Tag Archives: marriage

Is God Remarried?

Our Sages identify the festival of Shavuot with the Revelation; it was at this time that the Torah was given to the people of Israel at Sinai. In our prayers, we therefore refer to Shavuot as “the season of the giving of the Torah zman matan Toratenu.” This is the source of the joy of this festival.

And Moshe brought the people out towards God from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain (Shemot 19:17).

-Rabbi Avraham Fischer
Torah Insights
“Second Day of Shavuot”
OU.org

The Talmud describes Shavuot, the day marking the giving of the Torah, as the wedding day between the Almighty and the Jewish people. The nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai represents the couple standing under the canopy, while God’s giving the Torah to the nation represents the groom placing the ring on his bride’s finger.

What exactly is the parallel between the wedding and the giving of the Law?

Shavuot, too, marks a total commitment; the commitment between God and the Jewish people. The nation’s declaration of “Na’asaeh V’Nishma,” — “We will do and we will understand,” was a promise to follow the law under all circumstances, just as the bride pledges her faithfulness to her beloved under all circumstances. And in the same manner as the groom who accepts upon himself to love and cherish his bride forever, God committed himself not to forsake the Jewish people for all times.

-Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum
“Renewing your nuptial vows this Shavuot”
Aish.com

I know this is an old argument, but I don’t think it’s ever been answered, at least to my satisfaction, which is why I’ve turned it into a “meditation”. Let’s see where it leads.

According to Jewish wisdom, the giving of the Torah at Sinai to the Children of Israel is compared to a wedding ceremony between the Israelites and God. The Torah then, is compared to a ketubah or “wedding contract” which traditionally outlines the rights and responsibilities of each marriage partner. More specifically, the ketubah is “a one-way contract that formalizes the various requirements by Halakha (Jewish law) of a Jewish husband vis à vis his wife.” Applied to the Sinai event, this places the greater responsibility on fulfilling the contract on the husband; on God. Yet we see in Exodus 20 and beyond a rather lengthy set of conditions in the Torah that require compliance by the bride; by Israel.

History and the writings of the Prophets shows us that Israel was not always faithful and describes God, the “jealous husband” who responds to His bride’s infidelity by rejecting Israel.

For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. Moreover, this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my Sabbaths. -Ezekiel 23:37-38

God tried, on numerous occasions, to “reason” with His “straying” wife, but to no avail.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” -Isaiah 1:18-20

So did God “divorce” Israel because she had repeatedly violated the “marriage covenant” of Torah between them? It would appear so. From a traditional Christian viewpoint, God then “remarried” the Christian church through the (apparently) much less demanding “ketubah” of the Messianic covenant.

Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34 all speak of Jesus as the “bridegroom” and describe his Jewish followers as the bride:

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. -Matthew 9:15

While it’s interesting that no where in the New Testament does it explicitly say that the Christian church is the “bride of Christ,” there are a number of “marriage metaphors” that can be found which allude to this conclusion. About the closest we come to illustrating that the church is “married” to Jesus is here.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. -Ephesians 5:22-33

But if we say that God divorced Israel and married the church, then we are saying a couple of things. We are saying that the church does not contain anything of Israel, since Israel and God are completely divorced, and we are saying that God has been married twice. He’s working on His second marriage. But did God really divorce Israel?

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. -Psalm 30:5

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the LORD has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD, your Redeemer. -Isaiah 54:4-8

That certainly sounds like any “divorce” between God and Israel was “for a brief moment” but then that God returned to Israel “with everlasting love.”

OK, so no permanent divorce between God and Israel, and they are still married as they were at Sinai, and Shavuot is still considered their “wedding anniversary.” But where does that leave the “bride of Christ”; the church? If God didn’t divorce Israel so He could marry the Christian church, then does He have two brides? Is God a “bigamist?”

I know a supersessionist point of view would be quick to dispose of the body of the first wife and have the second move in to the “marriage bed”, taking possession of the first wife’s clothes, shoes, linens, and everything else she used to own, but then how does Judaism see this? Jews do not consider themselves “divorced” from God and Judaism sees Christianity as a “wannabe” bride with no actual claim to God. God married Israel, temporarily abandoned her to teach her a lesson about faithlessness, and then returned to her and remains bonded to her.

