We live today in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. We mix freely
with, and respect, people of all faiths. Many Jews today grow up fully
assimilated and comfortable in a secular society and environment. Why is it
such a tragedy if a Jewish man finds a non-Jewish woman (or vice versa) with
whom he feels totally compatible and decides to marry her? He claims that she
is a genuinely lovely person with a fine character – often much nicer than any
Jewish woman he has met. She is at home with his Jewish background and culture
and both share the same values, hobbies and pursuits. A perfect match, yet not
made in Heaven. Why not?
The decision to marry out is perhaps the most telling moment, when a person
must consider what being Jewish actually means. Is being Jewish simply an
accident of birth? Is there a difference between a Jew and a non-Jew? Can one
retain full Jewish identity if married to a non-Jewish partner? What if one
finds the perfect partner – loving, caring, considerate, good fun – but
unfortunately non-Jewish? If one has found true love, does religion really matter?
Where do you come from?
No person just arrives on the scene. We are all the product of bygone
generations; in the case of the Jews, descendants of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob.
Jacob's family descended to servitude in Egypt and after 210 years was miraculously
redeemed by G–d through Moshe, His faithful
servant. The Children of Israel were
subsequently constituted as a nation at the stand at Sinai – the Torah being their "wedding contract" with G–d.
To date, Jewish history spans over 3,300 years. To be born a Jew today is
not an accident of birth but the sum total of over 3,300 years of ancestral
self-sacrifice, of heroes who at times gave their very lives for their beliefs.
Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Nazis and Communists all tried to obliterate Jewish
practice and faith, but failed. The indomitable Jewish spirit survived and
clung to its traditions despite all odds.
And now, the very latest link of that glorious tradition has the option of
severing the chain in one fell swoop – or not!
A story was told by Mr. George Rohr, an American philanthropist, at a
convention for the Lubavitcher Rebbe's
emissaries in 1996. Mr Rohr related how he had the privilege to meet the Rebbe on one occasion just after Rosh Hashanah. Mr. Rohr thought it appropriate to
present the Rebbe with a "spiritual" gift. A short time before, he had set up a
beginners service at his shul in Manhattan,
and on Rosh Hashanah 120 Jews attended this new service. Mr. Rohr decided to
announce this to the Rebbe and was sure the Rebbe would receive much nachas from this good news. When his turn arrived, he
confidently strode up to the Rebbe and said, "Thank G–d, this Rosh Hashanah we
set up a beginners service in our shul and had 120 Jews with no Jewish
Until that point the Rebbe had a broad smile on his face, but when Mr. Rohr
told him the news the Rebbe's face dropped, and Mr. Rohr searched his words for
anything he may have said that had upset the Rebbe.
"What?!" said the Rebbe.
Mr. Rohr repeated, "… 120 Jews with no Jewish background."
"No Jewish background?" asked the Rebbe. "Go and tell those Jews that they
are all children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Now Mr. Rohr understood. The Rebbe objected to these Jews being described as
having no Jewish background. Every Jew has a very illustrious background – they
are all sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!
The Chosen People
One may ask, however, why must I continue this chain, to pass on the
traditions and to carry the baton just because my mazal
was that I was born Jewish? There are plenty of others who will carry on the
traditions. What difference does it make if I sidetrack a little and shunt
myself into a dead-end?
Jews are called Bnai Yisrael. The word Yisrael is an acronym for the phrase,
"Yesh Shishim Ribo Otiot
LeTorah" which means that there are 600,000 letters in the Torah. Every Jew is
compared to a letter in a Torah scroll. Even if only one letter is missing the
entire scroll is incomplete and invalid. Every Jew is an ambassador of his
people in his echelon in society. That is his G–d-given responsibility and
privilege. To shirk this responsibility is to deny oneself the ultimate
The Torah explicitly forbids intermarriage. The source is in Deuteronomy 7:3-4,
You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his
son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, for he will cause your
child to turn away from after Me and they will worship the gods of others.
This is also the Scriptural source for the law of matrilineal descent. Since
the verse states "for he (ie a non-Jewish father) will cause your child to turn
away ... ", this implies that a child born to a Jewish mother is Jewish whereas,
if a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, the child is not Jewish.
A Jewish woman who has already married out and borne children should be
encouraged to give them a full Jewish education. There are today thousands of
practising Jews who only have a Jewish mother. However, to a couple
contemplating intermarriage, the facts speak for themselves. Except in a small
number of cases in which the mother is very determined and gives the child a
very positive, strong Jewish education, in many cases the child grows up with a
mixed and confused identity; in simple English, half-Jewish. Technically, there
is no such thing – one is either 100% Jewish or not. However, in terms of
identity, the child feels only half-Jewish. Even if the mother is a proud Jew,
the father, whether atheist, agnostic, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim etc., does
not share the same beliefs and values. Even if he is sympathetic, or even
agrees to the child being brought up Jewish, there are bound to be differences.
