Tag Archives: family

Finding My Exit

no-exitWhen you and the path you have chosen get along just great, it’s hard to know whether your motives are sincere.

But when you come across a path to do good, and this path goes against every sinew of your flesh and every cell in your brain, when you want only to flee and hide from it —do this.

Then you shall know your motives are sincere.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I hit what seemed to be a pretty significant wall this past weekend. Hopefully not too many people noticed, but I was turning myself into knots inside and very seriously doubting my current path for a day or two.

The first event that contributed to this mess was from divisiveness in the blogosphere. I should have known better, but a miscommunication between a friend and I and then another in a long series of online “nastygrams” caused me to question whether or not my friend was pulling away from me and pulling much of my current world view along with him (long story).

As personal as the first event was, the second event was far more intimate. On Sunday morning, my wife and I were having a small chat before I left for church. I happened to mention that Pastor Randy gave me a paper on the different arguments between Arminianism and Calvinism and my difficulties in they way the author of the article was expressing his viewpoint.

I didn’t think much of it, but my wife, who is Jewish, started touting how Judaism has received the Torah in an unbroken line between Sinai and the present and that in any response to changes of circumstances across time, the Rabbis always consult the core text and all applications are based on strict adherence to the Torah, thus avoiding the problems I was having with a Christian commentary.

I think it was her attempt to show me that Judaism has a better handle on the Bible and thus on God than Christianity, which I don’t mind, but in our conversation, she brought up how, if the Christian view of the Bible were true, then it totally invalidates Jews and Judaism.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that her perception of Christianity is not what I believe at all. And yet I was confronted with a dilemma. I could explain, thanks to all of the information I’ve captured within this blog, why I believe she’s wrong and why a Messianic interpretation of “Christianity” is wholly Jewish, but my being a “prophet without honor in my own land” (and needless to say, in my own family), how would she take it?

The worst that would happen if I were talking to any other Jewish person was that they’d tell me I was “full of it” and walk away (not that I desire to insult anyone). But what would be the worst that would happen if that transaction were to occur between me and my wife?

I didn’t want to find out so I let the conversation die.

But as I went to church, I was confronted with two highly significant relationships in my life being (apparently) damaged, all because of who I am and my faith in Christ.

I remembered part of a conversation I had with my Pastor. I told him I left the Hebrew Roots movement in part because I knew my participation was very embarrassing to my wife. He asked me, somewhat incredulously, if my being a Christian and going to church were any less embarrassing to a Jewish wife. I absolutely didn’t consider that before, but at that moment and again last Sunday morning, it hit me like a punch in the teeth from Mike Tyson.

I also couldn’t help but consider a few verses.

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

Ezra 10:10-11 (NRSV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 10:34-38 (NRSV)

leavingThe Master doesn’t address husband and wife specifically, but it wasn’t hard for me to read between the lines. And in relation to Ezra, I guess I would be the “foreign wife.”

I wasn’t afraid this would dissolve my marriage, but I could see my friendship receding into the distance and, as damage control, what would be my only option to contain this conflict? If my wife was saying that my being a Christian made me “anti-Semitic” by definition, then how could I prove otherwise except to stop going to church? But how could I stop going to church and maintain my faith in Christ?

The conflict between my faith and my marriage came abruptly into sharp focus.

So last Sunday at church was miserable, not because of church, but because of me.

It’s actually pretty painful to see all of the other couples at church because they’re couples. There’s no conflict that I can see between husband and wife because of their faith. They sit together at church, they bring their children, they go to Sunday school together, they support each other’s views.

That’s also true of most people (but not all) I know in the Messianic movement. I sometimes feel like the only oddball.

So with a nudnik (and I know something about nudniks) trying to drive a wedge between my friend and me on the one side, and my most recent “religious conversation” with my wife on the other, who I am supposed to be at Christ was stuck soundly in the middle. All I could see were “no option options.” I was in a box with no way out, a room with no exit.

So what happened?

I did what I always try to do under similar circumstances…I didn’t do anything about it. The temptation was to act impulsively to reduce the discomfort, but that’s usually the wrong thing to do.

After church, there was plenty of gardening to do and that’s relatively mindless work, so I had a lot of time to think. After that, I was given the annual task of cleaning out my book closet (if left to my own devices, I’d keep everything I’ve ever owned). My wife and daughter tackled the equally daunting job of cleaning out and arranging the food pantry.

