Tens of thousands of Jews have married non-Jews with similar worthy intentions, only to realize when it is already too late that raising a Jewish family with a non-Jewish partner is a near impossibility.
You are my sister. I want to dance at your wedding. I want my daughters to be your flower girls. I want to cry tears of happiness at your chuppah.
I love you. I admire and am very fond of Mike. But if you marry Mike, as difficult as it will be for me as well as for you, I will not be able to attend your wedding. I could not attend your wedding because, as Jews, what would happen on your wedding day would not be a happy event. It would be a tragedy of historic proportions.
I wish that this was not a letter that I had to write. I wish that I could just keep on smiling and acting as though everything is all right, like everybody else in our family. But I feel that, as painful as this is, because I care about you as much as I do, I must tell you the truth.
from “Dear Rebecca: A Letter on Intermarriage”
found at Chabad of Mineola
This is part of a very poignant letter from one Jewish sister to another on the announcement that the other sister “Rebecca” is marrying a non-Jew. As you can see, this is no small thing for many Jews and, in this circumstance, the sister writing the letter feels so strongly that, if her sister “Rebecca” insists on marrying “Mike”, the letter-writer won’t be attending the ceremony.
I know this sounds cruel and heartless. After all, if this woman has found her “soulmate” and that man happens not to be Jewish, is it really so bad?
Let’s go back a step.
The 52nd prohibition is that we are forbidden from marrying heretics.
The source of this commandment is G-d’s statement, “do not intermarry with them,” which then explains what kind of intermarriage is referred to – “do not give your daughters to their sons, and do not take their daughters for your sons.”
Tractate Avodah Zarah states clearly, “the Torah prohibition applies where there is marriage.”
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. –Deuteronomy 7:3-4
This is the Biblical and Talmudic basis for prohibiting intermarriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. We also see a dramatic example of what happens when Jews are tempted to intermarry in Genesis 34. However, you might say that Christianity also has a similar “commandment”:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God… –2 Corinthians 6:14-16
However, for a Christian, Paul provided a “loophole”:
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. –1 Corinthians 7:12-14
I have a personal stake in this matter because I’m intermarried to a Jewish woman but with a twist; neither of us was religious when we first married. My wife wasn’t raised in a religious home and her own parents were also intermarried (her mother was Jewish). Only one of my wife’s Jewish relatives (a cousin) was at our wedding, but the matter of intermarriage never came up.
Since then, my wife and I have both come to faith, albeit different faiths, and I’ve been actively exploring what all this is supposed to mean. I’ve read a lot of books, including Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s Making a Successful Jewish Interfaith Marriage, but the materials available on the market always address people who are already religious or observant and who are about to be married. I’m not 25 anymore and just starting out, and in fact, my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years. It’s only in the past five years or so that “intermarriage” has become a factor in our relationship. As our paths continue to diverge in our individual journeys with God, what will that mean?
Dr. David Rudolph published a paper on intermarriage statistics which states that Jewish-non-Jewish intermarriages are pretty much going through the roof. It’s considered an “epidemic” by more conservative sects of Judaism and a threat to Jewish survival. Not only is there a tangible fear that if a Jew marries a non-Jew, that the Jew will be drawn away from their faith, but that the children will have no definitive Jewish identity, thus effectively eliminating a large population of Jews from the next generation.
There’s also the threat of divorce to contend with:
In a paper published in 1993, Evelyn Lehrer, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that if members of two mainline Christian denominations marry, they have a one in five chance of being divorced in five years. A Catholic and a member of an evangelical denomination have a one in three chance. And a Jew and a Christian who marry have a greater than 40 percent chance of being divorced in five years.
-Naomi Schaefer Riley, Interfaith Marriages Are Rising Fast, But They’re Failing Fast Too, Washington Post, 6 June 2010
The Chabad of Mineola website also published a response by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman to a Jewish woman asking if she should marry her Muslim boyfriend. Here is part of Rabbi Freeman’s response:
I don’t know where this man stands, whether he is a secular Muslim, a literalist or a mystic, or has beaten his own path. But it is not possible that there will not be conflict over these issues. On the one hand, as his wife, you will need to defend him before family members and other Jews. Yet it’s not possible that in all issues you will agree. After all, if you did, where would the “other” be? The conflict could be deeply painful, destructive of family ties and friendships for both of you. Rather than leading to self-discovery, it may lead instead to a sacrifice of your own identity to save the marriage.
In the end, if you truly love this man, direct him on the right path. Let him realize that for him, a happy marriage will be union with a mate to his own soul, and raising children within his own community, without confusion, with a clear message, “This is who we are and this is what is expected of you.” There he can find happiness, and so too the family he will raise.
May you too find a soulmate of your people and build a family within your people. That is the Jewish concept of the messianic world: not a mush of blended egos, but a magnificent panorama of colors and textures, each individual, family and people playing its part, each contributing its own part in the symphony that is humankind.
Rabbi Freeman gives a measured, compassionate, and kind reply to this woman but it is also a firm reply. A Jewish soul should marry another Jewish soul.
That however, doesn’t address the vast army of married couples who are “unequally yoked”, who have been married for years or decades, and who are well into raising children or have even raised children into adulthood. What of them? What of us?
Since part of this blog has to do with exploring the world of Jewish-Christian intermarriage, I thought it was high time I blogged about it. While there isn’t significant friction between my wife and I on our different religious viewpoints, there isn’t a great deal of agreement either. I suppose it isn’t an issue most of the time because we don’t discuss it most of the time. I let pass the occasional disparaging remarks about “what Christians believe” that come from my wife or daughter, but it’s at those moments when I am acutely aware of the barrier that exists between me and them. I choose to remain silent about it for the sake of peace in the home. I’m not here to “convert” them, nor would I ever try, and the Christians reading my words are free to criticize me for this.
Yet, God made us “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8) and one flesh we remain. We have “forsaken all others” and are united as man and woman before God.
In spite my previous quotes from Rabbi Freeman, he also published a different kind of commentary on love and marriage:
Even if all your complaints about your spouse are well-founded and valid – show her your love, nevertheless. Show her unconditional love.
It is said that all our exile is due to the sin of unmitigated hatred.
When each one of us will start with unmitigated love in our own domain, from there it will spread to all else that we do, and from there to the entire world, speedily in our days, Amen.
Yes, he’s probably addressing Jewish married couples or married couples who are both alike in faith, but is an interfaith marriage an exception to “unconditional love”? If, as the Rabbi says, we start with “unmitigated love in our own domain”, and it spreads out from there, can’t that love expand between a spouse of one faith to the spouse of another?
What now, God?