ShekhinahIf God didn’t replace Israel with the church and God doesn’t have two wives, is there a third alternative? I suppose we could use the “one new man” argument (Ephesians 2:15) to say there is only one “Israel” and thus only one wife, but that means we have to “fuse” Israel and the church into one new element and destroy any distinctiveness between Jews and Gentiles. Is that the only answer? In Galatians 3:28, Paul said there was “neither Jew nor Greek” but he also said there was neither “male nor female”. We know for a fact that men and women didn’t stop being literally different from each other and that the “male nor female” part refers to equality in access to God and God’s love, so can we apply the same thought to the “sameness” and “differentness” between Jew and Gentile?

In other words, is there a way to see Jews and Gentiles together as a single “bride” and still see them as two distinct covenant groups?

I don’t know. The language is ambiguous. I am not writing this “meditation” to provide answers. I’m just asking questions. If you think you’ve got answers, ones that will address all of the inconsistencies and brain puzzles the Bible seems to be throwing at this issue, I’d like to hear them.

Who Are We to God?

Who are we?Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” -Revelation 19:7-9

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
the LORD Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
The LORD will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD your Redeemer. -Isaiah 54:4-8

This is a continuation of my series based on the JLI course Toward a Meaningful Life. If you haven’t done so already, before going on, review yesterday’s “morning meditation” Shattered Fragments. Then come back and continue reading here.

There are “marriage metaphors” recorded many places in the Bible. We see an example here of Israel being God’s “wife” but also in Revelation we have a picture of “the church” as “the bride of Christ”. Given the traditional Christian viewpoint that Jesus is part of the Trinity and thus is God as much as God the Father is God, how do we reconcile this? Does God have two brides? Is God the bridegroom of Israel and Jesus the husband of the church? Or do we have to entertain the idea that as “co-heirs”, both Jews and Christians become “one new man” and the difference between Jews and non-Jews becomes obliterated under the Kingship and glory of Jesus Christ?

I reject that last option out of hand because I see too much evidence in the Bible for the Jewish people; the nation of Israel being the beneficiaries of an eternal covenant relationship with God, while the other people of the earth can “approach the Throne” through the covenant made available through Christ.

But where does that leave us in terms of these seemingly contradictory “wedding images”?

I’ll tell you right now, that I don’t have an answer. I don’t believe that God has two brides but I don’t know how to make these different parts of the Bible fit together, either.

What I do know is that God is saying something important when he describes His relationship with people as a marital relationship.

Consider yesterday’s morning meditation. We saw a very compelling (though probably flawed) picture of a man and a woman who were “joined” since the beginning. We have an archetype of humanity, created as a single being at the dawn of Creation, and then literally split in half to become man and woman. How could any two people ever get any closer than the two who had been one?

What is God trying to tell us here? Does He really want to be that close to any of us?

The “marriage metaphor” breaks down pretty quickly when we consider that a married couple are supposed to be two equal halves of the same whole. After all, how can we even remotely consider ourselves equal to God? And since we’re not, what sort of “marriage” do we have to a groom who is infinite, all-powerful, and needs nothing from His “bride”? What can we contribute when God does the vast, vast majority of the “heavy lifting” and, by comparison, our efforts amount to a symbolic token, like allowing a four-year old to “help” set the table for dinner?

Am I being cynical?

Experiencing GodThat brings us right back to the question, why did God create us in the first place? Why does He love us? What can we contribute to God and the Universe that He can’t do for Himself?

I mentioned yesterday that only God is a unique One. Only God stands alone with no equal or peer (speaking of why marriage metaphors break down). Ideally, people are created to bond with another in marriage, and to live out the model God designed for living creatures in general and for human beings specifically.

When I started this series, it was with the intent to illustrate, if possible, that the life of each individual has a special meaning and purpose in the world and that we; each and every one of us, is loved by God for who we are and who He created us to be. Part of what I’ve written seems to show that every one of us has something unique to contribute to the world, to each other, and to God, that no one else can provide. The only real mystery involved is discovering what that purpose happens to be and then figuring out how we can possibly live up to our purpose day by day for the rest of our lives.

Put that way, just being here is kind of intimidating. After all, who wants to fail “Life 101″, right?

