Friday, July 27, 2007

Promoting Intramarriage

Back in May, I talked a bit about a story on the Jerusalem Post website about a woman who couldn't understand how her boyfriend could reject her simply because she wasn't Jewish. In the last week, there has been a big todo over Noah Feldman's article entitled The Orthodox Paradox in the New York Times Magazine last weekend, as well as Rabbi Shmuely Boteach's article in response to it  Stop Ostracizing the Intermarried.

While I am not always in agreement with Rabbi Boteach, I happen to agree with him in this case. In halachic discourse there are two terms that are often used B'Di'Avad and L'chatchila. The former refers to a situation where an action has been performed (lit. "It has been done") and the other it prior to any action (lit. 'To begin with'). And IMHO, the approach to Intermarriage needs to fit the either of those two situations. In the case of the former - where a couple is already intermarried, I agree with Rabbi Boteach. Yes this person has done something to take his or herself away from religious practice, but at the same time, that person is still someone's child, friend, or sibling.  While it hurts on so many levels, at the same time, we need to acknowledge reality.

Whether they acknowledged it or not at the time of their wedding, an intermarried person at some point becomes aware of the sacrifices they made in order to marry outside the faith - why should they have to sacrifice their family and friends too.

But Boteach and Feldman's articles aside, the trick here is not to even get there, to pull the L'chatchila out of the question. For years, parents have been emphasizing the negative - don't marry a shiksa, don't bring me home a goy, etc. without ever accentuating the positive aspects of marrying a Jewish spouse.

How many thousands of secular parents have toed this line and only brought their children to synagogue on a couple of days a year - and even then reluctantly. Or how many of these parents also forced their kids to attend a watered-down Passover seder every year. If you don't show enthusiasm for your Judaism, how do you expect your children too.

The trick here my friends , isn't to prevent Intermarriage, but to promote Intramarriage. To make Judaism special and important to the next generation of kids so that they will not ever dream of marrying anyone who wouldn't want to start a family to carry on those very same meaningful traditions.

That is my goal everyday - to teach my children the beauty of Judaism. In our songs, in our liturgy, in our rituals. I can't teach them how to feel, nor can I make it automatically have meaning in their lives, but if I show them the beauty of our practices, my hope is that when they form their own ideologies and start thinking about their own families, the experiences I have given them in their youth will resonate for years to come.


As for the already intermarried, overcome what hurdles you might have and embrace them. It is a difficult situation - one chock full of internal conflict - but at the end of the day, at the very least, they and their non-Jewish spouse might gain some exposure to these traditions, and might fight meaning and substance in them - even after the effect.

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