The Long Dark Road

intermarriage“Marrying gentiles is like playing into the hands of the Nazis,” Yad Vashem Council Chairman and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has been quoted as saying to students from Ramat Gan’s Ohel Shem High School.

According to the students, the rabbi made the remark during a lecture on the Holocaust and on his personal memories as a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp which he delivered to teenagers who had returned from a trip to Poland.

-Udi Avni
“Intermarriage plays into Nazis’ hands”

Now, on my suggestion, Benjamin is trying some churches (and looking to get re-involved in a mainstream synagogue, perhaps, since he can’t get Jewish prayer in a Messianic congregation there). His experience in Church-Land so far has been dreadful. I didn’t think it could be worse than in the so-called Messianic congregations, but at least in a bad Messianic group people are usually sympathetic to Jewish concerns on some level. Yes, you guessed it: Benjamin has already been told that it is wrong to be Jewish!

-Derek Leman
“Jewish Adventures in Church-Land”
Messianic Jewish Musings

I have to admire some of the high school students listening to Rabbi Lau since, according to the news article, “Lau’s remark and the nature of his lecture caused several 12th graders to walk out of the auditorium.” The person leading a small group study at the church Benjamin attended wasn’t quite so principled:

The person leading this week’s small group time was “uncomfortable with my keeping the law,” says Benjamin. He “asked me to go home, pray for the Holy Spirit to give me discernment as to what Scripture says, and read Romans and Hebrews.”

Part of the “mission” of my blog is to explore the issues and ramifications of being intermarried and how sometimes Christianity and Judaism can have “uncomfortable encounters”. I don’t experience these sorts of issues in my home life, but I have no doubt I would elicit such responses from at least a few folks in both the church and the synagogue. It’s not that either venue is populated by bad people, but we all have biases and opinions based on our experiences, and we can all act out those experiences on people around us.

I don’t really blame Rabbi Lau for making statements against intermarriage and assimilation. As a Holocaust survivor, he has experienced the extraordinary pain and suffering of the Jewish people and is responding in a way that he believes will repair the damage. He sees intermarriage as just another form of Holocaust (and he’s not alone in this) and is reacting to assimilation of Jews as the same sort of danger (and he’s probably not entirely wrong). Still, according to one 12th grader:

“He said the Jewish people must not assimilate and that we must maintain the Jewish identity. In addition, he presented delusional statistics, claiming that had there been no assimilation the United States would now have 30 million Jews, and showing contempt for those who assimilated – as if they are inferior to others.”

My wife has neither assimilated nor is she inferior. With respect to Rabbi Lau, I will not accept his judgment on intermarried Jews and particularly not on my wife.

On the other hand, I can’t exactly give “props” to the church for making a Jew feel inferior because he has faith in Jesus and also continues to live as a Jew. This shows a complete lack of understanding of who Jesus is, what he taught, and everything he brought into the world in order to allow the nations to have a covenant relationship with God. If the church would try to understand Jesus in his actual context (and I tried to explain this yesterday), perhaps the small group leader at Benjamin’s church wouldn’t have (metaphorically) kicked him in the teeth for being Jewish.

The introduction to The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature adds dimension to the historical roots of this dynamic, which has targeted what is often seen as the essence of what it is to be Jewish.

Christian theologians and historians have on occasion viewed the Talmud, much more than the Hebrew Bible itself, as encapsulating the spiritual and intellectual core of Judaism. This interest has not always had benign results; it has, at times turned the Talmud into a target of polemics and even violence. Repeated burnings of the Talmud and its associated writings by Christian authorities in medieval Europe were meant to destroy the intellectual sustenance of Judaism.

We don’t seem to have advanced very far from those times, at least in some churches, have we?

More than once recently, I have despaired God’s creating the universe. More than once I wondered why He did it and, if He could do it all over again, would He? Of course, in a sense, He creates the universe anew every year. He reaffirms His faith in humanity annually by punching the cosmic reset button and recreating the world and our souls as brand new, bright and shining.

