Encouraging a Jewish Wife

apples-oranges-interfaithNo matter what the content, the fact that there are classes for Intermarried couples is a progress , because it is a doorway to observance and making a Jewish home, and even conversions. Sometimes it is the non-Jewish spouse who brings the Jewish partner back to Judaism so they need to be given a chance. This is different from being lenient about intermarriage. Since a lot of Jewish observance is done at home eg. Shabbat , people can be introduced to it and be encouraged because of the wonderful effect it has on family life, would be a good place to start with.

-Anonymous
Comment found on “What to Do about Intermarriage”
Aish.com

A lot of Jewish articles about intermarriage are difficult for me to read because many sound like “The goyim are bad for marrying Jewish men and women and causing them to assimilate.” Harold Berman’s article was much more refreshing, but Anonymous’s comment really hit home.

Sometimes it is the non-Jewish spouse who brings the Jewish partner back to Judaism so they need to be given a chance.

My daughter just returned from Israel a few days ago after spending nearly two weeks in the Land participating in the Birthright Israel program. While she was gone, one Friday afternoon, my wife got out the Shabbos candlesticks (sans actual candles). She didn’t light the candles, but she didn’t want me to put them away after Shabbos, either. They’re still sitting on our counter waiting and have been for two Friday evenings now, after gathering dust in our bookshelf for months.

Through casual conversation, I found out that my wife took our grandson for a visit to the home of the Chabad Rabbi and Rabbitzin. It came up when we were talking about a new Lego toy my wife bought our grandson, which was the result of him playing with the Rabbi’s children (I guess they’re heavily into Legos). Yesterday afternoon, my wife wasn’t home, but since she didn’t have to watch our grandson that day, I thought she was off doing errands and visiting friends. I was right, but not in the specifics. She’s spent the afternoon helping the Chabad Rabbitzin do some cooking. There was a hint that she might be planning on helping with some of the food preparation for the High Holidays as well.

birthright_taglitI couldn’t be happier. Well, yes I could. I’m delighted that the missus is becoming more involved with the Chabad community again. Actually, for all I know, she never stopped, but she stopped talking about it. I’m glad that part of her life is becoming more overt again. I keep wondering if she’s simply wishing that I would quit church and become more interested in Judaism.

It’s not like I didn’t try. After leaving my previous congregation, I suggested and hinted and finally asked about the two of us participating together in the Jewish community. Eventually it came out that it would be too embarrassing to have her “Messianic” husband meet with her Jewish friends. I guess a Christian husband is equally humiliating for her.

Welcoming is critical. But it’s not enough. And the question “how can we be welcoming” is the wrong starting point. Instead of asking how we can welcome interfaith families, we would serve them better by asking how we can help them transform themselves through Jewish life. Welcoming, without more, is simply a technique to get people in the door. But Jewish transformation goes to the heart of our passion and purpose as a people.

Helping intermarried families feel comfortable may encourage them to enter our doors. But it won’t help them grow. And it may not even convince them to stay. To be sure, being welcoming and effecting Jewish transformation is hardly an either/or equation, and notable examples of doing both well can be found. But the communal starting point is nearly always one of welcoming, hardly ever one of transformation, and in the meantime, the majority of intermarried families are either unengaged or under-engaged in Jewish life.

I’ve met intermarried couples who joined a synagogue because they were made to feel comfortable.

But I’ve never met an intermarried couple (or in-married, for that matter) who got excited about Jewish life, who gave their kids a rich Jewish education, who chose to become a Jewish family, simply because they felt comfortable. In virtually every case, they encountered a gifted Jewish teacher, had a meaningful experience in a service, or found that Judaism spoke profoundly to their worldview.

intermarriageNotice the first paragraph I’m quoting from Mr. Berman’s article says “interfaith” families, not just “intermarried.” Intermarried simply means that one member of the couple is Jewish and the other is Gentile but not necessarily religious (particularly Christian). Interfaith implies that the Jewish member is religiously Jewish on some level and the Gentile member is affiliated with another religion (probably Christianity).

The direction in which the article travels leads to not just welcoming interfaith/intermarried couples in the synagogue, but the drive to help them transform into Jewish families.

