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A Dialogue on Intermarriage

A Dialogue on Intermarriage

part I

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Note: Names and other identifying details have been changed in order to protect the privacy of the people involved

-- 1 --

From: Juan Garcia
To: Rabbi Gershon Abrahamson
Date: June 23
Subject: my Jewish girlfriend

Dear Rabbi Abrahamson

My name is Juan Garcia . As you can tell from my name, I unfortunately do not have the honor of being a Jew. I would like to ask you something with utmost sincerity and hope that you will answer me.

I am 26 years old and a year ago I was lucky to meet a Jewish girl whose name I prefer not to reveal. She is an alumnus of a Jewish school , with a very strong Jewish education. She is today the source of life for me.

Obviously you must imagine where all this is leading to. In her home, they are experiencing a growing family crisis because of the "goy" that she is dating. Obviously, the parents have never met me and neither have they expressed any desire to do so.

At first, I did not understand the reason for all of this. Even though from childhood on to this very day, one of my best friends was Jewish, I have never noticed the existence of such a great rejection towards the "gentiles" when Jews would date non-Jews. I am very familiar with the theory that calls for avoiding mixed marriages in order to combat assimilation. But this is going even further. In Jewish families such as hers, where Judaism is not the most important concern, it's more a matter of the embarrassment that the mother will suffer in the beauty parlor than concern about the dangers of assimilation.

Recently, her grandparents found out about us and her mother -- seeing the horror of the grandfather -- tried persuading him that our relationship wasn't anything serious. They could not make peace with the fact that their daughter was dating a non-Jew. One of the things that the grandfather said was: "A goyshe iz a goyshe." Excuse my Yiddish, but you understand what it means. What I had thought was a simple inclination against mixed marriages, became a clear act of intolerance.

See? Your religion, which merits my highest respect, which has always acted most wisely, ends up professing against tolerance which has always been an emblem on its flag.

Having experienced this problem myself, I found out about many similar cases. Families that disinherited their sons or daughters, or even worse, put them on a plane to Israel so that they never again see their goy boy/girlfriend. This shows me that it is not an isolated incident, nor a minority.

I hope that you will be able to understand my pain and will not react by calling me an anti-Semite, because for me it is clear that if G‑d decided to put the most beautiful woman in the world in my path, obviously he took her from His great chosen people.

Could you clarify my view, if it is indeed clouded?

Perhaps your words will help me understand.

Juan


-- 2 --

From: Gershon
To: Juan
Date: June 23

Dear Juan:

Thank you for your mail and for the sincerity and candor with which it was written.

I will attempt to answer you likewise.

I understand your frustration very well. You have before you -- or beside you -- a woman whom you love and with whom you would like to share the rest of your life.

You perceive that there are those who want to take her away from you for unjustified reasons ("What will they say in the beauty parlor...")

I do not consider it correct on my part to defend the position and attitudes of a family that I do not know and whose arguments I haven't heard. All I can do is talk to you about the subject from my point of view and not as a spokesman for them.

I agree with you that love is one of the strongest factors in determining who you will marry. But, obviously, it is not the only one. Imagine if you were to find out that the woman of your dreams is your sister; would you marry her?

The Torah clearly defines whom a Jew may marry and whom not. And, for the Jew, the Torah is what defines what constitutes a "marriage". Marriage is a Divine institution, and can be effected only on the conditions that G‑d himself has stipulated (to again resort to my previous example: there does not exist marriage between siblings -- even though they can physically procreate, and even though they may love each other very much -- because their union is forbidden by the Torah).

I think that you have to distinguish between objective criteria (what does the Torah say) and subjective criteria (what her family says). I can understand that you feel hurt by the apparent hypocrisy of individuals that do not practice Judaism in their personal life and -- all of a sudden -- they oppose their child marrying someone only because of the fact that he or she is not Jewish. But your children are not at fault. Neither should you make decisions based on attitudes (of her parents) that are -- apparently -- incoherent. I'll tell you even more: even were her parents to agree to her marrying you, you would be at fault with your own Creator.

Believe me, I understand the hell that you must be going through. It is not easy. But one thing I would like to tell you: the ways of the Torah are the ways of peace and justice. Violating the laws of the Torah does not bring any blessing in the long run, even though it may be very difficult at first to accept it. On the other hand, doing what G‑d wants -- albeit with much sacrifice -- will bring you true, infinite, eternal blessings...