People’s lives are supposed to have meaning. If meaning doesn’t exist, then God just created a large cosmic maze, made a bunch of white lab rats (humanity), dumped us into the maze, and now He’s sitting back, collecting data, and seeing what we’ll come up with next.

So we decide God created us with a purpose because the alternative is to say nothing matters, life is meaningless, and we might as well devour each other alive because it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world.

Yet, as we saw in the comments section of yesterday’s “morning mediation”, if we aren’t created for one special person, if we could potentially successfully mate with any number of people; having thousands or even tens of thousands (or more) possible selections, then how “special” are our marital relationships? Extending the metaphor back to being God’s “bride”, what does this perspective do to the “specialness” of our relationship with Him? Even if there is a “bride of Christ” or of God, we always see it expressed in the Bible in terms of groups and not individuals. God chooses Israel as a wife, all of Israel, not the individual Jew. And it’s “the church” who is the bride of Christ, not individual Christians.

I can’t see this vast landscape from God’s point of view, so I have no idea how He really perceives all this and all of us. Frankly, even if I could see God’s perspective, I doubt I could comprehend it for even a second. All I can see of Creation is through the other end of the telescope and the image is small and indistinct. I don’t know why the Bible has marriage metaphors unless God, in some manner or fashion, is trying to communicate that He does want to be close to us. He wants some form of intimacy with people, either with the mass of human kind or with each of us as specific individuals (or both), but He desires something and we don’t understand what it is.

We know what we want, or we think we do. We want shelter in an uncertain world. We want to be taken care of and protected in a dangerous and violent universe. We want someone or something more powerful than us to care whether we live or die, and to care about what happens to us in-between birth and death (and beyond). It’s easy to see why people would try to imagine our relationship with God as Him being a loving and protective bridegroom. But it’s hard to see the motivation from God’s point of view.

I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for returning my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness. -Modeh Ani

Thank you that I woke up alive this morning, God. Now please tell me what I’m supposed to do.

Shattered Fragments

Descending SoulsWhen G-d sends the souls forth into the world, they include a male and female joined together…When they descend to the world…they are separated from each other. Sometimes one soul precedes the other in descending and entering a body of a human being. When their time to be married arrives, G-d, Who knows these souls, joins them as they were before [they descended to this world]…When they are joined together, they become one body and one soul. -Zohar 1:91b

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” -Matthew 19:4-6

This is a continuation of my commentary on the JLI course Toward the Meaning of Life. See The Prophet and the Shade Plant for the previous commentary and links to earlier lessons.

As Christians, we are generally taught that we have no pre-existence prior to conception and birth. Somehow, our individual souls are all part of that process and we exist in isolation within the womb, physically and spiritually. We do not realize the joining of two souls as one until marriage so that we become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), but Kabbalah suggests another interpretation. We also see this viewpoint in the Chasidic writings as related by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’s rendition of the Rebbe’s teaching on man and woman:

It is a mistake to consider man and woman two separate beings. They are no more than two halves of a single form, two converse hemispheres that fit tightly together to make a perfect whole. They are heaven and earth encapsulated in flesh and blood.

It is only that on its way to enter this world, this sphere was shattered apart. What was once the infinity of a perfect globe became two finite surfaces. What was once a duet of sublime harmony became two bizarre solos of unfinished motions, of unresolved discord.

So much so, that each one hears in itself only half a melody, and so too it hears in the other. Each sees the other and says, “That is broken.” Feigning wholeness, the two halves wander aimlessly in space alone.

Until each fragment allows itself to surrender, to admit that it too is broken. Only then can it search for the warmth it is missing. For the depth of its own self that was ripped away. For the harmony that will make sense of its song.

And in perfect union, two finite beings find in one another infinite beauty.

While there is a beauty in this interpretation; a poetic and romantic image that calls to anyone who has found their “soulmate” in their spouse or who is ernestly seeking their bashert, couldn’t all this just be considered some non-Biblical fantasy? After all, Adam, a man, was created first and then Eve was created from his rib. This is how we understand it in Christianity. They are two separate beings who were joined together by God spiritually. The only “unity” they shared originally is that Eve was made out of one of Adam’s body parts.

