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The Congregation Shma Koleinu Blog.

Opportunity Knocks: an argument for embracing intermarriage in Judaism

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A couple of nights ago, I sat with 7 couples raising Jewish children.  Of these seven couples, only one of them consisted of two Jewish partners.  In the other six couples raising Jewish children, one individual in each partnership with the “Jewish pedigree” had been disaffected, disconnected, or simply distanced from their Judaism.  Do you know what brought them back and into this living room?  The fact that they fell in love with and married a person of such significant depth that they themselves were inspired to dig into their Jewish treasure trove, mostly unknown to them for most of their lives.  Remember, these were seven couples, whom I invited.  I, their Rabbi, who said, when they asked me to marry them or name their babies or simply embrace them, “Yes!”

I know the statistics.  I understand the demographics projected forward regarding the “productivity predictions” for future progeny coming from liberal Jewish couples vs Orthodox Jewish couples.   The numbers speak for themselves.  But I wonder what affiliation and affection and commitment to our traditional institutions would look like today if our communities hadn’t tried to stop intermarriage (as Egon Mayer, founder of the Jewish Outreach Institute, said, “Its like arguing against the weather!”), but instead served and embraced them all along the way.   Is it possible that these numbers would look quite different?  And is it possible that to a large extent, these numbers and these conclusions are akin to blaming the victim?  “We close our doors to our children who have dared fall in love with someone who isn’t Jewish and then we blame them and hold them accountable for not returning to our doors?”  Really? 

The question is not, “How many Jews and Jewish families will there be?”  That’s an economics question.  The question, instead, is “Does Judaism matter to us today?  Does it contribute to our well-being?  Does it make us more honest about our own journeys?  Our own selves?”  I believe the answer to these latter questions is “Yes!”  And the beautiful news is that there are lots of couples and lots of young families whose lives we can touch with an invitation into both an embracing as well as authentic Judaism that can matter to their lives.  Whether they are “in-married” or “inter-married” or “Inter-faith,” “Jew-Bu,” “Hind-Jew,” or whatever hyphened identity you choose, if they are in our religious schools, pews, offices or living rooms, we have the opportunity, nay, the responsibility to embrace them and meet them where they are.  Its our good fortune that despite all the dysfunction we have sown, some of them still see Judaism as a real competitor in the marketplace of ideas.  Let’s not squander this opportunity.

If you’d like to learn more about mine and CSK’s efforts to reach out to families raising Jewish children, please email me today!

Rabbi Scott

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