Parshas Vo’Eschanan 5772 S. Rabinowitz, MD
Parshas Vo’Eschanan is the second of eleven parshios in Sefer Devorim. The parsha contains 118 verses, including eight positive mitzvos and four prohibitions. Chapter 7, verses 3 and 4, present the prohibition of marrying a non-Jew (translation adapted from R. Chaim Miller who bases it on Rashi):
|ג וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן בָּם; בִּתְּךָ לֹא-תִתֵּן לִבְנוֹ, וּבִתּוֹ לֹא-תִקַּח לִבְנֶךָ.||3 You must not intermarry with them. You must not give your daughter to their son, and you must not take their daughter for your son.|
|ד כִּי-יָסִיר אֶת-בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי, וְעָבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים; וְחָרָה אַף- יְקוָק בָּכֶם, וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ מַהֵר.||4 For (one of their sons) will turn away your (grand)son from following Me, and they will worship other gods. Then G-d’s anger will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you.|
Rashi (1040-1105) focuses on the Torah’s warning that one of their sons will subvert your grandson, while it does not warn that one of their daughters will do the same. The son of your daughter is a Jew called “your grandson,” while the son of a non-Jew’s daughter is not a Jew and not called “your grandson.” The religion of the mother determines the religion of the child.
Rambam (1135-1204): The penalty for intermarriage with any non-Jewish person, from any nation, is flogging. Even though this violation does not receive the death penalty, you should not take it lightly, because it has severe consequences for the children of the marriage, weakens our nation, and harms our relationship with HaShem.
Rabbeinu Bachya (1255-1340) says that marriage in the legal sense does not exist between a Jew and a non-Jew (Kiddushin 68b), so these verses are not needed to tell us that we may not marry a non-Jewish Canaanite. Rather, they teach us that we may not even marry a Canaanite who has converted to Judaism. The Canaanites were guilty of more sins than any other nation, so the Torah is stricter with them than with proselytes of other nations (Yevamos 78b).
The Netziv (1816-1893) understands the Torah to command us to remain separate from other nations, based on Sanhedrin 104a. We are to live a badad/solitary existence. Of course, we must cordially engage with non-Jews in many areas of mutual benefit and welfare, and contribute to the world. But we must maintain a social distance, particularly in avoiding intermarriage. If we are the ones who keep ourselves badad, then the Torah promises us peace and prosperity, in Devorim 33:28, “Yisroel will live safely alone (betach badad), as Ya’akov blessed them, in a land of grain and wine with skies that drip dew.” If we do not keep a healthy distance from the other nations, and we intermarry with them, then the other nations themselves will violently push us away, as it says in the first verse of Megillas Eichoh, “How the city sits alone/badad that was full of people….”
R. Zalman Sorotzkin (1881-1966) sees another cautionary note in our verses. Some of us may have thought we could expand our population and gain national strength through conversion and intermarriage. The Torah tells us: “not because of a large population did HaShem choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples, but because of HaShem’s love for you….”
R. Elie Munk (1900-1981) Jewish law requires that marriage not only perpetuates the nation in numbers, but optimizes the quality of child-raising. That is why mixed marriages are severely prohibited and conversion requires extreme prudence and proper motivation.
R. Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) was asked by a rabbi whether the son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father could be called to the Torah for his Bar Mitzvah. He answered that private dealings with this family had to be different from public dealings. In private, we acknowledge that the boy is completely Jewish and try to strengthen his Yiddishkeit. He should have a good Jewish education. But, if the mother persists in living an entirely non-Jewish lifestyle, and the Bar Mitzvah is a pro forma, largely secular celebration, with no intention of future adherence to Torah and mitzvos, then we should not provide the public recognition of an aliyoh, so as not to suggest that we condone the intermarriage.
R. Nissan Dovid Dubov, director of Chabad in Wimbledon, U.K.: … To be born a Jew today is not an accident of birth but the sum total of over 3,300 years of ancestral self-sacrifice, of heroes who at times gave their very lives for their beliefs. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Nazis and Communists all tried to obliterate Jewish practice and faith, but failed. The indomitable Jewish spirit survived and clung to its traditions despite all odds. And now, the very latest link of that glorious tradition has the option of severing the chain in one fell swoop - or not! … One may ask, however, why must I continue this chain, to pass on the traditions and to carry the baton just because my mazal was that I was born Jewish? There are plenty of others who will carry on the traditions. What difference does it make if I sidetrack a little and shunt myself into a dead-end? … Every Jew is compared to a letter in a Torah scroll. Even if only one letter is missing the entire scroll is incomplete and invalid. Every Jew is an ambassador of his people in his echelon in society. That is his G-d given responsibility and privilege. To shirk this responsibility is to deny oneself the ultimate privilege. … A Jewish woman who has already married out and borne children should be encouraged to give them a full Jewish education. There are today thousands of practicing Jews who only have a Jewish mother. However, to a couple contemplating intermarriage, the facts speak for themselves. Except in a small number of cases in which the mother is very determined and gives the child a very positive, strong Jewish education, in many cases the child grows up with a mixed and confused identity; in simple English, half-Jewish. Technically, there is no such thing - one is either 100% Jewish or not. However, in terms of identity, the child feels only half-Jewish. Even if the mother is a proud Jew, the father, whether atheist, agnostic, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, etc., does not share the same beliefs and values. Even if he is sympathetic, or even agrees to the child being brought up Jewish, there are bound to be differences. Does one celebrate Chanukah or Xmas, both or neither? Whichever one chooses is confusing or even contradictory. Many intermarried couples today celebrate both - but what sort of message does this give the child? Is the child Jewish, thus rejecting the notions of Christianity, or is the child a Christian with Jewish roots? It causes great confusion for the child and in many cases the child sees both faiths only on a superficial level, distanced by his parents from true belief. The child is also given the test of mixed allegiances. All passages of life create a problem. Should the child be circumcised, christened, both or neither? Should the child have a Bar Mitzvah or be confirmed, marry in a synagogue or a church, be buried in a Jewish cemetery or be cremated? … Wherever a Jew goes he will have an international support group that extends hospitality and help, if needed. By having a non-Jewish child one has extricated the child from that community and bequeathed alienation to him. Everybody wants to belong - it is a basic human need. Intermarriage causes great confusion to children with regard to where they actually belong. (He adds here that people change as they age, and much of the change is genetic. The person whom one marries in youth may evolve in time into quite a different person, more like his/her ancestors.) … On the other hand, a Jewish partner means a shared history and a shared destiny. … Statistics show that the percentage of separations and divorces among intermarried couples is greater than among marriages within the faith. … One would not wish to drag another party into an alliance which is likely to be troubled. If there is true love between the two parties, one would certainly not wish to cause the other this pain, and would readily forgo the prospect of immediate and short-lived pleasure in order to spare the other the probable result. Otherwise the professed love is tinged by selfishness.
A father once came to a rabbi with his daughter and asked the rabbi to persuade her not to marry out. The rabbi asked the daughter why she didn’t want to marry a Jew. She replied that her father never took her to synagogue, never ate kosher, never kept Shabbat or the festivals - in short, lived exactly like their non-Jewish neighbors, so why now the hypocrisy in demanding that she marry a Jew! The rabbi turned to the father and said that he agreed with her. The father was dumbstruck and then said that he had brought her to the rabbi to convince her not to marry out, and not to agree with her. The rabbi responded that, in order for her not to marry out, the father had to start living as a Jew. He suggested that the father should lay Tefillin daily and that his wife should start lighting the Shabbat candles. After a lot of persuasion the daughter eventually married a Jew.