If you would like to talk to me personally, I will gladly meet with you in order to discuss this matter. I am interested in protecting you -- as well as her - from making a false move as a result of ignorance or as a reaction to attitudes that seem to be unjust...

Sincerely

Gershon

There's a booklet on the subject of Intermarriage I would recommend that you read. If you are interested, I will send you a copy.


-- 3 --

From: Juan
To: Rabbi Gershon Abrahamson
Date: June 27

Thank you very much for answering my mail. I thank you dearly. The points you make are very true, but they are obviously based on the canons of a religion that is not mine.

It would be nice to have a conversation some time.

Thank you very much, and of course I would be interested in reading the material about this subject you mentioned.

Juan

P.S. What did you mean when you said that my children are not at fault? I understand that you were referring to the future, but I don't understand, why would they suffer?


-- 4 --

From: Gershon
To: Juan
Date: June 27

Dear Juan.

Thank you for your reply. I will respond by quoting your words (in italics) and then replying, preceded by '----'.

The points you make are very true, but they are obviously based on the cannons of a religion that is not mine

--- That is a valid observation.

Nevertheless, you must take several things into account:

1) The girl that you fell in love with also belongs to a religion that's not yours... Even though she may not respect it, by marrying her, you would be causing her to violate her own religion and the laws of her people. Do you think that somebody who really loves someone, would make her betray her own people and G‑d?

2) My initial argument was not with the intention to convince you what you should do, but rather to explain why this is not a matter of personal discrimination, but a biblical injunction.

3) In your first mail, you wrote about G‑d and the Chosen People. I understood from that that you do accept the Bible as a valid point of reference... If it is valid enough when it comes to defining the girl as part of the chosen people, why should it cease to be valid when it tells you that you cannot marry her?

It would be nice to have a conversation some time

--- Whenever you'd like. You are welcome to come alone or with the young lady.

I would be interested in reading the material about this subject you mentioned

--- I'll send it to you by e-mail.

What did you mean when you said that my children are not at fault... why would they suffer?

--- Do you consider it healthy for a child to be brought up in an environment in which the parents belong to different religions? How will they educate him? As a Jew? As a neutral? Will you tell him: "You are a Jew and belong to a people which is not mine"? Will you tell him to choose what he wants to be? Is it right to subject him to choosing between his father and his mother? Does this choice even depend on him? And what about his relationship with his grandparents, cousins and other family?

Let me point out: Any argument that somebody will have against intermarriages can be refuted by another argument in favor. The only argument which I think is unassailable is that G‑d has expressly forbidden it. All the rest is just commentary...


-- 5 --

From: Juan
To: Gershon
Date: July 2

Dear Gershon:

Thank you very much for the time that you are dedicating to me. I am trying to get the most out of your words as possible.

I have some doubts regarding what you wrote in your first mail. You wrote: "even though her parents would be happy with your marrying their daughter, you would be at fault with YOUR OWN CREATOR..."

Even though I am not a practicing Christian, I have nevertheless received a Christian education in a Catholic school and I know my Bible well. I do not remember any passage that defines with whom I may get married. Of course, no church would recognize my marriage with a girl that has not been baptized, but that can be resolved. But in the case of Judaism, according to you, I would not resolve the matter by converting, because your following sentence (in reference to my future children) would still be valid: "Will you tell him 'you are a Jew and you belong to a Nation that is not mine'? Will you allow him to choose what he wants to be? Is it right to subject him to the need to choose between his parents? Does this choice really depend on him? And what about his relationship with his grandparents, cousins and other family members?"

I think that I should have asked you something else, first: Do you believe in conversion? Do you think that I can be expected to change all my beliefs?

OK, I don't want to take up more of your time. Again, thank you infinitely for the great amount of it that you are dedicating to my doubts.

A strong hug,

Juan


-- 6 --

From: Gershon
To: Juan
Date: July 2

Even though I am not a practicing Christian, I have nevertheless received a Christian education in a Catholic school and I know my Bible well. I do not remember any passage that defines with whom I may get married.

---- See Deuteronomy 7:3-4.

I think that I should have asked you something else, first: Do you believe in conversion? Do you think that I can be expected to change all my beliefs?

