Interfaith Marriage in Judaism
It might come as a surprise for many but the debate surrounding the issues of Jewish Intermarriages is not a newly emerged issue at all. The history and the allied controversies, misconceptions and contradictions revolving around the issue dates back to the time and period when the Jewish community originated and structured and organized itself in the form of a community. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that the concept of intermarriages has never been looked upon with great consent and encouragement, even though the orthodox and conservative thinking related to it has alleviated a lot, but in ancient and medieval times the act was looked upon with great disrespect and disfavor. Even in the Talmud which is the mainstream theological text followed by the Jews all over the world strongly accentuates on the prohibition of getting involved in intermarriage acts as it would led to the dissolution of one’s parental faith and adhered doctrine. (Wylen, 2000)
Along with the Talmud, other theological literature followed by the followers of Judaism such as Nehemiah as Ezra also takes a hard-line on the issue concerning the matter of interfaith marriages. However with the increasing passage of time, such conformist thinking has diminished substantially which can be vindicated from the fact that with the course of time, the concept of interfaith marriages in the religion of Judaism has experienced considerable alterations and modifications as a result of which many members of the Jewish community do not feel any kind of religious barriers and social hindrances in whole-heartedly adopting the process what is known as Jewish Assimilation.
Throughout the course of the discussion we will be shedding light on the multitude chronological and theological phases which have ultimately led to such profound alterations in the belief systems of Jews regarding the issue of intermarriages in Jewish doctrines. (Thaler, 2000)
The Precise Definition of Interfaith Marriage in Judaism
In order to comprehend the roots of origination and the crux of the ideology surrounding the controversy of interfaith marriages in Judaism, it is first and foremost important to understand the meaning of the term interfaith marriage as it is applied in Jewish doctrine and religious ideology. The understanding is necessary primarily because of the fact that has basically been the difference of religious interpretation by different religious scholars or rabbis of the Talmud that has led to contrary and colliding perspectives on the issue of interfaith marriages in the religion.
Different movements of Judaism have developed different views and perceptions regarding the precise definition of the term Jew. Orthodox and Conservative movements of Judaism do not acknowledge a person as Jewish if his or her mother is not a Jew, same rules also apply to converters whose conversion and subsequent embracement of Judaism has not been executed according to the rules and regulations defined and outlined by classic Jew laws, hence the definition of the terminology varies from the kind of movement that was conducted and the influence that it had in remolding the concepts and conceptions related to interfaith nuptials. Another allied concept that has incorporated itself within the Jewish doctrine is that of ethical monotheists. Such people result from the unification of a Jew and non-Jew who does not adhere to the religious doctrines and ideologies that are not followed by Jews. Steven Greenberg who is a famous rabbi uses the term resident aliens for their identification. The term is used a biblical interpretation of someone who is not Jewish, but resides within a Jewish community. (Spickard, 1991)
Interfaith marriages in Judaism and Evidences from Theological Literature
There are a number of theological sources which can be used in order to unearth the relationship between the rudimentary concepts of Judaism which are closely related to interfaith marriages. Some of the prime sources include the Hebrew scriptures of the different volumes of the Bible out of which the most prominent and reputed among Jewish seminaries and clerics are the Ezra, Nehemiah and Ruth. As said earlier the issue of intermarriages in Judaism can be dated back to the fifth century around 445 BCE.
The issue emerged as highly contentious when Jewish people began to move back to their native land of Israel from Babylon and those who preferred to stay there. The people from the land of Judea refrained from indulging in the act of intermarriage as they viewed it as a rebellion against their religion, but for people returning from Babylon, conditions were not the same as many of them had intermix their beliefs by marrying men and women from different beliefs systems and religions. For many of the orthodox rabbis and conservative followers of the religion, it was regarded as the form of a treachery and violation to the fundamentals of their devout doctrine and ideology. For them foundations of their religion had begun to crumble and undergo erosion from the corruption and proliferation of foreign blood. (Gershon, 2004)
Efforts needed to be devised in order to purify the Jewish race and religion from all foreign and corrupting influences which if not halted would further catalyze the process of theological erosion, something that was completely intolerable for fundamentalist Jewish clerics and scholars of that time. It was this very radical and militant oriented thinking that led the emergence of Ezra and Nehemiah and the dissemination of their subsequent myopic beliefs regarding the issue of interfaith marriages in Judaism.
In the Ezra (10:2-3), it has been said, "Shecaniah...addressed Ezra, saying, 'We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes; And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons."
Ezra was particularly distressed at the ways people were showing willingness towards the acceptance and therefore such people were regarded as an outcast from the fold of Judaism as they have failed to comply with the commandments and covenant of God, in fact by committing such an act they have executed a rebellion against God and His beloved prophet Moses. After such revelations priests and other religious clerics had no option but to label all inter faith marriages as null and void from a religious perspective and order that all such couples must divorce each other as their union has taken place against the injunctions and principles of God and His revealed religion. The fate of the child born as a result of such a marriage is unknown.
