The Jewish Girl Who Saved Her Children

intermarriageSome of my friends began dating non-Jews. I stopped socializing with them in silent protest, after a more outspoken effort had failed. I self-righteously concluded that we had nothing in common, since they were prepared to give their Jewish identity the backseat. I was sitting firmly in the driver’s seat with mine, so much so that I became the leader of a Zionist youth movement, and started to mix with an idealistic new crowd.

In Ethics of Our Fathers, Rabbi Hillel warns us that we should be careful not to judge another person until we have stood in their place. And I was going places…

I don’t remember making conversation, but apparently I must have mumbled something, since the next morning the host of the party told me that Mr. Attractive had inquired after me. As I was catching my breath, she casually mentioned, “Oh, I told him you don’t date non-Jews, and he’s fine with that. He just wants to meet you. He really liked you.”

This was a delicate situation, to say the least. Here I was, being pursued by a bona fide heartthrob with absolutely no strings attached. He was an advertising executive. Flutter. He had a motorbike. Swoon. And, if that wasn’t enough for my ego, he was a commercial pilot.

Help!

-Jennifer Cooper
“My Non-Jewish Boyfriend”
Aish.com

You’ll never realize how many blog posts I don’t write just because I don’t have time. I’ll read something or hear a snippet of conversation, and my mind pursues it and I begin to internally construct a short essay on the topic between 1500 and 3000 words. I never mean to write as much as I do, which includes this story about the girl who would never intermarry. It just happens.

In Christianity, this is yet another thing about Judaism that simply doesn’t register with us. What’s the big deal exactly? OK, among many Christians, there’s the idea that it’s not a good thing to be “unequally yoked” and I suppose the equivalent quandary would involve a young Christian woman dating a handsome, talented, and very romantic atheist guy. Look out. Danger up ahead.

But there’s something more operating here. There’s a lot more operating here.

I’ve written many times before about intermarriage and part of this blog’s mission is to address the challenges and dynamics of Christians and Jews being married. You can see the angst and the ecstasy expressed in missives such as Opting Out of Yiddishkeit and Cherishing Her Yiddisher Neshamah. If my wife had been observant when we met or even if she had been raised in a secular Jewish home, we might never have gotten married since I am a goy (we were both atheists when we met and her parents were also intermarried).

I’ve been spending some blog time lately struggling to define why it’s important for believing Jews to continue to live as halalaic Jews. If Jesus saves, what difference does it make if a Jewish person lives a Jewish life or not?

Plenty, as Cooper’s story reminds me.

The next day I found myself in the car with my father. We parked in the driveway. There we sat for a good few minutes, lost in our separate worlds. I, in my bubble of optimistic self-gratification, and my father – mourning the potential loss of future generations. Finally, I broke the heavy silence.

“Dad, why is it so important that Jews marry Jews?”

“Because it’s important that we preserve our unique heritage.” he replied, surprised by this basic question coming from me.

I wasn’t buying it.

“Yes, but what’s so special about our heritage, I mean, why is it SO important that there be Jews in the world?” I challenged.

“Because we are supposed to be a light among the nations,” he stressed, wondering where this was going. I pressed on, going for the jugular.

“So, Dad, if our heritage is so special, and we have to be a light among the nations, and my entire future depends on it, why do I eat McDonalds, and why on earth don’t we keep Shabbat?!”

More silence. This time, it was my father that spoke. “I don’t know. I guess I never thought that far,” he admitted, somewhat ashamed.

For the first time ever, I had stumped my brilliant lawyer father. But he still had one last trick up his sleeve.

broken-marriageI’ve heard it said you can’t choose who you fall in love with, but Jennifer had a problem. Without intending to, she had fallen in love with a non-Jew and all of her determination to never “marry out” was fast evaporating. Her parents were culturally but not religiously Jewish, but you can’t dismiss the importance of Jewish identity based on lack of religious observance. Something deeper was in operation here and it was enough to turn Jennifer and her father into emotional pretzels, turned and twisted and trying to straighten out again.

My heart was heavy with respect for my parents and the desire to please them. I felt the weight of my Jewish identity on my fragile shoulders. What exactly was I trying to preserve and protect? After all, I was not religious. Why had it been so fundamentally clear to me that I would marry a Jew? And what had happened to that clarity?

I had been taking my Jewishness for granted. Jewish day school, Jewish friends, a traditional Jewish home. There had been no challenge, no threat, no temptation. No chance to think or look outside the box. But now my exclusive Jewish education and traditional upbringing was on trial. Was it enough to save me?

I took the witness stand. For the first time in my life, I consciously thought about, and decided, who I was, what I wanted to be, and what was truly important. I was first and foremost a Jew. My heritage mattered. I wanted it to continue to be a part of my life. And it was vitally important that my future husband feel the same.

The Verdict: A strong Jewish identity saves Jews.

It wasn’t so difficult after that. A short, tense phone call ended what would have been the mistake of a lifetime. I never saw or spoke to him again, although I cried for days. I don’t really know why, but I think it had something to do with my soul.

There’s something more to being Jewish than just a string of DNA or whether or not you eat McRibs at McDonalds. It’s not just the cultural aspects of Judaism because films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) have shown us that cultural differences can be bridged (Nia Vardalos wrote and starred in the film and in real life, she is a Greek woman married to a non-Greek man…Ian Gomez, who plays “Mike” in the film).

No, there’s more than just genetics, religion, and culture going on with Jennifer and with Jewish people in general, but you have to go back to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob to find it. You have to go back to Moses and Sinai to find it. You have to look into a pillar of cloud by day and a column of flame by night and deep inside you’ll see the God who molded, formed, fashioned, and defined the Jewish people to be a unique and special people before Him for all time.

