Tag Archives: marriage

Why Does the Supreme Court Get to Define Marriage?

I wasn’t going to write about the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationally, but I read something on Facebook that changed my mind.

Actually, it was something I wrote in response to another person’s post, plus a few other comments I’ve seen crop up in the religious blogosphere that prompted this particular “meditation.”

What is marriage?

Oh gee, is that all. How do we define marriage?

Rather than go into a complex set of situational, societal, moral, and religious variables, let’s stick with whatever it is that gives SCOTUS the right to define same-sex marriage as a right.

After all, there seems to be some online conservative push back that wants “the State” to keep out of our marriages. What gives the State the right to poke their noses into the state of matrimony?

At the level of two individuals committing their lives to one another, the answer is “nothing.” Any two people can approach the clergy-person of their choice and ask to be married. The kicker comes in when you include a marriage license.

Why does something sanctioned by God need to be licensed by the State?

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.

Matthew 19:6 (NASB)

Taking that quote in isolation, it seems to send a pretty clear message. The “institution” of marriage is sanctioned by God. Couples, in the context of the Bible in general and Matthew 19 specifically,  are made up of one man and one woman, are joined together by God and no person (or presumably human institution) should separate that union.

supreme court
The Supreme Court Justices

So if God joins two people together, why does anyone need a marriage license issued by the state where they are to be married?

So that the state, and the nation (and really, the world) will legally recognize that marriage.

Why do we need that?

Well, for tax reasons for one thing. Haven’t you made decisions about tax exemptions based on whether or not you’re married and how many kids you have?

What about making someone who was once a stranger legally into a family member. This has terrific advantages if you get into an accident and are hospitalized, since your legal spouse, but not someone you’re just living with, has rights as far as visiting you in such a medical setting.

And if, heaven forbid, the marriage doesn’t work out and you two don’t see eye-to-eye about things like alimony or child support payments, the fact that you were in a legal marital relationship allows the court to administer said-relationship’s dissolution and issue orders for the caretaking and well-being of the financially disadvantaged spouse (if necessary) and any dependent children.

If you remove the state from all that, then you may have a marriage sanctioned by God, but you’ll have a heck of a time managing or even acquiring anything close to the legal rights you have relative to each other as a married couple as well as those to your children (although, even if you aren’t married to your partner, if you have biologically created a child with that person, you automatically have parental rights to said-child under most circumstances).

gay marriageAnd so we come to the matter of opposite-sex marriage vs. same-sex marriage as a legal entity.

This really has nothing to do with how God sees things and what combination of human beings He sanctions to be joined within marriage. SCOTUS doesn’t get to say “boo” about what God desires and what He allows. A select group of five lawyers (the five Supreme Court Justices who voted to legalize marriage equality) are only empowered to decide how marriage is legally defined in the United States. It doesn’t determine how marriage is defined morally or religiously to the slightest degree.

So in reality, Gay and Lesbian couples could have gotten married in an emotional and relational sense (and even a religious sense given the number of liberal churches and synagogues available) for years or even decades (or longer) in this country (or anywhere).

It’s only the matter of the State (big “S”) granting gay couples the same legal rights that opposite-sex married couples often tend to take for granted that is the issue.

The United States of America has become the 21st nation on the planet to legalize same-sex marriage with no variation within its individual states, provinces, or territories. If we want to determine the social consequences of legalizing marriage equality, including the long-term results of same-sex parenting, we might want to see if any of those other nations can be compared to us.

I am more than aware there is what amounts to a collective panic attack within various religious spheres relative to “Sodom and Gomorrah” being legalized (and just exactly what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was that deserved a divine death penalty isn’t, at least Rabbinically, as straightforward as you might have been led to believe).

I’m also aware that of all the things Paul the Apostle addressed in his epistles, he never directly complained that idolatry and homosexuality were sanctioned within the Roman Empire.

He did preach against sexual immorality among the body of believers, but he never tried to change the laws of the prevailing society and culture in which these disciples lived.

Of course, there was no such a thing as “loving same-sex couples” or “marriage equality” in the Empire. To the best of my understanding, a Roman citizen could have a same-sex slave or non-citizen as a sexual partner as long (forgive me for being blunt) as the citizen was the “penetrator” and never the “penetratee”. Turns out these “relationships” were more about dominance and power and less (if at all) about love and affection, at least as far as the historical record is concerned.

Apostle Paul preachingSo if the matter of homosexuality was ever on the Apostle’s radar, it was only in terms of those individuals making up the ekklesia of Messiah. For the Jewish members, it probably was already a well-known norm and Torah commandment. Paul most likely only had to deal with those non-Jews coming out of paganism whereby same-sex sex may have been involved as part of the local cultic temple practices or some such thing.

