I am pleased to share with you, dear readers, some fascinating exchanges I have had with my Jewish brethren here in Australia, touching on some of the important questions facing our people today. Sit back and enjoy the read!
Rabbi, I am not asking for a sermon -- I get enough of them from my parents. I am asking for an explanation.
I am seriously dating a girl who is everything I ever dreamed of. She is smart, pretty, funny. Definitely marriage material. But -- you guessed it -- she isn't Jewish. My parents have refused to even meet her and have told me that if we get married they won't come to the wedding. My grandmother is beside herself.
My question is: My parents aren't religious, we never kept kosher or any of the Jewish festivals. There was nothing very Jewish about our home. Why all of a sudden are they so Jewish when it comes to whom I marry? Isn't that totally hypocritical? When I ask them this question, they just answer: "This is different." But that makes no sense to me. Why is this different?
This is not only your personal question; it is the question of the generation: Why does intermarriage touch a nerve in so many people more than any other Jewish issue?
Your frustration is well-founded. It is unreasonable of your parents to expect Judaism to be important to you if it never seemed important to them. What's more, they can't explain to you why they feel the way they do. They probably can't even explain it to themselves. But I have a theory.
There is a profound truth that somehow our parents learnt subconsciously from their parents, and that is: Jewishness is who you are, not what you do.
There is no such thing as one Jew who is more Jewish than another. Whether you practice Jewish customs or not, keep the festivals or not, live in Israel or not, eat sushi or not, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Jewishness is an irreversible status that is not defined by how you live your life.
A Jew may be sitting in a church eating bacon on Yom Kippur dressed up as Santa Claus, but he's still 100% Jewish. Is he a good Jew? A faithful Jew? A proud Jew? G-d knows. But a Jew he remains. Because Jewishness isn't something you do; it's something you are. Nothing you do can affect who you are.
Nothing, that is, with one exception: whom you marry.
The person you marry becomes a part of who you are. Getting married is not a hobby or a career move; it is making someone else a part of your identity, and becoming a part of theirs. Your spouse fills a void in your very being, and you fill the void in them. So marriage, like Jewishness, is not something you do, it is something you are.
Every person, non-Jew and Jew alike, is created in the image of G-d. There is nothing, heaven forbid, wrong with non-Jews. But they aren't Jewish. If you marry a non-Jew, you're still 100% Jewish, but a part of you -- your other half -- is not. You can be happy together. You can be in love with each other. But there is a part of you that you will never share.
Maybe this is the challenge of our generation: to face the questions of what it means to be in love, what it means to marry, and what it means to be Jewish. And -- unlike any generation before us -- come up with real answers.
Rabbi Aron Moss
Great answer about the marriage to a non-Jew, but the real beauty was how you didn't make the young man feel that he was wrong or that he should feel bad about himself. That to me is the genius of a true master! You, Rabbi Moss, are a great human being.
P.S. My new girlfriend is not Jewish.
Is it kosher for his fiancee to convert? Does that make her as Jewish as he is?
Yes, if she converts, she is as Jewish as Jackie Mason, as long as she converts sincerely and properly, according to the guidelines of the Torah, the constitution of the Jewish faith. I have seen it done successfully and it works; but I have seen those who just went through the motions but weren't sincere, which results in confused kids and spiritually homeless parents.
Gee mate! That was some dangerous territory you were on there. And might I say what a beautiful and insightful answer you gave. You're right though, Jewish parents can never really give answers to those things. I wonder if the silence has deadened their cause forever.
I wish I had read your answer 20 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of heart break.
I feel for this young gentleman. It's heart breaking for him. For me (as the daughter of a mixed marriage) it wasn't easy, being perceived as only half Jewish and being constantly pressured to become Christian.
To my amazement the trauma continued with the next generation. When my daughter (who's father wasn't Jewish) was in the process of baptism, the priest
approached me and said "Do you accept that this Jewish child from now on will be cleaned and become Christian?" I did what I thought should be done: I called off the baptism. My Christian father could not forgive me. He died a month later.
At that point even my mother realized that assimilation won't work.
Don't do it son, would be my advice, unless you would like to walk among crowds and be lonely. You might learn to eat bacon, but you'll remain a foreigner.