And every intermarriage, particularly where the intermarried Jew does not maintain their identity and pass that identity along to the next generation removes not just one more Jew from eternity, but that Jew and all of his or her descendents. Yes, if Jennifer had married her handsome, charming goyishe suitor, her children would have been halachically Jewish, but how would they have been raised and how strongly would they cherish their own Jewish identity?

Memories and regrets are part of what it is to being human, and if I had it all to do over again, I would still have married my wife and had our children, but I would have fought tooth and nail to instill a strong Jewish identity in all of them.

But that ship has sailed and here I am standing at the dock watching it slip over the horizon and into the distance and darkness beyond.

We want our children to care about the meaning of being Jewish. We need to nurture their Jewish identity to the point that it becomes innate. Our homes are where we nurture, and where our children learn to care. Our homes are where we show our children what it is important to care about.

A lot of people feel that they need to make a great sacrifice to live out their Jewishness. It is an even greater sacrifice not to. We can’t be complacent for lack of funding, knowledge, the right address or social circle. The good news is, caring is not a sacrifice. It’s fun, and it’s far-reaching.

How do we put a little Yiddishkeit into our homes? If you ask anyone that grew up with it, they will tell you the same thing: it’s the simple rituals that have the greatest impact. Lighting Shabbat candles, decorating a sukkah or eating matzah on Passover, putting up mezuzahs on every doorway, laying some Jewish books proudly out on the coffee table, saying Shema Yisrael with our children, hanging out an Israeli flag on Israel’s Independence Day. These are the definitive moments that can carve a caring Jew out of the stoniest backdrop of threatened assimilation.

Our Torah and Jewish calendar are filled with a veritable treasure trove of tradition and meaningful ritual, enabling us to live uniquely enhanced lives filled with memorable moments of celebration and wisdom, all with that inimitable Jewish flavor.

These are the moments that kept me in the fold. They can impact you and your children, too.

jewish-t-shirtI can’t change the past, but I can tell you that I will not be responsible for separating even one more Jewish person from his or her God-given identity. I can’t change the past but I can learn from it, and more than that, I can teach from it. I can pass my knowledge on to whoever cares to read these words and explain that this is why it is not only important but absolutely vital that Jews who are Messianic must establish and maintain a strong Jewish identity, must observe the mitzvot, must walk in the footsteps of their Fathers and actively live out the wisdom of their sages.

I can’t tell you the right and wrong of every single mitzvot and the amazingly intricate details of each little item of halachah within each of the Judaisms in our world today, but I can tell you that without them, without all of the behaviors and the activities that define a person as a Jew, not only are the Jewish people in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth (although I believe God would never allow this), but that Jews who come to Jesus will vanish into the mass of Gentile Christians in the church, never to be seen or heard from again. Only God will know that Jews ever stood among the disciples of the Jewish Messiah in these latter days of history.

But it all starts with one Jewish person who realizes that his or her identity as a Jew is more important than almost anything because that identity comes directly from God. And we in the church must also learn to cherish Jewish uniqueness, to support it, to uphold it, to esteem it, for our Master said that “salvation comes from the Jews.” (John 4:22)

The story Jennifer Cooper relates occurred almost twenty years ago, but the heartbreaking actions of one young Jewish girl saved not only her, but her children, and future generations of children who would not otherwise be Jewish or value who God made them all to be. The Good Shepherd will come and seek out all of his sheep…those of the Gentile pen, but also those who know his voice from the sheep of Israel. God forbid that when he returns, he discovers that none of them survived.

36 thoughts on “The Jewish Girl Who Saved Her Children”

  1. Wow, trying to take all this in.

    First, you’ve stated that your wife didn’t know she was Jewish until after you married. If that’s true, you didn’t separate her from her people or identity, they did. In fact, you’ve been very supportive of it according to your writing.

    Second, it’s false to conclude that only by Jews marrying Jews that the offspring will value their heritage. Many do not. additionally, as a Christian married to a Jew my kids know, and highly esteem, their identity precisely because of the fact that I told them to find it with God.

    It’s perplexing for you to say that it’s better for a Jew to marry a Jew, even if all that means is some vague notion of being different, and in the absence of any devotion to Him or His commandments. What’s the point exactly?

    I see beauty in intermarriage and even life from the dead, as is the case in my family, where I’ve witnessed God attaching ligaments and flesh to some very dry bones.

  2. @Pat Irving: Thanks.

    @LW: Actually, I should have said she didn’t know she was Jewish until she was 18 or 19. She knew she was Jewish when we got married, but she wasn’t observant and didn’t live even a cultural secular Jewish lifestyle (I dated Jewish women before her, so I’m experienced with the difference).

    As far as your second point goes, intermarriage does increase the risk of assimilation, which as you know, is why it’s frowned upon in Judaism. Yes, it certainly is possible and it does happen that the children of interfaith parents retain a strong sense of Jewish identity, but I know from painful personal experience that it can also become quite damaged. I can’t speak for anyone else’s family, but I can register the personal responsibility I feel for my own.

    Maybe that’s why I say that the chances of Jewish families passing their identity on to their children is greater if both the husband and wife are Jewish. My wife’s mother was Jewish and married a Gentile. Both were non-observant and my mother-in-law never talked about being Jewish. Out of five children, only my wife has made the effort to establish a Jewish identity. The other four siblings either ignore their Jewishness or in the case of one brother, a born-again Christian, actively denies it.

    I don’t doubt your experience is quite different from my own, but in my immediate and extended family, the loss of Jewish identity has been profound.

