The Consequences of Intermarriage

(First appeared as an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, July 25, 2021)

     A few years ago when new Israeli president Yitzchak Herzog first assumed the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, he commented off-handedly that intermarriage among American Jews is “mamash mageifah,” a veritable plague. Chastised by the leadership of American Jewry, he quickly apologized and explained that he didn’t mean “plague” as a pejorative but rather as an expression of prevalence.

     He need not have apologized. It is a plague, a plague that is destroying American Jewry.

     Shortly thereafter, newly minted Minister Rav Rafi Peretz said with great sadness that intermarriage in America is producing a “second Holocaust.” He too was forced to apologize for that accurate sentiment, forced primarily by secular Jewish apologists for intermarriage who predominate in the organizational leadership of American Jewry. He too need not have apologized. It is a second Holocaust, Jews willfully destroying their own lives and posterity rather than having Nazis do it. The soldier who rips off his uniform and flees the battlefield is as lost to his side as the soldier who dies in battle.

     American Jewish leadership doth protest too much.

     Certainly, we all believe in romance, love, free choice and human rights, which is not to say that some expressions of love and other poor choices have catastrophic consequences. But we should not be oblivious to the political ramifications of the choice of intermarriage in American Jewish life, where most Jews who marry these days happen to marry a non-Jew.

     Pew recently reported, to the great horror of many people, that one-quarter of American Jews deem Israel an “apartheid state,” with the percentage of young Jews holding that false and repugnant opinion even greater. A fifth of Jews under the age of forty, according to this survey, declared that “Israel does not have the right to exist.” A whopping 38% of American Jews felt no “emotional attachment” to Israel.

    Perhaps more pointedly, the Jerusalem Post (July 9) published a segment of that poll that indicated that Jews between the ages of 18-29 professed themselves to be “Jews of no religion,” with 33% of Jews aged 30-49 defining themselves similarly – as opposed to Jews 50-64 (19%) and Jews over 65 (16%).

    These polls have engendered much finger-pointing, depending on the pundit’s political perspectives. Some blame Israel’s policies for the severed connection between American Jews and Israel – on the peace process, settlements, or defense against terrorism and so advocate for more concessions. Others blame the Orthodox establishment and the lack of pluralism in marriage, divorce and definition of Judaism, and so advocate for liberalization and the separation of Torah and state.

      What these jeremiads miss is the answer that is staring us in the face and over which we have no control or solution. The loss of identification with Israel among the young Jews in the United States is a direct result of the spiraling intermarriage rates in the last half-century. It has nothing to do with politics, Netanyahu, negotiations, Gaza, the Chief Rabbinate or the like. There is no Israeli policy or change of policy that is going to matter.

      Simply put, polls that purport to measure American Jewish public opinion on any issue invariably count people who identify themselves as “Jews” to the pollsters, whether or not they are in fact Jews according to halacha. They are the products of intermarriage and they may consider themselves on some level “ethnic” Jews. They may have a Jewish father or grandfather. They may even have a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father and still be considered Jews according to halacha, but their Jewish identity is tenuous and clearly not based on the features of Jewish life that bind all Jews – Torah, Mitzvot, love of Israel and the people of Israel, etc.

       Indeed, the generational increase of Jews who self-identify as “Jews of no religion” as indicated above tracks neatly with the rate of intermarriage in American Jewish life over the past six decades. As the rate of intermarriage has exploded, the percentage of “Jews” who feel no Jewish identity, no bond with Israel or the Jewish people, and whose real religion today is woke progressivism has increased proportionately.

      It should be no surprise that American Jews’ support for Israel is declining but it has much to do with the decay of American Jewry and little or nothing to do with what happens in Israel. Rick Jacobs, the Reform rabbi who leads the American movement, conceded that most Reform Jews today are probably not Jews according to Jewish law. It is invariably true that the loudest Jewish but anti-Israel voices in America today – on campuses, in the media and elsewhere – are usually the children and grandchildren of intermarriage.

       There are three prescriptions for Israelis that may be useful in countering the effects of intermarriage and even arresting it. The first is to stop taking seriously polls of “American Jewry” which disproportionately include people who are not Jews and have no share in Jewish destiny and exclude Orthodox Jews who are the most committed to Judaism’s present and Israel’s future. Second, take seriously (without distorting his words) Ambassador Ron Dermer’s recent comment that the basis of political support for Israel in America is not the Jewish community but the evangelical Christian community. That is true, even if people do not want to hear it.