And then, I start reading Genesis and the daily news and look at what happens. The place is a mess again. Life is a mess again. Sometimes, I get pretty angry at the injustice and the suffering. Then I realize that I’m also angry at my own imperfection and my own impatience with God.

Anger at your faults is arrogance, and of a very self-destructive form. Every failure becomes pain, every pain becomes a gruesome punishment.

An objective person is able to look at his faults and what needs to change and say, “This is what G-d gave me to work with.” He accepts stormy weather as part of the course and slowly and patiently steers his ship to port.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

What man does with his religions isn’t always what God intended. Probably what man does with his religions isn’t what God intended the vast majority of the time. I think we’ll all be very surprised when the Messiah finally comes and he straightens out all of our messed up thinking and crazy ideas about what God wants, how we are supposed to worship Him, and how we are supposed to treat each other.

The faults that God gave me, and gave all of us to work with reminds me of what God said to Paul once.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” –2 Corinthians 12:8-9

This is the world God gave us to work with. It’s a broken world populated by broken people. Even the best of us is a mess compared to God’s expectations. We focus our attention on the wrong things a lot of the time (and I’m probably a very good example of this). For instance, in Benjamin’s experience in the small group study:

This week, Benjamin spoke during small group, since the small group leader asked for people to share stories of things that had “brought them closer to Jesus this week.”

That seems an innocent enough question, but statements like this always make me wonder where Christians think God took off to. I don’t think of the things that bring me closer to Jesus when I pray but rather, I think and ponder upon the way Jesus brings me closer to God. If man has one, pure, transparent interface between himself and God, it is the Messiah. It’s the reason He came. It’s the reason He died and was raised. So that the rest of us could enter into covenant and be reconciled to the God of Israel. Nevertheless, Israel and the Gentile disciples continue to collide with each other, perpetuating a conflict that has lasted for millennia.

This isn’t the world God originally created but it’s the world we have to work with. Only faith can convince us that it can be repaired. Only faith can inspire us into action and allow us to work with God in tikkun olam. Only God can show us that we will succeed, with His help and grace.

I see we have a long way to go.

Addendum: I just finished reading a couple of blog posts written by Julie Wiener for the series “In the Mix”, a blog series about Jewish/Gentile intermarriage. Today’s entry, Intermarriage And The Holocaust: Part II mentions Rabbi Lau comparing intermarriage to the Holocaust, but you’ll also want to read Part I to get the whole picture.

The road

17 thoughts on “The Long Dark Road”

  1. Thank you for again sharing your heart & being vulnerable. : )
    I’m encouraged in my experiences that our local interdenominational shul led by Reconstructionists accept (not perform) interfaith marriages. What else can they do? In their own way they are being a light & bringing Jews back to Judaism. They allow Christians to come to Torah study & learn Hebrew (after checking motivations).
    Have you seen this statement put out by HCC? After a few years of dialogue with Christian scholars & Jewish Rabbis they developed an Evangelical statement on “Covenant & Witness”. What struck me the most in the article, and also in your blog, is that intentionally singling out & trying to convert Jews is an attempt at Cultural Genocide. That seems to be a statement more balanced than Lau’s and what we’ve seen from mainstream Christianity.

  2. Thanks for your comments and the link, Hope. There are indeed a few shining jewels glimmering along the long dark road ahead. As the time for the Messiah’s return approaches, I pray they will become more numerous and guide us to that one brilliant light we all look to for our sustenance and our lives.