    To the degree that I had anything to do with that, I grieve.

  3. Great post, James.

    I just want to contribute a few thoughts to this discussion:

    It is true that Jewish intermarriage is quite destructive to Jewish identity. Children pay the highest price of growing up without being sure who they are. Some may ask what good does it do for a Jew to be married to a Jew if they are not living according to Torah or even believe in G-d. Well, being a Jew who was born and raised in the atheistic Soviet Union where practice of Judaism was downright impossible for most Jews, I thank my Jewish mother and father who cared enough about being Jewish and about their own people to find and marry each other (my father really went out of his way and had to travel far to find and marry my mom). Many Jews who were raised without access to Judaism but with Jewish parents can thank G-d that He preserved the Jewish people through in-marriage, even those who didn’t practice the Jewish faith for no fault of their own. Many of them have returned to their heritage when such opportunity finally presented themselves.

    Some of my parents’ Jewish friends did not care about whom their married. Their children today, almost invariably (and I know many personally), do not identify as Jews nor are married to Jews themselves (even those who immigrated to Israel with their parents). There are exceptions, but that’s the rule I observed personally.

    However, for all doom and gloom there sometimes a bright side to intermarriage. A Jewish partner in intermarriage who suddenly wakes up to his heritage may start feeling a profound loss in his family’s inability to identify with the Jewish people and Judaism. He (or she) will then attempt to do anything in his or her power to remedy this situation. If he/she’s lucky, the Gentile partner will fully support this endeavor and even desire to undergo a conversion to Judaism. That is to say that sometimes it is the Gentile spouse who becomes the catalyst, whether actively or passively, for family’s return to Judaism.

  4. Interesting take. So, I take it that you believe to be Jewish is to be “saved” or acceptable regardless of belief, behavior, choices etc? As in its better to be an atheistic Jew than a Jewish Christian?

    My belief is that God desires relationship with all of His creation, and particularly in His Jewish people. But I don’t think their DNA saves them.

  5. “Interesting take. So, I take it that you believe to be Jewish is to be “saved” or acceptable regardless of belief, behavior, choices etc? As in its better to be an atheistic Jew than a Jewish Christian?”

    LW, I really do not know where you got the above from what I wrote, especially the part about “salvation based on DNA”! What is that all about? I also think that your confrontational tone with me is unwarranted. However, to answer your question – I do not divide Jews into “saved” and “unsaved” camps and certainly do not esteem their worth as Jews and human beings based on such a standard. (BTW, I also do not view Gentiles as being of lesser worth than Jews. In fact, some Gentiles put some, perhaps even most, Jews to shame – and Yeshua pointed that out in the Gospels).

    I am very sad both for a Jewish atheist who rejects G-d and his Jewish heritage and for that Jewish Christian who was taught that to reject (and often disdain) Judaism and his Jewish heritage is to embrace G-d. Instead, I long for every Jew to draw near to G-d, to repent, to welcome G-d’s Messiah and to live as a Jew looking toward the Kingdom. In fact, as far as I am concerned, I strive to look at each Jew as someone whom I may very well see, G-d willing, in the Kingdom of G-d, whether they are atheistic or believing at the PRESENT moment. My job is to love my people, not to decide their ultimate destinies.

  6. Gene, I think about you a lot when I’m having conversations with my Pastor on these topics, wishing I could “mind meld” with you for awhile to “borrow” your memory and your perspectives. One of the things I think is important within the larger body of the Messiah is for Gentile believers and Messianic Jews to keep an open dialog going so that we can dispel the misunderstandings between us and especially so the Christian can comprehend how one can be Jewish, follow the traditional observance of Torah, and be a disciple of the Master.

    As I’ve said more than once, and I guess it connects back to what you said, part of the Christians responsibility is to faciliate rather than inhibit observance of Jewish in Judaism. That tracks back to me in my family, also since a “prophet is without honor in his own town,” it would probably be easier for me to encourage a stranger or a friend who is a Jew to “zealousness” for Torah than my Jewish family.

  7. “Gene, I think about you a lot when I’m having conversations with my Pastor on these topics, wishing I could “mind meld” with you for awhile to “borrow” your memory and your perspectives.”

    James, then we should chat sometimes. We can do it through Google chat (you’d have to be logged into your Gmail for that… through your browser).

    “As I’ve said more than once, and I guess it connects back to what you said, part of the Christians responsibility is to faciliate rather than inhibit observance of Jewish in Judaism.”

    I think that it is one way to honor the Jewish Messiah, not to mention all the Jewish forefathers.

  8. James: “part of the Christians responsibility is to faciliate rather than inhibit observance of Jewish in Judaism”

    Amen!!!I only wish Christians understood this. It’s our divine calling in my humble opinion.

    Gene: you said many things in your original post including 1) that intermarriage is destructive to the children who then don’t keep a Jewish identity.

    Not only is that the opposite case for me and my family, it also never mentions all the Jews who want nothing to do with God and aren’t intermarried. Or, those folks whose only “Judaism” is that they don’t believe in Jesus.

    You also said 2) that if there is an exception where the gentile actually encourages the Jewish spouse to identify as Jewish then if that anew is “lucky” that gentile will “convert.” Do you know how offensive that is? It sounds like you have a low view of Gentiles. Try it on the opposite foot and see if you can figure out what I mean. Personally I don’t think I’m deficient, or “less than” in the order of creation. I think there’s a place for all Gods creation. Nowhere does the bible call for conversion, as it’s defined and practiced today. Should I go and denounce Yeshua so I can be “converted”? What would the point be? I’d still be a gentile practicing Judaism.