       Third, another truism that people do not want to hear, is that intermarriage is a “plague” and a “second Holocaust.” We need to say it. And we need to reckon with the consequences for they are now upon us. Facts may be stubborn and even unpleasant, but they remain facts.

Discontent at the Kotel

Could we please stop referring to each person’s bête noire as Sinat Chinam?

      The latest perversion of this philosophical concept came in response to the alleged disruption by religious youth of the egalitarian, anti-Torah worship services at the extension of the Kotel. Like it or not – it was surely impolite and violated the revered Western doctrine of “live and let live” – it was not Sinat Chinam, which is not baseless hatred as much as it is self-destructive hatred. It is hatred that destroys the hater as much as it does the target of his hatred and is thus ultimately self-defeating.

      To the lay eye and tendentious thinker, Sinat Chinam has apparently deteriorated into any type of hatred. In essence, if you dislike what I like, then you must be guilty of Sinat Chinam. Hence the accusations of Sinat Chinam against these passionate and politically incorrect youth who brought a mechitzah to the new “egalitarian” section of the Kotel and thereby disturbed the serenity of the worshippers.

      It is odd, but I don’t recall accusations of Sinat Chinam being leveled against the Israelis who loudly protested against former PM Netanyahu for years, sometimes nightly, disturbing the peace of the neighbors and interfering with their quality of life, especially the right to a quiet night in their residential neighborhoods.  And those demonstrations involved petty politics – not hallowed principle. Once we get past the cliché of Sinat Chinam it is easier to understand the Kotel rally as young people defending the honor and sanctity of a holy place, something that the worshippers studiously ignore in their echo chamber of virtuous self-aggrandizement. That is not Sinat Chinam.

      For all the hypocritical pieties of those who lambasted the “demonstrators” as desecrating the Kotel, it has become an unfortunate truism that protesters, even sometimes, sadly, violent protesters, usually get their way in Israel and across the Western world. It is as if the possessors of a media-favored grievance automatically have moral superiority. Thus rioters in recent years in Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, Lod and elsewhere change policy and influence decision-makers. Limitations are placed on Jewish worshippers – indeed, on Jewish builders of homes across Judea and Samaria – for fear of Arab rioters. The Kotel demonstrators have learned that lesson well. If we have learned anything from America in the past year, it is that anarchy works and the politicians usually follow along hoping to salvage some measure of stability (and retain their electoral viability), until the next demand is made. Whatever the merits of the argument, it is surely unhealthy for a polity to have its policy makers driven by fear of the mob.

       But it is the substance of their complaint, if not their tactics, that deserve our attention. We would be hard-pressed to think of the holy site of another religion being forcibly co-opted by those of a different faith or even stream. St. Peters Square does not accommodate a Protestant Church and even Chabad has not set up shop in Mecca. Those who look to the past treatment of Jews at the Kotel – when the Kotel was under the control of Muslims or Christians –  as a template for today are shamefully denigrating Jewish sovereignty over the area. Those who nonchalantly embrace or even tolerate the idea of non-Orthodox worship of the Kotel – the retaining wall of the Second Temple, in the shadow of the holiest place on earth for Jews – do not understand the deviations of the non-Orthodox movements and thus the sacrilege at the Kotel.

      If you judge by all the surveys taken over decades, and substantiated by more recent ones, few non-Orthodox Jews believe in God as the Creator and moral Authority of mankind, and even fewer believe in the divine origin of the Torah. Only a tiny minority yearns for the rebuilding of the Temple and in many cases these movements have removed such requests from their prayers. It is ironic, isn’t it, that they have made this place the focal point of their drive for legitimacy. In truth, most see it less as a place of prayer to God than as a national historic site of some significance, and only want to pray there because, well, the Orthodox pray there. But so did generations of Jews of all backgrounds and ideologies who realized the sanctity of the place and the religious sincerity of those who preserved it, and simply, properly and respectfully complied with the norms of the place. These worshippers should do the same.

      Here is the greater irony. We derive the necessity for a mechitzah from the practice that existed in the Bet Hamikdash itself (Masechet Sukkah 51b) and was then extended to all permanent places of Jewish prayer. In other words, the non-Orthodox Jews are engaged in the very sort of egalitarian worship that was prohibited in the very place they purport to honor with their presence and their prayers. How is that for a lack of spiritual self-awareness?

