Jewish, Christian, Chewish, or Eschewish:
Interfaith Marriage Pathways for the New Millennium
by Reeve Robert Brenner

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CHAPTER TWO: ISRAEL - THE JEWISH PEOPLE

 

Throughout this book another image is invoked, one of alternate pathways of life arrayed before a couple embarking together on the journey of interfaith or intra-faith marriage. The vision conjured up in the mind of choosing between paths is reminiscent of the poet Robert Frost’s metaphor of roads that diverge in the woods.  The poem succeeds in capturing the sense that life inevitably brings each of us to forks in the road presenting paths of no return.  The paths divide and separate, going off in different directions.  The inescapable reality is that two paths cannot be traveled simultaneously - a central thesis of this presentation. But contrary to the celebrated poet’s view, the several roads are not more or less equivalent, alike, one not very much different than the other.

            The path providing the itinerary of the people Israel - the Jewish people – has always been and continues to be dissimilar in decisive, distinct and discernable ways to the Christian and Islamic paths and the paths of other religions. History has played a critical role setting the Jewish sojourn apart from others. Returning to Frost’s metaphor, Judaism is also the road less traveled, considering the relative diminutive size of the world’s Jewish population.

          Furthermore, while Judaism, the religion of Israel, may be compared to other religions, Christianity and Islam for example, being a Jew, a member of the people, is not necessarily indicative of a religious disposition or a faith designation. A person may identify jewishly without self-defining religiously, that is, without endorsing, or belonging to, a Jewish movement, denomination or synagogue; may say “Jew” of themselves but may hasten to add, “although not religious”; may have no difficulty separating Jew and Judaism – while other Jews might question drawing them apart. Unlike followers of Christianity or Islam, the religion Judaism is not the sole condition of Jewish Identity. For Jews, Identity precedes Ideology. Most other western religions require a particular set of beliefs and adherence to specified essential core doctrines to belong to that religious community.

         A people (Jews) holding, professing, or embracing a religion, Judaism, is not nearly the same as a religion that determines, creates, or forms a nation or a community of believers.  For Jews the folk precedes the faith. Jews do not see themselves united by articles of faith, shared beliefs, and sanctioned doctrines. That is, Jews are united not so much by theology – especially ideas about God - as by community, commitments and commonly held memories of their experiences spanning some thousands of years of history. There is more than a subtle distinction between ideology, defined for our purposes as the shared mind-set of beliefs, and the self-referential, self-understanding of their sense of belonging Jews mean by identity. Clearly ideology and identity are inextricably intertwined. But for Jews, ideology flows from identity; their essence ascertainable by and derived from their existence. This distinction will be drawn again and again in various contexts throughout this essay. Its importance cannot be exaggerated or overstated.

     We are not here suggesting that the Jewish community – or, for that matter, Judaism - is lacking in ideology. Every society lives with its own ideology. Umberto Eco, makes plain that societies cannot survive without ideology which, taken “in its widest meaning,” refers to “a body of ideas” offering us “lines of action and certain visions of the world.”[1] Jews entitle their “body of ideas” Torah/Judaism and their “lines of action” mitzvot/commandments.

 The “body of ideas” affirming in various ways that for Jews the folk Israel and its welfare, its determination to survive abiding by its “lines of action” and to flourish creatively, is its faith, that is, the ever evolving convictions, theologies and persuasions that Jews hold most dearly. We have already pointed out that for Jews, Existence comes about in advance of Essence. By contrast, for Christianity and Islam the faith precedes and determines the folk. We will return to this important distinction further along.

            When in this book reference is made to the Jewish people as Israel (Yisrael), I do not want you to think I mean the State of Israel. Israel refers to the folk, those who share a people’s history whether born into it or joining it in various ways. Israelites are all the descendants of Jacob, the biblical patriarch. Jews, referring to the descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah, is synonym for an Israelite. An Israeli, a more recent term dating to the creation of the modern state, is anyone, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other, who is a citizen of the country.  The Hebrew word Yisrael, a name conferred upon Jacob in Scripture means "wrestles with God".  "God wrestling" is another way of saying "contending" with the ultimate issues of life or "taking on" the transcending fundamentals. 