Another person commenting on the article said:

One cannot simultaneously believe that the Messiah has come & believe Ani Ma’anim with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach. Raising children with nothing is nothing. Make a choice, give your child roots (whatever they are) so she IY”H can have wings.

Here we start moving into potentially hazardous territory. What happens to the Christian member of the marriage if the goal of welcoming interfaith/intermarried couples into Jewish life is to create Jewish families?

I know from a Messianic Jewish point of view what the answer could be but that doesn’t play if the Jewish person in the marriage does not have faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

My wife would never ask me to abandon my faith. I’ve considered saying I could cease all outward signs of my faith if it would help her to return to the synagogue and become more involved in Jewish community (I stop short of offering to abandon all internal signs of my faith), but first of all, I know she would decline, and second of all, it’s still a dangerous step for me to take.

And we’re not raising children. My youngest is twenty-five so as adults, my children are all responsible for their relationship with God and who they are (or aren’t) as Jews. The window of opportunity my wife and I had to instill a strong Jewish identity in our children has long since slammed shut.

woman_torahI want my wife and children to become as involved with the Jewish community, with the Torah, with the mitzvot as they want to be and in fact, as involved as God wants them to be. I would be more than happy to “go along for the ride,” so to speak, though as I said before, my presence would make my wife highly uncomfortable. I always come up against the same walls when I face being intermarried and I don’t know how to get over, around, or through them. No one in my church could understand and they’d probably be offended that I’m praying for my family to be more Jewish rather than for them to convert to Christianity.

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NASB)

I wonder if there’s an adaptation of Paul’s midrash on “intermarriage” that says the Christian husband can save the Jewish wife by leading her to be more Jewish? Probably not, but it’s a nice thought.

There’s an emphasis in certain corners of Messianic Judaism in general and in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) ministry in specific that believes strongly that we Gentile Christians exist to provoke the Jewish people to zealousness in the mitzvot and a return to the Torah. I’ve come to believe this as well.

I just need to know how…or maybe the only answer is just for me to stay out of my wife’s way and let her do what she’s going to do. Maybe it’s just a matter letting go and trusting that God knows what He’s doing.

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18 thoughts on “Encouraging a Jewish Wife”

  1. My cousin married a Catholic woman who converted to Judaism. She was never into Catholicism, and saw Judaism as treating women in a more egalitarian fashion – well, the Reform do, at least. So, of course Judaism was something new and exciting to her, while to my cousin, it was boring, old hat stuff he grew up with. She was the more active one and made sure her kids had a great Jewish education and identity. And while his wife had negative experiences growing up Catholic, she had no negative history in relation to Judaism, as those who grew up Jewish often do. So, this is where the misunderstanding comes in. I don’t see that “out-Jewing the Jews,” provokes Jews to jealousy, (it is really offensive) but what does is when there is a humble connection to the Holy One in the celebration of torah and mitzvot, and a real relationship with heaven. There’s the joke that the Israeli guides tell their Christian tourists, “When Messiah comes, I will ask, ‘is this your first time here or your second time?'” It is the Jewish community that shuts the door to torah and the Jewish community to one who believes Yeshua is the Messiah; not the other way around. Of course they don’t have a problem with Chabad and their messiahship of Rebbe Schneerson, or the Jewbus or Hatha Yoga taught at the JCC. Chabad may be befriending your wife, but they are really seeking to recruit her; and the requirements become much more rigorous and they become more controlling the farther in you get. Don’t be surprised if “friendly,” anti-missionaries show up at your door.

  2. I don’t see that “out-Jewing the Jews,” provokes Jews to jealousy, (it is really offensive)

    Believe me, that’s not my intent. When I, as the lone Gentile in the home, was the only one lighting the Shabbos candles, I realized that I had to stop for exactly that reason. However, my commentary on Jordan Levy’s article about provoking zealousness (not jealousy) is more about getting out of my Jewish spouse’s way and not attempting to “tell her what to do” as far as being Jewish.