But is that how it really was? Genesis 2:18 says, “And the Lord God said, it is not good for the man (ha-adam) to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” Let’s have closer look at some of the Hebrew words and concepts. Rabbi Pinchas Stolper in his article, “The Man-Woman Dynamic of Ha-Adam: A Jewish Paradigm of Marriage provides some important insights into Genesis that we miss when we read the English text:

Who is ha-adam? It is neither man (ish) nor the first man (adam). To identify ha-adam, we turn to Genesis 1:27. “And God created ha-adam in His image, in the image of God He created him (oto); make and female, He created them (otam).” The first part of the verse clearly indicates that ha-adam is a single being. The second half indicates that this single being, at the conclusion of the creation process, becomes “otam (them),” two individuals.

The key to decoding this mystery is to be found in Rashi, the Biblical commentator par excellence, who generally anchors the Biblical text in its plain meaning. Rashi explains: “They were created shenai partzufim [of two faces, androgynous] in the original creation; and only later did God divide them.” In other words, ha-adam, the first human being is a unique creation; both male and female simultaneously (see Ketuvot 8a).

This is an amazing revelation of the first human beings and has startling implications on what it is to be created in the “image of God” (since God is without gender) and on Paul’s teaching, “neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28), but can we accept the interpretation of a 12th century Jewish sage over the actual Biblical text? If ha-adam was not the actual first “man” in Creation, where did the separate entities of Adam and Eve come from? Rabbi Stolper provides an answer:

Later, the Torah records that “the Lord God put ha-adam into a tardema (deep sleep) and took one of his tzela’ot.” Rashi indicates that “tzela’otav” does not mean “one of his ribs” but, “one of his sides,” as it is taught, “the side of the Tabernacle.” This follows the meaning of the Talmud “that they were created with two faces.” Ha-adam was originally a unified individual with two “sides,” two faces, two aspects, two sexes, subsequently divided into two.

A footnote on this commentary states:

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, notes (Genesis 2:21) that “tzela does not occur elsewhere in the Tanakh (OT) as a ‘rib’, but always as a ‘side,’ which is also why tzalua means to be inclined towards one side, to limp.”

One SoulBased on the actual Hebrew of the Genesis creation story, the common interpretation of Eve being “Adam’s rib” doesn’t hold an ounce of water. Man and woman were originally united as a single, unified entity that God deliberately separated into different and equal parts designed to perform different functions in the created world. However, like any single thing that is put into two parts, neither one is complete until they are joined back together. In fact, the Hebrew for “cling to” that we find in Genesis 2:24 is the Hebrew word “vedavak” which carries the sense that a man must “leave his father and his mother, and shall glue himself to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

But why didn’t God just let ha-adam stay as a single entity? I’m sure most married couples, who have had their fair share of marital disagreements must be asking the same question. You’d think that having an “unsplit” ha-adam would have avoided thousands of years of stormy marital discord and the proverbial “battle of the sexes”.

Interestingly enough, in Genesis 2:18, when God says, “It is not good (lo tov) for man to be alone (levado)”, the implication of the Hebrew is that “it is not yet good”. The ultimate “good” could not be achieved unless their were two of them. Animals were already created “male and female” without going through the “splitting” process described for ha-adam and thus only human beings are able to be joined together as a spiritual “one”. No other living beings in creation are capable of this level of total unity of essense, and it requires that the two must specifically be “male” and “female”, man and woman.

But that doesn’t answer the question.

Rabbi Stolper’s article quotes Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe and Rabbi Yeruchem Lovivitz on the matter and the answer in part states:

“It is clearly demonstrated to you that the Lord alone, levado, is God; there is none beside Him.” God is on the level of levado (citing Deut. 4:35).

Only God is One, a unique and radical unity (Deuteronomy 6:4) and there is no other “oneness” like God. In the Garden, part of the serpent’s temptation of Eve was that “when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5). This was the only sin possible for Adam and Eve to commit in Eden; to attempt to be like God. We are meant to be much more than the other creatures of Creation, but we were created to be “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7). Only God is One, levado; alone. Humans are unique in creation but we are still meant to be two, man and woman, and to become “one flesh”.

