- Is it wrong for a Jew to marry a non-Jew?
- If you were to find out that you are not Jewish, would you convert to Judaism?
Intermarriage and Jewish Identity
(Note to Facilitators: Discuss both questions before this mini-talk.)
There’s a lot of intermarriage going on these days. More than 50% of the Jews who married in the past decade married out. 700,000 Jewish kids are being raised in other religions.
These are the facts.
What do we think about it?
One thing is for sure – there are a number of invalid reasons given not to intermarry. For example: “Six million Jews died for you to be here. How can you spit on their graves?” Or on a similar theme: “It would kill Grandpa if you marry a shiksa!”
Not exactly positive reasons to identify as a Jew. Nor are these arguments intellectually satisfying. The appeal to guilt is at best a non-sequitur. Just because my ancestors believed or practiced Judaism is no justification that I do the same. Worse, however, than being ineffective, the “guilt” approach conveys the attitude that Jewish identity and commitment are a painful burden weighing against desire and self-interest. This isn’t a strong answer to the question, “Why be Jewish?”
Another common but flawed reason not to intermarry is for the sake of the Jewish continuity. Intermarriage threatens the survival of the Jewish nation. It is not only the end of that Jew’s affiliation, but the end of all the potential offspring. If you care about the Jewish people, so the argument goes, then you must marry a Jew and perpetuate the nation.
Where’s the flaw in this reasoning? The Traditional perspective guarantees the survival of the Jewish people, regardless of all the intermarriage. The Jewish people are promised that they will be an eternal nation. “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations, an eternal covenant; to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7). As a nation, God unconditionally guarantees our survival. And even if our survival was being threatened, it begs the question: “Why is Jewish survival so important that I should sacrifice my personal happiness to achieve?”
Intermarriage is a personal issue, it’s not about national survival. Find out if it’s in your best interest to marry a Jew.
Sheldon falls in love with Christina. Why shouldn’t they get married? Is anything more important than true love? Not only that – Christina is fantastic! She happens to be a lot more together than a lot of Jews that Sheldon has previously dated.
In addition to love, are there any other factors people must consider when deciding to marry? Would you marry the person you love if he or she told you they don’t want children or that they’ve decided to move to Alaska and devote their life to preserving a rare Arctic bird?
Love is critical, but it’s not all you need. You need to share common lifegoals.
Intermarriage is very common today because your typical Sheldon and Christina do share common lifegoals. For many, religion is at most a kind of cultural club you happen to be born into. Differences like gefilte fish vs. mayonnaise on white bread will not pose a major threat to the marriage.
What is so valuable about Judaism that I should rule out 99% of the world’s population as possible spouses? What is the mission of the Jewish People? What is the meaning of this covenant and is it something I want to be a part of? If, by my choice for marriage, I express a commitment to the ideal of being a moral force in the world and to the Jewish vision of tikkun olam (perfecting the world), then I make the Jewish mission and its greatness my own. If I prefer an individual and her love more than that goal, then I am deciding to abandon that unique mission.
The choice can’t be made in ignorance. The commitment of our ancestors isn’t enough reason to live as a Jew. Our ancestor’s commitment does reflect something so nourishing that many have endured the torments of anti-Semitism and still felt richly repaid. There’s no way to understand that commitment and its rewards without learning the meaning of the Jewish mission and the study of Judaism. Appraise the treasure before selling it forever. Go learn.
There are invalid reasons not to intermarry: the appeal to guilt – which creates a negative affiliation to Judaism, and the Jewish continuity argument – which is flawed since the nation’s survival is guaranteed.
The issue of intermarriage is about finding out if it’s in your best interest to marry a Jew. In addition to love, a couple needs to share common lifegoals. Is there a unique mission for the Jew?
What is the meaning of the Jewish covenant? Do you want to be a part of it or abandon it?
The choice can’t be made in ignorance. It requires learning about the Jewish mission and the study of Judaism. Appraise the treasure before selling it forever.
One who has a lot of money but does not derive any pleasure from it, it is as if the money is not his. It is merely placed beside him, for one does not attain joy from something that is not his. The same applies to Torah and mitzvot – if one does not derive great pleasure from them, this shows they do not yet truly belong to him.
Chachmah U’Mussar, R. Simcha Zissel Ziv, p.109
And God said to Abram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house to the land I will show you. And I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”
“Go for yourself”…go for your own benefit and for your own good.
Rashi on Genesis, 12:1
In everything a person does, whether it is a worldly matter or a matter connected to the Jewish religion, one does not begin to act unless there are two motivating factors: “preference” and truth. The motivation of preference occurs when a person derives a positive feeling, a sense of life, a feeling of benefit, that this thing is very pleasant and sweet to him. And then there is the motivation of truth…
Madregas HaAdam, Rabbi Yosef Hurwitz of Novardick, p.122
As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says God. My Spirit, which rests upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth nor from the mouths of your children, nor from the mouths of your children’s children, says God, from now onto all eternity.
I, God, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand and keep you. And I will establish you as a covenant of the people, for a light to nations.
And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of God’s house shall be firmly established…and many nations will go and they shall say….”let Him teach us of His ways…” For out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem….and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.