    I know that Chabad actively pursues Jewish people to bring them back to Torah or to bring them to Torah for the first time. On occasion, I get a little miffed with Chabad when my wife says “Jews believe this” or “Jews believe that” as if the Chabad view of Judaism is the only possible one in existence. In fact, it’s my understanding that there’s something of a spectrum of “what Jews believe,” and the local Chabad Rabbi doesn’t have a corner market on it.

    But it’s not like she’s going to listen to her Christian husband about such a thing, so most of the time, I take the better part of valor.

    As far as Chabad controlling my wife…I don’t see it. She’s very independently minded and knows where to draw the line. In fact, I wish she would become more observant. I wish she’d go to shul on Shabbat. If she wanted to kasher our kitchen, I’d be OK with that, too. The world has gone too far in removing the presence of Jewish people among us. I want *someone* in my family to retain a Jewish identity and lifestyle.

  3. James, I’m sorry, I did not mean to imply that you were, “out-Jewing the Jews,” but there are certainly many who do, whether the philo-semites who believe everything rabbinical is golden, to the HR antisemites who claim everything rabbinical is garbage. Chabad, as others among the Orthodox, do claim, “Jews believe this,” and they are somewhat cult-like, although they have a more pleasant and seeker-friendly exterior than some others. It is not a matter of bringing Jews back to torah or Judaism; their goal is to bring Jews back to THEIR BRAND of Judaism and THEIR interpretation of halacha. Yes, Christians do exactly the same thing, and so does MessyWorld. They all desire to increase their market share in the den of thieves religious marketplace, and as Kefa said, “make merchandise of you.” But good, as well as evil, comes out of all these things. You know as well as I do that the Jewish people, both historically and currently possess a wide range of beliefs and practices, even among the observant. Just like among Christians, most Jewish people, and Judeophiles don’t know enough, or don’t bother to find out, that they are being sold a bill of goods. Tovia Singer got caught in a bold-faced lie when he claimed that Judaism teaches that no one can die for the sins of another. Of course no person is punished for the sins of another by the Holy One, but one can choose to suffer and die in the place of another, and this is throughout both scripture and talmudic writings. Lazar Brody recently claimed that the tragic murder of Leiby Gretsky was a sacrifice of an innocent to turn away the judgment against Israel and the Jewish people. Tovia wisely deleted the thread.

  4. Actually, Lazar Brody isn’t the only one to hold that belief.

    As far as my wife’s choice of Jewish communities, she has limited options. We have two synagogues in our locale, the Chabad, and the Reform/Conservative combined shul. She maintains relations with both, probably to a degree I’m unaware of. Unless she invites me, I can’t interfere with her journey of lived discovery as a Jewish person (what do I know, I’m a Christian). It’s an area in our relationship I have to treat somewhat gingerly.

    I agree that all of the variations within Judaism and Christianity tend to tell people that *they* are the real meal deal and all the others are posers.

    I remember reading a book given to me by a friend called The Heavenly Man about a Chinese man who came to faith in Jesus in Communist China and who went on to become one of the most well-known (and most tortured and imprisoned) Pastors in that country.

    He originally knew almost nothing about Christianity except what he could read in the Bible and what little he could learn from other believers. When different Christian missionary groups from Europe and America finally were able to send in large numbers of Bibles, they all sent in large amounts of denominational material along with them. This caused a horrible amount of confusion on the covert believers in China who, prior to this point, were virtually all on the same page but after encountering the various denominational statements and pamphlets, started forming different groups and coming into conflict.

    Unfortunately, once any group reaches a critical size and exceeds it, the group forms numerous subgroups based on differences of perception and organization. That includes Christianity and Judaism. Rather flies in the face of a unified body of Messiah, alas.

  5. Ah, The Heavenly Man. Great book!!

    I had the rare privilege of spending two days with brother Yun a couple years ago. Wow!! What a blessing… There were a couple other brothers at that conference that were totally amazing, too! That was just at the point I started to move out of organized church.

    What you say about denominational doctrines is true. One of my great hang-ups today is the nature of most denominations and their pastors. At the end of the day it is about defending their doctrinal statement and/or denominational heroes… sad.

  6. That’s true, but the larger point is that all religious systems do that if they’re above a certain size (and if we know about them, then they usually are). I don’t want to turn this into a Christian bashing session. You can find this in Judaism, Islam, and other organized religions. It’s true of any organized system of human beings.