There’s an obvious problem with the Chasidic interpretation of God always joining the “split souls” of man and woman together again in marriage when you consider Jewish/Gentile intermarried couples such as me and my wife. When asked “Can a Jewish woman’s berheret (soul-mate) be a non-Jew”, Rabbi Shraga Simmons
replies in part:

The Talmud says that 40 days before the formation of a fetus, it is decreed in heaven which boy will marry which girl. Since God has forbidden a Jew from marrying a non- Jew (Deut. 7:3), it is obvious that the beshert is a Jew. There is of course the possibility that one’s beshert will be a convert, though this again would only apply to someone who converted in accordance with God’s laws.

Yet here we are, man and woman, married to each other, presumably by God’s decree and (though Rabbi Simmons wouldn’t consider this a factor) commanded by Jesus that “what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I don’t know how it works or how it’s supposed to work. I only know that things are what they are and that God is here with us, helping us to try to do our best, just the way He made us, to repair our little bit of the broken world and prepare for the coming of the Moshiach. Our two halves don’t always make an agreeable whole and like any married person, I sometimes wonder why. The only answer I can find is in how Rabbi Freeman interprets the Rebbe on the topic of getting along:

When we can’t get along with someone, we like to blame it on that person’s faults: stupidity, incompetence, outrageous actions, aggression or some other evil.

The real reason is none of these. It is that the world is broken, and we are the shattered fragments.

And all that stops us from coming back together is that we each imagine ourselves to be whole.

We are shattered fragments trying to become whole again. We contain Divine sparks within us that are constantly striving to break free and return to the One Source of all things. We are prisoners, imaging ourselves as individuals sitting isolated in a jail cell of our own making, but we’re sitting on the keys.

The next part of this series, and a continuation of the discussion about marriage, is in the “morning meditation” Who Are We to God?.

Will My Grandchildren Be Jewish?

Jewish GrandchildrenYou could call this “extra” meditation a “Part 2″ of my earlier blog post What God Has Joined Together. Part of the “mission” of my blog is to document the life of an intermarried couple and what that means. Here we go.

Based on current intermarriage rates and the average number of children per family, the chances of young, contemporary Jews having Jewish grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with the exception of the Orthodox, are increasingly remote.

From “Will Your Grandchildren be Jewish”
Aish.com (PDF/graphic)

Based upon the data and the various population studies that are now available, it appears that an extraordinary disintegration of the American Jewish community is in process. There was a time when every Jew could take it for granted that he or she would have Jewish grandchildren with whom to share Seders, Sabbath and other Jewish moments. However, the clear data indicates that this expectation is no longer well founded. Indeed, our studies show that within a short period of time the entire complexion of the American Jewish community will be altered inexorably.

From “Will Your Grandchildren be Jewish?”
VirtualJerusalem.com

Will my grandchildren be Jewish? Probably not. Let me explain, but I have to go back a little bit.

My wife is Jewish and I’m not. She’s Jewish because her mother was Jewish (both of my wife’s parents passed away many years ago). My wife’s father wasn’t Jewish and my wife wasn’t raised in a religiously or culturally Jewish home. She only realized that she was Jewish by halachah (because her Mom is Jewish) when she was a young adult. Even then, she waited decades until she fought to enter into a culturally and religiously Jewish world, and that’s where she is today.

My wife has two brothers and two sisters. None of them acknowledge being Jewish. One brother and one sister are actively Christian and her Christian brother even denies the possibility that his mother was Jewish, saying there’s no proof (we have tons of proof, including the documentation of many maternal relatives buried in Jewish cemeteries). Out of five children of a Jewish woman, my wife is the only one living a Jewish life today. Sad but typical. My wife beat the odds but she had to work really hard to do it.

We have three children. All self-identify as Jews, at least marginally. I say “marginally” because they don’t really involve themselves in Judaism on a cultural or religious level. My daughter is the one who has come closest to embracing her Judaism. She sometimes goes to Chabad functions with my wife. When she was an exchange student in Japan for a year during high school, my daughter made the effort (and it was significant) to attend the synagogue in Tokyo on a few occasions (my daughter lived about 50 miles away). My daughter has tutored Hebrew to some of the kids at our local Reform shul.

My sons acknowledge that they’re Jewish but that’s about it. I think David has a basic faith in Jesus but he doesn’t lead any sort of religious lifestyle. Michael doesn’t have a Jewish lifestyle as far as I can tell.

Only David is married and he’s married to a (wonderful) non-Jewish girl. They have one son, my grandson, the apple of my eye. And my grandson is not Jewish.

