Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Thoughts On Intermarriage


Here is an except from a posting of mine to the Reconstuctionist email list, about intermarriage. Not sure this entirely captures my thoughts, but its a start.

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Inter-marriage is a fact of contemporary diaspora life. So we better get used to it, and make the best of it. I don't think we should be promoting it, but I do think we should keep our eye on what is truly important.

I am reminded of the quip of a friend, who said: "Who is a Jew? Someone whose grandchildren are Jewish." From the perspective of maintaining the Jewish people's numbers, and from the perspective of passing on one's own world-view, this is indeed the test. Jews, of all stripes, gain great meaning from being part of an unbroken chain, of a struggle and a story spread over generations.On the other hand, the goal of every marriage should be first and foremost the happiness/fulfillment of the parties to the marriage.

I would rather my children found happy marriages with non Jews, than sad ones with Jews. But I really hope they will find happiness with partners who are Jewish, because that increases the chances of the grandchildren identifying as Jews, benefiting from what I feel is a valuable tradition, and fulfilling my wish to be able to see myself as part of the "unbroken chain". But this is all an "odds" game. In today's world, it is possible (maybe likely) that a dual Jewish couple will assimilate to such an extent that "Jewish' becomes a label devoid of meaning and purpose. Conversely many intermarried couples produce children who do identify as Jews, and quite often with more content and meaning than children of two Jewish parents. (This pre-supposes that the non-Jewish parent is willing to have his child brought up as a Jew.) We have several examples of families like this on my congregation.

We must also remember that while words are categorical ("Jew", "Gentile"), reality is not. People exist in a continuum of consciousness, practice, "blood". And things change: secularized people become spiritual seekers, and religious people loose their faith.

Finally there is the issue raised by the question "Do liberal Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims have more in common with each other than the conservatives in their own traditions? Do fundamentalists of all religions have more in common with each other than with liberals in their own traditions?" Last night, Sheryl and I were at a New Year's Eve dinner with several members of our friends. One couple (cultural and political Jews - 100% atheists) had just returned from visiting their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild in Israel. The daughter and son-in-law had become "baalei tshuvah". He was studying in a Kolel. She was studying too, but mostly getting ready to have more babies. They had applied to be emissaries (shlichim) of some Hardei outreach group. The parents were not happy about this. (That's putting it mildly!) Another couple ( founders of our shul, their daughter is married to a reform rabbinical student) had their son and his non Jewish wife visiting. They think she is great. Their new grandson had a brit, and they were discussing the merit of "converting" their grandchild. They seemed very pleased with the situation.

Clearly we are not in Krakow any more.

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