Given Paul’s example, do we need to start a revolution and overthrow our government in order to stop the national “sin” of marriage equality? Rome fell (and if homosexual practices were part of the Empire’s downfall, I have no way of telling), and no doubt at some point, so will the United States. I don’t think we can stop it.

As much as that might be a heartbreaker for you or for me, the only nation that really matters to God as far as being eternal is Israel.

SCOTUS has made a ruling involving the legal definition of marriage for our nation as related to the rights and responsibilities of married and divorced (or divorcing) couples in terms of each other and their children.

Anyone who desires to become legally married is really wanting to enter into a contractual relationship with another human being to gain certain financial advantages and other rights. In that sense, any two reasonable human beings should have that right, since it primarily is a right they acquire relative to each other and to the government (remember tax exemptions). It’s also a legal entity that is designed, however imperfectly, to protect children should one or both parents decide they don’t want to behave responsibly.

I am aware that are a lot of other collateral issues that legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide brings up, but I’m not going to address any of them. Plenty of other bloggers, news writers, and social and religious pundits can, will, and probably have already done so.

I just thought the little but important detail of what marriage is legally as separated from its relational, romantic, moral, and religious reality needed to be teased out and brought to the forefront for a little bit, just so we could take a look at what SCOTUS did in context.

Jay Michaelson
Jay Michaelson

I’ve reviewed such books as God and the Gay Christian and God Vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality, and while I had to agree, based on what I read, that the “anti-Gay” message of the Bible isn’t nearly as definitive as Evangelical Christianity seems to believe, I also found no presumption for God’s sanctioning the marriage of “loving same-sex couples” within either the covenant people of Israel or the ekklesia of Messiah (body of Christ).

If two secular same-sex people want to get married, legally, in any state of the union, there’s nothing to stop them, and in most circumstances I can imagine, it has very little to do with we religious folk on a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, if two same-sex people claim to be Christian or Torah-observant Jews and desire to become legally and God-sanctioned married, I still think there’s a problem, at least based on how I read the Bible.

Married same-sex couples are not represented or even presupposed in the Bible. I won’t speak to all of those secular gays who are married or who are going to become married. There are plenty of other laws in the U.S. I chafe against for various reasons, and some of them have more to do with my life as a believer and just plain human being than marriage equality.

All I will say, is that if you are Christian or a (an Orthodox) religious Jew, you’re gay, and you want your religious institution to sanction your marriage (believing God is sanctioning it, too), then I just don’t see a Biblical case for it. That’s out of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. God will have to make that judgment.

Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out already, then prepare to be inundated with all things rainbow in celebration of the SCOTUS decision. And I promise you that those rainbows have absolutely nothing to do with God’s covenant promise to all living things never again to flood the Earth.

If You Had to Choose Between Jesus and Your Spouse…

If someone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother and his wife and his children and his brothers and his sisters and even his own life, he is not worthy to be my disciple.

Luke 14:26 (DHE Gospels)

I know I’m quoting this verse out of context, but I find it hard to reconcile with the following.

Have you not read that from the beginning the Maker “created them male and female,” and it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? If so, they are not two any longer, but one flesh. Thus, what God has joined, man must not divide.

Matthew 19:6 (DHE Gospels)

On the one hand, Jesus seems to value marriage quite highly (what God has joined) but on the other hand, we are to reject (hate) our family including our wives, presumably if our family opposes our becoming disciples of Jesus.

As an intermarried husband, this is particularly difficult for me, especially when I see my marriage through this scripture:

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 [h]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)

Also, Ephesians 5:22-33 says many fine things about marriage and how a husband and wife are to love one another. How can God join us together, tell us how to love, say that it is acceptable for a believing spouse to be joined with an unbelieving spouse if both are willing, and then tell the husband he is not worthy of being a disciple is he does not hate his wife?

intermarriageThis is one of those “difficult sayings of Jesus” that isn’t easy to answer.

Messianic or “Jewish-friendly” Christian commentaries on such specific topics aren’t always readily available, but I did find a conventional Christian response by Pastor Mark Driscoll. I know nothing about him, but he did write something detailed on this particular verse.

Jesus’ call to discipleship can be difficult. Contrary to common practice today, Jesus was not in the business of getting anyone and everyone he could in the door of his discipleship program. Instead, he took painstaking measures to clarify the costs of following him. Those who heard him often abandoned their pursuit after hearing his messages (John 6:52–71). In keeping with this truth, Jesus’ requirements for discipleship set out in Luke 14:26 are hard for us to hear.

