Our Message is: WELCOME

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.


  1. I wanted to reprint here Rabbi Shafran’s comments in context and make a comment upon them. I think what he is saying is that Jewish communities and individuals within those communities may differ in their approach to intermarried Jews, but the blanket acceptance of intermarrieds, AS A GROUP, (as opposed to as individuals), is dangerous to the Jewish future, and will only promote further intermarriage. If you will read his book, Migrant Soul, you will see that Rabbi Shafran certainly sees the benefits of maintaining connections to intermarried Jews so as to help them find their way back. But the way back is very personal, and often painful. The COMMUNAL response of disappointment combined with the INDIVIDUAL response of love and encouragement can indeed lead to a return of the Jewish spouse and conversion of the non Jewish spouse and any non Jewish children. I am witness to a number of intermarried families which have come to Judaism in this way. Here are Rabbi Shafran’s remarks in context:

    “Yes, there is ample reason to feel sympathy for Jews who intermarry. Transgressions performed from desire, Jewish tradition teaches, do not reach the level of those intended to be transgressive. And on a personal level, there are reasons to not cut off connections to intermarried friends or relatives. It is not unheard of for non-Jews married to Jews to actually guide their spouses back to Judaism and to themselves convert; precisely such a couple is the subject of “Migrant Soul,” a biography I was privileged to write.

    “At the same time, though, there is simply no way — not in the real world — to warmly welcome intermarrieds without welcoming intermarriage. No way to make the Feldmans feel accepted for who they are without making potential Feldmans view intermarriage as innocuous. No way to “devalue” the gravity of intermarriage without dulling the truth that every Jew is an invaluable link in the Jewish chain of generations.

    “If one begins with the premise that intermarriage is dangerous to the Jewish people and the Jewish mission, the intermarried cannot enjoy our acceptance. There may be quibbles about the means by which we express our rejection of their choice, but the absence of any communal expression of reproach is nothing less than an invitation to intermarriage.”

    Comment by marc — August 16, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  2. I appreciate your desire to contextualize his comments but having read Rabbi Shafran’s comments on this issue and so many others, i stand firmly behind my position and disagree with him.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — August 16, 2007 @ 10:15 am

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