Tag Archives: women

Being Married to the Girl with the Jewish Soul

“To get to the point, our daughter has informed us that she has fallen in love with a non-Jew, and that they intend to marry. We have tried everything to dissuade her, but our arguments, appeals, threats and tears have all been to no avail. She now refuses to discuss the matter with us at all, and has moved out of our home. Rabbi! You are our only hope! Perhaps you can reach her; perhaps you can impress upon her the gravity of the betrayal against her people, her parents and her own identity in what she intends to do!”

“Would she agree to meet with me?” I asked.

“If she knew that we had spoken to you, she’d refuse.”

“Then I’ll go speak to her on my own.”

I took her address from her parents, and rang her bell that very evening. She was visibly annoyed to learn of my mission, but too well-mannered not to invite me in. We ended up speaking for several hours. She listened politely, and promised to consider everything I said, but I came away with the feeling that I had had little effect on her decision.

For several days I pondered the matter, trying to think of what might possibly be done to prevent the loss of a Jewish soul.

-Aaron Dov Halprin
“A Jew in Brooklyn”
from “The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson”
Translated from the Hebrew by Yanki Tauber

The loss of a Jewish soul.

Derek Leman recently posted a link to a discussion “between Messianic Jew David Brickner and John Piper” concerning “supersessionism.” From a supersessionist Christian point of view, the only way for a Jewish person to become reconciled to God and the Jewish Messiah is to forfeit his or her Jewish soul.

The loss of a Jewish soul.

Is that really what the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would want?

I know Christians who would answer “yes” so fast that it would make my head spin. But then you see, I have a Jewish wife. She is a Jewish soul.

I’m not going to go into the whole “is she saved or not” argument, which is probably way over my head (though I frequently wade into waters that are way over my head). Of course, it would gladden my heart if she would come to know, or at least be re-acquainted with (as she was in years past) the Jewish Messiah, but in her view of Judaism, which is not unlike that of the Chabad, a Jew does not believe the “Messiah of the goyim” is the Jewish Moshiach.

The local Rabbi consults the Rebbe and he presents a solution. The solution to the problem of the Jewish girl who intended to marry a non-Jew was to tell her that there was a Jew in Brooklyn who was deeply troubled and could not sleep at night because of her intentions. The Jew (whether this story is true or not, I have no idea) was named “Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe.” Although the girl lived in Brazil and had never met the Rebbe or even seen a picture of him, when the local Rabbi showed her a photo of the Rebbe, she exclaimed, “this man has been appearing in my dreams and imploring me not to abandon my people.”

The story ends without telling us what the girl does, but presumably, she breaks off her engagement to the non-Jewish fellow and returns to her family. Not very much like the story between me and my wife, but then we were married for many years before she became determined to enter into the Jewish community and decided that a Jew would never believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

I’ve been pondering this story for several days but only read the following tale just a few minutes ago (as I write this):

Rabbi Zalman Serebryanski, a senior chassid from Russia and dean of the Lubavitch Rabbinical College in Melbourne, Australia, once brought a girl to Rabbi Chaim Gutnick. “Please, help this girl convert,” he asked.

Rabbi Gutnick listened to the girl’s story. She lived in Balaclava, and from her youth had felt a strong attraction to Judaism. Whenever she heard stories of the Holocaust, she was deeply touched. She had been reading and studying about Judaism for a long time, and now wanted to convert.

Rabbi Gutnick was moved by her sincerity. Nevertheless, he did not want to perform the conversion. The girl was still living at home with her non-Jewish parents. Would she be able to practice Judaism in her parents’ home? Would her interest continue as she matured into adulthood? Since he could not answer these questions, he decided to let time take its course. If the girl was still interested when she was older, she could convert then.

Rabbi Gutnick’s refusal plunged the girl into deep depression, to the extent that she had to be confined to a hospital. The elder Reb Zalman, stirred by the depth of her feelings, continued to visit her from time to time.

After several weeks, he called Rabbi Gutnick, telling him of the girl’s condition and asking him whether perhaps he would change his mind because of the strength of her feelings.

-Eli and Malka Touger
“The Girl Who Had To Be Jewish”
from “The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson”

This appears to be the opposite of the previous story. Here, a non-Jewish girl is pursuing Judaism to the point that she becomes severely depressed when the option is denied her. On the surface, it seemed conversion was impossible because her family was Anglican, but appearances can be deceiving. In this case, the Rebbe is once again consulted and the results are surprising.