            By wrestling with the fundamentals, the “ultimates of life,” Jews through the centuries have conceived, brought into being and developed the Jewish religion.  “God wrestling” means that Jews - the people Israel - are taught not to profess faith or to submit to fate (as Islam requires and Christianity esteems), but to take it on: Wrestling with fate and with the world around them, pondering the meaning of life, grappling with the reality of death, trying to master the existence of evil, partnering with God in creation – whatever that may mean - and working with our fellow human beings to repair the world (called tikkun olam).

       When the rabbis of Talmudic times, or later authorities, rescinded a biblical law for the sake of urgent societal needs, the God wrestling process was conducted with acute awareness. So much so that the discussions on justifying significant departures from established “received” requirements originating in the bible/Torah were invariably carefully recorded, published and widely disseminated.

            When we use the word religion in this volume, it can be seen that we mean the various ways groups of people - who follow a particular "path" - deal with the Issues of the Ultimate.  These are the important, fundamental issues which matter most to human beings: the purpose of life and its certain ending, the existence and characterization of a deity, what constitutes human fulfillment, how to pursue tikkun olam (also defined as mending the wounds of humankind), and how to treat one another. Questions of power and powerlessness, love and hate, good and evil and our relationships with other religions and other people and peoples are all, therefore, religious issues. Many other definitions of religion have been offered in other places and contexts that are valuable and insightful but here we are not reducing religion to interactions with superior Being(s) and service to that Being. We mean religion in the broadest sense of a way of life that addresses the things we know are most meaningful.

          More recently the term “spirituality”, which does not appear in Scripture or Rabbinic writings, has come to refer to the internal struggles in the quest for finding meaning in our lives and religion or religiosity has come to refer to the external display and outward expressions of inwardness, such as synagogue and church attendance and other observable practices. We will be thinking of religion and spirituality, both the internal and external dimensions, as aspects of the same phenomenon, flip-sides of the same coin. 

            We are conditioned to admire faith because of its positive values in this, a Christian, country.  And granted that men and women of faith – Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, Nikolaus Copernicus – held to their faith despite disbelieving and rejecting prevailing scientific theories and ecclesiastically sanctioned principles and yet contributed enormously to the advancement of scientific knowledge.  Nevertheless, doubts not faith, wrestling not submission, skepticism not acquiescence, have provided humankind the best education – and have provoked progress.  That is why Judaism proposes the priority of the human experience to any doctrine, dogma, theory or article of faith.  From of old, the Jewish way of life was meant to be accessible, do-able, this-worldly – not “fixed in the heavens” (lo bashamayim) and unreachable.

            So the concepts and reasoning informing the guidelines presented in this book (assuredly a 21st Century American Jewish presentation), although certainly different in many respects from previously established traditional Jewish positions, are nevertheless enduringly joined and securely attached to the framework of Judaism. Keeping the image of the Mansion in mind, we might also wish to take note of the fact that everyone professing Jewish identity today has emerged through an over three thousand year portal swung open into the promising passageway of the Jewish world of the 21st century. Nevertheless, we concede that in a certain sense we are here exploring a newly framed, redesigned, 21st century wing of the Jewish Mansion. The real danger to the future of Jews and Judaism, we realize, is in being close-minded to the consequences of changing times and conditions and indifferent to the new and emergent.

            There is a great deal of inner turmoil taking place within this Mansion. Always has been. Therefore this century is certain to be no different in this regard from previous centuries of intellectual wrestling matches conducted so often in the cerebral workout rooms of the Mansion. These profoundly inventive metaphysical struggles have brought about some great progress in the world of thought, produced widely acclaimed ideas and insights and have fostered many advances in civilization, despite the atrocity-ridden century just buried.

            Some would say that this taking on of fate rather than submitting to it has shaped the character of the Jewish people from the beginning.  In one of the first extraordinary stories in the Bible, Abraham debates with God over the concept of "absolute justice" and its application, which will govern the fate of the two infamous cities, Sodom and Gomorra.  Jewish heroes and authorities – prophets, priests, rabbis, intellectuals, scholars and teachers - seeking justice from that time forward always appear to be in dialogue and in disputation with God, the Keeper of Covenants  (meaning "agreements", "contracts", "pacts" or "testaments.").   So contemporary Jews who see themselves as the current custodians of this tradition, the 21st Century’s recipients of this ideology, also feel compelled to Wrestle-with-the-Ultimates.

