Rabbi Avi Shafran has written yet another article with which I disagree. Usually I am not motivated to respond, but I feel compelled to do so in this case. His op/ed, which is posted on JTA (and therefore will be picked up by many Jewish newspapers), is a response to the article which Noah Feldman wrote in last week’s New York Times magazine and to which many have already responded. Rabbi Shafran is wrong in saying that intermarriage is necessarily “an abandonment of the Jewish past and an undermining of the Jewish future” and that “there is simply no way — not in the real world — to warmly welcome intermarrieds without welcoming intermarriage.”
We have a moral and demographic imperative to welcome those who have intermarried. And the Rabbis have given us a model to apply when considering how and why to do so. In Jewish law, the Rabbis have a difference response to circumstances before the fact (which they call m’hatchila) and after the fact (which they call bedeavad).
Welcoming the already-intermarried does not “promote” intermarriage. We know this because the intermarriage trend skyrocketed when there was no welcoming. In the 1970s and 80s, almost nobody in the Jewish community (even the liberal community) was prepared to welcome intermarried families—yet intermarriage happened despite the unwelcoming attitude. Now that it is after the fact, we as a community must recognized failed tactics and reverse course, welcoming all who are willing to cast their lot with the Jewish people. It’s the more moral response.
What Shafran also fails to offer is a reason for those who have intermarried to remain Jewish; for their spouses to want to enter the orbit of the Jewish community (and perhaps consider conversion); and why they should want to raise Jewish children. If the climate of the Jewish community is the kind that Rabbi Shafran is fostering, then why would they or anyone else even want to be part of it? It is this kind of attitude that is smothering the Jewish community.
I believe that it is possible to support those who have intermarried while still creating non-judgmental venues to encourage unmarried Jews to find potential Jewish spouses. And I am willing to enter into dialogue with Rabbi Shafran or anyone else willing to do so with the hope that it would put an end to any of the mudslinging that is currently au courant and helps no one, neither the Jewish community nor those who seek to be part of it.
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