Rabbi Gutnick did not receive an immediate reply to his letter. But at a later date, at the end of a reply to another issue, the Rebbe added: “What’s happening with the Jewish girl from Balaclava?”

Rabbi Gutnick was surprised. The girl and Reb Zalman had both made it clear that her family was Anglican!

He and Reb Zalman went to confront the girl’s mother. At first, she continued to insist that she was Anglican, but as the sincerity of the two rabbis impressed her, she broke down and told her story. She had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in England. As a young girl, she had rebelled against her parents and abandoned Jewish life entirely, marrying a gentile and moving to Australia. She had not given Judaism a thought since. She loved her daughter, however, and would not oppose her if she wished to live a Jewish life.

Once the girl’s Jewishness was established, Rabbis Serebryanski and Gutnick helped her feel at home in Melbourne’s Lubavitch community. She continued to make progress in her Jewish commitment, and today is a teacher in a Lubavitch school.

But Rabbi Gutnick still had a question: How did the Rebbe know she was Jewish? At his next yechidut (audience with the Rebbe) he mustered the chutzpah to ask.

The Rebbe replied that, at Reb Zalman’s urging, the girl had also written him a letter. “Such a letter,” the Rebbe declared, “could only have been written by a Jewish girl.”

Again, I have no idea if this story is true, but it is compelling, especially to me.

My wife’s mother was Jewish and her father was a non-Jew (both of my in-laws passed away many years ago). My wife’s mother, as a young woman, rejected her family in Boston and her Judaism and walked away from both, about seventy years ago. My mother-in-law met my father-in-law on a blind date and they subsequently married and had five children. At no time did the fact that my mother-in-law was Jewish ever come up in the family.

True, my wife as a child, knew that her maternal aunt and cousin, who lived in Southern California where she grew up, were Jewish, but she never made the connection that her mother was Jewish (and thus, her children) until my wife was a young woman herself.

Of her two sisters and two brothers, only my wife was driven to self-identify as a Jew and decades later, to pursue a life as a Jewish woman.

The girl who had to be Jewish.

These two stories collide because the girl who had to be Jewish married the guy who ended up being Christian.

The thirty years of our marriage haven’t always been easy for one reason or another. I think any couple who has been married for decades will say that there have been trials in their relationship from time to time. It’s not all romance and flowers. But typically, at a foundational level, the couple is united in terms of their basic worldview. If the husband is a Christian, usually so is the wife. If the wife is an atheist, usually so is the husband. You get the idea.

Jewish/non-Jewish interfaith marriages are at an all-time high as far as I understand the statistics, and this is a crisis in the world of Judaism. Particularly Orthodox Jews see the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew (and especially a Christian) as the loss of a Jewish soul.

There are plenty of books, guides, and advice blogs that address interfaith marriages, but usually the couples being targeted arrive at their wedding day as fully realized Jews and Christians. As far as I know, all interfaith couples at my local Reform/Conservative and Chabad synagogues are Jew/Goy (non-Christian). Some of the non-Jews who have married Jews convert to Judaism. The issues are complex and troublesome but not insurmountable.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my wife about some of the things that had happened at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference in Hudson, Wisconsin. One of the issues was having Christians who are already in a church or who would be willing to return to a church, be sort of “messengers” and advocates for a positive relationship with Jewish people within the Christian community.

My wife’s response was something like, “Are you thinking of going back to church?” I wish I could remember her exact words. They could have been, You aren’t thinking of going back to a church, are you?” But I’m not sure. I’m also not sure if the tone of her voice registered any distress or not. It’s hard to tell with her sometimes. She plays her cards “close to the vest,” so to speak.

If we had entered our marriage with her as a fully realized Jew and me as a fully realized Christians (we were agnostics/atheists on our wedding day and for many years afterwards) and if we agreed to still get married, we probably wouldn’t be experiencing what we are today with each other. I’ve asked her about this aspect of our relationship point-blank, but she remains elusive.

As nearly as I can understand my options, the best thing for me to do is to let her be “the girl who has to be Jewish” and for me to be a low profile Christian at home. I don’t think we have a “typical” interfaith marriage, if there is such a thing. I don’t know if she sees my faith as somehow threatening to her, but it isn’t something that she’s comfortable discussing.

