I understand his concern. Non Orthodox American Jewry is shrinking at a very rapid rate. I don’t think this is arguable – as a 2013 Pew Research survey sadly demonstrated. But recently Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) ordained Rabbi Avrom Mlotek’s solution to the problem shows a breathtaking ignorance about what Orthodox Judaism is all about.
Rabbi Mlotek may have his heart in the right place. I’m sure that he does ‘care passionately about Judaism’ as he says he does. He would surely dispute my characterization of his ‘solution’ and probably outright resent my declaring him ignorant of Judaism – especially as a rabbi. But there is really no other way to see what he proposes doing. Here is what he said in a New York Jewish Week article entitled Time to Rethink Our Resistance to Intermarriage:
While the Reform movement has the most welcoming posture towards families with non-Jewish partners, the Conservative and Modern Orthodox worlds would be well served if they adopted a similar approach. Gone are the days when dogma and devotion rule; today every Jew is a Jew by choice. If our traditional communities do not learn how to adapt to modernity and cater religiously to different people’s needs, Judaism risks nearing its extinction date.
There are a lot of things that the various segments of Orthodoxy disagree about. But the one thing we all agree upon was reflected in a YCT statement in obvious response to their recent ordainee:
Besides intermarriage being strictly prohibited halakhically, it poses grave danger to Jewish continuity. Needless to say, we strictly forbid any of our rabbis to perform intermarriages. We do, however, advocate working very hard to convert anyone who sincerely wants to join the Jewish people.
Does Rabbi Mlotek not realize that the Torah does not adapt to modernity? The late Dr. Eliezer Berkovitz was accused by some of the great Torah personalities of his time of being an Apikores for making a similar statement. I recall asking him about that when I was a student in one of his Jewish philosophy classes. He shook his head and said, that he never said that. What he said is that we must apply (not adapt) the Torah to modernity. Huge difference.
Rabbi Mlotek has taken a view that even the controversial Dr. Berkovitz rejected – knowing that it was heretical. The Torah is not adaptable. You can't change the Torah to fit the times. Adapting the Torah to modernity is the province of Conservative Judaism. And even they have not (yet) abandoned that particular Halacha. Which is why Rabbi Mlotek included them in his admonishment.
Rabbi Mlotek must know that Halacha forbids intermarriage and yet he says we should rethink our attitude to it to suit our sociological needs. But even those on the far left extremes of Orhtodoxy that believe we can discard tradition to suit the times - fully agrees that Halacha cannot be discarded. Rabbi Mlotek apparently begs to differ.
What about the problem he seeks to address? Yes, it is a difficult situation brought about in part by heterodox laxity about their members ritual observances. Something many of Conservative Judaism’s great thinkers have themselves asserted. That along with the new found tolerance - and even admiration - by Americans of the Jewish people has fostered an unprecedented climate of assimilation that has resulted in the rapid increase of intermarriages. But performing intermarriages as a way of showing them how much we love them is not the solution!
That being said, I don’t know what we can do to stave off what appears to be the great loss of Jewish souls that we now find ourselves in. The fact is that those among us that intermarry probably care little – if at all – about their Jewishness or that of their children. If the non Jewish spouse is a woman, their child is not considered Jewish. There is nothing anyone can do to change that. Is there anything we can do about this situation? YCT 2nd statement spoke to this concern. But I’m not sure how to react to it. It states:
We as a community have to give deep and careful thought as to how to balance drawing close those in our communities who are intermarried with the risk of sending a harmful message of condoning intermarriage rather than doing everything we can to prevent it.
I tend to agree with them in principle. The devil though is in the details. It is a noble goal to try and keep fellow Jews Jewish no matter how far outside of their heritage they have traveled. But how do we invite an intermarried couple into our midst without appearing to condone their union?
Much as I would like to keep the Jewish spouse in the fold by giving the couple a warm and welcoming place in our community – in the hope that he will someday realize the value of his Jewish heritage; become serious about observance; and convince his spouse (and children if the non Jewish spouse is a woman) to undergo a sincere and valid conversion - welcoming them in as an intermarried couple is a non starter. What are we to do in the likelihood that they will refuse to change once we have accepted them? That can easily devolve into full acceptance! That is a rabbit hole that once we go down into it - can destroy us all as Jews.