My son Michael came over by the by and cooked dinner for us while we were working. By the by, my wife and I interacted and I noticed that she was behaving, not as if I were an anti-Semite in the camp, but like I’m her husband and we’re doing typical Sunday evening family stuff together in our home.

The bubbling pot began to cool.

I got an email later that night allaying my other concern and reminding me that just because “bad attitude” people try to interfere with friendships doesn’t mean those friendships are any less established. The message couldn’t have come at a better time.

when-the-forest-beckonsThis whole episode reminded me that I have a duty to my wife to share the Good News of Messiah with her. The problem is, she’s already heard it, accepted it within the church, re-accepted it within a Hebrew Roots context, and, when transitioning first to the Reform-Conservative synagogue in town and then the Chabad, chosen to reject the Gospel of Jesus “because that’s not what Jews believe.”

I wish I could convince her otherwise, but that “Good News” might not be easy for her to hear coming from me, especially when I’m competing with the Chabad Rabbi, a lot of anti-missionary rhetoric, and two-thousand years of post-Jesus Jewish history.

That particular “adventure” is to be continued, but I do have a message for blogging nudniks who deliberately try to mess up friendships in order to further their own agendas:

There are people who believe they are doing good by swallowing others’ egos alive. The egos of those they cannot help, and of those who cannot help them, are inedible to them—and therefore intolerable. They cannot work with others—because their egos leave no space for “others”—only for those extensions of their own inflated selves that show they need them, or for those whom they need.

You don’t love your neighbor to glorify your own ego. When you come to your sister’s or brother’s aid, leave your own self behind. Love with self-sacrifice.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Free Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If you come to realize that what you do is not for the sake of Heaven but for the requirements of your own ego or emotions, then the need for you to attend to your own affairs is far, far greater than whatever temporary issues I may be experiencing.

I found the exit from my no-exit room and am continuing down the path that God has set before me.


The Interwoven Passover Seder

hagadaLeader: God is my strength and my song, and God has become my triumph.

Group: And we will praise our God forever.

Leader: The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

A Passover Haggadah

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…'”

Matthew 21:42

That kind of caught me by surprise Monday night.

But let me start at the beginning.

I went through the Haggadah several times to make sure I was familiar with the reading, using little sticky arrows to point to places I needed to skip or pay close attention to (especially where to break for the meal). Last year, I tried reading the Haggadah cold with no preparation at all and became quickly lost (where’s the part I’m supposed to read when it’s not Shabbat?). There are all kinds of songs in the Haggadah I’m not familiar with so where do I read and where do I skip and when I skip, what page do I skip to?

My son, who I commute to and from work with, had an appointment after work on Monday he forgot about, so we had to detour from the plan of getting home in plenty of time to help prepare the meal to getting home with not a lot of time to spare.

Fortunately, my other son has the week off and had spent most of the day with my wife helping her out, so when I got home, everything was under control. All I had to do was cook the chicken and pick up my daughter from work. The only hiccup I introduced was I had taken a copy of the Haggadah to work to go over it one more time before the Seder. When I showed up with it at home that evening, the missus got that “Ah ha! That’s where the other one went” look on her face, but after that, all was well.

By 7:20 that night, everything was in order. Tons and tons of food had been prepared. The formal dining room table was set. Everyone was present. We were ready.

My four-year old grandson was very patient with us. I was wondering how he’d tolerate sitting at the table for long periods of time while we were reciting from the Haggadah. Fortunately, long road trips in the van have helped him to know when and how to sit still.

And he likes matzah.

We praise You, God, Sovereign of Existence! You have called us for service from among the peoples, and have hallowed our lives with commandments. In love You have given us [Sabbaths for rest,] festivals for rejoicing, seasons for celebration,, this Festival of Matzot, the time of our freedom, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Praised are You, Lord our God, Who have us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies [the Sabbath,] Israel, and the festivals.

-from the Haggadah

“You have called us for service from among the peoples…hallowed our lives with commandments…You have given us…the time of our freedom…Who gave us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies [the Sabbath,] Israel…”

Remember, the family Goy is the leader of the Seder in my home and I’m the one reading all of this. I couldn’t figure out any way to read from the Haggadah and not imply that somehow I thought all this applied to me and that I was claiming to be Israel (though I’ve been acquainted with just a few Christians who call themselves “Israelites” and claim pretty much everything that’s Jewish without so much as a by your leave).

But it was more my issue than anyone else’s. I don’t think my wife or children expected me to change the text just to accommodate my “Gentile-ness.” It was really the only thing left that was bugging me about our intermarried Seder.