PrayingBut I don’t want the world to lose another Jewish soul. Supersessionist Christianity wouldn’t care, and would walk all over her Jewish soul without feeling the slightest pang of guilt or remorse. However, that Jewish soul is my wife. She gave birth to three other Jewish souls who are my children. Like any husband and father, when confronted with a threat to the family, I become defensive and protective. I cannot let their Judaism be extinguished for the sake of someone else’s theology…not even my own.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. –Romans 9:3-4 (ESV)

Paul was in anguish over his Jewish brothers and sisters who did not understand the blessings of Jesus the Messiah and who would be temporarily “cut off.” He was sincerely willing to become accursed and cut off from his own salvation for the sake of other Jews. It meant that much to him; his Jewish brothers and sisters meant that much to him.

Although I am not a Jew, how much more should my Jewish wife and children mean to me?

Grandmother of Valor

Rav Moshe Aharon Stern, zt”l, explains that determining who has attained true greatness is no simple matter. “There is no middle way when dealing with the absolute truth. Either something is true or it is false. But how can one tell if someone is truly G-d fearing and whether he is a true scholar? We find an answer in an aggadata brought on today’s daf. In Niddah 33, we learn that when Rav Pappa visited a certain city and wished to determine whether there was a G-d fearing scholar to be found there, he addressed his question to a certain grandmother who resided in that place. He asked, ‘Is there a talmid chacham in this city?’ She immediately replied that there was. ‘There is a talmid chacham called Rav Shmuel. If only I could be like him!’

“Rav Pappa thought to himself, ‘Since she blesses herself to be like him, he obviously has yir’as shamayim.’ One may wonder why he chose to rely on this woman’s reply, of all the people of the town. We can understand this in light of a different statement recorded in the name of the sages. In Berachos we find that women tend to understand the true character of their guests more than men. G-d created women with a special sense to recognize falsehood immediately. This is why Rav Pappa asked a grandmother. He wanted a true answer and figured that, in that town, his best chance of getting one was from a woman!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Women’s Intuition”
Niddah 33

While you may assign little reliability to this commentary, I think there may be some truth in it. In this age of “everyone has to be equal,” we tend to interpret that statement as “everyone has to be the same.” Of course, there are obvious physical differences between men and women but even those are coming under scrutiny and being discounted as “not that different.” For instance, this recent article published at The Good Men Project, a website that supposedly gives us a “glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century,” (according to their About Us page) seems to say that “masculinity” can only be “enlightened” by “confessing” that men and women are almost completely alike, with only minor differences in mental, emotional, and physical structure and functioning.

Please understand that I’m not promoting sexism or exploitation of women by men in framing my comments this way. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that men and women can and should have equal opportunity to resources and be treated with equal honor and respect, but that doesn’t mean men and women have absolutely no intrinsic differences.

However, in the viewpoint of Christianity, Paul may appear to muddy the waters just a little bit.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28 (ESV)

In certain areas of Christianity, the phrase “neither Jew nor Greek” (with “Greek” often interpreted to mean “Gentile” or “non-Jewish person”) seems to indicate that whatever roles, functions, and covenant differences that once existed between the Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah were eliminated because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But did Paul also mean that the roles and functional differences between males and females were also eliminated?

Probably not, since in context we see that Paul is referring to different groups having equal access to being “Abraham’s offsprings” through the promise of Christ. Slaves were still slaves, freemen were still free, men were still men, and women were still women. It is interesting to note that since Paul declared both men and women having equal access to the “resource” of Christ, he may appear to be somewhat “feminist” in his approach to the men and women of his day.

That’s not how the Bible usually depicts him.

Derek Leman recently posted an article on this blog called, Now a Non-Jewish Messianic Female Rabbi/Pastor. This topic has spawned a lively discussion in the comments section about the nature of the rights of women in the early first century church. The rights and restrictions applied to women in the church today seem to hinge on whether we see the letters of Paul as eternal truths or as contextually limited instructions to specific groups. According to a series of Leman’s comments on his blog, he supports the latter interpretation.

You learned from your background to read the Epistles like unchanging halakhah. Guess what? They’re not. They are specific advice to specific congregations and in particular situations. There … is … no … unchanging … law … against … female … leaders.

(1) Letters from apostles to congregations do not establish new timeless commandments.

(2) Female leadership was accepted in Israel and by the apostles (Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Philip’s daughters).

(3) Apostolic instructions for various congregations are not uniform because there is no one model of congregational structure that is a pattern in heaven (an absolute divinely commanded model).

Okay, let’s start with your understanding of the epistles. You think they are new Torah establishing new timeless laws which must be followed for all time, right? I said they are not. I said they are letters about specific congregations in specific places and times.