Thankfully, there is another sense for the word “hate,” as it pertains to this passage. When it’s used in the Old Testament, particularly in the Wisdom Literature, the word loses its psychological force (Michel, “μισεω,” in TDNT, 4:687.). Instead, it carries a sense of intensified choice. For instance, in Proverbs, the writer often instructs the reader to choose righteousness over evil, often worded in terms of love and hate. The call is to reject (= hate) evil and to embrace (= love) righteousness. In Jesus’ statement here in Luke 14:26, the same principle is at play.

-Driscoll, “Tough Text Tuesday – Luke 14:26”

That helps a little but not as much as you might think. Still, the suggestion of a choice between two paths reminded me somewhat of a Kal va-chomer or “lighter to heavier” argument. If I reword the passage from Luke 14, I could say, “If you love your wife whom God has joined with you, how much more should you love Messiah, who God brought for the sake of the world?”

I suppose that could be worded better, but you get the idea. No, I’m not rewriting the Bible, far be it from me to do so. But I am suggesting in my own wee commentary (call it a small midrash, for what it’s worth) that, even if my wife is an unbeliever, I don’t have to hate her so I can love Jesus. I can love my wife, and I can also apprehend the great requirement to love and be devoted to Messiah, Son of David, who is the living embodiment of God’s promises for atonement, redemption, salvation, and the resurrection. He is the hope, not just for me, but for everyone. He is the hope that someday my wife will be saved, so in a way, by choosing him, I am also choosing her, for if I should choose her by rejecting Jesus, then how do I know I’m not dooming us both? Loving Jesus then, is also loving my wife.

Intermarriage: Not Peace, But A Sword

onfire.jpgTo die while committed to a belief system that is idolatrous, false and contrary to what G-d has revealed to us AND has resulted in the persecution of the Jewish people for the last two thousand years, even if it doesn’t affect our eternity through the ever burning hell fires that Christianity reserves for those who didn’t believe in Jesus, is still not something I would desire for myself or anyone.

-from a private conversation

The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Proverbs 14:15

Faith and belief are both defined as accepting as true something which transcends logic and which may not be subject to proof by rational argument. Yet, belief in God is not the “blind faith” of a simpleton.

A simpleton does not think, either because he lacks the capacity or does not wish to make the effort. Therefore, he is gullible and can be easily swayed in any direction. Being credulous is not the same as having faith.

When we reflect on the concept of a Supreme Being, Who is in every way infinite, we are likely to feel bewilderment, because our finite minds cannot grasp the infinite. Since all of our experiences involve finite objects, we lack a point of reference for dealing with the infinite.

When this reflection brings us to realize that the question of the existence of an infinite Supreme Being cannot be logically resolved, we then turn to the unbroken mesorah, the teachings which have been transmitted from generation to generation, from the time when more than two million people witnessed the Revelation at Sinai. When we accept our faith on this basis, we do so as the culmination of a process of profound thought which is no way similar to the credulousness of a simpleton.

This process also helps us with other questions that we have about God. For instance, the fact that we cannot possibly logically understand God does not preclude our coming to a knowledge of His Presence.

Today I shall…

…strengthen my faith by reflecting on the unbroken chain of tradition since Sinai.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Elul 3”

I’d like to think I’m not a simpleton. I hope I’m thoughtfully considering my steps. I have faith. I believe. The faith and belief of the Jewish people ultimately rests at Sinai, at the giving of the Torah. It is said that each Jewish person is to consider himself or herself as having personally stood at Sinai and having received the Torah directly. This communicates a sense of direct “ownership” of the commandments of God, rather than just the tradition of having them passed down from one generation to the next.

For a Christian, faith and belief ultimately rests at the foot of the cross, in a pool of blood shed for our sins. Christians aren’t “commanded” to consider ourselves as having personally stood at the foot of the cross of Christ, watching him die for our sake and for the sake of the world. Maybe we should.

But even so, people like me have a difficult thing to face. In my case, I have a Jewish wife, two Jewish sons, and a Jewish daughter. My children don’t speak to me one way or the other about my attending church and professing my Christian faith, but occasionally my wife does. Occasionally a few (non-believing) Jewish friends do (although in strictest confidence) as well.

If I love my Jewish family and friends, how can I be a part of a faith that historically has been guilty of “the persecution of the Jewish people for the last two thousand years”? I thought I knew, but when someone you deeply care about asks that question, it’s not so easy to answer. The answer is long and involved, and when someone is responding to your Christianity on a really emotional level, they don’t always want to hear long, involved explanations that they’ll probably do their level best to shoot out of the water in any case.