Does one celebrate Chanukah or Xmas, both or
neither? Whichever one chooses is confusing or even contradictory. Many
intermarried couples today celebrate both – but what sort of message does this
give the child? Is the child Jewish, thus rejecting the notions of
Christianity, or is the child a Christian with Jewish roots? It causes great
confusion for the child and in many cases the child sees both faiths only on a
superficial level, distanced by his parents from true belief.
The child is also given the test of mixed allegiances. All passages of life
create a problem. Should the child be circumcised, christened, both or neither?
Should the child have a Bar Mitzvah or be
confirmed, marry in a synagogue or a church, be buried in a Jewish cemetery or
And what chances are there that the child should want to marry a Jew, and
carry on the chain?
There is another point: people are social beings. From time immemorial they
have gathered in communities. One thing the international Jewish community
prides itself in is the idea of Kol Yisrael Chaverim – all Israel are one
fraternity, one brotherhood, one nation. If you are traveling to Bangkok and need a place
for Shabbat you can be sure that if you turn up in shul you will get an
invitation. Wherever a Jew goes he will have an international support group
that extends hospitality and help, if needed. By having a non-Jewish child one
has extricated the child from that community and bequeathed alienation to him.
Everybody wants to belong – it is a basic human need. Intermarriage causes
great confusion to children with regard to where they actually belong.
It's in the genes
Marriage in general, even between two people of similar background, entails
a certain risk as to eventual adjustment and compatibility. Even if the two have
been acquainted for some time there is no sure guarantee as to what the
relationship will be like when the acquaintance is turned into a marriage,
where the two will be thrown together under one roof for 24 hours a day, day
after day and week after week. But when the backgrounds are entirely different,
and where these differences date back for scores of generations – and are
consequently of a deep and lasting quality – the chances of adjustment and
compatibility are lessened.
Intermarriage often results, sooner or later, in friction and unhappiness.
That a casual, or even more serious, kind of relationship seemed in the past to
indicate compatibility, is not a proof that it would be so ever after in a
Even if a couple are happy with each other, deeply in love, and have decided
to marry despite their different religious backgrounds, there are so many
factors that can change a person's feelings.
King Solomon states, "I am sleeping but my
heart is awake." A Jew may be sleeping spiritually but his inner Jewish heart
is always awake and, at certain times, is aroused. Years into a marriage, where
much of the relationship is routine, the soul and Jewish heart may be aroused
to search for the deeper meaning to life. There may be a quest for spirituality
and rediscovery of one's roots.
Consider the possibility that these feelings will not be shared by your
spouse. On the other hand, a Jewish partner means a shared history and a shared
But it works!
There is, of course, the argument that the percentage of intermarriages is
considerable and many of them seem to last. However, the statistics show that
the percentage of separations and divorces among intermarried couples is greater
than among marriages within the faith..
It's simply not right
To be honest – in the plain sense of the word – one would not wish to drag
another party into an alliance which is likely to be troubled. If there is
true love between the two parties, one would certainly not wish to cause
the other this pain, and would readily forgo the prospect of immediate and
short-lived pleasure in order to spare the other the probable result.
Otherwise the professed love is tinged by selfishness.
Should there be children from such a union, there is the added consideration
of the possibility of the children having to witness constant friction – and
worse – between their parents.
One's personal desire is no justification for involving oneself to involve
another person – least of all a loved one – into such a situation, even if the
other person is agreeable, and sincerely so. No person has the right to harm
A Jewish marriage
A Jewish marriage is called a Binyan Adei Ad – an everlasting edifice. In
order that the edifice of marriage should indeed be strong and lasting,
everything connected with the wedding, as well as the establishment of the
couple's home, should be in full compliance with the instructions of the Torah.
The Torah is called Torat Chaim – the Torah of life – it is the source of
everlasting life in the Hereafter as well as the true guide to life on earth.
The analogy of marriage to an "everlasting edifice" is not merely a figure
of speech but contains also an important idea and moral. In the case of any
structure, the first and most important step is to ensure the quality and
durability of the foundation. Without such a foundation, all the efforts put
into the walls, roof, decorations and so on, would be of no avail. This is even
more true of the structure of marriage; if its foundations are unstable, what
tragedy could result! This is why a Jewish marriage must, first of all, be
based on the rock- solid foundation of the Torah and mitzvot.
Then the blessing of joy and happiness will follow the couple for the rest of
Should I marry a Jewess just because she is Jewish?
Many young people feel themselves pressured by their parents to marry a
Jewish spouse and, even though the choice is wider in the non-Jewish world,
they feel obligated to marry within the fold out of a sense of duty. They often
ask the question, what is the difference between the Jew and the non-Jew – both
dress the same, both share common values, both eat the same food? If a man
finds himself with a choice between two women, one Jewish and one non-Jewish,
should he marry the Jewish woman just because she is Jewish?
The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Yes, because therein lies the potential
for a truly Jewish marriage. Although at present there seems to be no difference
between the Jew and non-Jew, as people grow older they change and mature. The
vicissitudes, strains and challenges of life pull a person in all directions.
If one is at least married to a Jew, there is more common ground and potential
for growing in the same direction.
