A closer look at the Jewish position on intermarriage reveals that this prohibition is not unfair, racist, or arbitrary.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
I am often asked, “Rabbi, why are Jews so against intermarriage? Why should two people who love each other not be able to marry just because they have different religions? Also, isn’t the ban on intermarriage racist?”
Well, folks, this week’s Torah portion is Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) and in it we read about the ban on intermarriage.
As the verse says, “You shall not intermarry with the Gentiles. You shall not give your daughter to his son nor shall you take his daughter for your son. For he will cause your child to turn away from after Me and worship other gods.”
As you can see, the Jewish ban on intermarriage isn’t a cultural preference or prejudice. It’s God’s law! Think about this: Everyone knows that Jews can’t eat pork and shellfish and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. But when people hear that a Jewish family will not let a child marry a Christian…boom! They get all bent out of shape. As you can see for yourself, the same Torah that forbids pork, forbids eating bread on Passover, and requires us to rest on Shabbat and blow a shofar on Rosh Hashana is the same Torah that forbids intermarriage. The Jews didn’t make it up. God did!
Furthermore, the practice of not “intermarrying” even predates the Torah. It is the absolute oldest marriage practice of Judaism. When Abraham told his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac, he made Eliezer swear that he would not find a “foreign girl” but rather, a girl who was already in the family of Abraham, the family that was developing and presenting monotheism to the world.
Isaac in turn, commanded his son Jacob not to marry the “daughters of the land.” The prohibition was then formally given in the Torah, in this week’s portion.
Unfortunately, Jews have always been lax in this commandment. Even Ezra, the leader of the Jewish people, upon return to the Land after the Babylonian exile over 2,500 years ago, made people divorce their non-Jewish spouses and promise not to intermarry. And today? I cannot even begin to describe the tragic extent of Jewish intermarriage in this day and age. It’s been called a “spiritual holocaust.”
Additionally, the ban on intermarriage isn’t racist. We are against marrying outside the faith, not marrying outside ethnicity or national origin. Israel is full of Ethiopian Jews who marry freely with other Israelis, in addition to other Jewish immigrants to the State of Israel from all corners of the world who marry each other as they see fit.
We also have famous converts to Judaism such as rapper Nissim Black, who, as his last name implies, is black. He is a full member of the orthodox Jewish community. There are all kinds of Asian converts who marry freely within Jewish community as well.
The ban on intermarriage may be inconvenient or seemingly unfair, but it is certainly not racist.
The verse cited above is also the source for the law of defining one’s Jewishness by matrilineal descent. Since the verse states “for he [the non-Jewish father] will cause your child to turn away … “, it implies that a child born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, whereas the child of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman is not Jewish according to ritual law.
Attention Jewish parents! If you want a free tip from an orthodox rabbi on how to better prevent your kids from intermarrying, here it is: live Jewishly! The more you live according to Jewish tradition, showing that a Jewish life is a happy and fulfilling life, the more your children will want to follow that path!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: