Man On A String

interfaithFortunately, sociologist Steven M. Cohen has awakened me from my bloggy slumber with a post on Rosner’s Domain, a blog on L.A.’s Jewish Journal. Journalist/blogger Shmuel Rosner (who updates his blog just a wee bit more than I do) asks sociologist Steven M. Cohen, “Are you biased against intermarried Jews?” In essence, Cohen’s reply is that he has no problem with intermarried Jews, just with intermarriage.

-Julie Wiener
“Some Of My Best Friends Are Inmarried”
from the In the Mix series
The Jewish Week

I’ve missed Julie’s blogs. As an intermarried Christian husband to a Jewish wife, I have a sort of affinity with her favorite topic. On the other hand, even for an intermarried couple, my wife and I are very strange. We don’t fit anyone’s idea of intermarried, mainly because my wife’s parents were intermarried (her mother was Jewish) and she wasn’t raised in a Jewish household.

In a blog post called Being Married to the Girl with the Jewish Soul, I’ve mentioned how I feel about my wife, about her being Jewish, and about my absolute need for her to embrace her Judaism. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so before continuing here. It’ll provide a lot of context and dimension for what I’m going to say next.

Being intermarried is not bed of roses but it’s not exactly a bed of thorns, either. It does define a demarcation point between my wife and I on certain topics, but for the most part, our marriage is just like a lot of other marriages in the U.S. We’ve been married thirty years as of last April. We have three adult children. One of my sons is married and has a three-year old son of his own (my grandson, playmate, and fellow Spider-Man fan).

Another thing that makes our particular intermarriage unusual is my background in the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movement. As a blogger, I’m remain actively involved in that realm, but only because I tend to write on Jewish and Christian themes. My wife intermittently attends shul and I don’t attend a church or congregation of any kind (long story). We both have our faiths but except for brief moments of passionate interaction on some point, they have lives of their own and rarely show up in the same room. I started this blog fifteen months ago, in part to chronicle what I imagined would be my introduction into her religious world.

When that didn’t happen, I kept on writing because that’s just what I do. I write.

Back to why I’m writing this though. As I was reading Julie’s latest blog, I started thinking about my marriage and how it seems to mirror the larger dynamic between Christians and Jews in the world. More specifically, there is a significant parallel between how I live every day of my married life and the sort of relationship, call it a vision, I would wish upon the Christians and Jews to attempt to connect and interact within the Messianic space.

There’s a sort of debate going on in certain corners of the blogosphere about the exact interaction between Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and those Christians who are drawn to a more Jewish (or Hebraic) lifestyle and worship template. For years, there’s been a kind of “jockeying for position” among the various groups that reside beneath the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots umbrella regarding whether or not it was Christ’s original intent for non-Jewish disciples to perfectly emulate their Jewish mentors in all things, including a form of “Jewish” identity.

I used to believe that such an emulation should take place and now I don’t. Some people didn’t (and still don’t) appreciate that I changed my mind, let alone my lifestyle.

But here’s the interesting part.

Sometimes, the motives for my change in perspective have been attributed by others to the influence of various individuals and groups in the Messianic Jewish world who advocate for a Jewish/Gentile distinction within Messianism. It was as if I was accused of being a type of Pinocchio to a Messianic Jewish Geppetto; a marionette dancing at the end of someone else’s strings.

I certainly won’t deny that I have been influenced by various folks in the online and real world Messianic community, but that alone probably wouldn’t have been enough to start me investigating the scholarly and Biblical evidence for Jewish and Christian covenant distinction and relationship. After all, organizational position statements and blogosphere commentaries have never changed anyone’s mind about anything.

But I’m married to the girl with the Jewish soul and that made all the difference in the world.

I know I’ve probably explained this before, but I don’t think people understand how important this is to me. I doubt that even my wife understands any of this. Remember in my previous blog post I stressed how vital it is for me to support my wife being Jewish. Obviously, I can’t direct her observance or her lifestyle, but I know how to avoid standing in her way.

In addition to traveling on my own journey of faith, I’ve been watching my wife’s journey. As the months and years passed, I saw just how critical it was and is for her to be part of the Jewish community, to be thought of and treated as a Jew. Every time I picked up a siddur or she “caught” me praying with a tallit and tefillin, I started to feel as if I were stealing from her. It was as if she walked into the room while my hand was in her purse. It was embarrassing and I felt it was pushing us apart rather than bringing us together.

intermarriageNot that she said anything, of course. She always supported me in whatever expression of my faith I chose to observe (though there were times when she was vocal about not understanding it) but I could sense a growing wedge between us. She tried to discourage me from leaving my One Law congregation and I know she didn’t want to influence any of my decisions about what I believed and how I acted upon those beliefs.