I decided to let it slide.

(I should say that I was feeling kind of guilty in blogging and even visiting the Internet on Tuesday morning, but I saw a significant number of Jewish believers already posting blogs and comments on Facebook, so apparently, I’m not a horrible person…in their eyes at least…for doing what I’m doing now…I guess it’s up to God to decide how He wants to respond to our online “work.”)

Then I read the quote in the Haggadah from Psalm 118 that is echoed in Matthew 21, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Peter 2:7. I know the Haggadah wasn’t referencing any of the New Testament quotes, but remember, I said that I intended to allow the Seder to have a double meaning for me, not just addressing the traditional Passover for the Israelites, but the Messianic application as well:

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Luke 22:14-20

candleI admit, I didn’t have a spiritual power surge during the Seder but I had fun. I had fun in the sense of satisfaction at watching my family gather and celebrate the Seder together. I had fun watching my grandson trying to understand why Bubbe was taking him to the front door to see if someone named “Elijah” was there. I had fun watching him really, really, enjoy matzoh ball soup.

I had a feeling of warmth, like the lighting of the candles at the beginning of the reading.

I was glad to be there and participating in the “reminder” to my wife, my sons, and my daughter, that they are Jewish and that who they are and where they come from has a meaning that is unlike any other people and meaning that has ever existed or will ever exist. Even in Christianity, we are not born into a covenant. We cannot consider ourselves as having stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah (although it wouldn’t hurt for us to picture ourselves standing at the foot of the cross and watching Jesus slowly die for our sins).

I did have a “light to the world” moment earlier on Monday morning at work, though. The person who sits right behind me is a very kind and gentle Catholic man. Another of the people who arrives as early to work as the two of us is a Christian woman. The subject of our conversation turned to Passover and within a few minutes, I realized that I had a captive audience, and I was explaining not only the traditional meaning of the Passover, but how I see it as a Christian, juxtaposing it against Easter.

As I’m writing this, I’m watching the “patterns” of Passover, at least in my life, weave in and out of my family, my friends, my understanding of God, taking on different colors and textures as Passover crosses from one of my worlds to the next. Passover is what it means to me as a tradition for my family. Passover is what it means to me as a Christian who acknowledges that my Lord and Savior is the Jewish Messiah King. Passover is what it means to me when, as a Christian, I share my understanding of its observance with others around me.

And in some way that is highly untraditional in the Christian and Jewish worlds, Passover is one of the bridges that crosses the gap between me and God.

So when packing my lunch this morning, among other food items, I inserted the obligatory pieces of matzah. They act, not only as nourishment, but as conversation pieces with my co-workers. They also act as reminders of the body of Christ, which was broken for me and which symbolize the Covenant that attaches me to God; a Covenant that extends directly back to Abraham.

My faith in celebrating Passover as a Christian in a Jewish family has been restored, blissfully and peacefully. Would that the upcoming Easter Sunday observance of the resurrected Messiah be as meaningful.

But that is yet to come.

Early in the Morning – Late in Life

Running out of timeMoshe ascended early in the morning and descended early in the morning.

-Shabbos 86a

Rabbi Menachem Bentzion Sacks used to expound upon this theme. The climb to God, the spiritual drive to perfection, must begin early in one’s life. In reference to Moshe’s receiving the second tablets (34:2), the Torah similarly emphasizes: “Be ready in the morning, and go up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and be placed there before Me at the top of the mountain.” Within these words is contained a message for all generations. Namely, one must prepare in the “early morning” of one’s life and begin an ascent in order to stand before Hashem when one reaches the peak of one’s maturity.

Our sages have praised those who partake of a hearty morning meal. We are told (Bava Kama 92b): “I will remove illness from amongst you.” (Shemos 23:25). This refers to the removal of eighty-three maladies associated with the disease called “marah”. Also among the benefits gained by eating a morning meal is that one is granted the ability to study Torah and to teach.

Finally, “Sixty men may pursue one who has early meals in the morning, but they will not overtake him.” All of these advantages can be applied as well to one who partakes of spiritual food. “Torah is compared to water, as in Yeshayahu 55:1.” – Bava Kama 17. The more a young person is nourished early in the morning by studying in the dawn of his life, the stronger and more solid are the fibers of his spiritual foundation. By means of this reinforced and vitalized internal charge, our youth can merit to study Torah, to teach Torah, and to have the knowledge of Torah permeate their beings. Shlomo HaMelech has written (Mishlei 22:6): “Educate a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This system serves to immunize children from illnesses of the soul which otherwise infect them with ‫ .מרה‬Only when our youth are equipped with Torah ideals can they withstand the difficult and corrupting challenges which the world will present to them later.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“Early in the Morning – Early in Life”
Commentary on Shabbos 86a

Fortunate are we that our youth has not caused us embarrassment in later life.

