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July 31, 2015 / 15 Av, 5775
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Intermarriage Rarely Has a Happy Ending

'Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope' is well written and compelling, but wrongly suggests that intermarriage is a workable option.
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While I was reading Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope by Harold Berman and Gayle Redlingshafer Berman, I had to keep reminding myself that although I know quite a few couples with similar stories, the percentage of intermarried couples who fully embrace Torah Judaism is negligible.

Harold and Gayle Berman have put together a wonderful book about their relationship and certainly a surprise for them  discovery and adoption of a Torah observant Jewish life.  It’s written as a series of letter to each other, and I strongly appreciate the decision to give each of them a different font.  That makes it much easier to keep track of who has written what, even though their voices and stories are quite different.

It’s important to read their book as a book by intelligent, sincere people who due to a principled intellectual and spiritual curiosity found themselves both embracing Judaism.

It truly was love at first sight – even though Gayle was the Minister of Music in a Texas mega-church and Harold was a secular Jew from New York. Fate brought them together. But destiny had something else in mind. From the Bible Belt to northernmost Russia to the heart of the Jewish world, Doublelife is really about the journey within, to discover who we are and who we are meant to be. [Read More]

I think it’s dangerous for troubled, concerned parents and relatives of Jews marrying non-Jews to get too much comfort from the Berman’s story.  In the vast majority of cases, Judaism is lost to the children and grandchildren etc. of intermarried couples, even when the descendants are Jewish by Jewish Law.

I don’t see their bringing up the Purim story of Esther as historic justification for intermarriage.

The Book of Esther is a book of secrets. Esther is also a book of interfaith marriage, one of the secrets the story’s heroine keeps even from her husband. Esther, the Jew, marries the Gentile King Ahasuerus, putting her in the ideal position to save her people from the wicked Haman. Some have interpreted the story as a Biblical endorsement, offering ancient proof that two faiths within one marriage not only works, but can be a positive societal force. (preview)

I studied Megillat Esther at Matan with Atara Snowbell for an entire school year, and at no point did we come to that conclusion.  Queen Esther is revered by Bible scholars for her sacrifice, giving up a normal Jewish Life for the sake of the Jewish People living in the Persian Empire.  Her children did not live as Jews, and King Achashverosh certainly didn’t convert to Judaism.

This criticism doesn’t mean that I don’t find the book well-written and compelling.  I just find their reassurances that intermarriage may not be the end of Jewish life to be misleading. I certainly enjoyed reading Doublelife and do recommend it, but please don’t think that there is anything typical about the Bermans.  They are two extraordinary people who tell their story beautifully.  I wish there were more people like them.

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About the Author: Batya Medad blogs at Shiloh Musings.

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3 Responses to “Intermarriage Rarely Has a Happy Ending”

  1. We are very grateful for this review, and for the many very positive comments we have received recently from readers telling us they were inspired by our story. One point of clarification:

    We did not intend for the Esther story to be any kind of justification for intermarriage and do not believe that it does that. As the passage quoted in this review from our book says, "Some" have interpreted the book of Esther as a Biblical endorsement – i.e. we are referring to the arguments we have heard from intermarried Jews who support intermarriage – the passage goes on to say that to do that misses the point. In several places in "Doublelife," we give both our own opinions of what happens in many intermarriages and real life examples we have encountered of intermarriages that are problematic. And although our (former) intermarriage very definitely had a happy ending, we spent considerable time in the book detailing our struggles – although there likely are more intermarrieds out there who could successfully take this journey given the motivation, they are, as Batya Medad says, a drop in the bucket – and more to the point – it's a long and arduous journey. When we speak publicly about our journey, we emphasize that this is not an endorsement of intermarriage and that our route is surely not the easiest way to create a Jewish family. Rather, we wrote the book with the hope that our journey can provide people with inspiration for living a Jewish life.

    I recently wrote about why intermarriage is not the ideal here: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/intermarried-rabbis-please/?fb_action_ids=4844182303393&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%224844182303393%22%3A439650849452833%7D&action_type_map=%7B%224844182303393%22%3A%22og.recommends%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D.

    Harold Berman, Co-author, "Doublelife".

  2. FYI – for anyone considering getting a copy of "Doublelife" – it just went on sale on Amazon. They are currently selling it for $8.56 (vs. regularly $12.99 – a 34% discount). It is also available on Kindle.

    http://www.amazon.com/Doublelife-Family-Faiths-Journey-Hope/dp/061572115X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365431485&sr=8-1&keywords=doublelife

  3. FYI – for anyone considering getting a copy of "Doublelife" – it just went on sale on Amazon. They are currently selling it for $8.56 (vs. regularly $12.99 – a 34% discount). It is also available on Kindle.

    http://www.amazon.com/Doublelife-Family-Faiths-Journey-Hope/dp/061572115X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365431485&sr=8-1&keywords=doublelife

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