  3. Although I do not know the person Benjamin that you brought forth in your post, I would have to wonder why someone might go shopping for a car at Wal-Mart. Were there no other avenues of fellowship available in the area?
    As for the rabbi, if all that ties him to the Creator of the universe is his genealogy and some form of Torah observance, and he believes that that is all that links Jews to YHWH, then his statements, although misplaced, would naturally follow such a belief system and are understandable. Unfortunate, but understandable.
    But Benjamin and the rabbi are quite different in one very foundational respect. One accepts the Messiah of Israel and one does not. Have you noticed that those who have entered the new covenant through faith in Messiah Yeshua do not express concerns about being eliminated through assimilation?
    They certainly may have other valid concerns, but extinction is not one of them.
    I believe that what we are seeing is the collision of religious subcultures. Change may ultimately be the result, but there will be some sadness and confusion along the way.
    Staying the course has now become the imperative for many.

  4. Hi Russ,

    As I recall from the original blog post, Derek referred “Benjamin” to that church, not for primary fellowship, since Benjamin worships at a traditional synagogue, but for Chrisitan Bible study. You can to go Derek’s blog and get the details or ask about more information by making a comment there.

    Jews who are Messianic do sometimes express concerns about the elimination of the Jewish people through assimilation, but the more common “complaint” is that their Jewish identity will simply be diluted into non-existence by the sheer number of Christian/Messianic Gentiles who take on the 613 mitzvot believing that being grafted in means that they’ve become “Jews”. Actually, I don’t blame Rabbi Lau, since people have been trying to exterminate the Jewish people for thousands of years. It’s understandable that he would be frightened of current trends and often people become angry when they are scared. Most Jews don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah (even when he’s called “Yeshua”) because for the most part, he is depicted as everything Jews are not by the church. Jesus can be every bit as threatening as the spectre of assimilation to many Jewish people and a lack of that understanding by the church is part of what maintains the barrier between both worlds.

    According to Derek, Benjamin isn’t put off by his Bible teacher’s comments and indeed is staying the course, but avenues for a person who was born and raised culturally and religiously Jewish and who has come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah are few and far between. He likely must pick and choose the various “pieces” of his religious expression in order to have adequate resources since they don’t come ready made in this world. Hence, he worships at a synagogue and does supplementary Bible study at a church. Some people have a very hard time finding what they need for worship and education in our world. There are people who even decide to avoid formal religion all together and simply worship privately as a family or people like me who are still looking for the right niche (if it exists as all). I can’t blame Benjamin for taking his particular route. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have to try and live out our faith.

  5. Intermarriage threatens to destroy Judaism. While I will do all I can to show love and respect to the intermarried couple, I will still try to encourage them to convert the children of this marriage to Judaism if the mother is not Jewish and they want to bring up their children in a Jewish household. RABBI LAU has the right to say that in his mind intermarriage equals the holocaust. The holocaust is the destruction of the Jewish people and intermarriage is a vehicle of annihilating Jewish belief when one of the partners insists on raising the children as non Jews. Intermarriage in this case is the death blow of that Jewish family and of the future generations. It may not be politically correct, but that is his opinion and he survived the holocaust while many in his family were murdered. Most of my family was murdeded by the Nazis and I have done everything possible to give my children and grandchildren a Jewish education and a strong Jewish environment to prevent intermarriage. Why has this statement become an issue? Rabbi Lau is not the first individual to make this statement after the Holocaust. Considering his background and scholarship, I feel he should not be attacked. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg.

  6. Thank you for your comments, Rabbi Rosenberg. I appreciate your time your candor.

    I don’t believe I was attacking Rabbi Lau and I support his free speech rights, however as an intermarried person, I can still disagree with the “absolutism” of his statements. While there are many things about the upbringing of my children that I wish I could go back and change, the fact remains that I will not “unmarry” my wife or “unparent” my children, even in light of Rabbi Lau’s background, education, and reputation. My wife is Jewish (her parents were also intermarried and her mother, who passed away many years ago, was Jewish) and thus my children are Jewish. I can never be a Jewish father to them, but I have done all I can to encourage my family to pursue who they are as Jews and not to assimilate into the larger culture.