           Wrestling, for Jews, refers to a core conviction that maintains that we humans are not here to walk the earth desiring “to live in some Disneyland of the mind,” to appropriate a phrase from Christopher Hitchens, “…We make progress by conflict.” Hitchens, proclaiming himself an “anti-theist” voices a profoundly Jewish admiration for “rebellious or independent types” who enter into conflict and engage in “individual struggles against the collective instinct for a quiet life” by combining a “skeptical mentality” with the “armor of principle.” [2]

          In this context, therefore, when Jews speak of religion they mean addressing, confronting, and contending with the Ultimate Issues as we have defined them.  It is important to be reminded again that Jews see themselves as a folk or people first (Jews) with a religion (Judaism - or Judaisms, as we will discuss later) second.  In contrast, Christianity is a religion; Christians are not a single people.  Neither do they see themselves that way.  Rather Christians define themselves as believers in a particular set of doctrines and in no way as members of a single folk group.  This is also true of Islam and Muslims, not all of whom are Arabs, of course.  Jews, as can be seen in the list of opposing concepts and contrasting values that we provide next (and, in considerably more detail also in the chapter on Judaism, Christianity, Islam: Contrasts) are far more a folk than a faith, more a belonging and behaving community than a believing community. The people, Israel, constitutes a community conditioned by a cultural heritage, one that sees itself following and maintaining an ageless tradition rather than a community based on, or unified by, beliefs.

In terms of priorities, the following tabulated list of values may be useful. They are not opposites in eternal conflict at all. Rather they serve as points of departure for each faith community. These priorities – where they converge and where they diverge - will be examined in greater depth in the chapter devoted to the subject below.

Judaism/Jews                          vs.        Christianity/Christians

.  Folk                                     vs.        Faith

.  Belonging & Behaving       vs.        Believing

.  Identity                                vs.        Ideology

.  History                                vs.        Theology                      

.  Deeds                                  vs.        Creeds

.  Torah (Wisdom)                 vs.        Tenets (Required Thinking)

.  Survival                               vs.        Salvation

                  

            Judaism emphasizes the values on the left while Christianity emphasizes the values on the right. Many of the values on the right are also important to Jews, of course, just as many values on the left are important to Christians.  Yet, for Jews, the values on the left take precedence.  For Christianity, this is usually reversed.  This list of dichotomies evolved from discussions with priests, rabbis, ministers, and philosophers and will be explored further on. Of course, this contrasting inventory of priorities and polarities overlap and converge as comparisons often do.  

It is also useful to keep in mind that: For Jews Christianity is unimportant but Christians are very important. For Christians Jews are unimportant but Judaism is very important. (Explanation: Christianity as a religion is unimportant to Jews because Judaism is self-sufficient with no living antecedents. Christianity derives from and is unthinkable without Judaism. Demographically, Christians, by virtue of numerical strength alone are much too great for Jews to ignore. Not vice versa!)

 I have found this register to be a well-grounded guide particularly helpful as a starting position in the exploration of marital and child raising options. These contrasting values also help us focus on - and understand - essential differences between Judaism and Christianity. The list therefore can be particularly useful when circumstances require that one must select the religious identity of a household in which to build a family. We will deal with these values in greater depth in Chapter 9.

            It makes sense here to fine-tune certain other terms and definitions employed in this text still further.  For our purposes, Polydox Judaism refers to the several non-Orthodox denominations and approaches to Jewish life, namely Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism and the Jewish secular movements and institutions.  The word comes from "poly" meaning many and "dox" meaning doctrine.  Polydox implies that non-Orthodox interpretations of Judaism also possess validity and Jewish authenticity. Judaism is not hierarchical; one size does not fit all.

