Does Orthodoxy violate the laws of Moses regarding intermarriage?
It never ceases to amaze me how Orthodox Judaism rejects the teachings of Moses and the Bible, and then uses mental gymnastics and gyrations to claim that they are its most ardent vanguards. Nowhere is this more blatantly obvious than in the Orthodox response to intermarriage.
The greatest Jewish heroes of the Bible had a penchant for foreign women. Joseph, the savior of the Jews and Egypt, married the Egyptian Asenat. Famed for his ability to discern the mind of God, in not one of his dreams or while awake, did God oppose his intermarriage.
Solomon is alleged to have known at least 1000 women “in the Biblical sense”, as wives and concubines, if we believe the book of Kings. His favorite wife was the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter, and he also took wives among the Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite and Hittite nations. Rather than being chastised for these foreign relations, Solomon was honored by having the great Temple in Jerusalem built during his reign. David also escaped criticism for his many foreign wives, and instead was rebuked by the prophet Nathan for his marriage to a Jewish wife, Bathsheba, because David had her husband killed in the front lines of battle so he could marry her.
The greatest Jew, Moshe Rabbeynu (Moses our teacher) married Tzipporah, a dark-skinned, non-Jewish Midianite. In a heated moment, his siblings chastised Moses for marrying an outsider. God was so incensed that he struck Miriam with leprosy, as if to say “You like white, I’ll show you white”, turning her skin white in punishment for her intolerance. Moses, with characteristic compassion towards his detractors, uttered the shortest prayer in history, simply one word “R’fuanah” meaning, “cure her please” and she was cured.
Sadly, while Miriam was cured of her physical affliction, many traditional Jews have learned nothing from this story, and are still afflicted with parochialism. I wonder if today’s Orthodox rabbis would agree to officiate at the wedding of Moses if they could be transported back in time and he asked them to do so.
I recently returned from Guatemala where I officiated at an interfaith marriage of a devoted Jew and his Guatemalan bride. Rejecting Christianity in her youth, the bride was eager to create a Jewish home for their future children, but was not ready to convert. She eagerly read my father’s book “Explaining Judaism to Christians and Jews” and prepared a beautiful wedding in the shadow of a dormant volcano in a former Spanish fortress. Their nuptials united Jews, Christians, Americans and Latinos with an English, Spanish and Hebrew ceremony, in a dream-like setting at an unforgettable celebration of interfaith love. In conformity with Jewish law, which frowns on rabbis extorting conversion of non-Jews as the price for officiating at their wedding, I put no pressure on the bride to convert. My father was among the first rabbis to officiate at interfaith marriages and due to his kind demeanor, acceptance of all people, and his amazing ability to bring out the joy and beauty of Judaism, after the wedding the non-Jewish spouse often approached him to convert to Judaism. Thus, intermarriage is not a threat to our people, it is the rejection of love, free will and our fellow Jews which constitutes the greatest threat to Jewish survival.
In our home town, the Orthodox rabbi joined the chorus of those who condemned my father for performing intermarriages, but when his own son chose to intermarry, he asked my father to officiate, in order to keep his son within the Jewish fold. Like my father, I have often had to repair the human wreckage caused by rabbis who reject interfaith couples and I explain to them that not all Jews are the same, and most will welcome them to the Jewish community.
I agree with the erudite Yale law graduate and Rabbi Bruce Warshal who said in a recent Jewish Journal article that the essence of religion is love, “whether uttered by Jesus or by a Jewish source”. Actually, Jesus is a Jewish source and so are Moses and the Jewish prophets, who wrote beautiful love poems. When all Jews see Judaism as a Mosaic by emulating Moses, we can unite all nations in bonds of love, emerging from the darkness of intolerance and truly becoming a light to the nations, spreading love and harmony among all the people on Earth.
Rabbi Barry Silver welcomes all views and can be reached at email@example.com