  7. Hello, I have just surfed onto your site for the first time, and so far it is very interesting. I am a Jew in Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.A. I grew up very secular, but now in middle-age I am taking a whole new look at Judaism. I am not fully religious (i.e. Torah observant), but I am gradually becoming slightly more religious over time. On the one hand, I still have my liberal (libertarian really) secular values, but on the other hand, I am starting to understand and appreciate a more Torah-oriented point of view. I love living in a free country, and I respect and defend the rights of consenting adults to enter into relationships of their choice. Indeed, I used to be very offended by anti-intermarriage rhetoric; I thought it sounded bigoted. However, I now better understand why intermarriage can be problematic. I’ve never been married, and I don’t know if I will, but if I do, it will probably be to a Jewess. I’m not bigoted against Gentile ladies; I know they can be very lovable. It’s just that I think it would be best that my spouse and I be on the same page in terms of both philosophy and practice. I don’t know much about you yet, James. You are correct in saying that your kids are Jewish by virtue of their mother’s heritage. Indeed, I no longer call myself “half Jewish.” My dad was born Gentile. Whether his conversion was legitimate is an interesting question. I am wondering why you say that you could NEVER be a Jewish dad to your kids. Maybe worshiping Jesus is too important to you? Stranger things have happened. There’s a couple in my neighborhood with several kids. She was born Jewish; he was born Gentile. When she first talked him into taking Sabbath classes with her, he said, “O.K., but we’re not going Orthodox, and my kids will NOT wear yarmulkes!” Guess what! Not only did he convert, but they are now Chasidic Orthodox Jews, and all their kids are enrolled in the neighborhood Yeshiva Schools. Maybe that what they call a miracle.

  8. Greetings, Rob.

    I say that I will never be a Jewish father for one primary reason. My kids are now young adults so, even if I were to convert, they still grew up with my being a Gentile, so I’m not sure what, if any impact it would have on them at this point. Additionally, I’m not inclined to reject my Christian faith for the sake of being Jewish and my wife has not expressed a desire that I should do so.

    I can certainly see the issues involved in intermarriage and the great importance in supporting the continuation of the Jewish people, but intermarriage is a reality and cannot simply be ignored. Not every non-Jewish spouse of a Jew will elect to convert, so there must be an alternative for couples who want to raise their children as Jews and not to have the family experience rejection out of hand from the Jewish community because one partner is Gentile.

    BTW, I’m glad you “surfed in” and encourage you to continue reading and commenting here if you so desire.

  9. Right, James; after all, this reality is certainly not being ignored by Rabbi Lau. Frankly, I think he went about expressing his concerns — legitimate as they might be — in a very wrong-headed way. It’s analogous to Sinead O’Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope on national television. Even if one has a kosher beef with a leader or a cultural trend, a sensible person would choose their words / gestures more thoughtfully. Believe me; I know from my experiencing the fallout from my own bad choices of how / when / where to wage my philosophical battles. Sinead had the nerve to be unprepared for the negative flack she got for that, as if she thought that everyone would perfectly understand what it was she was trying to communicate. I have heard of counter-examples of Rabbis who bend over backwards to see the good in everything and everyone even when sin is involved. I’m not a Rabbi, but I’ll try to take a more balanced approach here: Intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles is both a blessing and a curse. The good news is that such couples are a good sign that people can set their bigotries aside and love each other despite philosophical differences — kind of like Democrats and Republicans marrying each other. Now that’s tolerance! The down side, however, is that the Jews are something like 0.24 % of the world’s population right now. [One of the reasons that the number is so small is because about a third of world Jewry was murdered about 70 years ago.] Now there’s nothing wrong of course with being a minority. Keep in mind that, unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism is not out to convert everyone. Gentiles can harmonize with G-d without having to become Jewish. It’s not about masters and slaves; it’s about division of labor. Both Jews and Gentiles have important roles to play in improving the world. However, even while the roles overlap, they are distinct (analogous to husbands & wives or males & females). So while the world need not be entirely Jewish, it does need to have some Judaism in it. After all, in the Torah, G-d doesn’t tell Israel to conquer the whole world, but only to establish a holy kingdom in Canaan so as to influence the world. For Judaism to work, however, it needs to be more than just some dogma or some branch of philosophy that one might study when he / she gets to college. It needs to be living philosophy. It takes a lifetime to master, so it needs to be lived out on a daily basis from cradle to grave as a discipline which transforms the world by transforming each individual who practices it and each individual who benefits from its influence.