-Succah 53a

Many people gain wisdom in their later years. When they look back on their youth, they regret having squandered so much time. Some people’s “golden years” are unfortunately marred with regret over the time they lost.

Young people can learn from their elders. People who reflect on the past during their last days often say, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time with my family.” Has anyone ever said, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time at the office”?

While experience teaches most efficiently, some things are simply too costly to be learned by experience, because the opportunity to apply these lessons may never arise. Our learning too late that we have spent time foolishly is a prime example.

Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders and they will say it to you (Deuteronomy 32:7). In his last words, Moses gives us this most important teaching: “Why learn the hard way when you can benefit from the experience of others who have been there?” We should regularly ask: “How pleased will I be in the future about what I am doing now?”

Today I shall…

try to examine my actions with the consideration of how I will look back at them in the future.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 15”

None of the above is at all comforting to those of us who came to faith later in life. Worse, since my initial coming to faith was not within a Jewish context and there were a lot of “mixed messages” between Christianity and Judaism traveling in my household when my children were young, I was unable to communicate a distinct Jewish “intent” for my children who now, as young adults, operate only marginally within the Jewish lifestyle and not at all within one of religious observance and faith.

interfaithMore’s the pity and certainly as the Father, it is my fault.

Not that my children blame me, I suppose, but given the dangers we hear about intermarriage and assimilation as delivered by the Jewish community and by Jewish history, I feel the weight of responsibility rests upon my shoulders.

Patrick Stewart (in the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation) once delivered the line…

Remembrance and regrets, they, too, are a part of friendship…And understanding that has brought you a step closer to understanding humanity.

Being human and given my particular background, I may understand humanity, but I am no less vulnerable to human foibles and failures as the next man. I suppose, from the Jewish point of view, at least if I use the above quoted commentaries as my guide, I’ve arrived at the party far too late and wearing the wrong suit for the occasion. Only the Master suggests that it may be otherwise.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

That helps me but it doesn’t help my family, particularly my children who, as young adults, are now responsible for making their own decisions without any sort of “parental influence” from me, at least the unwanted kind.

But if I didn’t arrive early enough, perhaps it’s still not too late.

Hearken and hear Israel, (Devarim 27:9) this is the time marked for the redemption by Mashiach. The sufferings befalling us are the birth-pangs of Mashiach. Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva. (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit I:1) Have no faith in the false prophets who assure you of glories and salvation after the War. Remember the word of G-d, “Cursed is the man who puts his trust in man, who places his reliance for help in mortals, and turns his heart from G-d” (Yirmiyahu 17:5). Return Israel unto the Eternal your G-d; (Hoshei’a 14:2) prepare yourself and your family to go forth and receive Mashiach, whose coming is imminent.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Tevet 15, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

early_morning_skyI wish I could prepare my family to go forth and receive Mashiach, but the best I’m able to do at the moment is attempt to prepare myself. On the other hand, my wife recently confided in me that she feels I blog more about my feelings of going back to church than I ever discuss with her. I was rather shocked at hearing this, since I had no idea she had any interest in my church activities at all. Maybe what I do to prepare myself to go forth and receive Mashiach is more noticeable than I thought.

On the one hand, God and faith seem to be happening too late to do much good in my life and in the lives of those I love the most. On the other hand, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman had this to say about the Rebbe’s lessons, which may also apply to me.

There is a recurring theme in the volumes of stories told of the Rebbe: The tale of the man who was in the right place at the right time.

There are the stories of someone embarking on a trip to some distant place, and the Rebbe gave him a book to take along, or asked him to do a certain thing there, or to meet a certain person. Or the Rebbe simply asked someone to go to a place, with little direction of what to do there.

And then, in these stories, it always works out that just at the right time the right person turns up in the right place and all the story unfolds. It’s all a matter of making connections: Every soul has certain sparks of light scattered throughout the world that relate to it in particular. The Rebbe sees the soul and senses, like a geiger counter, the sparks that await this soul. All that was needed is to bring the two within a reasonable proximity and the rest takes care of itself.

The stories are meant as a teaching as well. The Rebbe was revealing to us the wonder of our own lives, that there is purpose latent in whatever you are doing.

