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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Intermarriage 2013

It used to be the case that an Orthodox parent would sit Shiva on a child who intermarried.
The Nationally televised intermarriage of Ashley Hebert & J.P Rosenbaum.

The Nationally televised intermarriage of Ashley Hebert & J.P Rosenbaum.
Photo Credit: Hollywood.com

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“The preponderance of intermarriage has made it usually pointless to shun those who have married out,” “Once upon a time, intermarriage was a sign that the Jewish partner was rejecting his or her Jewish heritage. That is no longer the case, of course, and hasn’t been for decades.”

That was a quote from a JTA article last month about intermarriage. Before I identify the individual quoted, I have to wonder how we in Orthodoxy should treat an intermarried couple in our day.

The Torah is very clear about intermarriage.  VeLo Tischaten Bam – and you shall not intermarry  with them (Devorim 7:3). Although there is some dispute as to who exactly this forbidden relationships refers to, the Rambam tells us that it forbids intermarriage with any non Jew.

In the not so distant past this Halacha was so ingrained into the Jewish psyche that even the most assimilated non practicing Jew would have had tremendous heartache if a child married out. To that extent, if a child fell in love with a non Jew, the parents would go to the ends of the earth to try and get them to convert to Judaism. In most cases, the conversions weren’t sincere. But desperate parents prevailed on even some Orthdox rabbinical courts to perform what can only be called sham conversions. Even though the young couple had no interest in observing Halacha at all – they went through the motions just to please the parents.

I’ve been told that Sham conversions in Orthodoxy these days is a rarity. Thankfully. The point here is that no matter how assimilated they were – the Jewish people cared. Intermarriage was a big taboo. Today there is little if any angst about this in the wider Jewish community. But in Orthodox circles it is still a source of tremendous grief if a child marries out.

It used to be the case that an Orthodox parent would sit Shiva on a child who intermarried. That child would be considered dead to his parents and to his community. Today, that reaction seems to be all but gone. Intermarriage is at an alarmingly high rate.

How do we as a community react to it in our day? Do we in Orthodoxy continue to shun an intermarried couple or should we do things differently today? Have the times changed the custom?

I also wonder how prevalent this is among Orthodox Jews? I happen 2 know people who grew up in mainstream Orthodox Jewish homes who now lives with non Jews. One with a Christan and the other with a Muslim.  In one case the parents have basically disowned the child. In the other the parents were so devastated that they didn’t know what to do.

Is rejecting them the right thing to do? Or should our attitude be the same as the opening quote in this post suggests?

As painful as it is for us to see a Jewish child marry out, we can no longer afford to shun them. This is especially true for those with little or no religious background. They simply do not know any better. But I think it should even be true for those who went OTD and married out. Shunning them is probably the worst thing we can do. But what course of action  should we take? Do we treat them as though nothing happened? Or do we just sort of tolerate them without being so welcoming? If we are parents – do we shut them out? Or somehow welcome them into our homes.
I think we have to keep the lines of communication open to an intermarried child just as we do to any OTD child and encourage their connection to Judaism. I know it’s hard. Perhaps impossibly hard. But what other choice is there? If there is ever any hope of the bringing their observance back – it can only come if we do not completely reject them.

Obviously – as with all worthwhile endeavors – the devil is in the details. It is a lot easier said than done for an Orthodox parent to show any kind of acceptance of a son or daughter in-law child that is not Jewish. But I think it has to be done. This does not mean that you can’t set rules. The best way to handle this in my very limited opinion is to be as nice and welcoming as you can be to your child and the non Jewish spouse but at the same time making sure they realize that being warm and welcoming does not mean acceptance.

You never know what will happen in the future. Rejecting them and sitting Shiva is a pretty final act. You may never see your child or your grandchildren again. On the other hand being nice can go a long way towards effecting change. The goal should be sincere conversion for the non Jewish spouse and a return to observance for the son or daughter who went OTD.

Ironically even when a Jewish spouse has no interest in converting their partner, it would not be the first time a the non Jewish spouse was the one to seek change. It is not that far fetched them to convert and become more religious than the Jewish spouse… and encouraging their Jewish spouse to return to their roots and become observant themselves. Especially if they never really rejected their Judaism but just… fell in love.
This is why I think the individual who made the above comments in that JTA article made them . He must view this in a similar way. To be honest it was a bit surprising when I read that quote. I would have thought that Agudah spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran would have had a far more rejectionist approach to an intermarried couple. But I am very glad to see that he doesn’t.

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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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15 Responses to “Intermarriage 2013”

  1. Stuart Wragg says:

    I would have thought that a conversion was because of a true belief in God and the manner in which He is worshipped is what should be everyone's priority. Any conversion to any faith for any other reason makes a mockery out of that particular faith. Just saying…

  2. Stuart Wragg says:

    I would have thought that a conversion was because of a true belief in God and the manner in which He is worshipped is what should be everyone's priority. Any conversion to any faith for any other reason makes a mockery out of that particular faith. Just saying…

  3. Tany Berman says:

    The main question should be Why do Jewish men marry non- Jewish woman and not Jewish woman…..I think the answer is simple…..Jewish American Princess I divorced one

  4. Shemayah Shiloh Phillips says:

    I sat shiva for mine.

  5. i guess you also chose to marry one

  6. In a perfect world, I would agree that more Jewish education and creative positive Jewish experiences would stem the trend of intermarriage. Logically this sounds right, but I can tell you with forty years experience in Conservative synagogues, that the reality is that even the children with positive experiences who excelled in Hebrew school, intermarry. Some come from traditional homes. Many intermarry simply because they attend college away from home, fall in love and believe love will conquer all. A Rabbi can speak himself blue in the face about the non Jewish partner converting, but usually it makes no difference. The non Jewish partner does not wish to convert and the Jewish partner feels compromise and accommodation will work things out. The pain and anguish occurs when the intermarried couple has children and there is a baptism. This tears the hearts out of the grandparents who have no choice; they do not want to lose their children or grandchildren.