Rabbi, you didn't really answer the question why not intermarry, you just gave him options without scaring him away. Can you tell us what is the answer?
We don't intermarry because it doesn't make sense. Marriage is a holy institution. The whole point of marriage is to sanctify our relationship -- otherwise, why get married? And
G-d doesn't sanction a mixed marriage. I think intermarriage is on the rise not only because people don't value Judaism, but because people don't value the sanctity and divine majesty of marriage.
My (non-Jewish) fiance and I have reached an understanding -- we don't discuss contentious issues such as our future kids' education, whether we will circumcise our sons etc. Why cause unnecessary tension? We are happy together now and will deal with those issues as they arise.
That sounds to me like a ticking bomb. How can you agree to marry without discussing such vital and inevitable issues like how you want to bring up your children? If you can't even discuss them now, how will you deal with them when it is a reality?
I just wanted to thank you for bringing the issue of intermarriage up. I am facing it myself and have felt that it was taboo to talk about it, which meant that I was pushing the whole thing out of my mind.
The fact that Hitler would send me and my children to the gas chambers, but not my non-Jewish husband, meant that Jews and non Jews should be friends, but they ought not to marry to each other.
Your article on intermarriage was brilliant. However, I would like to share my story regarding intermarriage which is very different.
I am married for 39 years to the same person who is not Jewish. My sons were raised in a Jewish home though. Shabbat dinner every weekend, Bar Mitzvah, and the works. My children and I are active members of an Orthodox synagogue. My first born son just married a lovely Jewish woman. My second son is dating a wonderful Jewish woman.
Because of my marriage I actually worked much harder at being Jewish than I would have had I married a Jewish man. I felt an obligation to do this as a result of my choice to intermarry. In addition, my husband was a very powerful elected official, who through my influence authored laws for Kashrut, secured the arrangements for the first mikvah in our community to be built, and authored numerous laws to help the Jewish people.
While I understand the debate regarding assimilation, sometimes there are exceptions. I am one of them.
Rabbi Moss responds:
Thank you for sharing your unique story. The Jewish people owe a debt of gratitude to your husband for all he has done. And you should be very proud of the children you have brought up together.
In my letters I did not claim that intermarriage could never be happy. It can be, and perhaps you are a fine example of that. I also didn't claim that intermarriage means the end of a Jewish family -- your children are testimony that it is not always the case. Even though I do believe that your story is a rare exception -- very few children of intermarriage have any Jewish identity that lasts to the next generation -- but your story is certainly possible, and doesn't contradict anything I wrote.
My point was that there is something that an intermarried couple can never share, and that "something" is an intrinsic element of our personality -- our Jewishness. You can share holidays and traditions, but Jewishness is an absolute: you either have it or you don't.
Please don't get me wrong, I am not saying there is anything wrong with your husband. I am not saying he is inferior or an outcast or anything of the sort. Each of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, is created in the image of G-d. My point is that Jewishness is our being. When a bomb kills people in an Israeli cafe, they are our people, and we feel a stab in our hearts; when 6,000,000 Jews are killed the Holocaust, we are sickened to the very core of our being; when we stand under our child's Chuppa it is our grandparents' souls that descend to bless their offspring. A non-Jew can participate, commiserate, appreciate and be supportive of all the above; but it is not part of his essence. He may be the kindest person in the world, but he is just not Jewish. And he needs not to be Jewish.
And if a non-Jew feels that he or she truly identifies with the Jewish people's pain and joy, history and destiny, then they are welcome to join. What is ours can become theirs too. That's what real conversion is all about.
Don't you think it is absurd to think that spirituality has attributes -- like Jewish or non Jewish or black or white etc.? All human beings are one.
The question "who am I?" is the eternal question all humans must eventually ask. Ultimately they will discover that there are no distinctions. How can anything that concerns "spirit" be Jewish? There is a transcendence that we must experience that is beyond Jewish or Christian or Islam or Buddhist or even Atheist. Time to graduate from the ethnic stereotypes and embrace the universal energy of oneness.
Rabbi Moss responds:
The idea that all souls are the same is one of the biggest mistakes of modern new-age spirituality.
We are so used to thinking that definitions create barriers, and barriers cause hatred. We are convinced that to be spiritual means to have no borders.
