In generations past, when Jewish parents discovered that their child was planning on marrying someone of another religious background, it was not uncommon for those parents to sit shiva, or mourn the loss of their child. This attitude was immortalized for many on stage and screen in “Fiddler on the Roof,” when Tevye the milkman discovers that his daughter, Chava, has eloped with a Christian. But, wonders Rabbi Joshua Hammerman in the (New York) Jewish Week, would Tevye respond the same way today? Do Jews even still mourn intermarriage in this way?
What prompted these thoughts from Rabbi Hammerman was his participation as rabbinic advisor for a multi-cultural production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The girl playing Chava asked him if this was just the way Jews respond to intermarriage. Looking around at the diversity of the cast and crew, he realized that this production would prod him to “calibrate what God might expect of us in an age of radical global shrinkage and swiftly dissolving boundaries.”
He told the actress playing Chava that no, Jewish families don’t mourn upon news of an intermarriage. Even Tevye wouldn’t do that today. It goes against the welcoming nature of our religion. The chupah (marriage canopy) is modeled in part on Abraham and Sara’s tent, which was open on all sides to welcome all who approach. Rabbi Hammerman says he’s not sure if he would celebrate if his child announced his intention to marry a non-Jew. “But I know that, like Abraham, I will love anyone who comes into my home with an unconditional, unbounded love,” he writes. “I’ll do it because it is precisely that kind of love that will bring renewed vitality to the Jewish people and eternal relevance to the Jewish message.”
From meeting countless parents and grandparents over the years who have found themselves in the same situation that Rabbi Hammerman describes, we know that his response is the best course of action. Yes, there might be feelings of fear, disappointment and trepidation at what the future holds. But there is also an opportunity to show the inclusiveness and support that makes up the foundation of Judaism. In our experience, choosing the latter is the best way to help secure a vibrant Jewish future.