Catholic father baptizes Jewish daughter and defies court order

Joseph Reyes and Rebecca Shapiro Reyes of Chicago are embroiled in a highly charged and visible divorce and custody battle which has opened the ultimate interfaith can of worms. The media spotlight is focused on a plethora of divisive issues such as faith, freedom of religion, religious tolerance, separation of church and state, assimilation, conversion, and parental rights. The entire affair could further complicate Jewish- Catholic interfaith relations which have been dealt repeated blows in recent months.

Joseph Reyes a reportedly coerced-by-the in-laws-convert to Judaism (circumcision included) had a change of heart when his marriage went sour. Reverting back to Catholicism, he proceeded to have his 3-year old Jewish daughter baptized in a Catholic church without consulting his estranged Jewish wife. However, he sent her an email with pictures of the ceremony saying they were "taken of our beautiful daughter on the day of her baptism."(Ouch!)

Rebecca Shapiro Reyes, who was raising the child Jewish and sending her to Jewish day school, sought a restraining order forbidding Joseph Reyes from exposing their daughter to any religion outside of Judaism. The judge granted Rebecca’s petition and awarded her sole custody of the child.

In response, Joseph invited the media to film and report on his taking his daughter to Roman Catholic Mass – in deliberate violation of the court order.

Joseph Reyes now faces up to 6 months in prison for criminal contempt.

But with headlines reading Chicago Father Faces Jail For Bringing Daughter To Church”, and “Jewish Mom Bars Dad from Taking Daughter to Church”, it’s hard to imagine a sentence being carried out without invoking the wrath of the Christian community.

Indeed, Joseph Reyes added fuel to the fire, via a CBS news report, by calling it “curious” that Judge Edward Jordan who issued the restraining order was the former head of the Jewish bar in Chicago (The Decalogue Society) and suggested that voters should remember that judge come election day.

Barry Goldberg, president of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, sent a letter to CBS news which according to the Chicago Jewish News expressed the following concerns:

"We are particularly concerned by your decision to include the completely unrelated fact that the judge who entered the order is the former head of the Decalogue Society, the Jewish bar," Goldberg's letter states in part. He goes on to charge the station with including "editorializing and value judgments" that "disparage the Jewish community in general and the Jewish judge involved in particular" and states that "at worst, you have invoked images of the historic 'blood libels' against the Jewish people."

It should be noted that Judge Jordan has since removed himself from the case. For the record Jewish Israel notes that Joseph Reyes has retained Joel Brodsky, a Jewish lawyer who says, he “cannot see how taking a child to a baptism or to church can ever be a harm to a child. It’s a loving experience…”

Reyes also takes issue with the source of the funds being used to prosecute him. His father-in-law Howard Shapiro, is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Playboy."How Howard Shapiro can make his living from pornography and then object to me taking my daughter to church is beyond my understanding." The issue of Howard Shapiro’s wealth and profession take up prominence on the Christian website established to raise funds in Reyes’ defense.

Brodsky claims that Joseph Reyes "doesn't have an anti-Semitic bone in his body."

Some of the other twisted concepts being used by Joseph Reyes to justify his actions are made of the same ambiguous interfaith stuff which Jewish Israel has been exploring and covering in our recent reports and posts:

Joseph Reyes claims that he is taking his daughter to church " to hear the teachings of perhaps the most prominent Jewish Rabbi in the history of this great planet of ours. I can't think of anything more Jewish than that" (Reyes is referring to jesus christ).

Just two months ago Jewish Israel brought to the attention of the media and blogosphere a video in which Rabbi Shlomo Riskin discusses “Rabbi” Jesus , whom he described as a “model rabbi” who “lived the life of a Jewish rabbi” ,and whose teachings “are very strongly rooted on Talmudic teachings”. Rabbi Riskin later clarified his stance and Rabbi Sholom Gold issued a statement in response. Joseph Reyes’ use of the “Jewish Rabbi” argument validates Jewish Israel’s position that certain Christian parties could use the “Rabbi Jesus” spin in order to promote their agenda and call for “a breaking down of borders between faiths.”

Reyes further blurs the line between faiths by stating, "…based on the information that I was given, Catholicism falls right under the umbrella of Judaism." In a Fox News interview he refers to Catholicism as “a radicalized form of Judaism”.

