“To get to the point, our daughter has informed us that she has fallen in love with a non-Jew, and that they intend to marry. We have tried everything to dissuade her, but our arguments, appeals, threats and tears have all been to no avail. She now refuses to discuss the matter with us at all, and has moved out of our home. Rabbi! You are our only hope! Perhaps you can reach her; perhaps you can impress upon her the gravity of the betrayal against her people, her parents and her own identity in what she intends to do!”
“Would she agree to meet with me?” I asked.
“If she knew that we had spoken to you, she’d refuse.”
“Then I’ll go speak to her on my own.”
I took her address from her parents, and rang her bell that very evening. She was visibly annoyed to learn of my mission, but too well-mannered not to invite me in. We ended up speaking for several hours. She listened politely, and promised to consider everything I said, but I came away with the feeling that I had had little effect on her decision.
For several days I pondered the matter, trying to think of what might possibly be done to prevent the loss of a Jewish soul.
-Aaron Dov Halprin
“A Jew in Brooklyn”
from “The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson”
Translated from the Hebrew by Yanki Tauber
The loss of a Jewish soul.
Derek Leman recently posted a link to a discussion “between Messianic Jew David Brickner and John Piper” concerning “supersessionism.” From a supersessionist Christian point of view, the only way for a Jewish person to become reconciled to God and the Jewish Messiah is to forfeit his or her Jewish soul.
The loss of a Jewish soul.
Is that really what the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would want?
I know Christians who would answer “yes” so fast that it would make my head spin. But then you see, I have a Jewish wife. She is a Jewish soul.
I’m not going to go into the whole “is she saved or not” argument, which is probably way over my head (though I frequently wade into waters that are way over my head). Of course, it would gladden my heart if she would come to know, or at least be re-acquainted with (as she was in years past) the Jewish Messiah, but in her view of Judaism, which is not unlike that of the Chabad, a Jew does not believe the “Messiah of the goyim” is the Jewish Moshiach.
The local Rabbi consults the Rebbe and he presents a solution. The solution to the problem of the Jewish girl who intended to marry a non-Jew was to tell her that there was a Jew in Brooklyn who was deeply troubled and could not sleep at night because of her intentions. The Jew (whether this story is true or not, I have no idea) was named “Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe.” Although the girl lived in Brazil and had never met the Rebbe or even seen a picture of him, when the local Rabbi showed her a photo of the Rebbe, she exclaimed, “this man has been appearing in my dreams and imploring me not to abandon my people.”
The story ends without telling us what the girl does, but presumably, she breaks off her engagement to the non-Jewish fellow and returns to her family. Not very much like the story between me and my wife, but then we were married for many years before she became determined to enter into the Jewish community and decided that a Jew would never believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
I’ve been pondering this story for several days but only read the following tale just a few minutes ago (as I write this):
Rabbi Zalman Serebryanski, a senior chassid from Russia and dean of the Lubavitch Rabbinical College in Melbourne, Australia, once brought a girl to Rabbi Chaim Gutnick. “Please, help this girl convert,” he asked.
Rabbi Gutnick listened to the girl’s story. She lived in Balaclava, and from her youth had felt a strong attraction to Judaism. Whenever she heard stories of the Holocaust, she was deeply touched. She had been reading and studying about Judaism for a long time, and now wanted to convert.
Rabbi Gutnick was moved by her sincerity. Nevertheless, he did not want to perform the conversion. The girl was still living at home with her non-Jewish parents. Would she be able to practice Judaism in her parents’ home? Would her interest continue as she matured into adulthood? Since he could not answer these questions, he decided to let time take its course. If the girl was still interested when she was older, she could convert then.
Rabbi Gutnick’s refusal plunged the girl into deep depression, to the extent that she had to be confined to a hospital. The elder Reb Zalman, stirred by the depth of her feelings, continued to visit her from time to time.
After several weeks, he called Rabbi Gutnick, telling him of the girl’s condition and asking him whether perhaps he would change his mind because of the strength of her feelings.
-Eli and Malka Touger
“The Girl Who Had To Be Jewish”
from “The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson”
This appears to be the opposite of the previous story. Here, a non-Jewish girl is pursuing Judaism to the point that she becomes severely depressed when the option is denied her. On the surface, it seemed conversion was impossible because her family was Anglican, but appearances can be deceiving. In this case, the Rebbe is once again consulted and the results are surprising.
Rabbi Gutnick did not receive an immediate reply to his letter. But at a later date, at the end of a reply to another issue, the Rebbe added: “What’s happening with the Jewish girl from Balaclava?”
Rabbi Gutnick was surprised. The girl and Reb Zalman had both made it clear that her family was Anglican!