However, as strongly as the answer is yes, it carries an equally strong
piece of advice. The institution of marriage – any marriage – needs much hard
work. No marriage can be taken for granted. As stated above, the foundation for
a good marriage must be the Divine directives of the Torah, but a man and wife
must understand that they have to work very hard to implement these directives
in order to make the marriage successful.
Is conversion an option?
Conversion is serious business. A serious conversion can take years and
involves serious changes in lifestyle and conduct.
To undergo a "cosmetic" or "plastic" conversion is, obviously, no solution
to a seriously minded person. The Halachah is very clear in its insistence that
the would-be convert honestly and wholeheartedly accepts all the mitzvot.
Accepting all but one of the mitzvot automatically invalidates the conversion,
and the non-Jew remains a non-Jew exactly as before. Of course, it is possible
to mislead a rabbi or a Rabbinic
Court by declaring one's readiness to accept all
the mitzvot, but one cannot mislead the Creator who is the One who imbues the
A word of caution: within the Jewish community today one may convert in
either an Orthodox or Progressive establishment. An Orthodox conversion is the
longer-shorter way. It may be arduous and take a longer time, but it is the
shortest way to universal recognition. Anyone serious about conversion should
consult a competent rabbinic authority. The reader is referred to the book Who
is a Jew by Rabbi J.E. Schochet, which discusses this issue at length.
Advice to parents
Parents often seek rabbinical advice on how to stop an intermarriage.
In truth two pieces of advice are needed. One, before the crisis, and one
after. When a child is born we wish the parents "Mazal
Tov". In many cases, straight after the Mazal Tov, the parents put their
newborn child's name down to attend the best schools in the area. One often
hears from parents that they want to give their children the best education
possible. By this they mean that they wish to expose their children to the
highest levels of academia available in the secular world coupled with a weak
pre-Bar Mitzvah education in the basics of
Judaism. They expect their child to be worldly, educated, modern and open
minded. They then pronounce that after such a broad education the child will be
able to make his own choice about who he wishes to marry. When the child
decides to intermarry the parents then run to the rabbi for a quick fix. Some
parents resign themselves to the situation while others seek a token
In truth, such an education does not give the child free choice at all. If
their choice is between a modern well-equipped science laboratory and an old
stuffy synagogue classroom with a boring teacher – for sure they will choose
The story is told of a person who was asked if he knew what a Tallit Katan was. He replied affirmatively indicating
on his own body the size of a pair of Tzitzit suitable
for a seven year old – probably the type he once wore at Hebrew School.
He was then asked what size suit he wore. When he appeared puzzled at the
question it was explained to him that, since he now wears an adult size suit,
why does he see himself in a child's size Tzitzit!
The point of this story is simple. The man's conception of Judaism is that
of a child's because while in every other subject – Maths, English, History,
etc. – he proceeded to higher education, in Judaism he stopped at Bar Mitzvah.
No wonder he chooses to be assimilated since his choice appears to be between
an adult modern world and an archaic irrelevant past.
If parents want to give their children a real choice, they have to give them
a strong Jewish education and identity. It is only then that an informed choice
can be made.
A father once came to a rabbi with his daughter and asked the rabbi to
persuade her not to marry out. The rabbi asked the daughter why she didn't want
to marry a Jew. She replied that her father never took her to synagogue, never
ate kosher, never kept Shabbat or the festivals – in short, lived exactly like
their non-Jewish neighbours, so why now the hypocrisy in demanding that she
marry a Jew! The rabbi turned to the father and said that he agreed with her. The
father was dumbstruck and then said that he had brought her to the rabbi to
convince her not to marry out, and not to agree with her. The rabbi responded
that, in order for her not to marry out, the father had to start living as a
Jew. He suggested that the father should lay Tefillin
daily and that his wife should start lighting the Shabbat candles. After a lot
of persuasion the daughter eventually married a Jew.
To live as a Jew – that is the advice before the crisis, since prevention is
the best cure. But what if one is already in a crisis?
When it comes to a Jewish heart one never knows when and how its innate
Jewish feelings will be aroused. However, parents should consider the
All the members of a Jewish family constitute one organism and, when one
part of it needs special treatment, it can be given in one of two ways; either
directly, if possible, or indirectly, through strengthening other parts of the
body, particularly those that govern the functions of the entire organism. The
head of the family is called the Baal Habayit and the wife is called the Akeret
HaBayit, corresponding to the heart of the family. Thus, strengthening the
commitment to the Torah and mitzvot on the part of the parents has a beneficial
effect upon all the members of the family. Of course, it may sometimes entail
certain difficulties by having to make some changes, perhaps even radical ones,
in regard to habits and lifestyle. On the other hand, considering the
far-reaching benefits, and especially the fact that parents surely would not
consider anything too difficult if it could be beneficial to their children, of
what significance can any difficulty be? Often, living more Jewishly is easier
than it would seem.
There is the assurance that, however one's everyday life and conduct was in
the past, a Jew can always start a new life through Teshuvah
– which literally means returning to one's essence.