I don’t really want to argue. If someone wants to hear about my faith, I’ll do my best to explain it to them. If they don’t, I’m not invested in beating people over the head with a copy of the New Testament.

intermarriageIt doesn’t help (ironically enough) that my wife used to be a believer. My limited experience with Jewish people who were once believers and then returned or adopted a more traditional Jewish practice and worship, is that they are more highly resistant to any idea that there could be validity in Christianity or Messianic Judaism. I can only imagine it’s like being a person who is an ex-smoker (I used to smoke a number of decades ago) and a smoker is trying to convince the non-smoker to light up again.

“Yuck,” is the predictable reaction, followed by a series of reasons from the non-smoker why lighting up is an incredibly bad idea, and harmful not only to the smoker, but to everyone around the smoker, particularly the smoker’s loved ones.

As a Christian among Jews, I feel like a smoker among long-term non-smokers. If I want to “light up,” I sure better take it outside, down the alley, and around back behind a shed where no one can see me or smell me. As a Christian among Jews, I feel as if they see me like this:

In 1391, the Jews of Barcelona, Spain were victims of a massacre. This was part of three months of deadly riots throughout Spain, which left the Jewish community crushed and impoverished. Incredibly, on this same date 70 years later, a bishop named Alfonso de Espina urged the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition was designed to uncover those Jews who continued to practice Judaism in secret (called Conversos or Marranos). During the years of brutal Inquisition, an estimated 32,000 Jews were burned at the stake and another 200,000 were expelled from Spain.

-from “Day in Jewish History” for Elul 4

You may consider that example a little extreme, but I’m not sure it’s that far out. I think it’s one thing to be Jewish and to be aware of Christians in your general environment, at the grocery store, at work, at the park, driving the streets of your city, and another thing entirely to be close to and even to live with a Christian. While my wife will occasionally give voice to her concerns, my children haven’t. My daughter, who is the only child left at home, has become more distant from me in recent months. She says everything’s OK, but everything else she says and does communicates otherwise. I can’t absolutely say it’s because of my continued church attendance and my reading from the Christian Bible, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch, either.

Authentic Jewish life is characterized by the study of Torah, the observance of Shabbat and Kashrut, and the thrice-daily worship of God. Not Shabbes leichter as museum pieces, but a generation of Jewish women who light their candles to usher in the holy Shabbat. Not klezmer concerts to evoke nostalgia for the shtetl, but Jewish bands playing Jewish music at Jewish weddings where Jewish communities are celebrating the beginning of a new generation of a Jewish family.

I wish my niece Jodi had had such a wedding.

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“The Dead End of Jewish Culture”

magen-davidRigler wrote this article as a description of how Jewish people identifying themselves as Jewish entirely on the basis of Jewish culture (as opposed to Jewish faith, observance of the mitzvot, and study of Torah) are reaching a dead-end to their Jewish identity. The painful result, from Rigler’s perspective, is her Jewish niece Jodi’s (not her real name) wedding to a Catholic husband in a Catholic church.

Rigler writes:

One December afternoon, my precious four-year-old niece Jodi walked into my mother’s suburban New Jersey kitchen and asked, “Bubbie, are you Jewish?”

“Yes, I am,” my mother answered proudly.

“So am I,” Jodi confided, “but don’t tell Santa Claus.”

I laughed when my mother told me this story, and I chuckled every time I thought of it – for 22 years. Last week, Jodi got married, in a Catholic church, kneeling in front of a huge gilded cross. I stopped laughing.

Apparently, Jodi’s perception of Judaism as a liability grew with the years. At the age of four, being Jewish made her a persona non grata to Santa Claus. At the age of 16, growing up in a town whose century-old bylaws stipulated, “No Jews or Negroes,” Jewish identity must have been a social non-starter. At the age of twenty, as a sophomore at Boston University, being Jewish must have threatened her budding romance with a handsome Catholic senior.

I’m sure Jodi’s Catholic husband doesn’t imagine that he might be considered guilty of any wrongdoing to Jodi or Jodi’s Jewish family, but, based on my experience, eventually he’ll have to confront those feelings. At least I don’t have Jewish in-laws who are upset with me, just the nuclear family and a few other Jewish people.

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 10:37 (NASB)

That’s a tough one to take. How am I supposed to respond to that, God? And what about this?

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Luke 9:26 (NASB)

This next one is even worse.

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

Hebrews 6:4-8 (NASB)

It would be worse to come to faith in Messiah and to fall away than never to have come to faith in the first place. Ouch.

So how am I supposed to choose, or if a choice is impossible, what am I supposed to do? At least in terms of marriage, Paul (and not God) had this to say:

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)

separation“But God has called us to peace.” Really? Not until Messiah comes/returns (depending on who you are).