      This movement is part of a general trend to seek legitimacy for the deviant streams of Judaism even as their numbers drastically decline and their rate of intermarriage soars. And the desire for mutual respect and tolerance that underlies the accommodative nature of some of the politicians involved is also understandable, even though (for some, especially because) it tramples on the sensitivities of religious Jews. It won’t work because most faithful Jews do not regard the non-Orthodox streams as legitimate expressions of Judaism. Most are reluctant to say it – decorum has its place – and certainly it won’t be said by those organizations whose donor base includes many non-Orthodox Jews.

       It needs to be underscored that many of our brothers and sisters in these movements want to be good Jews and assume that what they have been taught is just a different but equally valid expression of Judaism. They have been misled by their teachers and rabbis. Many love Israel. But the inherent weakness of these movements has been proven by the astronomical intermarriage rate such that a large number (in the Reform movement in America, it is probably a majority) are no longer Jews according to halacha. Naturally, that necessitates cries to change the rules, make them Jews, accept intermarriage as a way to “increase” our population, alter the Torah, accept the reality of the sad state of Diaspora Jewry and import it to Israel.

     Will the egalitarian section soon host intermarriages as well?

      It is fascinating that the Wall Street Journal reported this week on the growing fears of a new schism in the Catholic Church over differing approaches to the issues of – you guessed it – same-sex marriage and ordination for women. That should ring a bell for Jews, as well as remind us that the pressures on tradition in our context are also coming from secular, Western, and non-Jewish sources.

      The gist of the problem is that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. He did not instead give each Jew a mirror and say to him or her: “just look in this mirror and you will be able to ascertain My will. Because My will is whatever you say it is.” There are no such holy mirrors. There is a holy Torah, holy days and holy places. No group has the right to usurp control of even part of a holy place and claim it as their own, nor does such usurpation gain any more authenticity if it is supported by secular authorities. Here, mutual respect calls for the newcomers to desist from defiling the sanctity of the Kotel and worship there as did their ancestors.

     For sure, the Torah world is not monolithic but these are not radical views.  These are mainstream views held by people who seek to be welcoming and open to every Jew. Tolerance that flows in one direction only is just intolerance that has elitist and media support.

     And it is not Sinat Chinam to point that out.

Ask the Rabbi, Part 13

For over a year, I have participated in an “Ask the Rabbi” panel responding to questions posed by the editor of the Jewish Press. here is the latest installment. This column, including the responses of my colleagues, can be read at Jewishpress.com

Assuming one is following the letter of the halacha, is it proper to do fun things during the 9 Days–such as gathering with a few friends or taking the kids on an outing?

The operative principle should be as the Mishnah Berurah (554:21) stated: “The House of God deserves that we grieve over its destruction at least one day a year.” By extension, the Three Weeks and Nine Days are periods of escalating sadness that culminate on Tish’a B’Av – that “one day a year” of intense mourning. As we cannot abruptly enter a period of national mourning (personal sorrow is exactly the opposite) we prepare for Tish’a B’Av by decreasing our pleasure excursions.

That being said, we should be able to retain our social interactions (as they are not inherently joyous or frivolous) and certainly to enjoy time with our children. Such outings need not be incongruous with the period of mourning, mindful of what is age appropriate for children. At no time should a person be oblivious to the mourning, and social interactions – and particularly time with the children – can be used for meaningful discussions about inyana d’yoma, the matters at hand.

We should also be wary of imposing mourning practices on children who are not mature enough to understand, and certainly avoid conveying the impression that Judaism is a religion of misery and anguish. We are always mindful of the churban, and more intensely so this time of year, but we are mandated to enjoy a simchat hachayim as well, as that is the most exalted service of Hashem

Thus gatherings and outings need not be incompatible with this sorrowful season – and it is most proper to infuse those interactions with discussions of the hardships of the past (the churban and other tragedies), the blessings of the present (Israel, Aliya, etc.), as well as the joyful challenges of the future redemption that is unfolding before our eyes.

Is it proper to use the title “Rabbi” when referring to someone who received rabbinic ordination from a Reform or Conservative institution?

The counterargument would be that such ordination does not really confer the status of rabbi and therefore demeans the title for all rabbis. I do not find this contention very compelling; indeed, it is unnecessarily provocative. Notice how the title doctor encompasses everyone from a neurosurgeon to one who holds a doctorate in ethnic studies. It is a form of addressing someone by a title they have chosen, earned, or claim that ordinarily should be uncontroversial.

