jonathan harris is the advice mensch

How do I tell my brother I don’t want his baby named after me?

My brother, who converted to Christianity, wants to name his kid after me if he has a boy. However, as an Ashkenazi Jew, that idea does not sit well with me. Is there a good way to let him know how I feel or should keep it to myself? — Gabe H.

Dear Gabe: Mazel tov, you’re going to be an uncle and you have a brother who honors you to such an extent that he wishes to name his child after you. As you already know, Ashkenazi Jews are rather strict in their custom of not naming their children after individuals who are still living. Interestingly, Sephardic Jews often do name children after living relatives and Sephardic grandparents are honored to have grandchildren named after them. Your dilemma is one of custom, not halacha. There is no prohibition in the Torah or Talmud against naming a Jewish child after someone still living. Indeed, there are many who believe the Ashkenazi preference arises from a superstition wherein the Angel of Death, in coming for an older relative, might get mixed up and take a younger one with the same name. Are you superstitious, Gabe? Rabbi Simcha Cohen, an Orthodox rabbi writing in “Jewish Values Online” explains that Jewish law deems it disrespectful to refer to a parent by name and that “giving a child the name of the living parent or grandparent would generate confusion and a belittlement of respect…. thus, concern for proper respect for parents, mysticism, coupled with fear of the ‘evil eye’, serve as the basis for the custom.”

However, there are some, including Rabbi Elianna Yolkut, a Conservative rabbi, who believe it is acceptable for a parent to name a child after a living relative providing that relative has been asked, and has given, permission. Your question indicates your brother “wants” to name his child, if it’s a son, after you and so perhaps we should consider that he has asked your permission. Mensch is of the mind you should grant it and enjoy the honor.


My husband and I recently divorced and share custody of our 10-year-old son (call him Seth). Seth’s Jewish education has always been more important to me than it is to my ex-husband and I belong to a Conservative shul where Seth is studying for his bar mitzvah. His father, although he is Jewish, does not at all emphasize that aspect of his life, which was one of the many differences that led to our divorce. Nonetheless, I was surprised to hear that my ex recently met a woman who is active in the Episcopal Church and has begun attending Sunday services with her. Then I was shocked to learn that he has taken Seth with him. I do not at all approve of my Jewish son attending church. How do you recommend I prevent him from doing so? — DM

Dear DM: Mensch tends toward conflict avoidance and would recommend that you start by having a non-confrontational conversation with your ex-husband in which you explain that Seth’s Jewish upbringing and his commitment to his bar mitzvah studies are such that you feel strongly he should not be attending church on a regular basis at this time in his impressionable life. If you emphasize to him that you are advocating primarily for Seth in the interest of his education, rather than grinding your own axe, perhaps your ex will understand and refrain from taking the boy to church in the foreseeable future. However, it’s certainly not unheard of for ex-spouses to act in opposition and yours might not be inclined to respect your wishes in this matter. In that case, you might want to discuss the situation with an expert in family law, as there are matters in joint custody situations that ultimately can and need to be arbitrated by professionals. But before you act, Mensch recommends you ask Seth about these trips to church. Whether you are speaking to his father or a lawyer, you should understand your son’s experience of these visits and their impact on his commitment to his Jewish education. And be careful, children should not be in the middle, much less the source, of conflict between their parents.


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 [email protected].