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m fighting with the missus (or anyone else) tooth and nail, and that I’m constantly engaged in some sort of “battle” of faith with the Jewish people in my life, but I can hardly ignore the steady undercurrent in these relationships as well as the occasional flare ups, either.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)

“Not peace, but a sword.”

Whoever has faith in individual Divine Providence knows that “Man’s steps are established by G-d,” (Tehillim 37:23) that this particular soul must purify and improve something specific in a particular place. For centuries, or even since the world’s creation, that which needs purification or improvement waits for this soul to come and purify or improve it. The soul too, has been waiting – ever since it came into being – for its time to descend, so that it can discharge the tasks of purification and improvement assigned to it.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Elul 3, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Assuming God is establishing my steps too, I have to believe that I have come to this place, this time, this circumstance, for a reason. What that reason is, I cannot say. May it be right that I am here for a good purpose, and that God intends my existence and my presence in order to correct and purify some part of the world around me. I have no desire to hurt anyone, least of all those people I love who are Jewish.

Intermarriage After Thirty Years

jewish-christian-intermarriageFirstly, I must tell you how impressed I was by your honesty and sensitivity – especially, by what you wrote at the end about not wanting to convert just for him.

Here are my thoughts on the matter.

First of all, even though it is most gracious of you to agree to raise his children as Jews, there really wouldn’t be any point in it, for the children of a non-Jewish mother, (as wonderful as you may be) are not Jewish, even if the father is Jewish. This is the law of Judaism as has been handed down to us generation to generation for thousands of years.

So there is really only one of two choices.

A sincere conversion on your part, or breaking up as difficult as that may be.

From the “Ask the Rabbi” series
“Intermarriage Correspondence from a Non-Jew”

If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a day or two, you know that I often quote from Jewish religious or philosophical sources (and often from Aish.com) to create a foundation from which I then “dovetail” and expand upon to make some sort of daily commentary. As an intermarried Christian (my wife is Jewish), I have an attraction to Jewish thought and perspective as they apply (surprisingly enough) to my faith.

But that doesn’t mean Judaism and I don’t butt heads more than once in a while. The Rabbi’s suggestion to the (formerly) Catholic young woman about possibly marrying her Jewish boyfriend is just one of those “head butting” occasions.

But it’s a difficult discussion. I know the dangers intermarriage and assimilation pose to Jewish continuation and particularly on the children produced in such a marriage. The journey my own children have had to negotiate has not been an easy one and although they all self-identify as Jews (and are Jews according to halachah because their mother is Jewish), they are barely, if at all, observant of the mitzvot. I can’t say that my own home is observant either, through I’d like to support and encourage my spouse to live a more traditionally religious Jewish life. I can’t though, because she is “in charge” of her Jewishness, I’m not.

But when I read the “Ask the Rabbi’s” comment regarding the setting aside of a relationship between a Jewish and non-Jewish couple, I began to see red. My wife and I have been married for over thirty years and I have no intention of disrupting our relationship for the sake of a string of advice, even though it is dedicated to Jewish survival.

Hillel the Sage was able to remain patient even when someone purposely tried to provoke him. He felt no irritation whatsoever about any matter. There was no arousal of anger at all. This is what it means to be completely free from anger.

The level of Hillel is the level we should each strive for as regards to not getting angry. Of course it is not easy. But the first step is to increase your motivation and be totally resolved to conquer anger. Then feel joy with every drop of improvement!

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #755: Being Free From Anger”

It can be tough enough being intermarried and interfaith without reminders of what could have gone better and how many Jews are less than thrilled about our union. It’s not particularly apparent that we’re intermarried when we’re in public together, but I sometimes get the same feelings that an interracial couple might get when they receive stares from people who disapprove of “mixing the races” (and yes, it still happens). While I understand the perspectives of the Rabbis and realize the pitfalls of intermarriage, this is still my family and she is still my wife and all this is personal, not just some theoretical or theological puzzle to solve.

The irony is that it is because I’m intermarried that I dearly cling to my current perspective on the relationship of believing Jews and Gentiles in the body of Messiah, what we mean to each other, our roles, our understanding of Torah, and who we are in God. I’ve written whole commentaries based on our marriage such as Being Married to the Girl with the Jewish Soul and Cherishing Her Yiddisher Neshamah. Being a couple isn’t just a marital status, it is part of my very identity and woven into the fabric of my being.

julie-wienerThis isn’t to say that we don’t argue or that we have a perfect marriage. We aren’t perfect. We get on each other’s nerves and we both have our “moods,” but after over three decades of living together, sleeping together, raising three children together, playing with our grandson together, eating, cleaning, fighting, traveling, and making a home together, we’re together.

