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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Concerned Parents

Our son is planning to intermarry. We are very upset, and feel strongly that he is making a mistake. In the meantime, he has given us an ultimatum: Either accept her, or I don’t want to have anything to do with you. We want to protest, but we don’t want to alienate either of them. What should we do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This is indeed heart-breaking for you and your family.

It used to be that when a child intermarried, the family would sit shiva, as if the child had died. This is not the custom today; since intermarriage has become so common, the "shiva" is not a deterrent and we must find other approaches.

You need to be careful not make things worse. Your goal is to bring your son close. Being confrontational will only drive him further away. It gives him an "excuse" to ignore you. So you need to act with warmth, understanding and love.

I suggest that you communicate two things:

1) We are totally opposed to your being in this relationship. We believe you are doing something damaging and harmful to yourself, and as parents who care deeply about you we cannot condone this. Not because Judaism is racist (clearly not, since any human can convert to Judaism), but because we believe that the Jewish people are a precious – and endangered – species. When a Jew marries a non-Jew, it is a step that weakens the Jewish people, who have a mission to bring morality and monotheism to the world. Non-Jews are fine people, but intermarriage pulls the Jewish partner away from the mission.

2) We love you and care for you totally, and nothing that you do can ever change that.

This is a tricky balance, but both these must be communicated clearly and effectively.

Remember that he is not doing this to hurt you. He is confused.

The most important thing is to not get into fights, but to remain calm and always emphasize that you love him and will always love him.

In practical terms, what can you do about it?

1) Get him to realize how important his Judaism is, and how this woman does not share that. For example, why is it that when Israel is under attack, your son is extremely concerned – but she cannot relate. Why is it that through the centuries, our ancestors have endured the torments of exile, torture and ovens – yet continued to remain loyal to the Jewish people?

Of course, there is no way to understand the deep riches of Judaism, with a 13-year-old's Hebrew School view. Before making this most important decision of life, urge him to find out what's been driving the Jewish people to greatness for the past 3,000 years. Suggest that he attend a Discovery seminar, an excellent presentation of Jewish history and philosophy which is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit www.aish.com/dis/

Also, you could send him the book, "Why Marry Jewish?"

http://www.targum.com/excerpts/marryjewish.html

2) Raise serious doubts that this will work long-term. If she is Christian, get them to discuss the topic of Jesus. It is the most deeply-engrained cultural difference between Jews and non-Jews. Will she want their children to be baptized? It is a documented fact that intermarried couples have a 3-times higher divorce rate (USA Today – Dec. 4, 2002). Would your son ever consider going into a business with a partner who carries such a greater risk of failure?

Once you've raised sufficient doubt, you can advise them to try a separation, while pondering this question: "Do I need to be married to this person to find happiness in life, and is it worth all the trouble? Or would I be better off looking for someone else to marry?"

3) Remind your son that he may experience a spiritual awakening. People who do not profess a belief in any particular religion often turn back to religion later in life. A Gallup Poll showed that religious commitment is lowest from age 18-39 – precisely the time when people are making decision about who to marry. I have a folder of emails from intermarried people whose lives turned to horror when they (or their spouses) turned back to religion. The issues become insurmountable.

By marrying Jewish, his children will be Jewish and his married life will be free of these liabilities. I guarantee that his Jewish soul has a Jewish soul mate. He deserves it all and can have it all.

As far as his ultimatum to "accept her," that is a decision that you and your husband will have to make. If you feel you are strong enough, you should just tell him: “A relationship between a Jew and non-Jew is not recognized by the Torah as having validity. So you are not married to her. It's not a question of us accepting or not. We accept you fully as our son; we do not accept your relationship with this woman.”

Also you can explain to him that it is he who is closing the door, not you. Even before he was born you established your family guidelines, and if he voluntarily wants to continue this relationship and cut himself off from that, that is his decision, not yours.

The main thing is to keep the relationship with your son strong and positive. Keep the door open, so that when he starts having doubts about this woman, he feels he has a Jewish home to go back to.

Tallit Stripes

What is the reason that just about every tallit has a series of stripes running vertically down the tallit. Is there a reason or is it just decorative? If decorative, when did this practice begin?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The tallit needn't be striped at all, yet in fact most are striped. some are striped blue, some black, some bright white, and some with a multitude of colors. Yet in Jewish law the stripes are insignificant. So why the stripes?

Nobody really knows. Yet this is how it's been done by practically all communities throughout the Diaspora for as long as we know, and so we continue the practice.

In 1960, Yigal Yadin headed an archaeological expedition in the Judean desert of Israel. The purpose was to explore a number of caves known to have been used as a hideout for Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome (132-135 CE). One of the fascinating discoveries was a number of Jewish tunics, each with stripes similar to the tallit of today. In Yigal Yadin's book, "Bar-Kokhba" (ch. 7), he writes that this was the Roman style of the times.

It is also possible that the stripes in the Tallit were a sort of substitute for the blue string in the Tzitzit, since the identity of the snail that was to be used for the dye was lost.

To learn more, see "Tztzith – A Thread of Light" by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

Happy New Year

I am confused about some time frames. When is the Jewish New Year? Is it the month of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah) or the month of Nissan (Passover)? In the Bible (Exodus 12:2), God says the first day of the year is in the spring, but I always see Tishrei referred to as the new year. Can you clarify this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Excellent question!

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the sixth day of creation - the day that the first human being was created. The reason why we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on this day (and not on the first day of creation) is because the entire world was only brought into existence for the sake of man.

The reason why the months are counted from Nissan is because that is when God brought the Jews out of slavery in Egypt - marking the birth of our people.

This reflects two aspects of God's involvement in the world. With Rosh Hashanah, we acknowledge God's role as Creator, while Passover commemorates God as the guiding hand of history. This dual-facet is reflected in the Kiddush over wine, where we say that Shabbat is "a remembrance of creation... a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt."

So although the years are counted from Rosh Hashanah, the months are counted from the month of Nissan. Hence we have two new years!

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