Editor's note: Several weeks ago, in our Devarim 5762 (July 12) issue, we ran a dialogue between "Rabbi Gershon Abrahamson" and "Juan Garcia" (not their real names) on the subject of intermarriage. Juan, a South American university student who describes himself as someone who "unfortunately does not have the honor of being a Jew", had fallen in love with a Jewish woman; the two wished to marry, but were met with vehement opposition on the part of the young woman's family. Seeking to understand the basis of this opposition, Juan wrote to Rabbi Abrahamson, a Chabad rabbi whose e-mail he got off a Jewish website. Their resultant correspondence, spanning seven months and 35 e-mails, is a fascinating document on love, marriage, religion, racism, anti-Semitism and Judaism — in addition to being a captivating human drama. The correspondence, however, broke off suddenly, and Rabbi Abrahamson remained in the dark as to the final outcome (as indeed did our readers, many of whom wrote asking for the "ending"). Then, after more than a year of silence — just about the time that "A Dialogue on Intermarriage" was being published in our magazine — Juan responded to Rabbi Abrahamson's renewed query, and the correspondence resumed. Here, then, is the continuation of their dialogue.

(To go to the beginning of A Dialogue on Intermarriage click here)

-- 36 --

From: Gershon
To: Juan
Date: July 1
Subject: hello

Juan:

Just a short hello to see how you're doing.

Gershon


-- 37 --

From: Juan
To: Gershon
Date: July 2

Dear Abrahamson,

I ignored your mails for a long time for the simple reason that I did not have what to say. Believe me that I really value your interest, though I still do not know the true reason for it. I would like you to explain it to me. I am sure that it is not because of your friendship with me, because, let's be realistic, the connection between us is not that strong. Perhaps it is because you want to help Paulina through talking to me, or perhaps it is simply due to your religiosity that pushes you to make the indefatigable effort to do your utmost for the Jewish Cause in the world. I would love to believe that the motive for your not giving up on this matter, even though so many months have passed since our first correspondence, is your interest in me. Please clarify my doubt.

Let me give you an update regarding the developments in my life since our last correspondence. I am very satisfied professionally because I am earning a living by doing that which I enjoy. But my heart is destroyed. Things between Paulina and myself have recently come to an end. I am afraid that by telling you this your concern for us will end because, the danger of assimilation has been reduced as far as we are concerned. I fervently wish that that will not be the case.

Even though Paulina's story may be far from over, the fact of the matter is that we have been separated for months, and after looking for solutions, we have not been successful in getting back together. There are many and varied reasons, even though I still continue to feel the same love like the first day, she is not sure about it. It is not that she feels that she doesn't love me, she is just not sure that she does. There are many things that just wore our relationship down and brought us to the point that we do not want to be together. Our feelings have waned due to reasons that are clear to both of us. The incredibly backwards elitism that Paulina's Jewish community suffers, completely destroys the hopes of being 100% happy as a mixed couple. (I emphasize Paulina's Jewish community — I do not want to generalize and refer to all Jews in the world because I do not know what goes on elsewhere.) After almost five years of our relationship, I came to understand certain things that would terrify anybody. I could write a book about it. To argue that non-Jews undeniably discriminate against the Jew would be falling prey to the argument of "you started". The fact that non-Jews do it too doesn't diminish the fact that it is unacceptable that Jews do it as well.

My relationship with Paulina gradually fell apart because of the lack of support in Paulina's home. Although, exactly like everybody predicted, they ended up accepting me eventually by letting me into their home and ending their open hostility. It was evident to Paulina, however, that her parents did not agree to the relationship. She never had the guts to admit it to her grandparents. She also did not invite me enough into her social circle. The fact of the matter is that even after several months of separation, her parents are not even aware of it. You see from that how seldom I used to call her home and how even less frequently I used to visit. It wasn't because I didn't want to; it was because of the attitudes of rejection that were evident.