Among other resources, I follow Julie Wiener’s (her photo is on the left) In the Mix blog at The Jewish Week. Although I don’t have anything like the same intermarried experience Ms. Wiener and her husband (and children) have, it sometimes helps to realize that not only are there other intermarried couples out there, but that they’re not doing so badly either. Nearly a year ago, Wiener wrote a blog post called Shiny Happy Intermarried People.

The ending of that article goes like this:

Reminds me of when my “In the Mix” column first came out six years ago and a woman wrote to complain that it was bad enough I was writing in The Jewish Week about being intermarried, but the fact that I was happy — and actually smiling in my photo — was truly offensive.

Now, as you can imagine, I took issue with Alina using The Jewish Week as an example of media writing only negative things about intermarriage. Especially because the column she links to is Jack Wertheimer’s, which was a guest column and which I, a Jewish Week editor, responded to on The Jewish Week website, on THIS BLOG, which has as its sole focus realistically depicting intermarried life.

Not that I’m offended or anything, Alina. Just intrigued.

For any of you readers, Jewish or Christian (or anyone else) who are offended that I’m intermarried, have been intermarried for thirty years, and plan to stay intermarried to the same Jewish woman for the rest of my life, I am truly sorry. When we got married, neither one of us were religious and we didn’t give a second thought to what it would all mean ten, twenty, thirty or more years down the road. Maybe we should have, but we didn’t. Who knew?

But we are who we are and while you may complain about us, I insist that you don’t dismiss us. We’re here and we’re real. There are a lot of us and what was done cannot be undone, for good or for ill. Hopefully, we’ll have a seder in our home this year. I plan on going to Easter services at my church for the first time in many years. That may seem like a strange combination or an awful contradiction but it’s not. A Christian/Jewish intermarriage may not be the ideal circumstance and you may not want to experience it yourself. Our intermarriage has its pitfalls and trapdoors, but our marriage and our family isn’t strange or bizarre or bad. It’s just our life and its just who we are.

And God is still her God and my God and what He has brought together let no one tear apart.

Oh, and our thirty-first wedding anniversary is on Wednesday, April 3rd. Deal with it.

28 Days: Trying to Get Used to Church


Boy, you miss one day of church and you certainly hear about it.

I say that tongue-in-cheek, but I was surprised to find that people actually noticed I wasn’t in church last week. It caught me a bit off guard.

Today (as I write this), we had a guest speaker who delivered the “sermon,” the combined adult Sunday school class teaching and, if I’d have stayed, more teaching during and after a pot luck lunch (I knew nothing about this which is what I get for missing a week of church): James W. Rickard. I guess he does the taxes for a lot of the Pastors across the Northwest. Since my wife is so good managing finances, nothing he said came as a huge shock (credit card debt is bad) but I stayed for the “Sunday school” portion of his talk, just to see what he’d say.

This meant that Pastor didn’t give his sermon on Acts this week and of course, we didn’t meet in Charlie’s class to discuss Pastor’s sermon. And I had my brand new, ESV Study Bible with me and everything (because the battery in my Kindle Fire went toes up…replacement Kindle Fire will be shipped out soon).

Doug, the Music Director, who is over-the-top cheery and expressive at 9:30 in the morning, pointed out that the Christmas decorations are up in the church (I honestly hadn’t noticed until that moment) and one of the hymns he lead us in this morning (again, as I write this) was “Joy to the World.” Yes, I sang my first Christmas Carole in many, many years in church this morning. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still, I haven’t gotten to the point where I have to tell anyone at church that I don’t celebrate Christmas, so we’ll see how that goes.

I don’t really have a focus for today’s “morning meditation” slash “report on church.” I was just thinking though that it didn’t feel quite so strange this time. Almost exactly in between the end of service and the beginning of Jim Rickard’s class, my wife phoned me. She thought I was home and wanted me to look at the shopping list she’d left behind. I mentioned that I was in church (and listening to my voice say that out loud was an interesting experience). She quickly apologized and told me to have fun.

Did I have fun?

Not exactly.

I did sign up to participate in the church’s “challenge” to read the Bible through in one year or less (not like I haven’t done that before). That’s actually not much of a chore since I read the traditional Torah and haftarah readings each week, plus the traditional Psalm, a portion of the Gospel, and several of the Proverbs each Shabbat. I’ll just add a little more each day.

Why am I telling you all this and why should you care?

Consider this.

I bought a brand new Bible. I signed up for a church “activity.” People at church noticed that I had been absent last week. I can feel myself becoming more committed, bit by bit to going to this church. So far, my offerings when they pass around the plate (it still blows my mind that giving money is actually part of the religious service) have been cash, but I guess I should start making more formal arrangements if I’m going to continue attending. Am I starting to get used to the “church culture?”