    My point about spiritually is this: A human soul, either Jewish or Gentile, is of greater importance. I would prefer to see all Jews following Torah and their Messiah. In time I think I will see that. I would also prefer to see all Gentiles accept the God of Israel, stop any and all insecurities and arrogance, and step into their calling of loving Jews back to their Messiah. Soul’s worshiping and serving God is of greater weight in my opinion.

  9. “You also said 2) that if there is an exception where the gentile actually encourages the Jewish spouse to identify as Jewish then if that anew is “lucky” that gentile will “convert.” Do you know how offensive that is”

    LW, why on earth would it be offensive to a Gentile to encourage a Jew to be a faithful Jew or how could it possible make a non-Jewish person feel inferior? Only if a said Gentile sees little to no value in the present or continuing existence of the Jewish people, which I know is not the case with you.

    You seem to think of Jews in terms of “race” and “DNA”, not as a covenant community of Israel and family of Jacob. Within the framework of Judaism, a Gentile can join such a community.

    “I would prefer to see all Jews following Torah and their Messiah.”

    That IS precisely how the Jewish soul is to worship and serve G-d! We (Israel) have sworn to do so at the foot of the Mountain. It’s not a matter of preference for a Jew – it’s the only way for a Jew. It is essential for a Jewish soul to live as a Jew. Just because some Jews have not and do not, are ignorant of their heritage, whether they follow Christianity, some other faith, or no religion at all, does not nullify that this is the only way for a Jew to live for G-d.

  10. Gene, maybe we aren’t understanding each other? 🙂

    “why on earth would it be offensive to a Gentile to encourage a Jew to be a faithful Jew or how could it possible make a non-Jewish person feel inferior?”

    My point was if a Jew was only “acceptable” if they were to “convert” to the people community he’s with (Christian or otherwise), then that is horrible. It has happened, and you write against it too btw. Jews have worth and value in their identity, educated or otherwise. Same with Gentiles.

    Yes I do think of Jewishness in terms of DNA because it is a physical people group/family that was elected. It’s how God defines Jewishness and the bible over and over states it and differentiates between Jews and Gentiles. Others were welcome to come along with, but were never called Jews. This is good in my opinion, Jews are distinct. I know what Im talking about! 🙂

  11. OK, I just woke up (gotta head to the gym in a minute). LW, correct me if I’m wrong, but it looked like you were saying it was offense to desire a Gentile to convert to Judaism in an intermarriage rather than the Jewish spouse to accept the Gentile as a Gentile (if you reverse the suggestion desiring the Jew to convert, the “offensiveness” becomes clear).

    I don’t think that’s what Gene said and I know from personal experience that Gene is very accepting of the Gentiles who come along side of him and honor the Messiah. Gene and I have had our “debates” in the past when I was trying to figure all this out for myself, but he’s never been against the fact that I’m not Jewish.

    Anyway, just trying to offer an olive branch.

    Now, time for the gym.

  12. James, I think I follow you. 🙂
    Just in case, I’ll say it this way: if Jews frown upon intermarriage unless the gentile “converts”, believes its “destructive” to have a Jew marry a non Jew, and said non Jew is only “acceptable” if they “convert”, then he (Gene) has little room to vigorously stand against the same thing happening to Jews i.e., they’re only acceptable if they quit being Jewish.

    We all agree that’s bad (making a Jew convert, only accepting them if they stop “being” Jewish, not honoring their identity etc.) and what I’m saying is how can I uphold and honor my spouses identity as a Jew, if I disregard my own identity as a non-Jew?

    If his identity is important and God-given, then so is mine. I see beauty and life in the relationship, not death and destruction. Additionally, “conversion” is not possible as it’s defined and used today. No such thing exists, or is called for, in the bible, period. It’s just not there and scholars agree that it’s a much later insertion (into Judaism) by Rabbis.

    I know I’ll get “push-back” so let me also say this: it’s common to say “once a Jew always a Jew” and even a Jew who “converts” is still a Jew. I agree, and by the same token the same with a Gentile. It isn’t possible to “become” Jewish as that is a distinction God gives. One can however practice Judaism, go thru a ritual to be allowed into the group etc. just like Jews can into Christianity and non Jewish culture, but their God given distinction never changes. I think the bible shows this quite well.

  13. LW, I am afraid that you and I operate on very different planes. You see, I view Judaism as we know it today as valid and authoritative for the Jewish people. I also agree with Yeshua own words (in Matthew 23:3) that whatever (“everything”) those sitting in the seat of Moses (Jewish leaders) bid Jews to observe is bound on all Jews. He didn’t make an exception for Jewish disciples of Yeshua, but in fact was speaking to them when he said those words. He believed in the leadership of Israel, even if he condemned those who were hypocrites.

    About conversions. Jewish people always accepted converts. Even if at one point there was no “official conversion” procedure (that’s quite debatable, considering that a foreigner joining was at least required to get circumcised, get immersed in a mikvah and bring a sacrifice to the Temple), it doesn’t mean that the Jewish people do not have the G-d given authority to implement such a procedure. Even in America we have certain citizenship requirements for a foreigner to become an “American” – how much more so for Israel! Paul’s problem with Galatians was that those Gentiles thought that being Jewish and taking on Torah would somehow grant them a favored status with G-d, as if what Yeshua was not sufficient. In the same verses Paul also forbids circumcision, saying that those who perform it would be cut off from Christ (which probably would send many modern Christians to hell, were that actually the case). Yet, he had no qualms about circumcising Timothy. So, Paul’s statements are quite nuanced.

