer homework

By Wendy Belzberg -- A close friend of mine asked that I be her daughter's godfather. I was not even aware that there was such a thing in Judaism. Of course I said yes, but I am now wondering what my responsibilities are and am too embarrassed to ask my friend directly.

A: In Christianity, the role of a godparent is to teach the faith to his or her godchild and to ensure that the child becomes a practicing member of the congregation. Godparents may also play a role in a child's preparation for Holy Communion and Confirmation. The closest equivalent in Judaism is probably being asked to hold a boy baby during his circumcision. (Called Sandek, this is considered a great honor, although personally I would rather eat herring than be in the front row at a boy's circumcision.) Otherwise the concept does not exist within Judaism, and so there is no job description readily available.

I suggest that you ask your friend what she had in mind when she enlisted you. And, in case you're worried that you have given away your freedom, don't panic: In no religion is the word "godparent" synonymous with "legal guardian."

Let me add that I think that the Christian role of godparent isn't such a bad idea. With the current rate of assimilation and interfaith marriages, Jewish parents clearly could use some help when it comes to teaching their children the importance of their faith.

My son has a summer homework assignment, including a reading list and a workbook. It seems unfair to ask him to do homework in the middle of the summer after he gets off the camp bus. I am after him all year long to get his homework done; must I really put pressure on him to work through the summer as well?

A: It seems to me you are both entitled to a reprieve: your son from his schoolwork and you from nagging him. Reading should be a pleasure, not a punishment. If his teachers were doing their job during the school year, your son would look forward to curling up with a good book over the summer. Even if the book had not been assigned.

But writing to me is not the solution you're looking for. Your son's teachers assigned the work, not I. May I suggest that next summer you address this issue in June with the school, not with an advice columnist at the end of August.

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© 2001, Wendy Belzberg