            Unquestionably a rich variety of Judaisms finds expression and loyal advocates today as in the past. This realization has prompted many Jews to characterize Jewish life and its broad range of options as a rainbow of Judaisms. The range reaches from the super-Orthodox - some of whom wear Eastern European small town, predominantly Polish village styles of dress - to the Classical Reform, from the radical secularists to the committed Polydox Jews of the congregations I have served over the years.  Some Jewish congregations characterize themselves as non-theistic. They mean that a Jew is welcome and would be comfortable in the congregation whether or not he or she affirms the existence of a supernatural Being referred to as God.

All Jewish movements would agree that a Jew will likely affirm certain essential convictions and will repudiate others as can be seen in the table above and in the pages below. It is also being suggested here that there are no mandatory beliefs, save one: Jews, no more and no less than other peoples, are entitled to their existence, to their space on this planet. They are not obligated to justify their place in the sun or defend the air they breathe. Other than this "existential" conviction, there are no required "doctrines" of Judaism, apart from not holding the beliefs or following the observances of other faith communities, the adoption of which constitutes a defection causing one to forfeit Jewish identity.

            Put differently, an affirmation of the doctrines of other religions would render that person a Christian, a Muslim or whatever and no longer a Jew. Similarly in Christianity, the denial of Jesus' divinity or unique nature would forfeit Christian identity. The rejection of Allah (God) and Mohammed (His Prophet) would do the same for Muslim identity. We will return to this subject in chapter 9.

            Just as a person's inalienable rights include life itself, so is it with a people. As parents we transmit a like-message to our children regardless of the religious tradition we select.  We say to our child that, “at the instant of your birth, when you experienced the light of life, the moment you emerged from your mother's womb, you became entitled to your space, oxygen to inhale, water to drink and food to eat.   You need not earn or plead for the right to live.  It is your right by virtue of your very existence.”

            Similarly, Jews say, by virtue of our existence, because we are here like everyone else, we have a right to be here. They remember vividly that in Europe only a little over a half century ago this self-evident prerogative was challenged and overturned for more than a ghastly decade, bringing about the destruction of European Jewry. Existence itself, therefore, is the first conviction and the most essential commandment of all. By definition, if that conviction is lacking there can be no carrying on. All other convictions or “-doxes” become irrelevant if the people is not around to affirm them.

We are making the point that existence is the most essential and most obvious mitzvah or requirement of a people – so obvious it is often overlooked or ignored. This commandment applies as well to the individual. The first commandment in the bible after the Garden of Eden story is not belief in God as many Christians guess when I quiz them. And it is not “love your neighbor as yourself,” or the ethics with which we are to relate to others such as the Golden Rule, as many Jews conjecture.

It is rather the command of biology – the call to being, the essence of existence – “be fruitful and multiply” which is the first charge to humanity. The mitzvah that precedes all others is: Couples Copulate! Bring children into being! If there is no biology, no yin fitting into yang and no nesting for the purpose of bringing young into the world, other commandments will not be observed including worshipping God and performing acts of decency toward other human beings. So, biology comes first, far ahead of doctrines, theories or ideas. In this matter, Jews from Orthodoxy to Reform, to Jewishly committed radical secularists, agree.

There is no such thing in Judaism as omnidoxy.  Rev. David Williams agrees noting that it seemed to him that “the Unitarians have a lock on that - trying to be all things to all people.” Omnidoxy would proclaim as Jewish everything and anything some Jews profess. Polydoxy as opposed to omnidoxy would suggest that if not necessarily equally convincing to everyone, all Jewish movements, the complete rainbow of hues and views – among them, Reform, Reconstrutionist, Conservative, Orthodox, Hassidic, Secular, Humanistic Judaism - are without exception, valid and authentic inasmuch as there are Jewishly committed individuals who belong to them.           

          Even so, all of these movements agree that Judaism and Jewish identity cannot be compromised by a hyphen signifying simultaneous affiliation with another faith community. Messianic Judaism, for example, would not be regarded as Jewish by any of the Jewish movements any more than Messianic Islam or Christians-for-Mohammed would be considered authentic by their respective religious communities. 

