FOUNDLING (Hebrew, "asufi"):
A deserted child whose parents are unknown. The question as to the status of such a child in the Jewish community was chiefly decided by the condition in which it was found. If there was evidence that its parents had abandoned it wilfully, its legitimacy was under suspicion, and it was therefore treated as doubtfully legitimate. If, however, there were indications that its abandonment was caused by the inability of the parents to support it, the child was regarded as legitimate; the necessary indications might either be furnished by the body of the child—as when it was found circumcised, or with its limbs carefully straightened, or its body anointed with oil, or its eyes painted, or a talisman hung on its neck—or might be obtained from the place where it was found—as near a synagogue, or on the sidewalk where many people passed, or on a tree where no wild beast could reach it. Nobody might claim the child as his or her offspring after it had been declared a foundling, except in a year of famine, when it was obvious that its parents only waited for some one to take it up, so that it might have a home. If they claimed it while it was still on the street they were believed in any case, and the child was considered as the offspring of a legitimate marriage (Ḳid. 73b; Maimonides, "Yad," Issure Biah, xv. 30, 31; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 4, 31, 32).
Those foundlings which were suspected of having been born through illegitimate connections were placed outside of the fold, and they might not intermarry with Israelites, nor with other foundlings or illegitimates. The only persons whom they were permitted to marry were proselytes and liberated slaves; and the offspring of such marriages were in the same status as the foundlings themselves (Ḳid. 74a; Maimonides, l.c. 33; Eben ha-'Ezer, 4, 36).
If a child was found in a place where Jews and non-Jews lived, even if there were only a few of the latter, he was considered, as regards intermarriage, as being a non-Jewish child, until he had been proselytized by the court or had become a Jew after reaching his majority, when he became subject to all the laws governing foundlings. In other respects, however—as to the permission to give him forbidden food, or as to the obligation of returning to him any object that he lost, etc.—the majority decided. If the majority of the inhabitants of the place were non-Jews, the foundling was considered a non-Jew; if the majority were Jews, he was considered a Jew; and if they were half and half, he was in a doubtful state (Mishnah Makshirin, ii. 7; Ket. 15b; Yoma 84b; Maimonides, l.c. 25, 26; Eben ha-'Ezer, 4, 33, 34).
The "shetuḳi" (the silent one)—i.e., a child whose father is unknown—was placed in the same category with the "asufi" (foundling), and might marry only among proselytes or liberated slaves. Abba Saul called such a child "beduḳi" (examined), one whose status was established through the examination of the mother. If she said nothing, or if she admitted that the father of the child was an illegitimate, or if she said that she did not know who the father was, the child became subject to all the laws governing foundlings. If, however, she said that its father was a legitimate Israelite ("kasher"), she was believed,lieved, and the child might intermarry even with priests (Ket. 13a; Ḳid. 74a; Yer. Ket. i. 9; Maimonides, l.c. 11, 12; compare ib. xviii. 13-16; Eben ha'Ezer, 6, 17).
Although it was necessary to mention the name of the father of the husband as well as of the wife in a bill of divorce, the shetuḳi or the asufi whose father was unknown could write a bill of divorce, mentioning only the name by which he himself was known (Eben ha-'Ezer, 129, 9). If he died childless, since he had no other heirs, his property was "hefḳer" (vacant, ownerless), and any one could appropriate it (see Ger). This law also applied to the shetuḳi whose mother was known, for the relatives on the mother's side were not considered heirs in Jewish law (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 276, 4, Isserles' gloss). See Inheritance.
There is no trace of institutions for foundlings in Talmudic literature. The custom probably prevailed that the foundling was taken into the house of a childless couple who brought it up as their own.