He and Reb Zalman went to confront the girl’s mother. At first, she continued to insist that she was Anglican, but as the sincerity of the two rabbis impressed her, she broke down and told her story. She had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in England. As a young girl, she had rebelled against her parents and abandoned Jewish life entirely, marrying a gentile and moving to Australia. She had not given Judaism a thought since. She loved her daughter, however, and would not oppose her if she wished to live a Jewish life.
Once the girl’s Jewishness was established, Rabbis Serebryanski and Gutnick helped her feel at home in Melbourne’s Lubavitch community. She continued to make progress in her Jewish commitment, and today is a teacher in a Lubavitch school.
But Rabbi Gutnick still had a question: How did the Rebbe know she was Jewish? At his next yechidut (audience with the Rebbe) he mustered the chutzpah to ask.
The Rebbe replied that, at Reb Zalman’s urging, the girl had also written him a letter. “Such a letter,” the Rebbe declared, “could only have been written by a Jewish girl.”
My wife’s mother was Jewish and her father was a non-Jew (both of my in-laws passed away many years ago). My wife’s mother, as a young woman, rejected her family in Boston and her Judaism and walked away from both, about seventy years ago. My mother-in-law met my father-in-law on a blind date and they subsequently married and had five children. At no time did the fact that my mother-in-law was Jewish ever come up in the family.
True, my wife as a child, knew that her maternal aunt and cousin, who lived in Southern California where she grew up, were Jewish, but she never made the connection that her mother was Jewish (and thus, her children) until my wife was a young woman herself.
Of her two sisters and two brothers, only my wife was driven to self-identify as a Jew and decades later, to pursue a life as a Jewish woman.
The girl who had to be Jewish.
These two stories collide because the girl who had to be Jewish married the guy who ended up being Christian.
The thirty years of our marriage haven’t always been easy for one reason or another. I think any couple who has been married for decades will say that there have been trials in their relationship from time to time. It’s not all romance and flowers. But typically, at a foundational level, the couple is united in terms of their basic worldview. If the husband is a Christian, usually so is the wife. If the wife is an atheist, usually so is the husband. You get the idea.
Jewish/non-Jewish interfaith marriages are at an all-time high as far as I understand the statistics, and this is a crisis in the world of Judaism. Particularly Orthodox Jews see the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew (and especially a Christian) as the loss of a Jewish soul.
There are plenty of books, guides, and advice blogs that address interfaith marriages, but usually the couples being targeted arrive at their wedding day as fully realized Jews and Christians. As far as I know, all interfaith couples at my local Reform/Conservative and Chabad synagogues are Jew/Goy (non-Christian). Some of the non-Jews who have married Jews convert to Judaism. The issues are complex and troublesome but not insurmountable.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to my wife about some of the things that had happened at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference in Hudson, Wisconsin. One of the issues was having Christians who are already in a church or who would be willing to return to a church, be sort of “messengers” and advocates for a positive relationship with Jewish people within the Christian community.
My wife’s response was something like, “Are you thinking of going back to church?” I wish I could remember her exact words. They could have been, You aren’t thinking of going back to a church, are you?” But I’m not sure. I’m also not sure if the tone of her voice registered any distress or not. It’s hard to tell with her sometimes. She plays her cards “close to the vest,” so to speak.
If we had entered our marriage with her as a fully realized Jew and me as a fully realized Christians (we were agnostics/atheists on our wedding day and for many years afterwards) and if we agreed to still get married, we probably wouldn’t be experiencing what we are today with each other. I’ve asked her about this aspect of our relationship point-blank, but she remains elusive.
As nearly as I can understand my options, the best thing for me to do is to let her be “the girl who has to be Jewish” and for me to be a low profile Christian at home. I don’t think we have a “typical” interfaith marriage, if there is such a thing. I don’t know if she sees my faith as somehow threatening to her, but it isn’t something that she’s comfortable discussing.
But I don’t want the world to lose another Jewish soul. Supersessionist Christianity wouldn’t care, and would walk all over her Jewish soul without feeling the slightest pang of guilt or remorse. However, that Jewish soul is my wife. She gave birth to three other Jewish souls who are my children. Like any husband and father, when confronted with a threat to the family, I become defensive and protective. I cannot let their Judaism be extinguished for the sake of someone else’s theology…not even my own.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. -Romans 9:3-4 (ESV)
Paul was in anguish over his Jewish brothers and sisters who did not understand the blessings of Jesus the Messiah and who would be temporarily “cut off.” He was sincerely willing to become accursed and cut off from his own salvation for the sake of other Jews. It meant that much to him; his Jewish brothers and sisters meant that much to him.
Although I am not a Jew, how much more should my Jewish wife and children mean to me?