My article last week about Marc and Chelsea’s wedding touched off a firestorm of comments. I had presumed that the majority of Aish.com readers – interested in Jewish topics and in strengthening their Jewish knowledge – accepted the premise that intermarriage is wrong.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Indeed, a survey by the American Jewish Committee concluded that just 12 percent of American Jews strongly oppose intermarriage, and 56 percent would not be pained in the slightest by their child's intermarriage.
What surprised me most of all is not just the apathy surrounding intermarriage, but the vehement opposition to my suggestion that intermarriage is fundamentally wrong. Readers accused me of being bigoted, elitist and racist – of espousing something unacceptable in an enlightened society.
Everyone who chooses a spouse has certain values that are deal-breakers – core values that you are simply not willing to compromise, no matter how much you love the person.
So I would like to address my original premise: What is wrong with intermarriage?
Everyone who chooses a spouse has certain values that are deal-breakers. For example:
“If he doesn’t intend to be faithful, I don’t want to marry him.”
“If she doesn’t want to have children, I don’t want to marry her.”
Deal-breakers are core values that you are simply not willing to compromise, no matter how much you love the person. They go to the very heart of who you are and what makes life have meaning for you. If you view having children as a fundamental value, then marrying someone who doesn’t want kids is simply not a realistic option – no matter how much you may enjoy each other’s company, and no matter how many other interests and values you may share.
In addition to love, marriage is based on shared life goals. Today, intermarriage is so prevalent because a typical non-observant Jew often does share the common life goals of a typical non-Jew. Why shouldn’t they get married if they love each other and primarily share the same values? Mere ethnic differences and cultural diversity will not undermine the marriage.
If establishing a Jewish family and raising Jewish children with strong Jewish values are core values that you hold dear, then the decision to marry a Jew (whether a Jew by birth or a Jew by choice) is the natural outcome.
The fundamental issue is: Why should Judaism be a “core value”? That is a question that cannot be answered in a vacuum. There is no way to understand the riches of Judaism based on a "Hebrew School" education. It requires an investment of time and energy to learn what's been driving the Jewish people to greatness for the past 3,000 years – ideally before deciding who to marry.
Allow me to share with you a one small aspect toward understanding the paramount value of Judaism. The Torah has given the Jewish people a unique mission in the world, to be a moral force as a “Light unto the Nations,” teaching humanity about God, happiness, love and meaning while striving to be an example of these values. The Jewish mission is Tikkun Olam, to repair the world with the revolutionary principles Judaism has given the civilized world: ethical monotheism, love your neighbor, peace on earth, justice for all, universal education, all men are created equal, dignity of the individual, and the preciousness of life.
For thousands of years Jews have understood the power of this mission, and the depth of personal meaning it provides. They stood tall against forced conversions, overt and covert anti-Semitism and genocide, choosing to remain Jews against all odds.
Deciding to marry a Jew does not mean that non-Jews are any less valuable or important. Every human being is a child of God and deserving of love and respect. Rather, marrying a Jew is an expression of commitment to the unique Jewish mission and desire to fulfill the Jewish people’s destiny.
I would like to address the misnomer that opposition to intermarriage is racist.
Racism is defined as the belief that genetic factors produce inherent superiority. The Nazis were racist because they believed in a pure-bred Aryan race.
But with Judaism, any human being on the planet – Korean, Indian or Eskimo – is free to join the Jewish people with proper conversion. And for those who claim Judaism as "racist," don't forget that the Israeli government airlifted tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel – marking the only time in history that blacks have been systematically moved to another country in freedom rather than in chains.
Surely, choosing to marry someone who shares the defining values of your life is not racist.
Beyond all this, I believe that intermarriage is unwise. Statistics show that the rate of divorce is higher for intermarried couples, and in many ways the quality of family life is challenged more in an intermarriage. I refer readers to a treatment of this issue in the article, “Why Not Intermarry?”
If Jews have no unique mission, if being Jewish is not viewed as a greatest privilege and source of tremendous meaning, then nothing is wrong with intermarriage.
But if Jewish values are paramount, as is finding a spouse committed to the same core values and transmitting those values to succeeding generations, then intermarriage is a deal-breaker.
There is no way to understand the unparalleled rewards of being Jewish without learning the meaning of the Jewish mission and studying Judaism. Appraise the treasure before selling it forever.