It appears Reyes may be trying to draw the courts into defining religious lines – a place where they can’t go. But his comment brings to mind a Jewish Israel editorial which was penned in response to Ann Coulter’s widely publicized rant that “Christians consider themselves “perfected Jews “ . In addition we reported on Evangelist Corrie Ten Boom and her advocacy of the theological idea that Jews were "completed" when they became Christian, and that they would become “even more Jewish” if they accepted Jesus. And of course we have posted extensively of the concept of grafting where Jews and Christians are perceived as “one tree, with the Jews forming the roots and the Christians the branches...." So Reyes is far from being the first Christian to twist theology and dabble in deceptive doctrines in order to further a personal or collective agenda.

Joseph Reyes has a lawyer who, upon seeing the restraining order, reportedly almost fell from his chair. He said, "…I thought maybe we were in Afghanistan and this was the Taliban. This is America. We have a First Amendment right of freedom of religion."

These sentiments parallel the “Freedom of Religion” arguments which are being used by Israel’s own messianic attorney for justice, Calev Myers, in his rants against the Orthodox community:

"Are we to be a democratic state, with freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and respectful tolerance for minority religions, or are we to be something closer to a nation ruled by a Jewish Ayatollah?"

In addition to exhibiting his daughter and her church visits on YouTube, Joseph has a website called christianfatherdefensefund.com and he has posted numerous press releases online.

One of those PR releases, advertising his recent appearance on 20/20, states, “Joseph converted to Judaism, he says, to appease his in-laws. He even had himself circumcised. "I went through the motions," said Joseph Reyes. "But I still pray to Jesus at night" (It should be noted that Joseph did not go through an Orthodox conversion).

To a Jew’s ears Joseph’s explanations sound both devious and deceptive. A “conversion “ to Judaism without sincere intent, sheds light on why Orthodox Jewish authorities go to great lengths to ensure that candidates for conversion are required to completely rescind their belief in Jesus as a lord and/or savior and any combination thereof.

Chris Cuomo does a very thorough job for ABC news and 20/20. This won’t be the first time 20/20 has dealt with the painful issue of a Jewish child being converted or baptized without parental knowledge.

Throughout the video interview Rebecca Reyes tears-up. She claims "This is about parenting. This is not about religion." But the interview transcripts tell a different story.

(Excerpt):“Judaism is who I am when I wake up in the morning. It's saying the Shema (every morning and every night before I go to bed). It's lighting Shabbas candles every Friday and having Shabbas dinner…I observe Passover, eight days of Passover, strictly. I observe Rosh Hashanah, I observe Yom Kippur… “

It appears from the full interview that although Rebecca is not by definition Torah observant, she is acutely aware of her Jewish core and concerned for the soul of her child. Despite Rebecca’s purported openness, it seems that – on a gut level- she is very much aware that it’s spiritually forbidden ground and harmful for Jews to go to church – and that may very well be the source of her pain and tears.

Ironically, in a free, liberal, and open society like Christian America, Rebecca may be reluctant to express and explore that intimate truth, and it’s doubtful that her lawyer is capable of articulating or touching upon that essential issue without trampling upon the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, freedom of religious expression, and the necessity to “share” one’s faith. Even the US courts are constitutionally prevented from fully exploring the issues.

The Reyes case may not really be about religious freedom, parenting, or justice. Perhaps it’s the issue of having respect for differences and acknowledging the right not to share and mix matters of personal faith which needs to be brought to the fore.

Assimilation leads to a loss of identity, and in a predominantly Christian country – even a free and democratic one - the Jewish people have a lot to lose.

For Israelis, the Reyes case should serve as a warning. We must never allow a “Christianized” brand of democratic values and religious freedom to erode the foundations of our faith, weaken our Jewish identity, or distort our value system.

We hope the American court system can hold its ground under public pressure and a media onslaught and continue to rule in Rebecca’s favor. We hope that Rebecca comes to the full understanding that this issue is a fully Jewish one that goes beyond the issue of parenting.

UPDATE: Catholic Dad Wins Holy War

Judge Rules with Father in Interfaith Custody Dispute

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