Concomitant to the beliefs and religious approach of Ezra was the religious orders put forward by Nehemiah in the form of severe condemnation to the act of interfaith marriages. In the Nehemiah (13:25-27) "And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, 'You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not King Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?'
From the excerpt presented in Nehemiah, it is evident that Nehemiah and Ezra collectively launched an anti-intermarriage campaign to purify the realm of Judaism from its commencement of manifesting the influences of other religions. However a slight difference that can be noted here is the more stringent attitude of Nehemiah towards the act of intermarriage.
Unlike Ezra, Nehemiah emphasizes on the brutal and discordant persecution such people and women must be inflicted with in order to make them repent for the mistakes and the damage that they have caused to the foundations of the religion. Nehemiah further refers to the numerous wives of King Solomon who had thousands of children and was ultimately led to the worship of other gods which is regarded as a massive and unforgivable sin. (Robinson, 1999)
Ruth is the only Jewish theology book that presents ample literature in advocacy of the interfaith marriage unlike its predecessors Ezra and Nehemiah. By taking a firm stance on the issue the Book of Ruth rejects and debunks the horrifying messages that have been disseminated by Ezra and Nehemiah to infiltrate the basis of the religion which have been constructed on spiritual connectivity and community development. The book teaches that Ruth is an exceptionally pious and virtuous person who possesses absolute loyalty to God and to Jewish people. It is worth mentioning here that Ruth was involved in an intermarriage relationship with men from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and origins, but despite of all her purity and chastisity remain completely insulated and unharmed. The book further teaches that with the attribute of intermarriage women like Ruth will keep on entering the fold of Judaism.
An explanation of this lineage can be found in chapter (4:16-17) when it says “This is the line of Perez:Perez begot Hezron, Hezron begot Ram, Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, Nahshon begot Salmon, Salmon begot Boaz, Boaz begot Obed, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.” From the pedigree presented it can be found out that Ruth is basically the great-grandmother of King David, the very same ruler who is regarded as the greatest ruler on the people of Israel and his teachings and religious ideologies are followed and adhered by the people of Israel to this day. (Gershon, 2004)
Issues related to intermarriages in Judaism did not improve until the 19th and the 20th centuries when massive migration of Jewish people started into British and American areas and cities. It was during this time when the stringent rules and barriers surrounding the intermarriage controversy began to experience a meltdown.
Many reasons can be outlined for such changes in religious attitudes, firstly, during the 19th and 20th centuries the concept of a separate homeland for Jews which is known as Israel had emerged and therefore political efforts for the fulfillment of these objectives were being chalked out. It was important for Jewish people to gain support and allegiance from the economic and military powers that existed at that time. Even though they had to face tremendous opposition in the beginning, it was ultimately the intermarriage card that helped them paved their way to proliferate and subsequently demonstrate their influence and assertiveness in the functioning of each and every state organ. It was basically the dual combination of their religious ideology supporting interfaith marriages and eco-political objectives that catalyzed their pace to achieve the objectives that they intended to acquire. (Bletcher, 2007)
Hence with such processes operating it came as no doubt that a survey in the year 1990 which was conducted by the National Jewish Population Survey registered an intermarriage rate of 52% among American Jews. (Wiener, 2000)
The increasing number of registered intermarriages among American Jews has manifested its impact in the form of a trickledown effect in the younger Jewish generations who are politically and religiously liberal and are more influenced by the Reformist school of thought where in a survey in 2003 concluded that 87% of rabbis belonging to this school of thought viewed intermarriages as socially and religiously legitimate, than the orthodox or conservative school of thought which prohibits and imposes stringent allegations and religious charges on the committing of such an act. Even Jewish families residing in countries like America and UK have understood that their key to effective survival and sustenance in these countries is from intermarriages and hence it is the very same training that the upcoming progenies and Jewish generations are also inheriting without any hesitation. (Reinharz and Sergio, 2009)
As a result of the change that is being inculcated in the social structure, Jewish children of American origin are freely practicing their religious obligations and also conforming to the cultural norms of an American society under the secular banner of these countries. In another survey that was conducted in the year 2000 by NJPS clearly outlined that only 33% of children which are an outcome of intermarriages are being brought up in proper Jewish manner as compared to the 96% which are being raised by both Jewish parents. (Abbott, 2006)
Many of them in this also include people who have embraced some other religion after getting involved in an intermarriage relationship. The statistic unveils the aggravating gravity of the situation which is constantly posing a threat to the basis of Judaism in the form of a cultural recession, if not religiously.