Michael will probably marry someday, but he’s not currently dating and the chances of him marrying a Jewish woman isn’t very good. My daughter Jamie says she wants to marry someday, but doesn’t want to have any children (even through adoption).

No, my grandchildren will not be Jewish.

Things seem grim for the Jews in America but I’m going to try to inject something upbeat.

Julie Wiener writes a series of articles for The Jewish Week magazine called In the Mix. Julie is intermarried to a “Righteous Gentile husband” and they have two daughters (and because Julie is Jewish, so are her kids…I don’t know if Julie’s parents are intermarried). According to an article she wrote last June, intermarried Jews are breeding like crazy.

Depending on your point of view, that’s either good or bad. Depending on who you are, intermarried couples (like Natalie Portman and her partner Benjamin Millepied) can raise their children Jewish or (like Anthony Weiner and his Muslim wife, Huma Abedin) not. Not that it’s up to the Mom exclusively what cultural and religious identity the children will have. Julie published a more recent article called Battle Hymn of the Gentile Mom describing how the non-Jewish wives of Jewish husbands commit to raising their children Jewish. There’s even this quote:

Also of interest in JTA is an article about a recent study of Chicago’s Jewish population, which finds that while intermarriage (and the Jewish population) has increased, the percentage of intermarried families raising Jewish children has also increased…

I can read all the articles and research studies I want, but all I really have to do to see where the children and grandchildren of intermarried couples end up is to look at my own family. We never chose to embrace Judaism in the home until fairly late in life when the kids were almost grown. I often wonder what would have happened if we could have made the decision earlier. A futile waste of time, I know.

God has never permitted the Jewish people to vanish from the face of the Earth and I don’t believe He ever will. When the Messiah comes, there will be Jews here. But it will be a miracle from God. It seems like people aren’t helping with the process all that much.

What God Has Joined Together

MarryToday’s “extra” meditation.

Tens of thousands of Jews have married non-Jews with similar worthy intentions, only to realize when it is already too late that raising a Jewish family with a non-Jewish partner is a near impossibility.

You are my sister. I want to dance at your wedding. I want my daughters to be your flower girls. I want to cry tears of happiness at your chuppah.

I love you. I admire and am very fond of Mike. But if you marry Mike, as difficult as it will be for me as well as for you, I will not be able to attend your wedding. I could not attend your wedding because, as Jews, what would happen on your wedding day would not be a happy event. It would be a tragedy of historic proportions.

I wish that this was not a letter that I had to write. I wish that I could just keep on smiling and acting as though everything is all right, like everybody else in our family. But I feel that, as painful as this is, because I care about you as much as I do, I must tell you the truth.

from “Dear Rebecca: A Letter on Intermarriage”
found at Chabad of Mineola

This is part of a very poignant letter from one Jewish sister to another on the announcement that the other sister “Rebecca” is marrying a non-Jew. As you can see, this is no small thing for many Jews and, in this circumstance, the sister writing the letter feels so strongly that, if her sister “Rebecca” insists on marrying “Mike”, the letter-writer won’t be attending the ceremony.

I know this sounds cruel and heartless. After all, if this woman has found her “soulmate” and that man happens not to be Jewish, is it really so bad?

Let’s go back a step.

The 52nd prohibition is that we are forbidden from marrying heretics.

The source of this commandment is G-d’s statement, “do not intermarry with them,” which then explains what kind of intermarriage is referred to – “do not give your daughters to their sons, and do not take their daughters for your sons.”

Tractate Avodah Zarah states clearly, “the Torah prohibition applies where there is marriage.”

-from Chabad.org

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. -Deuteronomy 7:3-4

This is the Biblical and Talmudic basis for prohibiting intermarriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. We also see a dramatic example of what happens when Jews are tempted to intermarry in Genesis 34. However, you might say that Christianity also has a similar “commandment”:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God… -2 Corinthians 6:14-16

However, for a Christian, Paul provided a “loophole”:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. -1 Corinthians 7:12-14

Traffic ConesI have a personal stake in this matter because I’m intermarried to a Jewish woman but with a twist; neither of us was religious when we first married. My wife wasn’t raised in a religious home and her own parents were also intermarried (her mother was Jewish). Only one of my wife’s Jewish relatives (a cousin) was at our wedding, but the matter of intermarriage never came up.