Rav Moshe Feinstein in several of his responsa referred to non-Orthodox rabbis as “rabbis,” phonetically spelled out in Hebrew, in contradistinction to his references to Orthodox rabbis as “Rabbanim” and other such honorifics. It is as if he used the term “rabbi” to denote a lesser or unworthy form of ordination. “Rabbis,” apparently, can be non-Orthodox, men or women, and in the recent case of a Haredi-dressing man in Yerushalayim, a Christian. The term has been so abused that true Rabbanim deserve better.

Indeed, it has become quite common in rabbinic circles to refer to Rabbanim by the title “Rav” and not Rabbi, to make the distinction even clearer. It is used on letterheads and in advertisements and immediately identifies the individual as an Orthodox rabbi.

If only for the purpose of friendly relations it is appropriate to call someone by the title of their choice. They can be rabbis. I am happy to be a Rav.

Is it presumptuous for a regular frum Jew to disagree (not face to face, obviously) with a great rabbi on a particular matter in Jewish thought or public policy?

This treads on very sensitive territory and the critical element is the precise area of disagreement. Certainly on halachic matters the opinions of a “regular frum Jew” carry little weight. Psak, like any specialty, requires extensive training and preparation and encompasses far more than knowledge of books or texts. I can read an X-ray and ascertain obvious fractures; undoubtedly, though, I will miss 95-98% of what there is to see in an X-ray. Great rabbis are radiologists, while the average person is not.

Similarly, matters of Jewish thought also require expertise in a given area. We may be living in the “era of feelings,” but not every feeling translates into a cogent and legitimate expression of Jewish thought. Not everything that a Jew says (or thinks) becomes, by definition, a valid part of Torah. Without a background in Jewish thought, it would be presumptuous to disagree with a Rav who possesses such a background.

Public policy matters are somewhat different because determination of the proper approach requires more than just knowledge of Torah. It requires a worldly understanding of life, politics, societal trends, culture and current events. Not every rabbi – even great ones – is necessarily conversant with all these issues. Nevertheless, two points must be added.

The “regular frum Jew” might have a sensible approach to public policy but it might not be informed by the Torah. If so, then these lay approaches will be less compelling and should be treated accordingly. Conversely, unless we maintain that rabbis have daas Torah that affords them unerring insight into public policy, then rabbis will have no special proficiency in these areas. Those who believe in daas Torah must explain why rabbis often disagree on matters of public policy, something that undercuts the idea that there is only one daas Torah.

Respectful dialogue between rabbis and laymen on policy issues is the ideal.

The Haredi Conundrum

     The repugnance and absurdity of Dan Perry’s Jerusalem Post screed against Haredim is readily apparent from the headline:  “Haredim, not Arabs or Iran, are the biggest threat to Israel.” Although you can’t always blame the writer for the headline, in this case you can, because in his text he calls Haredim the “primary threat” to Israel’s future. One must be filled with hatred to reach the conclusion that faithful Jews are a bigger threat to Israel than hostile Arabs who wish to dismember the state or Iran that yearns for Israel’s nuclear destruction. From where does such antipathy arise? One never knows the internal motivation and biases of another but we can ascertain the sources of his fears from his world view.

     According to Perry, the Haredim endanger Israel’s existence because they have no discernible or foreseeable role in the “Start-up Nation that is a world leader in cybertechnology, agrotech and venture capital, punches above its weight on Nobel prizes and exported television formats, is a global leader on gay rights and decriminalizing cannabis and has developed Iron Dome to zap rockets out of the sky.”

     In other words, the writer’s conception of the Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, is a sort of weird hybrid of Singapore and Sodom. While the technological feats should make us all proud (some others are more dubious), they hardly constitute sufficient reason for Israel’s existence and the sacrifices required to sustain it.

      Centuries of Jews did not dream of returning to Zion so that Jews should be world leaders in cybertech. Jews who were murdered in sanctification of G-d’s name did not pray for an Israel that would transform the world with its “exported television formats.” Even Herzl did not fantasize about a Jewish state that would be a “global leader in gay rights.” Jews won plenty of Nobel Prizes before and since Israel’s establishment. And, suffice it to say, the Iron Dome would not be necessary if the “primary threat” to Israel were Haredim rather than radical Arabs and genocidal Iran.