From a Torah and Kabbalistic perspective, this totally misses the point of existence.
Before creation, G-d had undefined unity already. He was all there was, there were no borders, definitions or distinctions. If that is what G-d wanted, He would not have created the world.
Creation was the act of making borders. From unity came multiplicity. General divisions such as Male/female, body/soul; and specific divisions into nations, cultures and individuals.
Why did G-d create multiplicity? Because the deepest unity is the unity found within diversity. If we are all the same, then unity is no big deal. So G-d gave us all specific souls with their unique and diverse perspectives. When each individual as an individual, and each nation with its own style and language recognizes the same G-d, then that is real unity. That is something G-d "couldn't" have without a word like ours.
To blur the boundaries between nations, genders and individuals is to avoid facing the challenge -- to find unity in our differences.
For the unity of humankind we need one G-d; but for G-d's unity to be complete we need human diversity.
Jews should be Jews, non-Jews should be non-Jews, men should be men and women should be women. And every individual has to be themselves. Only then can we learn from each other the wisdom that we ourselves lack.
The majesty of G-d is revealed when each one connects with Him from their unique vantage point. There is a contribution that only you can make to G-d's master plan. That's why you were born as you are - a Jew, a man, and Gary.
My parents never approved of my marriage to a woman of a darker color. Because my parents were of a lighter shade of black, they expected me to marry a lighter color person or a white. But I believe that you marry from the heart. I also believe you try and become one with your partner that you choose in marriage.
Yet I, for one, would never marry a person that is not of my ethnicity because it just does not work. Marriage is so difficult and challenging even when you marry someone from the same community. To marry someone from another race or religion, just makes the challenge of enjoying a good marriage far more harder.
I wonder, how many intermarried couples are truly happy inside?
It is very common that people who don't value religion in their lives, intermarry freely. But once there are children involved, the idea of values and religion come to the surface. Then the trouble starts, since there is no common ground in an intermarried couple. For example, two people like the same car, and buy one together, without discussing where they want to go or end up with the car!
Intermarriage in my opinion is a profound mistake. Don't do it to your children. It is hard enough to grow up normal in any home, let alone in a home where the parents come from two different religions, histories, and civilizations.
Wow... That was great reading. Some personal experiences.
I'm Christian, my wife is Jewish, we've been married twenty years. While we dated, I agreed that any children we might have would be raised Jewish. My consent was not only to please my wife to be, but also a self(ish) interest. I consider Judaism the foundation of Christianity, without Judaism there would be no Christianity, or Islam for that matter. Therefore, in order for Christianity to continue, Judaism must continue. One important way for Judaism to flourish is for Jews to marry other Jews; otherwise the Jewish people will be lost. I'm truly proud that my wife and daughters are Jewish.
Last week my husband and I proudly marched in the Israeli Day Parade in New York City. Many groups marched, but we represented the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. It was beautiful.
Unfortunately a small group of Palestinians standing with a group of Chasidic Jews, I believe they were Satmars, were cursing Israel. I was upset that fellow Jews would be so anti-Semitic and side with a group of people who want our people driven into the sea. Of course all the media focused on this small group of protesters.
Why would this Orthodox group of Hassidim be so against Israel? This really disturbed me deeply. I am proud of being Jewish, proud of being American, and I am proud that we have reclaimed our ancient land in 1948.
Rabbi Moss responds:
I will not defend the actions of such people. They represent no one other than themselves. Even the main anti-Zionist groups (Satmar and Neturei Karta) have distanced themselves from these attention-seeking anti-Jewish crack-pots. What they are doing is evil.
America is a free country, but for a Jew to side with murderers is unconscionable. The belief that there should not be a secular State in Israel is one thing, but if those that hold that belief are led to identify with those who murder Jews rather than the Jews who they are targeting, then they are beyond the pale of Jewish debate. The same goes for the extreme left, who are similarly enamored with the Palestinian cause while seeming not to notice Palestinian terror, murdering Jewish children, women and men in cold blood.
Don't be fooled by the Hasidic garb. The basis of Hasidism is the three pillars: love of G-d, love of Torah, and love of our fellow Jew. If any one is missing, the others fall down. But with all three, the Jewish people are invincible.