What’s the Matter with Intermarriage?
Actually, don’t be misled by this title. This isn’t an article against intermarriage. It is just that there are so many issues related to Jewish-Gentile couples in the news these days.
I just got back from Israel and have been catching up on my reading. I keep a Google search on issues related to Jewish-Gentile couples. July was an interesting month.
First, I was stunned to hear that Jewish demographer, Gary Tobin, died at the age of 59 in Florida. As a student of cultural anthropology, I appreciated his work at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and his unconventional voice as president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco. Gary Tobin researched the growth of contemporary Judaism and he took a “big tent” view of the Jewish community and the question, “Who belongs as a Member of the Tribe?” That, of course, is a discussion in the realm of Jewish-Gentile couples. We continue to reference that question, especially in regard to the children of Jewish-Gentile couples.
Interestingly, the same line of questions came up with a movie premiere that same weekend. It was the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. A theme in that film was a case of art imitating life. In the realm of Harry Potter, wizards, possessing magical powers, were a minority in a world of ordinary or non-magical people. Please don’t think that I’m trying to make a perfectly matching metaphor out of this imagery. I am in no way implying that Jewishness is akin to magical wizardry and Gentileness is not. However, the identities of the characters in this Harry Potter movie are evidently determined by whether one’s mother was a wizard and one’s father was non-magical. In my mind, I could see similar implications for the children of mixed ethnicities in Jewish-Gentile couples. It was interesting to also read that Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays Harry Potter, identifies as a Jew, though only his mother was Jewish and his father was a “Protestant.”
The same week, The Baltimore Sun featured a commentary by Rabbi Yaakov Menken, who is the director of Project Genesis, a Jewish cyber-outreach organization based in Maryland. He commented on an article from Julie Wiener’s “In the Mix,” a monthly column featured in The New York Jewish Week. Ms. Wiener is an intermarried Jew who comments on Jewish-Gentile couple issues. Recently, she grappled with her own discomfort at the thought that a Rabbi might intermarry. That is not to say a rabbi would perform weddings for Jewish-Gentile couples – Reform rabbi’s already do that – but that a rabbi would take a Gentile as a spouse. Rabbi Menken actually assumes that it will happen within “Progressive” Judaism sooner or later, and most likely sooner. He predicted that the Hebrew Union College, Reform Judaism’s rabbinical seminary, would ordain intermarried rabbis “within the next decade.” Rabbi Menken concluded his observations with a question about the implications of Jewish-Gentile marriage for Judaism: “At what point will ‘Progressive’ Judaism cease to be a religion practiced, in the majority, by Jews?”
Throughout these articles, the main issue was in the subtext: “Can American Jewry survive the welcoming embrace of intermarriage to Gentiles?” There are plenty of relevant matters to discuss in relation to intermarriage. They ought not be rooted in ethnic or racial bias. They can’t all solve the multiplex dilemmas caused by interfaith disagreements. Nor is the preservation or survival of the Jewish people and their enduring values the only matter that counts.
At JewishGentileCouples.com, we take the perspective that the best approach to these issues is to ask God what He might have to say on the subject. Sociology has told us that Jewish-Gentile marriages have a risk of divorce that is twice as high as that of the highest divorce levels in either of the two homogamous marriage groups (Jewish plus Jewish or Gentile plus Gentile). That was reported again in a scientific paper from the Netherlands in July. Our own research found that the greatest threat to Jewish-Gentile marriage, dating couples, or cohabiting partners is the inability to find spiritual harmony. God has a lot to say on that subject matter if we will listen to Him. We would be glad to suggest some further summer reading on matters related to Jewish-Gentile couple relationships.
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Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the founders of the Jews for Jesus ministry. He was the first field missionary beginning his service in February 1974. Tuvya continues to serve the Lord, now as the Director of Staff Development internationally, based out of the Los Angeles office. He also chairs the Board for the Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv, Israel. Tuvya was raised in Northern California in the institutions of American Judaism. During his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, Tuvya read from Isaiah 6:1-8 and declared with the prophet, Hineni-Here I am, send me!" However, his search for God and spiritual truth didn't come into focus until ten years later, when a Christian colleague encouraged him to seek God in the pursuit of truth. Tuvya came to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) on December 7, 1970. Ever since, he has been joyfully saying to God, "Hineni-Here am I." The full story is available by that title, in a booklet form here. Tuvya has provided the leadership of Jews for Jesus branches and evangelistic campaigns in major cities of the US and in Israel. He headed up the Las Vegas Behold Your God (BYG) campaign in 2005 and co-led the 2006 BYG outreach in New Jersey. He is now also an administrator for the website www.JewishGentileCouples.com. In April, 1989, Zaretsky was present at the Willowbank Consultation on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish people, that produced the watershed Willowbank Declaration. Tuvya has presented missiology papers at the Evangelical Theological Society, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) and at the Global Diaspora Missiology Consultation in 2006. He currently serves as president for the International Coordinating Committee of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a networking body of Jewish mission agencies. He was editor of the Lausanne Occasional Paper 60, Jewish Evangelism" A Call to the Church in 2004. He was a contributing author of Israel the Land and People edited by H. Wayne House (Kregel Publishers, 1998). His doctoral dissertation, co-authored with Dr. Enoch Wan, was published as Jewish-Gentile Couples: Trends, Challenges and Hopes (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004). He authored or edited articles for the June 2006 issue of MISHKAN themed, "The Gospel and Jewish-Gentile Couples" (Jerusalem) . And in 2008 he was coordinator and contributor for the World Evangelical Alliance Consultation that produced "The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". In 2013 Zaretsky was appointed to serve as the Senior Associate for Jewish Evangelism by the International Lausanne Movement. Tuvya has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic Studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish Believer in Jesus. They have three young adult children: Jesse, Abbie and Kaile.