     It seems clear that Perry perceives Israel entirely as a place of refuge for the Jewish people and not at all as the place where Judaism – as found in the Torah, elaborated in the Talmud and Codes, and observed and preserved by millions of Jews throughout history – is to be fully realized. That crucial flaw underlies his world view which seeks to safeguard Jews but not Judaism and therefore does not at all address why is it important for Jews to survive or for a State of Israel to exist. It cannot be because mankind could not endure without Homeland or In Treatment. And there are plenty of Asians and others who are quite gifted in cybertechnology.

     The writer disdains Haredim because his fantasy of Israel is that of a material powerhouse and a spiritual non-entity. Haredim have no substantive role in that notion of a Jewish state. And in this he is correct: if that is all there is to Israel, there is little reason for secular Israelis to remain, serve, sacrifice and develop the country. They would do better elsewhere. And  having banished the Torah from Israel – the Torah which is the source of our claim to the land of Israel – Perry lacks any real justification for being here, and no answer to the ancient (and modern) allegation that we are “robbers who stole the land from its inhabitants.”

     It is fascinating that the Jerusalem Post reported recently that Bnei Brak ranks as Israel’s poorest and most densely populated city and yet its residents are Israel’s happiest and most contented. Surely that conundrum is incomprehensible to the writer.

      Fortunately, he is wrong and misguided in each assertion, for Israel is far more than a haven for endangered Jews. It is the one place on earth where Jews are to live and the Torah is to be actualized. Yes, the Torah which is the Tree of Life to all who grasp it – the Torah that provides us with a constitution for the Jewish state, the place from which G-d’s morality is exported to the world in every conceivable format.

        Perry is the wrong person to make the argument that Haredi society has to change because at the heart of Haredi society is the impulse to do what is necessary that Judaism survive and not just Jews. “Jews without Judaism” is a non sequitur, a purely ethnic identity with any real meaning or importance.  A “Jewish state” without Judaism cannot endure and there is absolutely nothing in Perry’s credo of Israel that is remotely Jewish.  Contrary to Perry’s conclusion, Israel cannot survive without Haredim as their intense focus on Judaism provides the state its raison d’être.

       That being said, here is where I part company with both sides. Rav Kook noted over a century ago that the Old Yishuv Jews, the spiritual ancestors of today’s Haredim, had rich spiritual lives but their national lives were impoverished. They lived, and to some extent still live, in a Jewish world in which the need for a Jewish state ranges from desirable to tolerable to unnecessary. Their focus is not on statehood and what is needed to maintain it but rather on Torah and what is needed to maintain it. If only they realized that the moment is at hand – it is not coming, it is here now – when the Torah must be applied and integrated in the modern state, a state that is pervaded with Jewish morality and values and not those imported and absorbed from Western and pagan sources.

      I too wish the Haredi world were more receptive to this approach. The antagonism towards much of the Haredi world in Israel is overblown but it is also real. It can also be diminished. For years, there has been a growing realization in the Haredi world that a life of voluntary penury is unsustainable and certainly not at public expense. Substantive efforts have been made to increase Haredi service in the military and participation in the work force. Not every politician who encourages military service, work, self-support and even a reduction of benefits is an enemy of Haredim (for sure, some are). And Haredi politicians have also not distinguished themselves with their public deportment, words or policies, some of which are indefensible.

     The most unfortunate aspect of Haredi life is the vibe that is often projected that Torah is incompatible with a modern state and that Haredim must remain sheltered until the storm passes. That is a disservice to the Torah that is cherished by its adherents. Life itself involves weathering this “storm.”  It is insufficient, as apologists often do, to highlight the amazing chesed that exists in Haredi society for that is born of necessity as much as it is born of virtue. There would not be a need for thousands of gemachs if people were able to support themselves.

       It is surely not surprising that a writer who extols Israel for “decriminalizing cannabis” would have no interest in or respect for those who learn Torah and get lofty with G-d’s word rather than high with a plant.  A truly Jewish state can create the right balance between those who study the Torah and those who implement it in the public domain. Indeed, they will often be the same people at different times. This is also our failure – to convey the depth, beauty, wisdom and all-encompassing majesty of the Torah to all Jews at all times.

      Perhaps that is the real threat to Israel’s future – a generation that is so devoid of Torah values and connection to G-d that it does not know why we are here and what to do now that we are here. In overcoming that threat, Haredim are surely our allies and, as their numbers increase, they will be the leaders in building Israel’s future.