After several years, anyone, including her parents, was able to see that Paulina was the happiest woman in the world being at my side. We had an unbelievable and beautiful relationship. We were, potentially, a great couple. But it was totally unappetizing imagining a future in which the families cannot relate to each other, in which I would feel forever rejected by society which would view us as outcasts from both religions. Her parents, seeing her happy should have given preference to her happiness over theirs. But they did not do that. They continued to maintain the obvious hope that some day all this would end and that Paulina would get married, as will probably happen some day in the future, with a Jew, son of a family of friends, with money, who will give Paulina that which they consider to be important. They determined Paulina's future according to their values and not according to hers. If she, a 25-year-old, doesn't care about our different origins, they should have respected that. If something that is beneficial for someone that I love goes against my personal interests, then I would lie about my preferences so that the other person may enjoy that which is good for him. That is religiosity. Like the parent that lies to his child praising the awful painting that he drew in school.

Paulina said that the ideal situation would've been that her parents would be as excited as she was about us getting married some day. She ended up deceiving me about her life, not taking me along to her friends' weddings, with the excuse that she did not have an invitation for me, while the real reason was that it was because her grandparents would be there. Paulina never lost her shame in being with me. The Jewish community forced her to be ashamed about loving me. The values that they preach made her feel constantly that her love was a crime, an error. These Jewish values are anti-values.

I agree with the idea of preventing intermarriages. However, when a relationship becomes practically inevitable, that value must be quickly replaced by a wish for the happiness of the child.

Do not promote intermarriage, but do not ruin the happiness of those that choose to go through with it. It is necessary to prevent it as much as possible, but it is wrong to ruin those that have already begun. It is like trying to abort all unwanted pregnancies. Obviously we must try to prevent teens from getting pregnant, but once it does happen, the family must be totally supportive. Imagine if the family were to decide to make their pregnant daughter feel miserable and guilty. A happy courtship is like a pregnancy, something is being gestated. It is possible to induce an abortion, but at what cost?

I trust that you will be able to understand my arguments and that you will answer with intelligence and sensitivity.

A hug

Juan.


-- 38 --

From: Gershon
To: Juan
Date: July 3

I still do not know the real reason for your interest... I would like you to explain it to me...

--- First of all, thank you for answering me. I was very surprised when you suddenly interrupted our dialogue without any explanation. The other day I came across our correspondence and I decided to try and establish contact with you once again.

Why did I dedicate so much time and effort to our correspondence?

I confess that there is a good quota of selfish motives. I was very impressed by your way of presenting things and I sensed in you someone that would be worthwhile talking to and clarifying issues as important as the ones we are dealing with. And yes, there certainly was an important - perhaps the most important - element of wanting to contribute something of value towards the Jewish Cause. It goes far beyond the specific relationship between you and Paulina. Once the dialogue progressed, it assumed its own momentum, as I came to appreciate you.

I think the dialogue that we've generated would be a great script for a Blockbuster. Don't you think?

I am afraid that by telling you this your concern for us will end because the danger of assimilation has been reduced as far as we are concerned. I fervently wish that that will not be the case.

--- I will continue to be available to you in order to clarify whatever I can regarding any issue you may be interested in. As I said in the beginning of our dialogue, my responsibility as a rabbi and a Jew does not consist only in preventing a Jew from doing wrong, but it is also my responsibility to be concerned about the non-Jew as well. In other words, my responsibilities do not begin and end with the Jewish community but extend to society at large. I therefore feel that our dialogue has just begun.

The incredibly backwards elitism that the Paulina's Jewish community suffers, completely destroys the hopes of being 100% happy as a mixed couple... After almost five years of our relationship, I came to understand certain things that would terrify anybody

--- I agree with you that it is a complex issue. I would like to point out, however, that many of the attitudes that you saw are not the result of Jewish culture but are due to the lack thereof. There is much confusion regarding what being Jewish means and the results of this ignorance are very painful. I assure you that this hurts me as much or more than it hurts you.

They determined Paulina's future according to their values and not according to hers. If she, a 25 year old, doesn't care about our different origins, they should have respected that. If something that is beneficial for someone that I love goes against my personal interests, then I would lie about my preferences so that the other person may enjoy that which is good for him. That is religiosity. Like the parent that lies to his child praising the awful painting that he drew in school.