  14. Relative to Christianity/Messianic Judaism, I don’t see a pressing need for conversion to occur in either direction since we can continue to maintain our identities and still be “one in the Messiah,” as Paul said. A Jew who comes to faith in Messiah and converts to Christianity, setting aside their lived Jewish identity is a tragedy, and a Gentile converting to Messianic Judaism is, in the vast majority of cases (this is just my opinion), an unnecessary act (and the whole conversion process relative to the different expressions of Messianic Judaism is dicey at best…again, in my opinion).

    What I want to make clear is that it is absolutely unnecessary and even harmful to require, in any sense, a Jew who has come to faith in Messiah, to renounce, dilute, or otherwise deny his or her Jewish identity and Jewish lifestyle. Since, as Gene points out, halacha was historically accepted by Jesus (and I’ve written at length on this topic recently) and is inexorably intertwined with what it is to be an observant Jew, I don’t see how we can separate an observant Jew’s devotion to Moshiach and to the traditions and rulings of the sages. I think the only “wiggle room” we have in this realm, is defining how halacha is to be applied within MJ, and I suspect there may be a bit of variability depending on which branch or expression of MJ we’re discussing.

    I’ve been talking with ProclaimLiberty in the comments section of another recent blog post and she has managed to put many of my questions about Messianic Jews and the traditions in concise “in a nutshell” summaries. I think I’ll try to encapsulate how I see her perspectives in a blog post within the next day or two.

  15. James:
    “What I want to make clear is that it is absolutely unnecessary and even harmful to require, in any sense, a Jew who has come to faith in Messiah, to renounce, dilute, or otherwise deny his or her Jewish identity and Jewish lifestyle.”

    If you think I said that you are mistaken James, I said the opposite. I VALUE, ESTEEM, ENCOURAGE, PRAY for Jews to be JEWS! I believe the world depends on it.

    Gene: “LW, I am afraid that you and I operate on very different planes. You see, I view Judaism as we know it today as valid and authoritative for the Jewish people.”

    Then you must renounce your faith in Yeshua.

    “I also agree with Yeshua own words (in Matthew 23:3) that whatever (“everything”) those sitting in the seat of Moses (Jewish leaders) bid Jews to observe is bound on all Jews.”

    Not sure why you think I disagree here?

    Jewish identity is God given, important (even vital) and I uphold it. What I do NOT do is think that therefore Gentile identity is any less God given, important (even vital). I don’t think a Jew who is not in relationship to God is BETTER off, and SAVES HER CHILDREN (the title of the blog post) simply by refusing to marry a Gentile and rather marrying another Jew who is likewise dead in their faith. That’s offensive to the nth degree but beyond that it’s wrong-headed and NOT biblical.

    God does not direct or command a “conversion” Gene, no matter how you slice it. Yes Gentiles can come along with and the community has a right to hold some ceremony or have requirements, but again, Jews are Jews and Gentile are not pagans, they’re children of God too and there would be NO JEWS without the Gentiles who were married to fella’s like Joseph, Moses, Boaz, and on and on it goes.

    If I had a choice, I’d rather see a Jew enter into relationship and worship God even if that came about thru an intermarriage with a (gasp) Gentile Christian.

  16. James said: “What I want to make clear is that it is absolutely unnecessary and even harmful to require, in any sense, a Jew who has come to faith in Messiah, to renounce, dilute, or otherwise deny his or her Jewish identity and Jewish lifestyle.”

    LW replied: If you think I said that you are mistaken James, I said the opposite. I VALUE, ESTEEM, ENCOURAGE, PRAY for Jews to be JEWS! I believe the world depends on it.

    I wasn’t directing that statement to you LW but to the audience in general. Most people who read my blog (or any blog) never comment, but they consume information including the comments posted. I just wanted to clarify my position for whoever may require it, not offer any criticism against you. Unfortunately, the limitations of a text-only communications framework in the blogosphere spawns many misunderstandings.

    Just to toss my two cents in, I don’t think I’m any “less” than a Jewish person, just different and with a different role relative to the plan of God.

  17. James:
    “I wasn’t directing that statement to you LW but to the audience in general.”

    Oh, thank you, I thought I was in the Twilight Zone for a minute! 🙂

    “Just to toss my two cents in, I don’t think I’m any “less” than a Jewish person, just different and with a different role relative to the plan of God.”

    Umm, is that for me or the “others”? Just checking because that’s what I’ve been sayin’…

  18. BTW James (and Gene too since you guys seem to agree on this topic)

    If I was to accept your premises that
    A) It’s destructive, wrong, and a tragedy for Jews to be married to non Jews
    B) that Rabbinic Judaism is the ultimate authority in a Jew’s life even above the bible itself, then in an effort to follow God as closely as possible– at least as far as He is transformed by Rabbinic Judaism– then wouldn’t it be incumbent upon me to leave my spouse? Especially since I don’t believe in converting. (?)

  19. Others. When I address an individual, I try to use their name so they know. On the other hand, I’ve made mistakes before. 😉

    then wouldn’t it be incumbent upon me to leave my spouse? Especially since I don’t believe in converting.

    Whoa. Let’s not go overboard. Remember, I’m intermarried too, and I have no intention of separating from my wife. As a general rule and with history to back me up, it is generally better for the continuation of Jewish identity for Jews to marry other Jews. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions, but that probably holds over time.