  10. I find myself somewhat torn here. On the one hand, I completely agree that there is a threat to the Jewish people being assimilated into non-existence, but on the other hand, after thousands of years of opportunity, they never have been (and how many Hittites, Canaanites, and Jebusites do you run into today?). If you take a purely physical-world view of the matter, the situation is frightening. If you factor God into the equation, and believe that He would never allow the Jewish people to become extinct, then trusting God comes into play and you have to admit that He’s the one who has been preserving the Jews since the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    That doesn’t mean we should stop caring and potentially “test God”, but I don’t think we have to hit the panic button every ten seconds and live in terror that the Jewish people will cease to exist in a few generations. With any other people group, we’d have a big, big concern, but Jews are unique and special to God.

  11. Are you kidding? There’s a Jebusite temple in my neighborhood! Actually, I am kidding. I’ve heard it said that anthropologists are baffled by the fact that, despite all the setbacks, there are still Jews. In fact, there’s a fellow in my neighborhood who was born Gentile, and is now a(n Orthodox) Jew. When I asked him why he became Jewish, he said that it started with him wanting to find the answers to his questions such as “Why are there still Jews?” Prophesies can on the one hand be self-fulfilling; on the other hand, prophesies can be self-defeating. If by “trusting in G-d” people obey the commandments, then a prophesy stands a greater chance of being realized. But if people tell themselves, “I don’t have to take any responsibility in making this happen ’cause the Genie in the sky will magically make it all happen for me regardless of whether or not I lift a finger,” then how likely do you think the prophesy will be? The alleged dichotomy between faith in G-d on the one hand, and Naturalism / Humanism on the other hand is an illusion. Belief in such a dichotomy is superstition. The truth is that there are still Jews because there have always been some percentage of the Jewish people in every generation who diligently learn and live Torah. If it had been left in the care of lazy, ignorant bums like me, Judaism would have withered away from neglect. To understand Torah is to understand that even though G-d blesses Man with opportunities / miracles / lucky breaks (e.g splitting a sea) and curses man with plagues, etc., G-d has none the less delegated plenty of responsibility to Man. When Man shirks his responsibility, he spits in G-d’s face whether he realizes it or not. G-d creates both Good and Evil, and commands Man to choose Good over Evil. I forget who first said, “G-d made Man in His image, and Man — being a gentleman — returned the favor.” I also forget who said, “As much as the Jew has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jew.”

  12. If by “trusting in G-d” people obey the commandments, then a prophesy stands a greater chance of being realized.

    Excellent point. People are “junior partners” with God in the repair of Creation so why wouldn’t we (and particularly the Jews) be “junior partners” with God in the fulfillment of prophesy?

