March 9, 2006

by Reb Yudel
The failure of intermarriage prevention in a nutshell, part 1

A Jewish Week reader writes:

When congregants ask my husband [a rabbi] how to handle an interfaith relationship with which their child is involved, my husband asks, “Which is more important to you, your child’s happiness or the continuity of the Jewish people?” Inevitably most parents answer, “My child’s happiness is very important.”

Well, if your child is happy in this relationship, why the tears (“When Intermarriage Hits Home,” March 3)?

Unarguably it is a difficult question. One’s child is the immediate concern; the continuity of the Jewish people is a concept hard to embrace. But it is a concept that needs to be emphasized if we are to survive as a people. In Nazi-controlled Europe we were being annihilated. In the United States we are melting away like a sugar cube in a hot glass of tea.

It is no longer so common to sit shiva for our intermarried children. Instead we accept and hope that the couple and eventually the family will be a Jewish one. But is it really fair to demand acceptance of the Jewish faith, whether it be subtle or forthright, from the non-Jewish spouse when we have not demanded it from our own children?

The potential emotional loss of one’s own child is a devastating one when the demand to marry within the faith is concrete and the child does not concur. However, the alternative — the loss of that link in an ancient chain — is equally devastating. If we do not hold fast to our faith and urge our children to marry within it, what are we? If we do not do it now, then when?
Marsha Sternstein
Kings Park, N.Y.
Sorry, rebbetzin, you've missed the point. Intermarriage is not prevented by lecturing people on valuing the "continuity of the Jewish people" above their personal happiness or that of their children.

Because frankly, rebbetzin, I don't really know anyone who values Jewish continuity that highly -- certainly not anyone healthy.

The people who practice, preach and propagate "Jewish continuity" seem to enjoy the job very much, thank you.

What the rebbetzin -- and by extension, the rabbi -- should have been doing all these years is teaching the congregants, and their children, that living a Jewish life is so wonderful and compelling that giving it up for a relationship would be a sacrifice.

If the rebbetzin had convinced her flock that living Jewishly was worthwhile, she wouldn't be whining about their lack of devotion to the Jewish people.

And how devoted is the good rebbetzin to Jewish continuity?

Clearly not devoted enough to effectively ensure it in her congregants. If she's not devoted enough to Jewish continuity to figure out how to pass on Judaism to her congregation, why should she blame her congregants for their lack of devotion?


"Because frankly, rebbetzin, I don't really know anyone who values Jewish continuity that highly -- certainly not anyone healthy."

You've obviously never met my mother-in-law.

Posted by: andy at March 9, 2006 3:14 PM
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