    That said, there are plenty of intermarried couples where the Jewish spouse is able to retain his/her Jewish identity and pass it on to the next generation. My family is a crazy example, since my wife didn’t actively pursue a cultural and religious Jewish life untl we were married for a couple of decades. For an example of one “success story,” check out Julie Weiner’s column in “The Jewish Week:” In the Mix. A general principle isn’t the same as a concrete and inflexible law or command (and even laws and commands can be flexible sometimes). I would never tell any intermarried couple to divorce just because they’re intermarried (I’d be a hypocrite if I did). If you and your husband are still together, it must be because you want to be and because your marriage works for you. All I’m saying is that a lot of Jews don’t intermarry because of the reasons I stated in my blog post and there are a lot of Jews who have intermarried and who have assimilated into secular culture; their Jewish identity, lost.

    As far as halachah relative to the Bible and how it all works, I’ve been having an interesting conversation with someone in the comments of another one of my blog posts. In about two or three days, I’ll publish a “meditation” called “Shepherd, Pens, and Flock, Part 2,” which will use that conversation as the basis for describing how and why an observant Messianic Jew must live a fully halalaic life. I imagine I’ll get some push back from Christian readers and maybe a few Jews as well, but these conversations have got to take place so we all know what’s going on between Christianity and Messianic Judaism. Information and communication are the best ways to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. If Christianity’s mission is to support Jews in becoming more observant, then we have to fully comprehend what’s being asked of us.

  20. “That said, there are plenty of intermarried couples where the Jewish spouse is able to retain his/her Jewish identity and pass it on to the next generation. ”

    You most likely understand the fact that many (most?) Jews have no, or want no, observance of Jewish identity with the exception of “not believing in Jesus”, the one thing that seems to unite all streams of Judaism and Jews, observant or not.

    My spouse, nor the family, had any observance. Didn’t believe in God.

    Now there is restoration, keeping kosher, shabbat, family passovers (where there were none for many years) and kids fervently clinging to their Jewish identity.

    This didn’t happen thru Judaism.

    It also didn’t happen thru Jews.

    It happened when a Christian showed (and taught) the value and necessity of finding ones identity in who God says they are.

    But back to the question I posed. I feel Gene would have a different answer and to be consistent with his stated views, I think he would have to conclude I should divorce my spouse or “convert.”

  21. Now there is restoration, keeping kosher, shabbat, family passovers (where there were none for many years) and kids fervently clinging to their Jewish identity.

    This didn’t happen thru Judaism.

    It also didn’t happen thru Jews.

    Look at the Aish.com article I quoted from in the body of my blog post. Click the link I provided and read the entire story. It all happens within a secular Jewish context, but a completely Jewish context. You have your experiences and I have mine, but what we don’t see are the thousands or hundreds of thousands of Jewish families (or more) who struggle with the questions of Jews, Judaism, and the future of the Jewish people. Some are religous, a great many are not.

    But beyond all of that, we must remember that it was God to defined the Jewish people beyond all “undefining.” A Jew is a Jew whether they want to be or not because it is the will of God. I’m not minimizing your experiences or mine or those of any other people who are part of an intermarried/interfaith family. I’m just saying there is a wide spectrum of experiences happening out there, and we are only a few of them.

    I sincerely don’t believe Gene would advocate intermarried couples divorcing (he never mentioned anything like that to me). I hope he comes by again to confirm that.

  22. James:
    “It all happens within a secular Jewish context, but a completely Jewish context.”

    Given that we all equally agree that Jews are Jews and God made them that way and there is a necessity to remain Jewish and no one should try to convert them etc, in what way do you (and Gene) think it is better to stay “Jewish” when all that means to the person is that don’t intermarry? With no belief in or devotion to God or His ways and commandments what real difference does it make? Do you imagine God up there going “Whew” she ignores me, wants nothing to do with me and my ways, but at least she didn’t go an marry that goy!” I just don’t think so…

    I honestly don’t see this as God’s intention especially since there was tons of intermarriage in the bible. And, He doesn’t promise blessing and curses for anything other than placing Him first and following His commandments turning neither right nor left, and not adding to or taking away from. He doesn’t say Jews will be condemned if they break with rabbinic tradition, he says they will be cursed for not keeping His WORD. I agree that He also tells them to set up leaders and to follow them but then we can hardly think He means to follow them over and above HIS commands. Or to follow tradition is the same thing as following God. YOur story proves that point.

    I feel like what you and Gene are referring to is a solidarity with ones family, or fear of being cast out of that family, and acting like that is the same thing as being devoted to God. I see them as two different things.

  23. Don’t get me wrong. Remember, I’m the one who has been saying that Christians have a duty to provoke the Jews to zealousness for the Torah. I’m not saying that we should all be hunky dory over a world of secular Jews. Jesus did lament after all that, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith? (Luke 18:8) Will he find faith among his people Israel? I would be delighted if my wife and kids became more observant (or more than marginally observant). I would be ecstatic if they went to shul on Shabbos, if they lit the candles on Erev Shabbat, if they davened shacharit. My dream of dreams is that they would become observant and Messianic, but that’s absolutely in the hands of God given where things are right now.

    What I’m saying is that I am against the Jewish people disappearing from the face of the earth. Frankly, I wouldn’t really like it if all Jewish people everywhere converted to Gentile Christianity and all became Protestants. I would really prefer that Jews keep their covenants with God, observe the mitzvot and yes, discover the identity of the Moshiach in Yeshua.

    But I’m not in control of all of that. All I can do is try to encourage, in my own small way, that a Jewish person remain a Jewish person, turn toward God, and listen to His voice.