  13. Right! Now back to your earlier point, since interfaith couples are a reality, what’s the best way forward? There are many opinions, and I have my own mixed feelings. Some people say very harsh things like, “They should just get a divorce!” I personally don’t care for such an approach. My philosophy is that 2 wrongs don’t make a right. I don’t believe necessarily in ripping families apart once they have already been established, especially when there are children involved. [And James, even adult children are affected by their parents relationships.] After all, if that one interfaith couple I mentioned earlier had rushed into divorce, he never would have become the Jewish husband and father that he is now. That’s why sometimes people need to take their time in developing a path forward rather than beating a hasty retreat. I personally know a man who is a direct descendant of Mohamed the Prophet. He was born in Afghanistan to a Muslim dad and a Jewish mom. He is now a religious Jew living in my neighborhood. [If you’re starting to get the impression that I live in a highly Jewish neighborhood, you’d be right.] His dad told him to make sure he marries a Jewess — to follow the Law even though his parents didn’t. A special arrangement has been made for his parents. His mom’s burial plot is at the edge of the Jewish part of a cemetery, and his dad’s plot is right next to hers at the adjacent edge of the Gentile area. Since Judaism is matrilineal, there are many examples of Gentile dads helping their Jewish wives give the kids a Jewish upbringing even when dad remains Gentile. Of course it can work the other way ’round. My brother married a Catholic lady in a Catholic ceremony, and there he promised the priest that their kids would be raised Catholic. They have one daughter, and she is Catholic. I know an Orthodox rabbi who, when hearing about this, instead of ranting against Christianity, commented that the arrangement made sense because my niece was inheriting the religion of her mother. Unlike Rabbi Tau, he was looking for the upside, though on other occasions he has warned against intermarriage.

  14. Once intermarried, it’s a done deal, unless the couple chooses to divorce. Assuming they don’t, then I think the most viable solution is to welcome the couple into the larger Jewish community and provide whatever assistance they may need in establishing a Jewish home and raising Jewish children (this assumes that’s what the couple wants). Treating an intermarried couple like pariah only removes the Jewish partner from the “pool” of Judaism and more than likely presents their children (assuming a Jewish mother) from entering that pool. It realizes the worst fears of the Jewish community about intermarriage by driving the Jewish members of the intermarried family into assimilation.

    The circumstance of my wife and I is a little different. My wife is the product of an intermarried couple (Jewish wife, Gentile husband). Her Mom had some sort of blow up with her family and decided to have nothing to do with them or being Jewish. Growing up, my wife knew she had Jewish aunts, uncles, and cousins on her Mom’s side, but never made the connection that it would mean her Mom (and her) was also Jewish. My wife didn’t figure it out until she was in college.

    When I met my wife, she knew she was Jewish but neither one of us was religious. On top of that, because of her upbringing, she didn’t even relate to being Jewish on an ethnic or cultural level. Her being Jewish brought very little impact into our relationship, our early marriage, or having children.

    We both became Christians when our kids were in elementary school, but through a long process that I won’t describe here, she continued her religious exploration exiting Christianity and progressing into traditional Judaism, while I went in the other direction (sort of…I actually spent a few years taking my kids to the local Reform shul). We only became “intermarried” after 20 some odd years of marriage, so it’s not like we anticipated any of this going into our relationship. Nothing about our initial relationship screamed “intermarriage” and my wife was more or less “born assimilated” and returned to Judaism for the first time when she was near middle age.

    Hardly the typical scenario.

  15. Probably not entirely uncommon, though. I suspect that a lot of young couples don’t think it much of an issue if they come from differing religious backgrounds in cases when they themselves might be agnostic or at least very secular. However, a lot of people (like me) are surprised when they hit middle age and suddenly (or gradually) find relevance in religion. What happened with your mother-in-law and her family is very unfortunate. I’ve spent my whole life having a love/hate relationship with religion, and when I hear stories like this I go back to ranting about how much I hate it. I mean I love the way religion brings people together, but I hate the way it tears people apart. I would imagine that today’s Reform synagogues would treat interfaith couples kindly. Reconstructionist shuls certainly do. The Reconstructionists don’t hold by the matrilieal rule as the Orthodox do; instead, they say kids can inherit Judaism from either parent. Chabad-Lubavitch is a Chasidic Orthodox organization which is renown for their outreach and patience toward secular / unaffiliated Jews (and their religiously diverse families like mine). Chabad rabbis would never conduct an interfaith wedding, and would try to persuade people from entering into such marriages, but once the deal is done they are very kind to diverse families. After all, they want to bring Jews closer to Judaism, not to drive them away.

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