Fat chance. How can a husband not let himself be influenced by his wife if he cares about her?

Setting all of those people, those congregations, those organizations aside who have some sort of stake in Messianic worship between Jews and Christians, I’m still a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife. I’m not the perfect husband of course (and my wife reminds me of that periodically), but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my wife and that what’s important to her doesn’t matter to me.

Being Jewish is important to her. Forging a Jewish identity and Jewish relationships for the first time as she’s well into middle-age wasn’t easy for her. She worked very hard to establish her place in the community of Jews. Being married to a non-Jew isn’t a disaster for a Jew, but my being a Christian does throw a monkey wrench into her machine (she’d deny this). My being “Messianic” and performing traditional Jewish acts of worship absolutely threw a pipe bomb into her machine (she’d deny this, too).

My wife is more important to me than whether or not someone on a blog somewhere thinks I should wear a tallit when praying, devote myself to a day of complete rest on Saturday, and try talking to God in a bad approximation of Hebrew (I know some of you are thinking about Matthew 10:34-39, but I don’t think that applies here). That’s why I do what I do and don’t do a bunch other things that other people do.

This next part is important, so pay close attention here! While I agree that Jews continue to have a special covenant relationship with God and unique covenant responsibilities that are not shared by the rest of the world, (including the world of Christians) what really sent me “over the edge” was filtering all that information through the lens of watching my Jewish wife be Jewish. If you’re not a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, you don’t have my perspective and you are absolutely not going to get the lived experience of my point of view.

But there’s hope. I think I know how to show you what I’m feeling. I’m getting to that part.

Being married to a Jewish wife has allowed me to see Judaism from a singular perspective. I can see how important it is for a Jewish person to be uniquely Jewish and how some Jews struggle when they see others trying to co-opt that uniqueness for their own use. Part of that uniqueness is the way Jews talk, and pray, and worship, and interact, and what they wear sometimes, and lots and lots of other “identity” stuff.

And I don’t want to put my hand in my wife’s “purse” because I love her and I don’t want to take stuff from her.

Please understand that I’m not dancing at the end of some puppeteer’s strings. I’m just a husband who is looking out for his wife. I suppose my methods of doing so seem strange or unusual, but even for an intermarried couple, we can be strange and unusual. She’s not a stereotypical Jew (if there is such a thing) and I certainly am a very odd Christian.

But that’s who I am and who I choose to be and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made. I don’t think these are bad choices and in fact, I think there is a lot to be gained by we Christians coming alongside the Jewish people, even as I am “alongside” my wife, and being co-heirs with Israel, just as my wife and I share our lives together.

I was discussing some of this with my friend Gene on his blog Daily Minyan, and at one point, I made this observation in response to one of his comments:

When I was at the FFOZ Shavuot conference last spring, I met a young Jewish woman named Jordan. She is a gifted scholar and during one of her presentations at the conference, she referred to the Gentiles who supported the spiritual and national redemption of Israel as the crown jewels of the nations. Your comment reminded me of that and the fact that we Gentile disciples of the Master do have a wonderful gift from God, and He has planned out a terrific future for us.

Jordan’s teaching meant a lot to me, not just because it presented such a wonderfully unified vision of a Christian/Jewish “partnership” in the Kingdom of God, but because it so amazingly resonated with how I see my marriage. If I could give everyone reading this blog a gift, it would be to see the relationship between Christianity (that is, all non-Jews who are disciples of Jesus, regardless of denominational or congregational affilation) and Israel the way I see myself and my wife together. If we Jewish and Christian disciples of Jesus could achieve that level of affection and intimacy toward each other, we would be fulfilling the words of the Master.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Love and peace.

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4 thoughts on “Man On A String”

  1. Nope. I’ve given her the link to my blog in the past, but she never seems interested in reading them. On the other hand, my Mom occasionally pops in.

    And yes, if my wife were a regular reader, I probably would write things differently or at least, we’d have some “interesting” conversations about the content.

  2. Worth the wait, Mr. P.
    I know that by your having a jewish wife, you are uniquely sensitive to things that many messianic gentiles overlook in how our religious practices may effect jews who are watching us. Thank you for helping us “get it”. 🙂

  3. You’re welcome, Allison. I spent a lot of time working and reworking this particular blog post. I didn’t want it to come off like some sort of criticism, but on the other hand, as you say, being intermarried does make me “uniquely sensitive” to issues many other people may not perceive. While study and scholarship are vitally important, they are not the heart of our faith. We only serve our God through our lived experience, which for me, includes living each day with a Jewish wife and watching her show me what it means to be Jewish for her.

    As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, we can possess many great talents and gifts, but if we don’t have love, we have nothing.

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