Well, maybe a little bit. I’m choosing to redefine Christmas as a cultural event and a church tradition to make it easier to absorb when I attend services this month (though now that I think about it, I’m surprised Rickard didn’t mention Christmas and credit card debt in his teachings this morning…they seem like a natural fit).

kosher-foodsBut I still can’t get away from how much more integrated Judaism is (or can be) in terms of a relationship with God, as the Aish Ask the Rabbi column testifies in answering the question, “Why Keep Kosher?”

It is good that you are grappling with this and trying to acquire your Judaism as your own.

The ultimate answer to your question is “because God said so.” Beyond this, however, there are practical, observable benefits to keeping kosher today:

1) Spirituality: The Torah teaches that non-kosher food has a negative effect on a Jewish soul. The soul is like an antenna that picks up waves of spiritual energy. Eating non-kosher food damages the capacity of the soul to “connect spiritually.”

2) Self Growth: If you can be disciplined in what and when you eat, it follows that you can be disciplined in other areas of life as well. Kashrut requires that one must wait between milk and meat, and we may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods. (Even when you’re hungry!) All of this instills self-discipline, and enables us to elevate our spiritual side, by making conscious choices over animal urges.

3) Health Reasons: With its extra supervision, kosher food is perceived as being healthier and cleaner. After slaughter, animals are checked for abscesses in their lungs or other health problems. Blood – a medium for the growth of bacteria – is drained. Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters and crabs have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction). Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body. And of course, pigs can carry trichinosis.

4) Moral Lessons: We are taught not to be cruel – even to animals. A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day, and we “don’t boil a kid (goat) in its mother’s milk.” We must not remove the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice, prior to refrigeration). When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain. And we are reminded not to be vicious, by the prohibition to eat vicious birds of prey.

5) Tradition: One of the keys to making a Jewish home “Jewish” is the observance of keeping kosher. When we keep kosher in the home, our attachment to Judaism and the sacrifices that we make become ingrained on our children’s minds forever. And with food so often the focus of social events, keeping kosher provides a built-in hedge against assimilation. For many, the bridge between past and future is the spiritual aroma of a kosher kitchen.

Ultimately, we cannot fathom the full depth of “Why keep kosher.” For as the saying goes, there is more to keeping kosher than meets the palate…

christian-coffee-cultureHere you have the Rabbi responding to a query delivered by a young Jewish fellow who had just left home and was struggling with how or if to create a Jewish home for himself. For Jews, being Jewish isn’t just something you do on one day a week, it’s what defines you in every aspect of your life, including eating. Technically, being Christian should also define you in every aspect of your life, but because being a Christian is a religious identity and does not also define a nation, a people group, and arguably, an ethnicity (that last one is complicated), it’s easier to compartmentalize the Christian part of a person’s life from everything else.

Actually, it was Rickard who said that Christians must not compartmentalize their (our) lives but that we must be Christians in every aspect of what we say, do, and think. Of course, Rickard was raised in a Christian home, “confessed Christ” when he was eight years old (I can only assume he reaffirmed his commitment as he got older and understood the adult ramifications of a Christian faith and life), was married as a Christian, established a Christian marriage, raised Christian children, and has Christian grandchildren. Sure, his focus in teaching was being Christian in terms of managing finances, but that covers a great deal of just plain living.

Although not nearly as formally defined as it is in Judaism, Protestantism does have its cultural and traditional aspects (and as I mentioned before, Christmas is a major cultural tradition in the church) and since I’m trying to make this commitment, I suppose I’d better “hunker down” and get comfortable (or as comfortable as I can be) with the idea.

However, I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable with calling a voluntary financial gift to the Pastoral staff a “love offering.”

Yeah, I’m rambling. I guess as with everything else, the story is to be continued.

Love and Divorce, Part 2

Although the Sichos HaRan, zt”l, writes that, in general, one should not divorce his wife unless compelled to by the halachah, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Some people—even those with experience working with couples—believe that every rift in a marriage can be healed. According to that view, if a couple did not make their marriage work it must have been that one or both were unwilling to work hard enough to build their relationship. Although this is true in the vast majority of cases, there are times when the best option does seem to be divorce.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Parshah of Gittin”
Temurah 5-1

But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”Malachi 2:14-16 (ESV)

So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”Matthew 19:6 (ESV)

In yesterday’s morning meditation, I asked “is it ever acceptable to get a divorce?” According to a strict New Testament interpretation, there is only one acceptable reason:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” –Matthew 19:9 (ESV)

That seems pretty plain. Unless sexual immorality is involved, there is no Biblical grounds for divorce. That tends to be translated as one spouse “cheating” on another. So does that mean a man can beat his wife and children, abuse drugs and alcohol, refuse to work and support his family, or emotionally terrorize his family, all for the purpose of supporting his own emotional desires? Common sense would say “no”, but what about the Bible?

