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Real Threat to European Jews

Cortesy of: Aish.com

by Rabbi Nachum Braverman

Why Not Intermarry?

Intermarriage is first and foremost a personal issue. Why is it in your best interest to marry a Jew?

Working backwards, I think it should be said at the outset that often there are poor reasons not to intermarry. First among these is the argument that Jews and non-Jews are different and shouldn't mix. It's the clannish attitude which drove my parents and many others far from their heritage.

Second among poor reasons not to intermarry is that "our ancestors suffered and died for their Jewish identity." (The argument that "it will kill your mother or grandmother," etc. is a variation on the theme.) This appeal to guilt is at best a non-sequitur. What my ancestors believed or practiced is no evidence that I should do the same. Worse, however, than being ineffective, this argument conveys the attitude that Jewish identity and commitment are a painful burden which one accepts, if at all, against desire and self-interest. This isn't a strong answer to the question, "Why be Jewish?"

A third argument commonly offered against intermarriage is that it threatens Jewish survival. This is true, but inadequate, because it begs the question: "Why is Jewish survival important? Why is Jewish survival something I should sacrifice my personal happiness to achieve?"

Intermarriage is first and foremost a personal issue. Why is it in your best interest to marry a Jew?

Sheldon falls in love with Maria. He believes he has finally found his soul mate. And Maria happens to be a lot more together than the Jewish women Sheldon has previously dated. Why shouldn't they get married? What can be more important than true love?

Are there any other factors besides love a person should consider when deciding to marry? Would you marry the person you love if he or she told you they don't want to have any children?

What is so valuable about Judaism that you should rule out 99% of the world's population as possible spouses?

Yes, love is essential, but it's not all you need. You also need to share common life goals.

Intermarriage is so prevalent today because your typical Sheldon and Maria do share common life goals. For many, religion is at most a kind of cultural club you happen to be born into. Differences like gefilte fish versus mayonnaise on white bread do not pose a major threat to the stability of a marriage.

What is so valuable about Judaism that you should rule out 99% of the world's population as possible spouses?

Jewish survival is not merely an ethnic issue but also a moral issue because the Jews are not only an ethnic group -- they are a moral force. Through the covenant that began with Abraham and sealed at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Torah, as a nation we have testified to the importance of conscience in a way that has been uniquely Jewish. We gave the world the concepts of universal education and the right to a fair trial. We taught the world that the rule of law binds even the king, and the protection of law extends even to the poor and powerless.

In the early part of the last century civilized men believed war to be ennobling, while 3,000 years ago the Jews were teaching all men to "beat their swords into plowshares." That the historical meaning of our peoplehood continues to this day is indicated by the disproportionately high number of Jews in charities and in all causes of social welfare, from civil rights to feminism. It is evidenced by the behavior of the modern State of Israel, committed to the "purity of arms," where soldiers stop and consider the morality of their orders (as happened widely in Lebanon), and where public conscience is outraged by murders not committed by ourselves but by others whom we could have stopped (e.g. Sabra and Shatilla).

The testimony of conscience has not been an ecumenical task. It has been pursued as Jews fulfilling our unique covenant. This is not to say that only Jews are capable of conscience or of goodness. Yet it is to say that no other people has conceived their nationhood as the pursuit of conscience while, for us, it has been self-defining.

This unique mission has earned us as well a unique hatred. Hitler said: "The struggle for world domination is between me and the Jews. All else is meaningless. The Jews have inflicted two wounds upon humanity: circumcision on the body, and conscience on the soul. I come to free mankind from their shackles."

To intermarry means to abandon the people so conceived, and to abandon as well their quest for greatness that only comes through the fulfillment of Torah - the same Torah that expressly prohibits intermarriage [Deut. 7:3]. Greatness can't be purchased cheaply. It is a product of the hard choices by which we evince our commitment to an ideal. If by my choice for marriage I express a commitment to the Jewish search for meaning, then I make the Jewish mission and greatness my own. If I prefer an individual and her love -- more than that mission -- then I am ultimately impoverished.

There's no way to understand that commitment or its rewards without studying the Torah.

The choice can't be made in ignorance. The commitment of our ancestors isn't reason enough to live as a Jew. It does indicate something which, for many centuries, has been deeply nourishing, so nourishing in fact that we have endured the torments of anti-Semitism and still felt ourselves richly repaid. There's no way to understand that commitment or its rewards without studying the Torah, because Torah is the root from which that tree has grown.

Appraise the treasure before selling them forever. Go learn what it means to be a Jew.

Rabbi Nachum Braverman studied philosophy at Yale University. For many years he served as Educational Director of Aish HaTorah Los Angeles, and is now Executive Director of Aish HaTorah's Jerusalem Fund for the Western Region. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children.

Last update: December 15, 2003
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