---- Judaism accepts as Jewish any man or woman that has been born from a non-Jewish mother if they go through the process of giyyur, or conversion. Conversion to Judaism consists of going through the same steps that the Jewish people went through in order to become Jews, namely: 1) Circumcision (in the case of males); 2) Immersion in a Mikveh; 3) Accepting to fulfill the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments) in their totality. All this in the presence of an authentic Rabbinic Tribunal.

As far as you are concerned, nobody is asking you to change your beliefs. What motivates one who wants to convert to Judaism is precisely his or her desire to give full expression to their beliefs, and not in order to change them.

OK, I don't want to take up more of your time. Again, thank you infinitely for the great amount of it that you are dedicating to my doubts.

--- You're very welcome.

A strong hug,

--- Ditto.


-- 7 --

From: Juan
To: Gershon
Date: July 2

Gershon:

Continuing this interesting contact:

How are you? I hope that you are well. In your last mail, I found some of the passages interesting.

You are right regarding the passage in the Bible that forbids a Jew to marry a non-Jew. That is clear. But there is something that I don't understand.

I understand that one who does not fulfill the precepts is to be considered a sinner. It therefore follows that if someone permits his daughter to marry a non-Jew, he is to be considered a sinner. "You shall not give your daughter to him in marriage..." Right?

On the other hand, being that the family of my girlfriend does not observe even a tenth of the precepts of the Torah, why do they have to fulfill the precept that prohibits them from giving their daughter to me in marriage? If they do not permit their daughter to marry me, but on Saturday they travel by car to a barbecue, what, then, is the point?

I think that this time I have overextended myself with questions. My apologies. If you do not answer them, don't worry. I'll understand.

Regards,

Juan.

go to: [page 2 (8-18)] [page 3 (9-26)] [page 4 (27-33)]
[page 5 (34-35)] [page 6 (36-42)] next page

From an e-mail correspondence between Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov and "Juan Garcia" (not his real name). Click here to send e-mail to Rabbi Shemtov.
© 2002 by Chabad.org. Any usage other than for personal use must be previously authorized by author.
From Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her? - A Dialogue on Intermarriage by Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov. Click here to purchase online.
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Rabbi Steve May 8, 2015

Many were unkind, especially among the Orthodox Jews... Intermarriage is condemned by the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities and is strictly forbidden. There biggest concern now is how the baby will be raised, but according to Jewish law, if the mother isn't Jewish the child isn't either, so it's not really an issue. Reply

Darryl Williams Sr. Baltimore May 6, 2015

Intermarriage Again if I may ask the same question, What did the Jewish community had to say about the wedding of Clinton's daughter to a Jewish? Reply

Darryl Williams Sr. Baltimore April 24, 2015

Marrage What did the Jewish community had to say about the wedding of Clinton's daughter to a Jewish? Reply

Rabbi Steve Clifton, NJ April 21, 2015

INTERMARRIAGE Moses' wife Ziporh, was the daughter of Yitro High Priest of the Medeans who are the ancestors of the modern day Druze. Though she was not Jewish by birth, she served God, Moses and the People of the Book with all of her being. I say we let her in the club!
Judaism may be MY path and MY truth, but it is not the only path to enlightenment and is not the only means of experiencing the presence of the divine spirit of God.
Marriage is about embracing another being body and soul and supporting them to become the best person they can become. I say, find a person of faith and embrace the beauty of your shared traditions, but don't get sucked into the "If I'm right, you must be wrong" debate.
Certainly how we are raised and the views we have can be shaped by religion, but I pray in the end, that we all acknowledge the source of life as the same... There is One God... Reply

Anonymous New York April 20, 2015

Intermarriage I look back at the posts on this topic and can see that I have been contributing to this discussion for almost 6 years. Nothing is better in that time. Husband looks upon my Jewish faith as something which is designed to limit him, when in fact it is part of my identity - that effects my way of life and mental wellbeing. Marriage is about taking care of one another and, I believe that even though he is not Jewish he has a responsibility to encourage and support choices that promote my wellbeing. Well done to the non Jews out there who actually realise this. I am at a particularly low point after having to deal with this for almost a decade. Reply

eliezer shemtov Montevideo April 19, 2015

To Darryl Williams Sr. As far as I know, Moses only married once. She was as Jewish as the rest of the Jewish people who all acquired the status of "Jew" at Mt. sinai. Reply