--- I understand what you are saying, but there is another way of looking at it. There are situations in which a person is not in the best position to make the right decisions. When one is in love or attracted to someone, it is very difficult to make decisions that would lead to separating oneself from that person. The person is blind. In such a case the responsibility to help falls to the family and friends. In this particular case, Jewish law and traditions also weigh in. Those are the reference points that guide us. Although Paulina's parents do not consult with the Torah every day and in every area of their lives, that does not invalidate the times that they do choose to do so. In other words: they are in error when they do not behave in accordance with the Torah and not when they do behave in accordance with it.

The Jewish community forced her to be ashamed about loving me. The values that they preach made her feel constantly that her love was a crime, an error. These Jewish values are anti-values... I agree with the idea of preventing intermarriages. However, a relationship because practically inevitable, that value must be quickly replaced by a wish for the happiness of the child.

--- Getting married out of the religion is a sort of betrayal, besides being a grave transgression of the Torah. How can you expect that parents should accept a happiness based on such a flagrant transgression? Why do you feel that it is more important to sacrifice communal well-being for the sake of an individual's happiness rather than vice-versa?

Do not promote Intermarriage, but do not ruin the happiness of those that choose to go through with it.

--- I do not think that it is a fair proposal. If intermarriage is wrong, why accept it even when someone finds happiness in it? It is not merely a matter of a personal happiness…

It is like trying to abort all unwanted pregnancies. Obviously we must try to prevent teens from getting pregnant, but once it does happen, the family must be totally supportive... A happy courtship is like a pregnancy, something is being gestated. It is possible to induce an abortion, but at what cost?

--- The same Torah that forbids making abortions (except in the case where bringing the pregnancy to term can put the mother's health at risk) prohibits Intermarriage. Not all gestations are comparable to the gestation of life.

I trust that you will be able to understand my arguments and that you will answer with intelligence and sensitivity...

--- Did I fulfill your expectations? J

A hug

Gershon

P.S. I never asked you, but I always wondered: How did you ever get to me?


-- 39 --

From: Juan
To: Gershon
Date: July 3

Thank you for your dedication, Gershon. I really thank you, but even though I agree 100% that our dialogue sounds like a blockbuster movie, it is impossible that we should agree. The synopsis seems OK, but the development of the ideas is hardly compatible.

I am a person that although I received a Christian education, today, after so many disappointments with my religion and that of others, I basically do not believe in anything written. You, on the other hand, are an example of magnificent faith and dedication to the Torah, and that makes us people with opposite thoughts. Our dialogue was made possible because of our mutual logical way of thinking and analysis, but our values are essentially different.

For me the Torah isn't a point of reference for anything. For you it is everything. I cannot accept conventions that are based on a book to which I have not attributed any value other than that which I have attributed to the opinion or belief of its author. Admitting that these values are correct would imply that mine are erroneous.

Paulina also admits that she doesn't believe any more in anything that is related to the Jewish faith. If she were to marry me she would be condemned by her contemporaries to live a life of frustrations. Does G‑d consider this just? Does G‑d prefer a person who is faithful to the Torah but unhappy rather than someone that betraying the Torah lives a happy and fulfilling life? I imagine that your answer to this will be that no Jew can live a happy and fulfilled life if he does not live his life in accordance with the Torah. Believe me, there must be thousands of cases that prove the contrary. Would you affirm that no assimilated Jew has died happy, knowing that he has lived his life according to his dreams? Perhaps you believe that his life would have been even happier had he lived it according to the Torah. But the major difference is that you believe that a life lived with sacrifices that benefit others more than benefit oneself is a life worth living, and that is where we disagree. I make sacrifices daily that make others happier than they do me, but that happiness makes me feel happier. That is why I see the premise to be faulty right from the start. It always ends up being egoistic. Living for the other person's benefit might make me happy, but it ends up being a search for one's own personal happiness.

To think that if everyone were to live in accordance with the Torah they would be happy, is mere speculation. But I understand that you must believe that, because I imagine that your faith nourishes itself from that idea.