    The difference is as people of faith, we are supposed to try to rise above system dynamics and allow God to define us.

  7. I will gladly pray that your wife becomes more Jewish, because study of the Torah leads one toward God, not away from Him. Even if it is in miniscule baby steps.

  8. James, I noticed you were reading, “Start-Up Nation,” which I have been thinking about reading, that, and Anita Diamont’s newest book. My youngest wants to major in economics, so I bet he will like it. To Dree and others; I don’t know what it means when people say, “more Jewish,” because it would depend on how you would define what being more or less Jewish meant, and one’s culture and worldview would determine one’s vision. In the early years, you would hear, “believing in Yeshua will make you more Jewish or a better Jew.” But no one would ever define what that meant.

  9. Okay. But some become more observant (however you define it) and rather than it causing them to grow in appreciation for the things of heaven, they develop an arrogant, self-righteous, look-down-upon-others attitude. I suppose that is the pay-off for all the restrictions added to one’s life. As I have mentioned on some other spaces, those who idolize the Orthodox likely don’t have any pain-in-the-toochis Orthodox relatives 🙂

    James, you must work for the government to have so much time to write a blog 🙂 I do appreciate all your insights and the work it must entail.

    One thing I resent about this “more Jewish,” stuff is during the time I spent in MJ (when it was still mostly Jewish) was that all the leaders married non-Jewish women and Jewish women in the congregation were supposed to rejoice as we saw the Jewish men, one after another, mostly marry the “sweet gentile girls with a Jewish heart,” who they preferred over the more demanding and domineering (as they saw it) Jewish women. I believe the only leaders married to Jewish women were those who married prior to their faith in Yeshua. So, what is this about being more Jewish stuff?

  10. Okay. But some become more observant (however you define it) and rather than it causing them to grow in appreciation for the things of heaven, they develop an arrogant, self-righteous, look-down-upon-others attitude.

    I think what I’m trying to say (but obviously, rather poorly) is that I do want her to grow in appreciation for the things of heaven as a Jewish woman. I want her to be the person God made her to be. I don’t want to stand in the way of that because I’m not Jewish and especially because I am a Christian.

    I think that’s one of the things that’s most difficult for her (or other Jewish people) to understand, given the terrifically poor history between Christians and Jewish people over the last twenty centuries or so.

  11. James, perhaps you are more sensitive and considerate than a secular Jewish husband might be. I have a relative who is Sephardic, and interestingly, she doesn’t have any negative attitude toward Christians, as Christians were also a persecuted minority in her country of origin. There has been a poor history, as Benjamin Disraeli well spoke, “Jews are a nervous sort; 19 centuries of Christian love have made them that way.” But communists slaughtered Jews too, and that doesn’t stop Jews from joining the ultra liberal socialists. I agree that we all need to encourage each other to be the people God intended us to be (without our own preconceptions about what that should look like) rather than seek to get them to join our camp/pet theology etc.

  12. I agree that we all need to encourage each other to be the people God intended us to be (without our own preconceptions about what that should look like) rather than seek to get them to join our camp/pet theology etc.

    Which is why I’d like to just step to one side and let God make the determination as to who my wife was created to be. Lord knows I’ve done enough damage to my LSW (long suffering wife) over the years.

  13. Maybe a way for your wife to be more observant of her Jewish faith is by doing an interfaith devotion together at home. There may be books that are written for Jewish and Christian interfaith couples to discuss what they have in common and celebrate their differences. In time, maybe she might feel less embarrassed to introduce you to the Jewish communities that she’s involved by inviting you to attend the synagogue services, preparation for high holy days etc. with her.

  14. Thanks for your suggestion. I just got home from work and my wife isn’t at home. I hope this means she’s over at the Chabad helping the Rebbitzin get things ready for Rosh Hashanah, which is early next week. This is just one of those things she has to negotiate without me kibitzing, so to speak.

    There’s a long back story to why she’s embarrassed to have me be involved in the local Jewish community, so I’ll respect her wishes and keep my nose out of it until/unless invited.

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