Monday, September 16, 2013

Intermarriage 2013

Nationally televised intermarriage of Ashley Hebert & J.P Rosenbaum
“The preponderance of intermarriage has made it usually pointless to shun those who have married out,” “Once upon a time, intermarriage was a sign that the Jewish partner was rejecting his or her Jewish heritage. That is no longer the case, of course, and hasn’t been for decades.”

That was a quote from a JTA article last month about intermarriage. Before I identify the individual quoted, I have to wonder how we in Orthodoxy should treat an intermarried couple in our day.

The Torah is very clear about intermarriage.  VeLo Tischaten Bam – and you shall not intermarry  with them (Devorim 7:3). Although there is some dispute as to who exactly this forbidden relationships refers to, the Rambam tells us that it forbids intermarriage with any non Jew.

In the not so distant past this Halacha was so ingrained into the Jewish psyche that even the most assimilated non practicing Jew would have had tremendous heartache if a child married out. To that extent, if a child fell in love with a non Jew, the parents would go to the ends of the earth to try and get them to convert to Judaism. In most cases, the conversions weren’t sincere. But desperate parents prevailed on even some Orthdox rabbinical courts to perform what can only be called sham conversions. Even though the young couple had no interest in observing Halacha at all - they went through the motions just to please the parents.  

I've been told that Sham conversions in Orthodoxy these days is a rarity. Thankfully. The point here is that no matter how assimilated they were - the Jewish people cared. Intermarriage was a big taboo. Today there is little if any angst about this in the wider Jewish community. But in Orthodox circles it is still a source of tremendous grief if a child marries out.

It used to be the case that an Orthodox parent would sit Shiva on a child who intermarried. That child would be considered dead to his parents and to his community. Today, that reaction seems to be all but gone. Intermarriage is at an alarmingly high rate.

How do we as a community react to it in our day? Do we in Orthodoxy continue to shun an intermarried couple or should we do things differently today? Have the times changed the custom?

I also wonder how prevalent this is among Orthodox Jews? I happen 2 know people who grew up in mainstream Orthodox Jewish homes who now lives with non Jews. One with a Christan and the other with a Muslim.  In one case the parents have basically disowned the child. In the other the parents were so devastated that they didn’t know what to do.

Is rejecting them the right thing to do? Or should our attitude be the same as the opening quote in this post suggests?

As painful as it is for us to see a Jewish child marry out, we can no longer afford to shun them. This is especially true for those with little or no religious background. They simply do not know any better. But I think it should even be true for those who went OTD and married out. Shunning them is probably the worst thing we can do. But what course of action  should we take? Do we treat them as though nothing happened? Or do we just sort of tolerate them without being so welcoming? If we are parents - do we shut them out? Or somehow welcome them into our homes.

I think we have to keep the lines of communication open to an intermarried child just as we do to any OTD child and encourage their connection to Judaism. I know it’s hard. Perhaps impossibly hard. But what other choice is there? If there is ever any hope of the bringing their observance back – it can only come if we do not completely reject them. 

Obviously – as with all worthwhile endeavors - the devil is in the details. It is a lot easier said than done for an Orthodox parent to show any kind of acceptance of a son or daughter in-law child that is not Jewish. But I think it has to be done. This does not mean that you can’t set rules. The best way to handle this in my very limited opinion is to be as nice and welcoming as you can be to your child and the non Jewish spouse but at the same time making sure they realize that being warm and welcoming does not mean acceptance. 

You never know what will happen in the future. Rejecting them and sitting Shiva is a pretty final act. You may never see your child or your grandchildren again. On the other hand being nice can go a long way towards effecting change. The goal should be sincere conversion for the non Jewish spouse and a return to observance for the son or daughter who went OTD. 

Ironically even when a Jewish spouse has no interest in converting their partner, it would not be the first time a the non Jewish spouse was the one to seek change. It is not that far fetched them to convert and become more religious than the Jewish spouse… and encouraging their Jewish spouse to return to their roots and become observant themselves. Especially if they never really rejected their Judaism but just... fell in love. 

This is why I think the individual who made the above comments in that JTA article made them . He must view this in a similar way. To be honest it was a bit surprising when I read that quote. I would have thought that Agudah spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran would have had a far more rejectionist approach to an intermarried couple. But I am very glad to see that he doesn’t.