Since then, my wife and I have both come to faith, albeit different faiths, and I’ve been actively exploring what all this is supposed to mean. I’ve read a lot of books, including Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s Making a Successful Jewish Interfaith Marriage, but the materials available on the market always address people who are already religious or observant and who are about to be married. I’m not 25 anymore and just starting out, and in fact, my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years. It’s only in the past five years or so that “intermarriage” has become a factor in our relationship. As our paths continue to diverge in our individual journeys with God, what will that mean?

Dr. David Rudolph published a paper on intermarriage statistics which states that Jewish-non-Jewish intermarriages are pretty much going through the roof. It’s considered an “epidemic” by more conservative sects of Judaism and a threat to Jewish survival. Not only is there a tangible fear that if a Jew marries a non-Jew, that the Jew will be drawn away from their faith, but that the children will have no definitive Jewish identity, thus effectively eliminating a large population of Jews from the next generation.

There’s also the threat of divorce to contend with:

In a paper published in 1993, Evelyn Lehrer, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that if members of two mainline Christian denominations marry, they have a one in five chance of being divorced in five years. A Catholic and a member of an evangelical denomination have a one in three chance. And a Jew and a Christian who marry have a greater than 40 percent chance of being divorced in five years.

-Naomi Schaefer Riley, Interfaith Marriages Are Rising Fast, But They’re Failing Fast Too, Washington Post, 6 June 2010

The Chabad of Mineola website also published a response by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman to a Jewish woman asking if she should marry her Muslim boyfriend. Here is part of Rabbi Freeman’s response:

I don’t know where this man stands, whether he is a secular Muslim, a literalist or a mystic, or has beaten his own path. But it is not possible that there will not be conflict over these issues. On the one hand, as his wife, you will need to defend him before family members and other Jews. Yet it’s not possible that in all issues you will agree. After all, if you did, where would the “other” be? The conflict could be deeply painful, destructive of family ties and friendships for both of you. Rather than leading to self-discovery, it may lead instead to a sacrifice of your own identity to save the marriage.

In the end, if you truly love this man, direct him on the right path. Let him realize that for him, a happy marriage will be union with a mate to his own soul, and raising children within his own community, without confusion, with a clear message, “This is who we are and this is what is expected of you.” There he can find happiness, and so too the family he will raise.

May you too find a soulmate of your people and build a family within your people. That is the Jewish concept of the messianic world: not a mush of blended egos, but a magnificent panorama of colors and textures, each individual, family and people playing its part, each contributing its own part in the symphony that is humankind.

Rabbi Freeman gives a measured, compassionate, and kind reply to this woman but it is also a firm reply. A Jewish soul should marry another Jewish soul.

That however, doesn’t address the vast army of married couples who are “unequally yoked”, who have been married for years or decades, and who are well into raising children or have even raised children into adulthood. What of them? What of us?

Since part of this blog has to do with exploring the world of Jewish-Christian intermarriage, I thought it was high time I blogged about it. While there isn’t significant friction between my wife and I on our different religious viewpoints, there isn’t a great deal of agreement either. I suppose it isn’t an issue most of the time because we don’t discuss it most of the time. I let pass the occasional disparaging remarks about “what Christians believe” that come from my wife or daughter, but it’s at those moments when I am acutely aware of the barrier that exists between me and them. I choose to remain silent about it for the sake of peace in the home. I’m not here to “convert” them, nor would I ever try, and the Christians reading my words are free to criticize me for this.

Yet, God made us “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8) and one flesh we remain. We have “forsaken all others” and are united as man and woman before God.

In spite my previous quotes from Rabbi Freeman, he also published a different kind of commentary on love and marriage:

Even if all your complaints about your spouse are well-founded and valid – show her your love, nevertheless. Show her unconditional love.

It is said that all our exile is due to the sin of unmitigated hatred.
When each one of us will start with unmitigated love in our own domain, from there it will spread to all else that we do, and from there to the entire world, speedily in our days, Amen.

Yes, he’s probably addressing Jewish married couples or married couples who are both alike in faith, but is an interfaith marriage an exception to “unconditional love”? If, as the Rabbi says, we start with “unmitigated love in our own domain”, and it spreads out from there, can’t that love expand between a spouse of one faith to the spouse of another?

