“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.
“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!
“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 JewishWeek.com 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.