The Gravity of Intermarriage


The Gravity of Intermarriage

by Baila Olidort - Lubavitch Headquarters

February 13, 2014

During the Napoleonic War of 1812, there was debate among Jewish leaders about whether to support Naopoleon or the Czar. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, preferred the Czar because the religious tolerance Jews would finally experience under Napoleon’s reforms would, he believed, lead to assimilation, as it indeed had.

When his descendant, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn relocated Chabad-Lubavitch from Europe to the U.S., he insisted that "America is no different." The better circumstances for Jews in this country, he argued, ought not be an excuse to lapse in Jewish observance.  

And in 1950, when his son-in-law, the Lubavitcher Rebbe established his leadership, he seized upon the freedom we Jews enjoy in America to deepen our commitment, to enhance and to grow Jewish life. Thus he led an unlikely Jewish revival in the post Holocuast years, despite the naysayers who said he should to give up the fight and accept the norms of American Jewry.

So the recent proposal by some suggesting that since we are finally so well liked by others that we mix and marry easily, we ought to embrace intermarriage as a natural outcome, is incredulous.

It is an ironic attitude, given that for so long we yearned to live and practice as Jews free of persecution. Now that it is possible to be Torah observant and even run for Vice President of the US, are we going to turn the clock back and trade in our faith? This is progress?

In their desire to make their constituents feel good instead of help them become good, some Jewish leaders have chucked the “thou shalt nots” that were once the moral foundations of life. And their squeamishness about taking a definitive position on right and wrong, about unabashedly asserting that some behaviors are not Jewish even if they are popular, has trickled down from leaders to teachers and parents, with similarly corrosive results. 

Children blessed to grow up with Torah as their life guide, raised by parents and teachers who didn’t hedge, who felt no need to reason or rationalize with their three year olds, appreciate the results when they mature. Yes, it may have been frustrating to get no more than “because this is what the Torah teaches us” or “because this is how a Jew behaves” when they were too young for more of an explanation. But along with the security of knowing that they are cared for and loved, this kind of education builds character. It becomes a framing point of reference for questions they will invariably raise at some later point.

Today, such education seems to be more the exception than the rule. A recent study found that 72% of parents hope to become their children’s best friends. Many, reflecting the absence of any firm positions taken by their leaders, raise their children careful not to utter the words “should” or “shouldn’t,” believing that foisting such impositions on their children is incompatible to a postmodern sensibility. Instead, children learn to relativize before they know what morals are; they are taught to see grey before they learn to recognize black and white, and parents are proud that before they lose their first molars, their children can parrot progressive rhetoric without foundations or roots from which to progress. 

Confused by an upbringing that equivocated at every turn, Jews often go hungry for an authentically holy, G-dly lifestyle. All too often the newfangled varieties of "Jewish expression" have precious little that is Jewish, and are altogether self-referential, making any transcendent leap impossible. For that, we need to be guided by Jewish law--which, we believe, is the articulation of G-d's will by which we are empowered to great spiritual fulfillment. 

American Jews are in a unique position. Living in a society that celebrates religious diversity, we no longer need to apologize for the traditions and practices that set us apart as Jews. Those who feel they must blend in so well and make others feel so comfortable with us that they will want to marry us, sadly experience neither freedom nor yiddishkeit

Around the world, and especially in the United States, Chabad refuses to squander the blessings of our freedom, proving that if we are willing to work at it, even if at times it means going against gravity, we can prevent the unraveling of Jewish life, and secure a strong future for the Jewish people. 

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