What now, God?

Waiting for the Dawn

Waiting for the dawn“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? - Matthew 6:25-27

Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, provides an incisive explanation of a statement on today’s daf. “On Menachos 103 we find that the curse in the verse (Devarim 28:66) – ‘And you will not believe in your life’—refers to one who must purchase bread daily from a baker.

“On the surface this seems very difficult to understand. Surely during our sojourn in the desert when the manna came down each day we were not in this category. Yet wouldn’t a person who had children wonder about his livelihood for the next day, since he was relying on another miracle for his family’s food? How can we understand this? Is it plausible to say that God told us about a punishment which will happen in terrible times if it was a curse we suffered daily for forty years?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Daily Bread”
Menachos 103

Give us today our daily bread. -Matthew 6:11

Despite the words quoted above, I still worry. Not all the time, but sometimes. To be fair, I don’t doubt that you worry, too.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with the realization that I now have no congregation with which to worship on Shabbat. For reasons too numerous to mention, I found it necessary to end my relationship with a congregation where I had fellowship and taught for many years (though I did mention something about it in the first post in this blog series). I do have a “plan” in mind for my future, but I am also acutely aware that my plans aren’t the deciding factor in what is going to actually happen:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” -Luke 12:16-20

I find it somewhat ironic that after Jesus told this parable, he delivered a message to his audience saying not to worry (Luke 12:22-32, also related in Matthew 6:25-34). I suppose the irony goes away when you consider the overall message is that we should not trust in our own abilities and plans to take care of our needs but rather, we should rely on God. That said, I still invest in a 401K and other, similar plans with an eye on retiring someday.

For the past two years, and very specifically during the past year, I have been considering and pondering the decision I’ve just recently made. If you’ve been reading the other posts on this blog or any of my “essays” on my previous personal blog, you’ll realize that I don’t think “the church” would be a good fit for my worship and faith needs. My viewpoint on God, Jesus, the Bible, and Judaism is too out-of-step with Christianity’s perspective on such things. I don’t believe the Law is dead (for Jews, that is). I don’t believe God undid or took back all of the covenent promises He made to the Children of Israel and transferred them to “the church” (non-Jewish Christians). I certainly don’t believe that God now requires that all Jewish people who want to worship the Jewish Messiah and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must renounce their religious, ethnic, and cultural Jewish heritage.

I’m an oddball.

But where does that leave me?

I have not be able to worship with my wife for many years due to the gulf that exists between her faith context and mine. Part of the reason I recently left my former congregation was in an effort to reduce that gulf and hopefully even to fully bridge the gap. While I’m not giving up my faith, I would be content to worship with her in the same “house of study” since after all, God is One.

But that’s not entirely up to me.

WorryingIn turning myself over to God’s mercy in part, I am also turning myself over to my wife’s. In the latter case, “mercy” is probably not the right word, but she will have to want to worship with me in the same way I desire to share worship and prayer with her.

If she makes the decision not to, or just never considers the possibility that we can share time in worship as a married couple, then I will remain a man adrift at sea without motive power or even a rudder by which to steer. I can hardly believe that God would allow this to continue perpetually, but I’ve been wrong before.

Should I be worried?

“The answer is that it all depends on one’s attitude. As our sages say, one who has sustenance for today yet worries about tomorrow is a person of little faith. For such a person, lacking food for the future is surely a terrible curse since he spends his time worrying. But for one who has faith, this is not a curse at all. Since he trusts in God he does not worry. Instead of being a curse, this situation will be a blessing since it forces him to turn his heart to God.” -Rav Yisrael Salanter

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. -Matthew 6:28-34

It’s easy to feel insignificant in God’s vast universe and to wonder how or even if God hears our prayers, but as Rav Salanter says, it all depends on one’s attitude and how we have prepared and nurtured faith and trust in our hearts.

That’s where I am right now. I’m looking down the road at a future, looking for a light in the darkness, turning my heart to God, and waiting for the dawn.

We are said to be studying Mussar when we delve into the descriptions of the human condition as they appear in the blueprint for the world, the Torah -Rabbi Ephraim Becker

The important thing is not to stop questioning. -Albert Einstein