Actually, read Matthew 19:9 again. It doesn’t say you can’t divorce for other reasons, it just says that you can’t remarry. The footnotes for this verse state “some manuscripts add and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery; other manuscripts except for sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

That still seems a little harsh. If a woman divorces a man who is physically abusive to her and the children but where no sexual immorality is involved, she is right to divorce him but can never be remarried?

Let’s take a wider view of the issue of divorce:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. –Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (ESV)

In Matthew 19, Jesus was talking about how Moses permitted divorce but it was not God’s intention to permit it for reasons of hard heartedness. In Malachi 2, the prophet says that God hates divorce, but seems to lay the responsibility for the matter at the feet of the faithless husband. Neither of these verses seem to forbid divorce out of hand or specify only the issue of sexual immorality, but rather, they state that God seems to hate divorces that are seemingly frivolous or merely for the purpose of finding “greener pastures”. Maybe I’m reading more into the scriptures than is really there, but I don’t think I can accept that God would force a person to remain in a marriage that was completely intolerable due to emotional and/or physical abuse by the other party. In the above-referenced section of Deuteronomy, the matter of sin seems to come up when you divorce a woman, she remarries another man, divorces him, and then remarries her original husband. I see this as being tied to sending her away. Once done, it cannot be undone if she subsequently “becomes one flesh” with another man.

I’ve been participating in a discussion related to this topic in a private forum. One of the members, who is well educated in Torah and the Apostolic Scriptures said this:

It depends upon what you call “Grounds.” If “grounds” requires a proof text, then perhaps not. But when you are in real ministry, with real people, things get interesting. When a woman is married to a man who beats her, or a man who pulled a gun on her during sex, is that still a marriage? Are there not behaviors that are so out of bounds that they void the marriage? And is it “Righteous” to tell such a woman, “Look Norma dear (not a real name), you married him in the sight of God, and you must remain in the marriage to please the Lord.” That kind of stuff doesn’t work for me, proof text or no proof text. In other words, when does a marriage stop being a marriage, and when it has stopped being a marriage and cannot or will not be reversed, is there virtue in keeping up appearances, and evil in naming the marriage a dead?

I don’t know if there’s a direct proof text about not being able to leave an abusive or toxic marriage, but then again, there’s no proof text that directly says you must stay, either. Perhaps the “clue” is in the a scripture I quoted yesterday:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. –Ephesians 5:25-30(ESV)

I also said this:

Husbands, if you are supposed to be loving your wife like Christ loves the church, consider for a minute just what the love of Jesus Christ means. The number one way we know that Jesus loves us is because he voluntarily surrendered his life for the sake of our eternal relationship with God. Not only that, but it was completely unfair in that he did not deserve to die at all. Add to that the fact that it was a long, lingering, painful, and shameful death. If you Christian husbands love your wives in the same way, I suppose you should be putting up with a lot from her, even the stuff you don’t deserve.

If a husband’s love for his wife is supposed to closely mirror the love of the Master for the community of faith, then perhaps we can infer a few things. Was the Master abusive or toxic toward the church? Did he put his needs or wants ahead of others? Did he physically, emotionally, or spiritually harm those who followed him? I don’t believe so. The only thing you could say is that he put his foot down, on occasion, to demand moral and right behavior from his followers, but he never, ever hurt them and he was never ever selfish. In fact, he was obedient, “even unto death” for the sake of those who professed him as Lord then and everyone who has done so since.

I suppose that may not be satisfying for some people reading this blog post, especially if you are a very literal person (I tend to be, at times), but in this matter, if I’m going to make a mistake, I’d prefer to err on the side of compassion. I don’t think divorce is justified because you want a younger, prettier wife, or because your husband never ended up making a million dollars a year, but there are times, beyond sexual misconduct, when it is justified to leave your spouse and end your marital relationship. If marriage is sanctified by God, how holy is a union where the man beats his wife and puts his children in the hospital because he can’t control his temper? How holy is a marriage where the wife habitually abuses drugs and leaves her young children alone when her husband is working, so she can get loaded or sleep off her high?

I’m probably not going to hear any complements about this particular “morning meditation”, but my conscious won’t let me write anything else. Like the Chofetz Chaim, I believe there are times when the only way to bring peace to a couple “is to allow them to divorce and go their separate ways!”