          The point being made is that there are in America today other types of religious classifications that are interesting and perhaps even important but they are not of the categories we call Judaism. Jews for Jesus, Jewish Christians, Hebrew Christians, Messianic Jews, Muslim Jews for Christ, Christian Jews for Mohammed are all absurd omnidoxy-oxymoronic examples. To Jews, they are self-contradictory -doxes and -isms, antithetical and incongruous at the core of their convictions. They belong on the same roster as – take your pick – Secular Humanists for Zeus,  celibates for promiscuity, Bosoxers for the Yankees, NBA centers for Diminutiveness, and Free-Thinkers, Religious Skeptics and Polytheistic Presbyterians for the Pope. A person may choose to call herself or himself anything at all, but words and important terms have meaning; calling oneself a tree does not make one a tree!      

            Orthodox Jews will see the child of a mixed marriage as Jewish if the mother is a born Jew, regardless of whether she converted to Christianity and regardless of whether the child subsequently becomes a believing, churchgoing, practicing Christian (or a priest or a nun).  This is in accord with the Orthodox law that is often characterized as "once a Jew, always a Jew". Orthodox and most Conservative authorities who affirm traditional matrilineal descent as the only way (save for conversion) to affirm Jewish identity - regardless of upbringing, self-declaration, beliefs, or religious affiliation - formulate their position along these lines:  "Nothing known to Halacha (Jewish Law) can ever strip a person of their Jewishness, just as nothing can make a person Jewish who halachically is not".

            Reform and other Polydox Jews dissent. (The “P” is capitalized to signify institutions, denominations, movements, in contrast to lower case “p” – meaning a multiplicity of convictions - as will be expanded upon and clarified further along.) They would prefer that this Orthodox view be referred to as "Orthodox Halacha" but not "THE Halacha" that is, not “THE Law," or the only valid precepts. They would insist upon considering the entire range of Jewish authoritative decisions, as well as the reasoning behind their “legal” justifications. We are, therefore, not to disregard or pre-judge as inauthentic the more flexible and elastic non-Orthodox Jewish law or Halacha. 

            There are many volumes of sophisticated and profound decisions of Jewish law published by the greatly respected law committees of the Reform and Conservative movements and of other Polydox Jewish authorities.  We should bear in mind that 90% of American Jews are not Orthodox. The rabbis they turn to are polydox rabbis.

            The understanding of Polydox Judaism is that Jewish behavioral rules, Halacha, require regular updated revisions for the sake of Jewish continuity and Judaism’s ongoing, vibrant relevance as dictated by the times, by new conditions in which the Jewish community lives, and by new information and knowledge. Particularly prominent among the new conditions and realities is that the post-Holocaust Jewish world, abruptly, critically and tragically diminished in the middle of the past century, requires a less restrictive and more inclusive definition of Jewish identity.

        Many thoughtful contemporary Jews express forthrightly that Jewish ranks could be replenished with certain thoughtful Settled Sojourners, that is non-Jews, who are capable and willing to go from the majority to the minority for the sake of a loved one or for philosophical and other intellectual reasons.

            In line with these convictions, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical association of the largest Jewish movement outside the State of Israel, the Reform movement, passed a new halachic ruling called Patrilineality (or Equalineality) which recognizes the Jewish identity of a child born of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother if the child is raised as a Jew. The consequence of this rabbinic ruling equating Patrilineality with Matrilineality can be viewed as the equalization of the requirements for Jewish descent and identity.

        In reality Patrilineality is not so much a new Jewish law as it is a revival of an older biblical practice. Nevertheless, Patrilineality may be understood as a new halachic ruling because it had been set aside for centuries. Conditions change just as pathways turn and return. Judaism too adjusts and readjusts with the times for the sake of its vital continuity. Again and again it can be shown that Israel the people precedes Judaism the religion: the folk precedes the faith.

            While many Jews see themselves as Jewish apart from religion (as in, “I am proudly Jewish but not religious or observant,”) others express the view that the Jew and Judaism are inseparable. This view is articulated by Rachel who says, “As a Reform Jew, I feel that being Jewish and a part of a historical community are primarily tied to religious ceremonies and rituals like the Seder or High Holy Day celebrations.  I feel that the Jewish people and religion are inextricably joined. They have become nearly one and the same.” Her Settled Sojourner husband David, an ordained Christian minister and father of Jewish children, adds that “Jews have discreet cultural identity.  But to me it is not meaningful without the expressions of ultimate relations found in Judaism¼.”