To extend the metaphor and express it as a question, is God still writing my story with purpose and intent in what I am doing today? Is it still possible for my life to draw others to God?

“A wise man changes his mind, a fool never”

-Spanish Proverb

Longing for Yom Kippur

Because the day has passed, shield us by the merit of [the Patriarch Abraham] who sat [at the door of his tent] in the heat of the day [to welcome wayfarers].

Genesis 18:1 (Ne’ilah prayer)

Just prior to Ne’ilah (the concluding service of Yom Kippur), one of the Chassidic masters ascended the bimah (platform) and said tearfully, “My dear brothers and sisters! God in His infinite mercy gave us the entire month of Elul to repent, but we failed to take advantage of it. He gave us the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah, when our standing in judgment before the heavenly tribunal should have stimulated us to repent, but we neglected that opportunity. He gave us the special grace of the Ten Days of Penitence, but we let these pass too. All we have left now are a few precious moments that are propitious for forgiveness.

“The Sages of the Talmud tell us that if a person enters a marriage contract on the condition that he is a perfect tzaddik, then it is binding even if he is known to be a complete rasha (wicked person). Why? Because he may have had one moment of sincere contrition that transformed him from a complete rasha to a perfect tzaddik. “Do you hear that, my dear brothers and sisters? All it takes one brief moment of sincere contrition! We have the opportunity of that moment now. In just one moment we can emerge totally cleansed of all our sins, in a state of perfection akin to that of Adam in the Garden of Eden.”

The rabbi wept profusely and uncontrollably. “Could we be so foolish as to overlook such a rare opportunity? Let us assist one another and join in achieving sincere repentance!”

Today I shall…

…take advantage of the Divine gift of forgiveness, and make my resolutions of repentance sincere, so that the new person that emerges will be unencumbered by the burdens of the past.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 10”

I’m not going to be fasting for Yom Kippur this year. I’ve fasted in the past. Further in the past, I’ve fasted and attended religious worship, although only elements of the Yom Kippur service were involved. A Jewish friend emailed me last night and asked if I were going to fast in solidarity with the Jewish people. I had thought about it, but I know that my family won’t be fasting and it seemed a little presumptive for me to fast, since I’m the only non-Jewish member of my immediate family.

I suppose you could say that if I fasted, I would be leading by example, but it could also boomerang back and make me look like I’m being critical of them and taking on a “holier than thou” attitude. I’m not taking the day off of work, either. I think my family will be working tomorrow as well. I suppose this is a problem, since they are Jewish and choosing not to observe the Yom Kippur fast nor going to shul to repent with the community of Israel.

Last spring, I wrote an article called “Redeeming the Heart of Israel” (Part 1 and Part 2) in which I defined the Christian relationship to the Jewish people as one of encouragement and support for Jews to return to Torah and to the ways of their fathers. That’s easier said than done when it’s your own family.

Oh, I’ve dropped subtle and not-so-subtle hints, but ultimately, the choice isn’t mine to make. It’s theirs. Each individual, Jew, Christian or anyone else, negotiates their own relationship with God. For me, my atonement is in Jesus Christ. Frankly, I believe that’s true of everyone, but not everyone perceives that truth in their lives. There are elements of both the Abrahamic and New Covenant that link both Jews and Christians, through the Messiah, to God, so Messiah is the hope for all of us.

But since I am not Jewish, the particulars of the Sinai covenant do not have blessings for me. Without a Jewish “lived” experience, I’m unsure how to encourage my family to be who they are and maybe it’s not my place to try. But then, when you love someone, you want what’s best for them; you want what will make them happy.

God opens His Hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). My desire is for my family to return to the mitzvot; return more fully to the Torah, and to be the people God made them to be; Jewish people. I apologize and regret anything I may have said or done that has been to the contrary. I pray to God that in the coming year, He may help turn the hearts of all His Jewish children back to Him and help we Christians be more compassionate of His Chosen People, that we may stand at their side and together, all acknowledge that God is One. On that day, may all Christians fast on Yom Kippur in solidarity with their Jewish friends and family.

May the Messiah come soon and in our days, and may you be sealed for a good year in the book of life.

To honor the most Holy day for the Jewish people, I will not present a “morning meditation” on Wednesday which is Yom Kippur (begins at sundown on Tuesday). My next blog post will be Thursday morning.

Will My Grandchildren Be Jewish?

Jewish GrandchildrenYou could call this “extra” meditation a “Part 2” of my earlier blog post What God Has Joined Together. Part of the “mission” of my blog is to document the life of an intermarried couple and what that means. Here we go.