So, step 1. Is there a law before Paul write 1 Timothy (and/or 1 Corinthians) that women may not have leadership? Please tell me where it is.

Step 2. So I am supposed to believe that God waited until one of Paul’s later writings before revealing a new commandment: woman, thou shalt not teach or have leadership?

Step 3. If you say that the letters of the apostles are timeless commandments, how do you understand numerous scriptures like: 2 Tim 4:13; 2 John 10; 1 Cor 7:8; 1 Cor 7:26-27 (are we still in that “present distress” Paul mentioned?); 1 Cor 11:5 (it means a veil over the face, not a hat); etc.

Step 4. Tell me how the epistles “command” a congregation to be structured. What must the leadership structure be? Are the various letters consistent?

Step 5. Or you could come to realize epistles are not “new Torahs” but advice usually based on Torah and the teaching of Yeshua to specific congregations in particular situations. We no longer live in a world where slavery is widespread (in the West, I mean); so 1 Cor 7:21 makes a little less sense now. There are no bad connotations for women not wearing veils in our society (so no Messianic or Christian burkhas necessary). So we should read epistles differently, as applications of Torah and Messiah to specific situations. We can learn from the way these were applied to specific situations. But, back to 1 Timothy 2, how do we justify the idea that God was laying down a new commandment here? Is this the way God gives commandments? Or is it more reasonable to assume this is something that fit the situation of Paul’s congregations in Paul’s time?

I’m not sure how this debate is going to turn out and my goal for this “meditation” isn’t to “join the fray.” I only want to show how devisive the issue of the role of women in the church and synagogue remains in the arena of religion.

Now let’s move one step backward from this debate and take a look at two related viewpoints of women in Judaism. The first is from Proverbs 31:10-31 which describes “the woman who fears the Lord.” This is the basis for the other related perspective of women in Judaism, referred to as Eishet Chayil or “Woman of Valor,” which is a blessing typically sung in Jewish homes on Erev Shabbat.

The English translation of the first part of the song says:

A Woman of Valor, who can find? She is more precious than corals.
Her husband places his trust in her and profits only thereby.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
She seeks out wool and flax and cheerfully does the work of her hands.

This may not fit your picture of a completely liberated, self-actualized, feminist woman of the 21st century, but we do see that Judaism has a history of honoring and valuing women within the community. That “valuation” may have become distorted over time, relative to the history of patriarchal rule we find in both traditional Christianity and Judaism, but I think we should re-examine those assumptions. Regardless of your views about whether a woman should teach men or should lead a congregation, we have ample enough evidence to believe that women tend to be more sensitive to the needs of the family and community, including their spiritual needs.

When I regularly attended a congregation, I couldn’t count the number of women who would come to services bringing their children and, in some cases, grandchildren with them because they wanted the children to honor God, while their “men-folk” remained at home or were off doing some chore or playing some sport. Of course, this isn’t universally true, but the anecdotal evidence is so ubiquitous that it has become cliche. A classic example of this phenomenon on the web is the Spiritually Unequal Marriage blog, which provides a forum for Christian women to interact and share their experiences being married to men who don’t share their faith.

In a way, this seems to lead us back to our “story off the daf” and the grandmother who could immediately identify the most “God-fearing scholar” in her town. Consider that the fellow she identified might not have had the reputation of being the most “God-fearing scholar” in the eyes of the town’s populace, but even someone humble and unassuming in his piety wouldn’t escape the detection of a true “woman of valor,” especially one who has lived many years, raised children and grandchildren, and has the experience and wisdom to see past the surface of a man and into his heart.

The differences between men and women go all the way back to Genesis and reflect the design of God for each of us. While human beings have imposed different roles, responsibilities, and restrictions onto males and females over human societial and cultural history, I believe there is something that God programmed and hardwired into humanity that serves to define us as men and women. Modern secular, progressive thought sees sex differences (as opposed to gender differences, which can become much more complicated) as socially imposed and with those impositions removed, imagines that men and women are not only be equal but hemogenous, and exhibit few if any differences.

While I believe (I state this again for clarity) that men and women should have equal access to resources in society and have been designed under Heaven to have equal access to God, that equality doesn’t presuppose or require homogenization. Replacing “him” and “her” with “it” neither elevates women in a social and cultural context nor reflects the true honor of women as originally established by God.

Differences aren’t bad and being different doesn’t mean you are unequal. It can mean that you are special and have a purpose to fulfill that cannot be accomplished by anyone else.

Sometimes only a grandmother can tell you where to find a talmid chacham in her town.