Darryl Williams Sr. Baltimore April 17, 2015

Jewish marriage to non Jew My question would be this, can you say that Moses second wife was a Jew? Reply

James Los Angeles, CA December 29, 2011

Perspective People -- With all due respect to Rabbi Abrahamson and Chabad, they are not the ultimate representatives and final arbiters of what is Jewish or how the laws of the Torah were intended. Reply

john trenton, can October 21, 2011

intermarriage What a topic. Jews where commanded to get rid of gentile wives, and it is even stricter in the cases dealing with gentile husbands, since the jewish girl is forbidden to inter-marry with a gentile man. But what about a convert? This makes things much more complicated. What about the meaning of marriage? Could one be friends with a gentile at least? Or where the gentiles looked as being just so dirty and sinful that not eeven association with them was acceptable? Is G-D, just the G-D of Israel, or is he a G-D who hears and loves the rightous gentiles? (Was Job, Lot, Ishmael, Noah, Adam, Jethro, Rahab, Ziporah, and Ruth loved by G-D? ) What about Joseph, who married Asenath? All jews of the tribes of Joseph are half Egyptians! All jews from Judah are half Canaanites! What makes someone a true convert? Their heart or is it a ritual of circumcision or baptism? These are profound issues. Reply

Beatrice Seattle, WA October 18, 2011

What do you suggest my husband do? I have been "married" for almost 20 years to a Jewish man. It is in quotes since according to your interpretation of the Torah, we cannot be married. I am a practicing Roman Catholic. When we met and married he was not practicing, nor were any members of his family. Since marriage to me, my husband has joined an Orthodox Kollel (because of me) and we have a fine 14 year old son. Our son has been raised Jewish and has always identified himself as Jewish. does not attend Mass with me and never has. My son will be converting at 18. He has attended Kollel training since he could walk (instigated by ME) and was the first member of the Kollel. I am not Jewish, and I cannot convert to being Jewish.
So what would you encourage my husband who is now religious to do? Divorce me, a wife of 19 years who brought him back to his religion and gave him a son that has been raised Jewish? What would you tell the non-Jewish member of such a union to do? Walk away ? Reply

Anonymous New York, NY April 25, 2011

Intermarriage Yes - it's me again (the one with the non-Jewish husband). Just wanted to say that this Pesach has been so difficult. Each time we encounter these difficulties it just brings back my fears that my husband would not support me in raising children in a Jewish way and I cannot go forward like that. Reply

Miriam March 17, 2011

Well then Rabbis are very smart :) First, if the girl wanted marriage with the man, she would have never told him about the friction.
She is unsure, so she is using her family to keep him at an arms distance till she is sure.
So what was he going to do, print out the Rabbis answer and use it to force a relationship on her.
Why didn't he go to her Rabbi?
Sammy Davis Jr converted to Jewish.
If he really loved her, his question would be how do I become Jewish, not where can I find scripture to help me own her.
As far as the lady worried her husband would not keep the promise to raise the children Jewish, if he was Catholic, he would have had no choice, the mother decides the family religion. Oh and he is not considered legally married if you did not convert to Catholic. I am agnostic, and the most of it is a distaste for rituals. Most American agnostic people admire the Jewish faith, but really don't want to get involved. I am such a devout agnostic, I have degrees in it.Yet I still come here for answers. Reply

Elizabeth January 27, 2010

The Story of Ruth / Intermarriage I am reminded that Ruth was not a "Jew" but was also an ancestor to King David among others. The verse in Deuteronomy (if you read all of chapter 7) seems to indicate that those whom Jews are not suppose to marry are those worshiping idols, etc (or in our day money, pride, fame, etc). Because anything that is more important than G-d is an idol, anyone can become an idol worshiper. This seems to be the key point. Those people who have not been raised from when very young, usually lack the mental outlook that such a strong religious force gives a person to view the world - thus making it hard to see the importance and stay true to Judaism
(or any religion for that matter).