Based on current intermarriage rates and the average number of children per family, the chances of young, contemporary Jews having Jewish grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with the exception of the Orthodox, are increasingly remote.

From “Will Your Grandchildren be Jewish”
Aish.com (PDF/graphic)

Based upon the data and the various population studies that are now available, it appears that an extraordinary disintegration of the American Jewish community is in process. There was a time when every Jew could take it for granted that he or she would have Jewish grandchildren with whom to share Seders, Sabbath and other Jewish moments. However, the clear data indicates that this expectation is no longer well founded. Indeed, our studies show that within a short period of time the entire complexion of the American Jewish community will be altered inexorably.

From “Will Your Grandchildren be Jewish?”

Will my grandchildren be Jewish? Probably not. Let me explain, but I have to go back a little bit.

My wife is Jewish and I’m not. She’s Jewish because her mother was Jewish (both of my wife’s parents passed away many years ago). My wife’s father wasn’t Jewish and my wife wasn’t raised in a religiously or culturally Jewish home. She only realized that she was Jewish by halachah (because her Mom is Jewish) when she was a young adult. Even then, she waited decades until she fought to enter into a culturally and religiously Jewish world, and that’s where she is today.

My wife has two brothers and two sisters. None of them acknowledge being Jewish. One brother and one sister are actively Christian and her Christian brother even denies the possibility that his mother was Jewish, saying there’s no proof (we have tons of proof, including the documentation of many maternal relatives buried in Jewish cemeteries). Out of five children of a Jewish woman, my wife is the only one living a Jewish life today. Sad but typical. My wife beat the odds but she had to work really hard to do it.

We have three children. All self-identify as Jews, at least marginally. I say “marginally” because they don’t really involve themselves in Judaism on a cultural or religious level. My daughter is the one who has come closest to embracing her Judaism. She sometimes goes to Chabad functions with my wife. When she was an exchange student in Japan for a year during high school, my daughter made the effort (and it was significant) to attend the synagogue in Tokyo on a few occasions (my daughter lived about 50 miles away). My daughter has tutored Hebrew to some of the kids at our local Reform shul.

My sons acknowledge that they’re Jewish but that’s about it. I think David has a basic faith in Jesus but he doesn’t lead any sort of religious lifestyle. Michael doesn’t have a Jewish lifestyle as far as I can tell.

Only David is married and he’s married to a (wonderful) non-Jewish girl. They have one son, my grandson, the apple of my eye. And my grandson is not Jewish.

Michael will probably marry someday, but he’s not currently dating and the chances of him marrying a Jewish woman isn’t very good. My daughter Jamie says she wants to marry someday, but doesn’t want to have any children (even through adoption).

No, my grandchildren will not be Jewish.

Things seem grim for the Jews in America but I’m going to try to inject something upbeat.

Julie Wiener writes a series of articles for The Jewish Week magazine called In the Mix. Julie is intermarried to a “Righteous Gentile husband” and they have two daughters (and because Julie is Jewish, so are her kids…I don’t know if Julie’s parents are intermarried). According to an article she wrote last June, intermarried Jews are breeding like crazy.

Depending on your point of view, that’s either good or bad. Depending on who you are, intermarried couples (like Natalie Portman and her partner Benjamin Millepied) can raise their children Jewish or (like Anthony Weiner and his Muslim wife, Huma Abedin) not. Not that it’s up to the Mom exclusively what cultural and religious identity the children will have. Julie published a more recent article called Battle Hymn of the Gentile Mom describing how the non-Jewish wives of Jewish husbands commit to raising their children Jewish. There’s even this quote:

Also of interest in JTA is an article about a recent study of Chicago’s Jewish population, which finds that while intermarriage (and the Jewish population) has increased, the percentage of intermarried families raising Jewish children has also increased…

I can read all the articles and research studies I want, but all I really have to do to see where the children and grandchildren of intermarried couples end up is to look at my own family. We never chose to embrace Judaism in the home until fairly late in life when the kids were almost grown. I often wonder what would have happened if we could have made the decision earlier. A futile waste of time, I know.

God has never permitted the Jewish people to vanish from the face of the Earth and I don’t believe He ever will. When the Messiah comes, there will be Jews here. But it will be a miracle from God. It seems like people aren’t helping with the process all that much.

What God Has Joined Together

MarryToday’s “extra” meditation.

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.”

-from Chabad.org

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

Traffic ConesI 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?