            David took note of the similarities between infant baptism and brit milah (covenant/circumcision). “Both serve to bring the child into community, the one community based on history and shared experience, the other, a community of faith.  Without faith there is no Christian community.  Without history and continuity, no Jewish people.”  Faith and history are contrasting points emphasized by the two religions, as the table we have provided shows. The first, faith, is the Christian point of stress. The second, history, is the Jewish point of emphasis.

            In Judaism a prominent teaching holds that every generation of Jews stood at Sinai bonding together in Torah Covenant.  Jews also maintain that those that cling to us, like the “mixed multitude,” many of whom loved us and elected to come along, who felt and feel themselves a part of us, also stood at our side at Sinai. And it is historically as well as metaphorically true that today the Settled Sojourners’ children’s DNA can also be traced to those who assembled at the foot of the mountain.

         Jews say further that the bible story of the departure from Egypt, commemorating the birth of the Jewish people on the festival of Passover, chronicles the prominent place of the many Settled Sojourners who mobilized for the Exodus trek and bonded with the Exodus community. They and their offspring, despite and perhaps because of the many rough spots along the way, became Israel.

            For the early rabbis, even though they recognized that God granted “wisdom” to all peoples and nations through their own religions, the Torah (Judaism) in its totality was intended for Israel alone. Most Jews, therefore, feel obligated to follow however many commandments of the Torah/Judaism. On the other hand, non-Jews are expected only to follow the Seven Precepts of the Sons of Noah which all of civilized humanity is obliged to follow.  These are 1) not worshipping idols, 2) not committing murder, 3) not committing adultery and incest, 4) not tearing a limb or a part from a living animal to eat, 5) not blaspheming, 6) not stealing, and 7) having an adequate system of law and justice.

            Someone not Jewish, usually partnered to a Jew, who goes beyond these seven general precepts and embraces and supports Judaism more fully, earns a different sort of status. The Jewish community looks upon these individuals differently. They are part of us. They become Settled Sojourners who "throw in their lot" with Israel, its people’s history and destiny. As has been pointed out, the tradition teaches that they too stood at Sinai and participated in the Exodus when many of the "Mixed Multitude" joined the people Israel, then referred to as the Hebrews.

            Today an increasing number of progressive synagogues, with sincere gratitude and esteem, recognize the non-Jewish spouse, one who has become a Settled Sojourner living in a Jewish home and in many cases raising Jewish children, as a full member of the congregation. Their intention is to avoid the exclusion of the very individuals they wish to embrace. Exclusion from membership is, in the words of Elizabeth Marincola, “awkward at best and alienating at worst, to both partners, non-Jewish and Jewish.”   

          Children, raised as Jews by non-Jewish parents denied full synagogue rights and privileges, invariably regret, rightfully resent and perceive a hurt inflicted upon their fathers and mothers. After all, their Jewish character has been molded by the idealism of justice and fair play. Planning and preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah service and giving thought to the level of participation on the part of non-Jewish family members, one youngster provided a typical and illustrative case study:

        “I know I’m lucky and feel fortunate to be Jewish. I’m proud of the fact and feel myself a Jew in every way. I was raised by both my parents to feel that way. My mother and her parents, sisters and uncles and aunts, by no fault of their own were not born Jews and felt no need to convert. But they have helped me and encouraged me and my sisters to practice our Jewish religion. And they have stood behind us in every way. In fact my mother and grandmother have observed Judaism and Jewish holidays more than many of my Jewish friends who have an all-Jewish family. My own non-Jewish family members are more Jewish in what they do and how they live than some of my all-Jewish friends in my Junior High classes and in the sports teams I play for in the city’s basketball and baseball leagues.” 

       Therefore, synagogue membership is justified and appropriate for non-Jews: parents and partners of Jews living in Jewish households. In many progressive polydox congregations Settled Sojourners are offered active not merely honorary or affiliated membership, meaning that they have earned the right to vote at synagogue meetings as may any other member in good standing and they may serve in any capacity or office they feel comfortable holding. They may also participate in a worship service although they would undoubtedly not wish to be called to recite Torah blessings in that these blessings refer self-referentially to Jewish identity. But they often choose to stand beside Jewish family members called upon to pronounce the Torah benedictions commemorating their sons and daughter’s rites of passage.

