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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 21.1.14:
Entering the Covenant: Does Judaism have a tradition of Godparents?


Judaism does have a role that is sometimes referred to as "Godparents", but this is not "Godparent" in the Christian sense. In America, Jews began picking up words used by non-jews, but gave them Jewish meanings. In Judaism, a person nowadays referred to as a "Godparent" actually has a different job. This person is really called the Sandek (Hebrew term), Ba'al berit milah (Hebrew term). Among some Sephardi communities it is customary for the Sandek (who holds the child during the brit) to buy the clothing, blankets and diapers for the baby. In all communities, to act as sandak is considered a great honor and as a meritorious religious act which, according to the kabbalists, has atoning qualities. Where a grandfather of the child is still alive, it is customary to bestow the honor of sandak upon him. There are also the kvaters (Yiddish), usually a married couple (but for sure two people) who brings the child to the circumcision and hands it over to the sandak. Another name for this latter role is the sandakit.

The Sandek is obligated to see to the child's upbringing if the parents fail or are unable to do so -- just like a godparent. Note that the sandek really should be Jewish. However, this practice is not a universal minhag (custom), and since it is not universal, it doesn't have the status of law. Thus, technically speaking, one could make a decision that a gentile may act as Sandek. In practice, most rabbis and mohelim (people who do the circumcision) won't allow this, but some will.

The notion of Godparent in the western sense is not a Jewish notion; it is derived from the Christian godparent, whose charge is to ensure the child's spritual upbringing in the church. Judaism rejects this concept outright.

In the Jewish tradition, there are two tiers of responsibility: the immediate family, and the local Jewish community. Jewish law, from the Talmud itself, absolutely mandates that the parents of a child are obligated to teach the child three things:

  1. An education that can lead to a trade, so that the child can have a career.
  2. A comprehensive Jewish education.
  3. How to swim.

These three obligations are an absolute minimum. The second tier of responsibility falls on the Jewish community that the parents live in, which is obligated to work together to set up a Beit Midrash (house of study, including a Hebrew school), hire teachers (preferably, including at least one rabbi, as well as other learned lay-people), to build a mikveh (to allow families to observe the laws of family purity, allow people to convert to Judaism, and a number of thing things as well), and finally, to build a synagogue.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>