    The children of a non Jewish mother are not Jewish. We have now lost them forever. One suggestion for conservative Judaism which I believe will happen in the future is for conservative Judaism to accept patrilineal descent WITH PROVISIONS ENCOURAGING JEWISH EDUCATION. I have problems accepting this solution.

    I do not have the answer, and I believe no one does, but I do know that if one does not believe they are Halachicly Jewish, they will not seek Judaism but will follow the non Jewish mother's religion.

    I know of at least one orthodox rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen, the former rabbi OF AN Orthodox congregation who wrote a responsa in 1987 arguing for the acceptance of the conversion of a child born to a non Jewish mother and a Jewish father even without observance

    http://articles.latimes.com/1987-04-18/news/ss-892_1_children-of-jewish-fathers

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  7. Hinda Blas says:

    If one wants to have a Jewish family, one should consider deeply the pros and cons of intermarriage. There have been successes and failures in this. If one is not so religious as we have seen with the famous, then why put up the pretense?

  8. Hinda Blas says:

    If one wants to have a Jewish family, one should consider deeply the pros and cons of intermarriage. There have been successes and failures in this. If one is not so religious as we have seen with the famous, then why put up the pretense?

  9. Hinda Blas says:

    If one wants to have a Jewish family, one should consider deeply the pros and cons of intermarriage. There have been successes and failures in this. If one is not so religious as we have seen with the famous, then why put up the pretense?

  10. Hinda Blas says:

    I was engaged to a Male JAP (Jewish American Prince) who was spoiled beyond belief. As much as I thought I loved him, his family did not want their child to marry a Jewish girl who was not of a "prominent" family. We were the poor Jewish family who never knew we were poor. He came from money was many years older than me. So you get the good/bad/ugly in anything. The MATCH is when both can commit to one another and work as a team. That is the secret. L'ShanaTova

  11. BernhardRosenberg says:

    In a perfect world, I would agree that  more Jewish education and creative positive Jewish experiences would stem the trend of intermarriage. Logically this sounds right, but I can tell you with forty years experience in Conservative synagogues, that the reality is that even the children with positive experiences who excelled in Hebrew school, intermarry.  Some come from traditional homes.  Many intermarry simply because they attend college away from home, fall in love and believe love will conquer all. A Rabbi can speak himself blue in the face about the non Jewish partner converting, but usually it makes no difference. The non Jewish partner does not wish to convert and the Jewish partner feels compromise and accommodation will work things out. The pain and anguish occurs when the intermarried couple has children and there is a baptism.  This tears the hearts out of the grandparents who have no choice; they do not want to lose their children or grandchildren. The children of a non Jewish mother are not Jewish. We have now lost them forever. One suggestion for conservative Judaism which I believe will happen in the future is for conservative Judaism to accept patrilineal  descent WITH PROVISIONS ENCOURAGING JEWISH EDUCATION. I have problems accepting this solution.I do not have the answer, and I believe no one does, but I do know that if one does not believe they are Halachicly Jewish, they will not seek Judaism but will follow the non Jewish mother’s religion. 

      I know of at least one orthodox rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen, the former rabbi  OF AN  Orthodox congregation who wrote a responsa in 1987 arguing for the acceptance of the conversion of a child born to a non Jewish mother and a Jewish father even without observance Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  12. Eva Feld says:

    Even though the young couple had no interest in observing Halacha at all – they went through the motions just to please the parents. Okay which Halacha, Ashkenaz, Sephardi, Haredi halacha is a 'guide'. We have developed our ow Halacha, is that wrong, unJewish?

  13. Basetrais says:

    @Shemayah Shiloh Phillips 
    As important as maintaining as tradition may be, as important as holding onto one’s rellgion, in the long end human beings must always come first. To treat a live person as dead is the worst offense. Especially your child.

  14. No real answer to intermarriage RABBI BERNHARD ROSENBERG

    I would like to add my thoughts to the debate Jack Wertheimer, professor of American-Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, has sparked regarding intermarriage and inmarriage and his assertion that welcoming intermarried families into the Jewish community has been a failure (Editor’s note: Gary Rosenblatt guest column Sept. 19, full article Mosaic online magazine — http://www.mosaicmagazine.com). In a perfect world, I would agree that more Jewish education and creative positive Jewish experiences would stem the trend of intermarriage. Logically this sounds right, but I can tell you with 40 years’ experience in Conservative synagogues, that the reality is that even the children with positive experiences who excelled in Hebrew school, intermarry. Some come from traditional homes. Many intermarry simply because they attend college away from home, fall in love and believe love will conquer all. A rabbi can speak himself blue in the face about the non-Jewish partner converting, but usually it makes no difference. The non-Jewish partner does not wish to convert and the Jewish partner feels compromise and accommodation will work things out. The pain and anguish occurs when the intermarried couple has children and there is a baptism. This tears the hearts out of the grandparents who have no choice; they do not want to lose their children or grandchildren.

    The children of a non-Jewish mother are not Jewish. We have now lost them forever. I have heard it suggested that Conservative Judaism accept patrilineal descent with provisions encouraging Jewish education. I believe this will happen in the future, but I have problems accepting this solution.

    I do not have the answer, and I believe no one does, but I do know that if one does not believe they are halachicly Jewish, they will not seek Judaism but will follow the non-Jewish mother’s religion.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg PUBLISHED IN THE KANSAS CITY JEWISH CHRONICLE

    Edison, N.J.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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