Thursday, July 8, 2010

Universal Brotherhood = Marrying In

This can also be read in the Jewish Star

Parshat Matot-Masei

Without getting into particulars (I’ll leave you to look up the details), the Zohar on Parshat Matot uses the aftermath of the war with Midian as a springboard to speak negatively of intermarriage.

Of course, this is not a new discussion — from the Pinchas story and other sources in the Bible, it is quite clear that members of the Israelite nation should be marrying other Israelites, which translates to modern-day intra-marriage.

While those who choose to adopt or maintain an Orthodox lifestyle are not typically confronted with a challenge to this mindset, there are exceptions to the rule. Additionally, the society in which we find ourselves increasingly encourages some form of assimilation and an overall tolerance of others.

Meshuggenehs and radical extremists not withstanding.

And so, it comes as no shock that the concept of Jews not dating outside of the fold is often viewed as being anti-American, anti-harmony, arrogant and racist.

To put it in the form of a question — as Joseph Telushkin and Dennis Prager put it at the end of “Question 8” in “The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism” — doesn’t Judaism believe in universal brotherhood?

Those who have been praying that one who is “Oseh shalom bimromav” should grant us peace and harmony know very well that a motto of Judaism vis-à-vis the rest of the world is “can’t we learn to get along?” We all have a few bad apples to our millions of wonderful people. Let’s stop pointing fingers and just live in harmony.

Telushkin and Prager write:
“Is the assimilation of the minority of Jews into majority cultures the answer? Is abandoning Judaism the answer? What sort of universalism demands that smaller groups give up their identities?… The only way to achieve brotherhood is through all people sharing moral values, while retaining ethnic diversity… [asking people to reconsider intermarrying] has nothing to do with negative feelings toward non-Jews, or with automatically positive feelings towards those born as Jews. It is based solely on our commitment to the survival of Jewry…”

Along similar lines, in a sermon Rabbi Norman Lamm delivered around Purim time in 1966, he said
“Loyal Jews are opposed to intermarriage — not because we are narrowminded, and not, most certainly, because of contempt for the non-Jew. We want to marry within our own group because of our desire to remain different, to preserve our different identity, to survive and flourish with our own character intact.”

While the story that follows the Midian war is complex, the fine line we are distinguishing is not. It becomes a matter of whether we appreciate where we come from, and how much we want to preserve our future as a unique and distinct people.

Several years ago, I served as a mohel for an intermarried couple, where the mother of the baby was the Jewish partner in the marriage. Her aunt, who arranged the bris, suggested I tone down the religious side because her new-mom niece had told her “That’s why I married out” — to get away from this component of Judaism. Ironically, her non-Jewish husband was more into the bris than she was, more Biblically well-read, and was extremely proud their son was named “Aharon Moshe.”

One person on my college dormitory floor taped a letter on his door that was written by a single woman to a New York magazine whose gist was this (I am quoting from memory):
“I have heard that Orthodox Jewish men truly court a woman before marrying her, because their religion does not allow them even to touch her or hold her hand before marriage. What a thought! To connect with someone emotionally first before the physical component is brought into the picture! Why can’t I ever meet someone like that?"

Because, madam, you have not committed yourself to a system that has worked well for thousands of years. If you choose to join us because you like our rules so much, and will commit yourself to living by these rules, we will welcome you with open arms (but only our wonderful women and your husband will physically embrace you).

For the sake of the preservation of our ranks, we must do all we can to teach our children, family and friends that marrying in is not just something we do “because” or “to fulfill a Torah law.” We do it to perpetuate the strong values that are unique to our experience, which was always meant to focus on how to preserve the holiness of the marital bond in an environment that is most fitting for the raising of our o-so-precious little Jewish souls, a.k.a. our children.

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