  24. Yeah I get that. But because that path –from non observant Jew to follower of Messiah in Christian context to observant Messianic Jew– is what happened in my spouse’s case, I guess I take exception to all the negative attitudes and comments I see. Not just from you James, I know yours are more nuanced, but in general. I hate being made into a stupid shiksa with no other goal than to make my spouse into a Christian Gentile when its the OPPOSITE of what I did and my influence. Again I see God bringing life to long dry bones and I praise Him for it.

  25. Interestingly enough, my wife’s path was similar. We were both secular for quite a while and then both came to faith in Jesus within a Christian context roughly fifteen years ago. We didn’t stay in the church more than a year or so for lots of reasons and then transitioned into a One Law congregation (at the time, we didn’t know any better and thought it was the only sort of “Messianic Judaism” that existed).

    Lots of turmoil, congregational split, and other stuff later, we didn a “Torah study” (actually, it was quite good), left that, attended the Reform/Conservative shul for awhile, Left that for some reason (though my wife remained in community with them). She went back to the OL congregation for awhile, basically because she still maintained a relationship with some of the folks there, but that blew up.

    She left, the Chabad came to town, she started spending more time in both synagogues in town, and a friend of mine and I were specifically asked if we’d help at the OL congregation by the widow of the guy who had once ran it (he died in a tragic accident).

    My relationship became more cemented in OL and her’s in the more traditional Jewish community, in which she eventually lost her faith in Yeshua.

    Then of course, there’s my adventures investigating the OL assumptions which I eventually realized didn’t have Biblical support. Of course, watching my wife explore her Jewish identity was what really “sold the deal,” so to speak, and made me realize that Gentile Christians and Jews (Messianic or otherwise) don’t share a fused identity.

    Yes, there’s part of me that registers regret that in some manner I contributed to the difficulties, especially in my children, of my family realizing and exploring their Jewish identities. My kids have all spent time in the Reform shul, but only my daughter really got into it beyond the basic education. They all self identify as Jews, but none of them really live any sort of Jewish lifestyle.

    LW, I’m not criticizing you or your husband or your situation. I sometimes chaff at the whole Jewish “you shouldn’t be intermarried” schpell but what’s done is done (and I know by ignoring spell check, I’m going to be punished for my typos later on). But while Orthodox Judaism can be pretty dogmatic on the matter, most other Jews and most other Jewish communities offer a certain amount of flexibility for intermarried couples. Yeah, there will always be some Jewish people who will be critical, largely because of the history of assimilation of Jews into the predominant culture. People get defensive when they feel like they and their people, are being threatened, even if you or I are not the threat.

    I know, ultimately it’s God who defines us and who sets the conditions by which we relate to Him, but I think part of what He expects is that the Gentile disciples of the Messiah support His people Israel and facilitate their return to the Land and to Torah.

  26. LW, you are taking this personally but my comments are not about you or anyone specific (or about James’ situation). Generally, speaking, intermarriage hurts Jewish people because it hurts the next generation’s ability to identify with the Jewish people. Most children of intermarriage do not end up marrying Jews or identify as Jews. The Jewish community today is also grappling with problems with halachic Jewish status of children born to Gentile mothers and Jewish fathers. Judaism traditionally considered them “non-Jews”. Was this always this way? People point to the Bible to say that it was not so, but then there’s a well-known Biblical story of Ezra sending away Gentile wives of Jewish returnees from Babylon along with their children (would Ezra be sending Jewish children away?), so to say that this is purely a rabbinic invention without any biblical precedent doesn’t fly. There are Jewish authorities today who call children of Jewish fathers but not mothers “Seed of Israel” and seek fast-track lenient conversions for them. I applaud them in that endeavor.

    There are exceptions to everything. I applaud the fact that you have encouraged your husband’s Jewishness. I am not here to tell anyone what to do with their lives. I am here only to comment and share my thoughts.

  27. Gene:”Was this always this way? People point to the Bible to say that it was not so, but then there’s a well-known Biblical story of Ezra sending away Gentile wives of Jewish returnees from Babylon along with their children (would Ezra be sending Jewish children away?)”

    First, you’re right, I am taking it personal, just as you take general comments by others very personal when they touch a nerve in you. That said, I also apologize for being so zealous on the issue, but this is MY identity of imploring God to show me how to make my spouse see his calling and to value his identity (in God) as a Jew. It’s not been easy. Then there’s the extended family situations and my heart has broken for these spiritually dead folks and how to love them, witness to them without “converting” them, and a whole lotta prayers and anguish have gone up over the past few decades. God has been merciful and as we draw closer to MJ, we see opportunity to share God with the family in a better way. To then see comments that refer to our union as destructive, harmful etc is quite hurtful especially since my heartbeat and passion is how to love my “Jew’s” and navigate a path where I lead them to their God without trying to make them into Gentile versions.

    Regarding matrilineal decent. You cannot site the Ezra account, which is the traditional argument but certainly not the scholarly one, without citing all the intermarriage that went on before it with no “conversion” at all. There are so many I don’t have time to list. Additionally, it’s impossible to be only thru the Mother sense we never even know most of the time if a daughter existed, but we sure do know about a son. The traditional argument for matrilineal decent falls down very quickly if one simply reads the accounts and takes them honestly instead of having to create “conversions” where there are none, or prohibitions when there are so many accounts where there’s no issue at all. The Ezra account is one exception but if you read the text you will discover that 1) these wives were NOT becoming part of Israel and worshiping Israel’s God, and 2) it was his (Ezra’s) directive for that situation and is not therefore a sanctioned (by God) act simply because he called for it any more than David’s tryst with Bathsheba was sanctioned by God. Not to equate the two, but my point is just because someone does something in the bible doesn’t make it “kosher”

    My point is God thought up Jewishness and gave it to A people. His definition is what counts regarding Jewishness and the obligation and blessing attached. He doesn’t put a “matrilineal” only caveat into the mix, therefore Rabbinic tradition or not, I think one should be very careful as to redefining someone out of their aged given identity.

