A Rosh Hashanah Choice

In the traditional Torah portion selection for the first day of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Hagar and her son Ishmael are pushed out of Abraham’s tent and sent into exile. This is the memory that their ancestors carry with them throughout the generations. It is this burden of memory that we carry with us, as well. After all, all peoples have history; it is our memory that makes us unique as a people.

Unfortunately, this pattern of “pushing away” has not been broken. We can’t continue to push away with one hand and then reach out with the other (as Abraham and Sarah were also known for their hospitality). This is especially true in the case of interfaith families. Imagine what the world would be like today had Abraham not sent Hagar and Ishmael out on their own. Imagine what our communities would be like had we not sent out those of our children who had intermarried out on their own.

Regardless of the exact percentage of intermarried families raising Jewish children, we can still do better. Most are raising their children in what I like to call “American Civil Religion” even when it does come with a smattering of holidays, irrespective of the religious tradition from which those holidays arise. Perhaps it is because our institutions are not readily open to them—and when they are, it is only on our terms—that they have chosen not to raise Jewish children.

Let’s rein in our inner Abraham, the one that forced out Hagar and Ishmael. Tell them not to get on that horse. Tell them to stay awhile in our tent where they are welcome.


  1. It was G-d who authorized the pushing out of Ishmael. Had Ishmael stayed he would have been a poor influence over Isaac (this is what are sages teach). And as to the Arabs, they believe it was Ishmael who was almost sacrificed by Abraham , and that the event took place at the Kaaba. None of their complaints against Jews involve the expulsion of Ishmael.

    Comment by Dave — September 14, 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  2. I agree with Dave on this one. Bad enough to take issue with an act of Abraham our forefather which was necessary in order to help create the Jewish people. Even worse to take issue with one that was suggested by his righteous wife Sarah after seeing how awful Ishmael treated Issac. But really incredulous to find it blameworthy that Abraham did what God, Himself, commanded him to do!!!

    Comment by marc — September 17, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  3. I stand by my comments. Abraham didnt have to do it. Nor did Sarah.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — September 17, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

  4. Are you saying you disagree with God on this one, rabbi???

    Comment by marc — September 19, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  5. I am fully prepared to assume the posture of chutzpah clappei malah–which is a legitimate posture in Jewish thought.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — September 19, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  6. According to WHOM is it legitimate to have a chutpah toward God or to claim that God has chutzpah? (please offer a citation if you can as well, so I may look it up)

    Comment by marc — September 20, 2007 @ 9:55 am

  7. Try starting with Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — September 20, 2007 @ 10:23 am

  8. I think you have taken the Berditchev Rebbe out of context. He challenged God in order to defend the Jewish people. You are doing the opposite and questioning God’s judgment in order to indict Abraham and Sarah, whom the Rebbe held in great esteem.

    To my knowledge, there is no legitimate authority allowing one to challenge God in order to ACCUSE the Jewish people of wrongdoing…especially so dangerously close to Yom Kippur.

    Comment by marc — September 20, 2007 @ 5:09 pm

  9. For a complete history of this tradition–which is indeed mainstream and legitimate–take a look at Arguing with Gd by Anson Laytner as a start. It is indeed during Yom Kippur when the dialogue begins. May it be an easy fast for yoy. Gemar tov.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — September 20, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  10. I will look into the book. Have an easy and meaningful fast!

    Comment by marc — September 21, 2007 @ 10:25 am

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