However, the story of Ruth is a beautiful reminder that being born of a Jewish womb is not required, but being born with a Jewish mentality is. Seems Ruth didn't feel too attached to her homeland or she would have stayed; Her true homeland was somewhere she had never been and she knew that. Reply

Anonymous Tel Aviv, Israel December 29, 2009

This is not authentic Kabbalah From a spiritual perspective (and the Torah speaks only about spiritual states and absolutely about nothing physical) Jews are those on the path straight to the Creator and "the other nations" are the rest of the people. This means, that any person could be a Jew (regardless of religion and nationality) and that any so-called Jew could be a gentile actually.

The Torah defines who a Jew may marry. Yes. The meaning however is "One who is on the way to the Creator, shall not marry someone who is not on this way" because such a situation would only hinder the spiritual elevation of that Person. Reply

Anonymous New York September 2, 2009

Intermarriage I totally agree that there are many things that cause friction in a marriage. I would like to point out that although my husband seems to have a problem with compromise, we very much together - marriage is forever, right? In fact, we've only been married a short while but lived together for some time before that. The lack of consideration does start to grate after a while and I think that marriage makes it worse. Maybe it has something to do with unrealistic expectations. But I expect respect and understanding from my husband and I often don't feel that's always what I'm getting. I understand and respect that he is agnostic and I still put on a nice Christmas (its more to do with the food than the faith for him). I think the key is to talk things through. At this stage I feel like I'd rather not have children with my husband. I worry that he would not keep the promise to raise them Jewish. Sometimes talking doesn’t heal the hurt. Reply

Anonymous Toronto, Canada September 1, 2009

It's sad that ur experience was so negative. However, when a marriage breaks up there are often things done or said that may be unforgiveable which have nothing to do with faith. Even partners of the same faith can say and do some very hurtful things during separation so i don't believe that faith need necessarily play a part in the breakdown of a marriage. Reply

Anonymous New York September 1, 2009

Intermarriage Even though you may love each other now, that may not be enough. I am Jewish through my father and I converted to Judaism because my mother was not.
I have now married a non-Jew. I would advise that other people do not make the same decision. But of course, everyone is different. There are some husbands who think that refraining from eating pig products in the presence of their Jewish wife is a small sacrifice. Then there are others who just can't handle any sort of sacrifice or compromise.
The bottom line is that my father made a mistake. My upbringing was a confused mess. Unfortunately I thought that marrying out of the faith would not pose such problems. But, I think it does depend on how much compromising both husband and wife are prepared to do. Believe me, there are some things that I will never be able to forgive my husband for doing, or more to the point, not doing. As a non-Jew do you want your Jewish partner to look on you like that too? Reply

Anonymous New York, NY July 14, 2009

Torah and intermarriage Shortly after the section of the Torah that forbids intermarriage to seven specific tribes, there is a passage that explicitly talks about how a man can take as a wife a woman who is from an "enemy" tribe. This passage talks about how the woman should be allowed ample time to mourn the loss of her parents and her old way of life. Then, the two of them can cohabit and be married. I think this is pretty informative. Reply

Anonymous Clinton, NJ July 7, 2009

Really? My mother is Jewish and my father is not. As a by-product of this so-called inerfaith marriage, I both agree with the Rabbi and with the guy. But in the end, religion creates various rules for marriage rather then reflecting if those two people are in love. Thats what matters not the relgious strings attached. We love who we love for a reason. If this poor guy wants to marry a Jew, then so be it! But in the end of the day they are two people. One human in love with another human. I never felt out of place with both religions becuase of my parents. Both raised me to be open minded and respectful towards all relgions. Thats what it comes down to... the parents. If they are willing to leave all the chaos behind them, then they should get married for love! If not, then its a sign that they should not be together.. Good luck! Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, CA June 23, 2009

Intermarriage Clearly this is an argument that can go on and on with no clear answer to what is right and what is wrong. In Juan's case it is more of does his Jewish girlfriend follow one of the ten commandments that is written: Honor thy Mother and thy Father? which again could open up a new can of worms...to say the least. I believe that if a parent raises a child with truth, honesty, and above all dignity should not fear of their judgement. Religion has many contradictions...like to love thy neighbor as thy self...this to me is to be tolorent and accepting of everything...which requires blind eye in order to do so. Oh and what about we are all G-d's children and made in his image...yet we search for the difference so that we can find fault and intolorance...No wonder we are all confused and can not decern ourselves as to who we should agree with or not. I sometime believe G-d purposely created these contradictions to challenge us by allowing Adam and Eve to open their eyes to see inperfections Reply

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