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SIDIC Periodical XIV - 1981/2
The Family: Jewish and Christian Perspectives (Pages 21 - 23)

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"Mixed Marriages" and religious liberty
Alexis Blum

 

The opposition of Judaism to mixed marriages 1 is often misunderstood, not only by Christians but even in certain Jewish circles. There is surprise at the fact that the tenets of Judaism contain no provision for such marriages, even by way of dispensation. This severity seems an inadmissable violation of the inalienable rights of the human being and deplorable cruelty towards two people who love one another. Some critics have no hesitation in saying that compulsory endogamy is equivalent to primitive racial prejudice. If Judaism sets out to be a model religion, should it not especially be a model of open-mindedness and freedom?

Converts to Judaism

We can at once refute the accusation of racism. Racism is not a Jewish characteristic, the best proof of this being the possibility for anyone to convert to the Jewish faith, an act which confers full membership not only of the religious community of Judaism but also of the Jewish people.

"So too with foreigners who give their allegiance to me, the Lord, to minister to me and love my name... them will I bring to my holy hill and give them joy in my house of prayer for all nations."
Isaiah 56:6

King David was a descendant of Ruth the Moabite who was a convert to Judaism and thus the Messiah himself will be a distant descendant of Ruth.

Jewish identity is not a matter of biology. The Bible and the Talmud are formal proof of this. Besides, Abraham himself, the founder of Israel, also founded the Jewish identity and thus, before founding Judaism, Abraham was not and could not be a Jew.

That Jews and non-Jews are to be treated in an identical manner is stated strongly throughout the Bible:

"The same law shall apply to the native-born and to the alien who is living among you." Exodus 12:49
"When an alien settles with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. He shall be treated as a native-born among you, and you shall love him as a man like yourself because you were aliens in Egypt." Leviticus 19:34
"You shall have one penalty for alien and native alike. For I am the Lord your God." Leviticus
24:22

In the Torah alone, the duty to love aliens like oneself is repeated thirty-six, or as another tradition has it, forty-six times.2

Need we remind the reader that Jethro, the priest of Midian, born outside the Jewish people, is shown as a man of good counsel to his son-in-law Moses? (Exodus 18:24) Is it necessary to repeat that Miriam was stricken with disease because she did not approve of her brother Moses' marriage to an Ethiopian woman? (Numbers 12) Joshua, too, married a convert, Rahab.3

Hillel and Shamai, the great Tannaim, had as their masters Shemaiah and Avtalyon, the descendants of converts, as was also Rabbi Akivah himself. The Aramaic translation of the Torah which every practising Jew has the duty to study each week is traditionally attributed by the Talmud to the nephew of Titus, the destroyer of the Temple, who brought about the ruin of Jerusalem.

The Survival of Judaism

The truth of the matter is that the question of mixed marriages is that of the very survival of Judaism.

Examples borrowed from history show that this has always been understood to be the case. Pharoah, by ordering the massacre of children of one sex, acted in the conviction that the mixed marriages necessarily ensuing from this measure would entail the end of the Jewish people. From the time of the Patriarchs onwards, the rules regarding marriage are worked out in such a manner that physical descendants must necessarily be spiritual descendants as well. Only partners coming from the same background will be able to cherish and to transmit the values peculiar to the spirituality of Israel.5 The reason for Abraham's insistence that his old servant should find a wife for Isaac outside Canaan (Genesis 24: 2,3) was the wish to ensure the continuity of his religious choice. Isaac in his turn had the same anxiety about the marriages of Esau and Jacob.6 By marrying wives who were foreign to the faith of Israel, Solomon "did what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord." (I Kings 11, 1-6)

Intermarriage with the "nations", forbidden by the Torah,' took place nevertheless in times of unrest and Ezra and Nehemiah had to exert all their energy in order to bring the situation under control after the return from the Babylonian exile.8

Religiously speaking intermarriage is not a more serious problem nowadays than in ancient times. However, from a sociological point of view, the consequences of it are perhaps more serious in our times. The Nazis caused the death of six million Jews, about a third of the entire Jewish people. After such a cataclysm the loss of even one Jewish soul means a loss for the people as such which is felt even more painfully than ever, all the more so since, for various reasons, large families are no longer the norm. If Nazism did not succeed in exterminating the Jews, how is it possible to risk their disappearance through intermarriage!

A mixed marriage makes it almost a certainty for the person contracting it to be the last Jewish member of the family. The Jewish community is the remnant of a remnant and it can be observed that this remnant has without exception been formed of those who have chosen to remain within the Jewish community as it defines itself or of those who have joined it. Short of a miracle there is nothing to ensure that the descendants of mixed marriages will still be integrated members of the Jewish community after the first generation.

One weak link is enough to break the chain of the generations. To accept a mixed marriage means renouncing perhaps from mere thoughtlessness the responsibility of continuing the lineage which made it possible for Israel to persist through so many civilizations that have since decayed. Once again, it is not a matter of racism. The lineage of Abraham contains many persons without any blood relationship with him. Any proselyte becomes a son of Abraham if he takes upon himself the vocation of Abraham.

It is therefore a question of responsibility, of fidelity and of identity. The book of Genesis teaches us that the first human being was man and woman as one:

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
Genesis 1:27

This means that for Judaism the basic unity of humanity is neither the man nor the woman but both together.

"Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become two in one flesh."
Genesis 2:24

The Family is the Microcosm of Judaism

The cornerstone of Judaism has always been and remains the Jewish family, which alone is capable of preserving and transmitting Jewish identity and authenticity and the fidelity to divine law accepted at Sinai.

The essential element of Jewish life and herein lies its absolute originality is the scrupulous day-to-day observance of a large number of precepts. The Jewish ideal is an ideal of sanctity and this is perfectly expressed by the phrase recurring in all the liturgical formulae to be recited before fulfilling a religious duty: "Blessed art thou, 0 Lord, ... who hast sanctified us by thy commandments!" This idea of sanctification is even more strongly emphasized in all that concerns marriage. The word for "wedding" in technical rabbinical language is "Kiddushin", that is to say, "Consecration". At the moment when the bridegroom places the ring on the finger of the bride, he pronounces the juridical formula of the act of marriage: "You are consecrated to me by this ring according to the law of Moses and of Israel." A valid marriage in Jewish eyes can be none other than one in which the couple undertakes this sanctification of life by the daily fulfilling of the duties laid down by the Torah.

"The religious commandments are like the attributes of the priestly order constituted by Israel. Their aim is to lead each single Jew and the Jewish people as a whole to feel constantly in the presence of God and to fulfil their priestly function at all times. There is no such thing as a greater or a lesser Mitzvah. All of them are expressions of the will of God and as such all contribute in the same degree to forming the Jewish personality and to giving it solidity so as to show forth the presence of God in the world. Any negligence in these matters entails a loss of substance, a disfigurement." 9

Without a traditional upbringing the child has little chance of remaining Jewish. The child will not feel himself a member of a community unless he is brought up according to the way of life peculiar to this community.

The practice of Judaism is far from simply being a matter of worship in the synagogue. It comprises household observances regarding every moment of daily life which make the Jewish lifestyle include every aspect of existence. By fulfilling the Mitzvah, the divine commandment which is itself an act of love and of faith, I put into practice what I myself have been taught and what I myself believe. By my observance I bear witness to my love and faith before my children and all who know me.

Theology in Action

Judaism is transmitted mainly through the education of example: it is theology in action. The Jewish believer is the priest of household worship celebrated at all times through observing the commandments concerning eating and drinking, the rhythm of work and rest dictated by the sabbath and the yearly feasts, in the liturgy of Friday night or other commemorations of the great events of the history of Israel, and in the constant personal study of the revealed texts.

It is extremely improbable that an individual would be able to put into practice to any appreciable extent the very strict rules regarding food or the precepts related to each single feast and holy day of the Jewish year unless his marriage partner were truly imbued with the Jewish faith and religious ideals. Besides, no religious form of marriage can be of value without the deep link in faith of both partners. A Jewish marriage cannot take place unless both are Jewish because the harmony of two human beings on the intellectual, emotional and sexual planes is considered indispensable to the founding of a household which will last.

The child of a mixed marriage will obviously inherit traits from both father and mother on the physical plane. However, at the level of the soul, the fundamental element of the human identity, these children must necessarily experience a deep division. Even supposing one of the parents insisted on bringing up the child as a Jew, this upbringing divorced from the life of the family would only risk disturbing the child still further without ensuring that there should be someone to hand on the values of Judaism to the next generation.

Jewish opposition to mixed marriage is documented in the history of the Exodus, which is a permanent reality for Israel.

The spiritual adventure of Israel began with the exile of Abraham. (Genesis 12:8) The birth of this new people is brought about by a separation:

"I am the Lord your God: I have made a clear separation between you and the nations." (Leviticus 20:24)

"I see a people that dwells alone, that has not made itself one with the nations." (Numbers 23:9)
The separation of Israel is the precondition of its prophetic mission. It is the result of God's choice of his people:

"Out of all peoples you shall become my special possession; for the whole earth is mine. You shall be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation." (Exodus 19:5,6)

Israel is separated 10 in order to fulfil its mission for the good of all humanity. By infringing this law of separation, mixed marriages lead to the dissolution of Jewish identity.

"May the Jewish people keep within its embrace, for the good of all humanity, all who have been fortunate enough to survive the cataclysm experienced by our generation." 11

Note:
We regret that lack of space has prevented us from printing in this issue the address of Rabbi Elio Toaff as was indicated in SIDIC XIV No. 1, 1981, p. 30. We apologize to our readers with the assurance that it will appear in the forthcoming issue.


1. For simplicity's sake and for want of a better term, we shall use the term "mixed" to mean a marriage between a Jewish and a non-Jewish partner.
2. cf. Talmud Babli, Baba Mezia 59 b.
3. cf. the commentary of R. David Kimhi on Joshua 6:25 and the Talmud Babli Megillah 14 b.
4. Targum Onkelos.
5. cf. Genesis 15:4; 17:9.
6. Genesis 26:34,35; 27:46; 28:1-4.
7. cf. Exodus 34:15,16; 19:16; Deuteronomy 7:1-6.
8. Ezra 9:12; 10:1-44; Nehemiah 13 : 23-27.
9. Grand Rabbin Meyer Jals: Reflexion sur l'identite juive (Reflection on Jewish Identity) - Paris.
10. "Israel is set apart, much as, now, the Church is set apart." Claude Tresmontant: A Study of Hebrew Thought, New York, Declee, 1960, p. 72.
11. Regine Lehmann: Oui, je suis pour le mariage entre juifs (Yes, I am for Jewish marriages) Jerusalem, 1977.

 

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