         The ways in which the Settled Sojourner is embraced by synagogues and Jewish community organizations – and by rabbis called upon to officiate at rites of passage in the Jewish tradition – may deter or advance the mission of strengthening the Jewish people. In the long run welcoming is to be preferred by far to alienating interfaith couples and their children as has happened too often in times past.

         Teaching the values of Torah Judaism to our children, in the words of an intermarried Jewish partner, “does not square with barring non-Jews from synagogue membership and participation. Especially denying a blameless and innocent person whose parents by the fortunes of luck, destiny and statistics were not of Jewish descent the privilege of standing beside the child he or she helped bring up as a well-rounded, proud Jewish child violates the essence of what Judaism teaches about treating the stranger as the home born.

         “If a stranger is to be treated that way, with sensitivity and kindness, how much more so the non-Jewish parent bringing up Jewish children. That parent is hardly a stranger. And for the sake of their Jewish children the non-Jewish parent who goes to such lengths and expense bringing up a child as a Jew – very different from their own upbringing and childhood culture – should, if not embraced as a hero, at least be accorded acceptance and dignity and a place alongside his or her own children. Besides, children should not be compelled to participate in such a discriminatory exercise. They are too young and powerless to express their deeply felt distress. They may suffer with it the rest of their lives. I will not support a congregation that fails to honor the non-Jewish partner helping me in raising Jewish kids.”

ON THE MATHEMATICS OF INTERFAITH MARRIAGES

            In bringing the discussions of this chapter to a close, it may be useful to digress into a brief sociological observation concerning the Jewish mathematics of survival and continuity with the following illustration: Two committed Jewish families were friends through their children. The son of one family is now engaged to marry the daughter of the other family. They will be establishing a committed Jewish home. The young man’s sister plans on marrying her boy friend who is not Jewish. Although there will be no conversion, at least in the near term, the young man says that they intend to establish a Jewishly observant home. His words are, “I’ll get with the program.”

            The remaining brother is also betrothed to a non-Jewish young woman.  They too will be “going the Jewish route.” There will be three Jewish homes established by these two Jewish families not the two had each married the other’s sibling.  Had the two siblings who married Jews married non-Jews instead of each other in an intra-marriage and had each carried on their Jewish heritages and transmitted Jewish identity to their children, there would have been four Jewish households brought into being. 

            In other words: two Jews marrying each other potentially create one Jewish home; but two committed Jews each marrying non-Jews potentially create two Jewish homes.  No one advocates or wishes to promote intermarriage. Statistics show that continuity is often threatened and divorce in interfaith marriages has gone through the roof of the mansion. But demographic realities and possibilities ought not be overlooked or scorned.

            A half century after the destruction of European Jewry and the depopulation of the Jewish people by one-third, issues of demographic statistics and numbers representing critical mass, play vital roles in Jewish continuity and renewal. Continuity inarguably depends on Jewish commitment and resolve. In an intermarriage, it also depends upon a partner who willingly takes on the responsibilities devolving upon a supportive, participating, non-Jew “who can hack it” as a ger toshav, a Settled Sojourner, joining forces in the profound teamwork required for such an undertaking as raising Jewish children and as companions on the less traveled highway.

            In the words of Elizabeth Marincola,

“Intermarriage, therefore, may perpetuate Judaism rather than dilute it.  When a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman and a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, potentially two Jewish homes/families are created. Had the same Jewish man and woman married each other only one Jewish household will have been created.

            “Moreover every non-Jew who becomes the partner (spouse) of a Jew brings along his/her own non-Jewish family (parents, siblings, etc.). They will not become Jews themselves but they are likely to learn more about Judaism, participate in Jewish ceremonies and rituals, and become more sympathetic to Judaism and Jewish concerns once they have Jewish relatives - grandchildren, for example. It is critical for a small minority to build a community of ‘sympathizers,’ - Jews once removed.’’


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