    Additionally, the numbers of murdered holocaust victims would have to be greatly altered since many supposedly Gentiles went to their death as Jews.

  28. Oops, sorry about the typo, it should read “God given identity” , not “aged given”. Oh well, gotta love auto correct.

  29. “He doesn’t put a “matrilineal” only caveat into the mix, therefore Rabbinic tradition or not, I think one should be very careful as to redefining someone out of their aged given identity. ”

    LW, the fact is, there’s is NO specific “God given” definition for transmission of Jewishness that one can point to in the Bible. If the was one, we wouldn’t be talking about this here right now. In fact, the Bible has many places where it is clear that it is the job of the community leadership to determine the specifics of G-d’s laws. Biology is not the only factor. Abraham was promised that his seed would inherit the Promised Land and become great people, but when he had a child through Hagar, G-d would not even acknowledge Ishmael as Abraham’s son (going so far as calling Isaac “your ONLY son”). Logic would say that Abraham’s “genes” should have been enough.

    “Additionally, the numbers of murdered holocaust victims would have to be greatly altered since many supposedly Gentiles went to their death as Jews.”

    Many people who even looked Semitic were also murdered by the Nazis. I know of such cases in the former Soviet Union during WWII (where there are “Jewish looking” ethnicities reside, such as Armenians). Nazis also murdered Gentile spouses of Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism.

  30. Gene: “LW, the fact is, there’s is NO specific “God given” definition for transmission of Jewishness that one can point to in the Bible. If the was one, we wouldn’t be talking about this here right now. ”

    Two quick points.

    1) there is if you read without later inserted tradition. Example, Joseph didn’t marry a Jew. His boys are used as a blessing for all sons to be like. Were all of the mothers of Jacob’s sons Jewish? How ’bout Moses’ wife? intermarriage is so common biblically with literally NO problem at all until one incident in post- exilic era and you want to redefine everything for that one incident. It’s just a little silly to me. It’s like being at work, realizing you’re getting a headache so your boss tells you to sit down and take a break and then you decide you should never go back to work.

    IF Ezra’s decision was warranted (and I see no absolute there) it was for that situation specifically due to pagan wives as opposed to gentile wives who accepted Israel’s God and blended into the community, and to use it as binding for all time creates a situation where the most important hero’s of the bible, as it turns out, weren’t Jewish at all!

    2) were talking about it right now because at some point a tradition was created that is antithetical to the bible and obviously impossible to be true. It’s like when (some) call (yes) Abraham, Yeshua, Peter etc a “Christian” or when people say Saul’s name was changed to Paul when he “converted”. It shows other stuff is being inserted.

  31. “gentile wives who accepted Israel’s God and blended into the community”

    LW, Judaism calls these women “converts to Judaism”. In Ezra’s case, it is obvious that those wives didn’t convert nor had lived by the standards of the Jewish community, even though they lived among all the other exiles IN the Jewish community.

    “were talking about it right now because at some point a tradition was created that is antithetical to the bible and obviously impossible to be true.”

    NT matrilineal precedents (Jews through mother): Yeshua and Timothy. No cases of patrilineal Jews mentioned. Not saying that there were not any (there could have been, I simply do not know), but I am simply showing you some examples of first century Jewish identity model of identity through the mother.

    I want to bow out of this topic, as I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

  32. I’ll entertain further comments if anyone wants to continue, but I recognize Gene’s desire not to be the source of any hurt feelings. If the conversation ends here, that’s OK with me, too.

  33. “LW, Judaism calls these women “converts to Judaism”

    I agree that Judaism does, MY point is the bible doesn’t.

    Something this important would surly have been made explicit by God.

    And the precedent is laid, that you didn’t respond to, that by your own reckoning none of the biblical heroes we think of as Jewish, were.

  34. This conversation seems to be a collision of perspectives, one being a more Christian viewpoint on the Bible and the other being traditionally Jewish.

    Even today, many people struggle with “who is a Jew” and sometimes very passionately. Discussion is important but the one thing we’ll never determine with absolute certainty this side of the Messiah, is who God thinks is a Jew.

    For myself, if I want to look at a Jew, I’ll look at my wife. If I want to see a Gentile Christian, I’ll look in the mirror.

    Oh, just for giggles, I’m about to publish an “extra meditation” called “Whatever Happened To The Mixed Multitude?” I’m sure it will draw some attention since it also addresses “identity.”

  35. James: “Even today, many people struggle with “who is a Jew” and sometimes very passionately. Discussion is important but the one thing we’ll never determine with absolute certainty this side of the Messiah, is who God thinks is a Jew.”

    The struggle, as in most things, comes from people serving their own needs instead of looking at what God says. Taking the “traditional” route is anyones prerogative, I uphold a persons right to believe whatever they want to. But that is different than attaching that belief to God’s will or intention.

    God does say what a Jew is James. There is little ambiguity in the bible, it comes later with folks monkeying around with the definition. Saying the Rabbis have a right to interpret is valid, however, they aren’t infallible, otherwise there’d be no admonition to turn neither to the right or left of Torah, and not to add to or take away from it.

    The thing that seems a little disingenuous to me is this argument is the same in the Christian world where the “Church Fathers” get to turn scripture on its head (at times) using Yeshua’s transfer to Peter and others as holding the right to bind and loose. We are pretty vocal against re-ddfining things in that realm, I think a bit of consistency is called for is all.

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