The values that nourish our respective decisions and make us believe in them are essentially different. I think that you and I can understand one another, but we would never agree. Perhaps agreeing is not the objective here.

Dear Gershon, the world we live in is certainly far from the way you would like it to be. Believe me that it is also far from the way I would like it to be.

A hug,

Juan

P.S. I obtained your email through a Jewish website.


-- 40 --

From: Gershon
To: Juan
Date: July 3

Though I agree 100% that our dialogue sounds like a blockbuster movie, it is impossible that we should agree...

--- therefore?

I basically do not believe in anything written. You, on the other hand, are an example of magnificent faith and dedication to the Torah, and that makes us people with opposite thoughts. Our dialogue was made possible because of our mutual logical way of thinking and analysis, but our values are essentially different.

--- That is what makes it so interesting. In spite of our differences, we were able to maintain our dialogue. If we were to think alike, what interest would there be in talking?

For me the Torah isn't a point of reference for anything. For you it is everything. I cannot accept conventions that are based on a book to which I have not attributed any value other than that which I have attributed to the opinion or belief of its author. Admitting that these values are correct would imply that mine are erroneous.

--- and if that were to be the case?

Paulina also admits that she doesn't believe any more in anything that is related to the Jewish faith

--- That is a very easy position to take ("I don't believe"). I would say that she doesn't really know what it's all about, no matter how much she has been around.

If she were to marry me she would be condemned by her contemporaries to live a life of frustrations. Does G‑d consider this just? Does G‑d prefer a person who is faithful to the Torah but unhappy rather than someone that betraying the Torah lives a happy and fulfilling life? I imagine that your answer to this will be that no Jew can live a happy and fulfilled life if he does not live his life in accordance with the Torah.

--- My answer is that our commitment to the Torah goes beyond if it makes one happy or not.

Believe me, there must be thousands of cases that prove the contrary. Would you affirm that no assimilated Jew has died happy, knowing that he has lived his life according to his dreams?

--- there must be millions.

Living for the other person's benefit might make me happy, but it ends up being a search for one's own personal happiness

--- It is that way without the Torah. When one lives according to the Torah, one does what one should independently of his or her personal happiness. One does it because it's the right thing to do. That is why it is the key to true personal freedom.

But to think that if everyone were to live in accordance with the Torah they would be happy, is mere speculation. But I understand that you must believe that, because I imagine that your faith nourishes itself from that idea

--- Again, the Torah's objective is truth and not necessarily happiness. If personal happiness coincides with objective truth, that is, of course, the ideal. When there is a conflict between the two, that is where the person faces his challenge - what will he choose?

The values that nourish our respective decisions and make us believe in them are essentially different. I think that you and I can understand one another, but we would never agree. Perhaps agreeing is not the objective here

---Is that a reason to continue our dialogue or to discontinue it?

Dear Gershon, the world we live in is certainly far from the way you would like it to be. Believe me that it is also far from the way I would like it to be

---What do you suggest we do about it?

A hug, Juan

--- Ditto, Gershon


-- 41 --

From: Juan
To: Gershon
Date: July 3

I will answer you very briefly, because I'm on my way out...

The problem I have discovered in our last mail (and perhaps it was there since the first), is that the universal question, "What is the objective of life?" pops up.

I believe that the idea is to attain happiness. If this is accompanied by other values as well, great.

You believe in another objective. Which? Personal freedom? Objective truth?

I think that at the very beginning of our exchange we should've defined this. It is from there that all possible choices in life branch out.

A hug,

Juan


-- 42 --

From: Gershon
To: Juan
Date: July 3

The problem I have discovered in our last mail (and perhaps it was there since the first), is that the universal question, "What is the objective of life?" pops up

--- What a question! I think that before addressing that question we must address another: Does life have a purpose, altogether?

I believe that the idea is to attain happiness. If this is accompanied by other values as well, great. You believe in another objective. Which? Personal freedom? Objective truth?

--- Yes to both.

I think that at the very beginning of our exchange we should've defined this. It is from there that all possible choices in life branch out

--- Let's get to work, then.

A hug,

Gershon


(To go to the beginning of A Dialogue on Intermarriage click here)