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Sunday, 18 May 2014

What's wrong with Intermarriage?

Rosh Hashanah 10

“Help, Rabbi, our son has just told us that he wants to marry Christina!”

We teach our children to love all peoples.  We impress upon them the beauty of equality, tolerance, appreciating cultural experiences. 

And then we tell them that they can only marry Jews.  How can we argue that everyone is essentially the same and then ask them not to marry people due to their creed?

The Beraisa taught: “Rabbi Eliezer says the world was created in the month of Tishrei . . . Rabbi Joshua says the world was created in the month of Nisan.”

Rabbeinu Tam explains that in Tishrei, G-d decided to create the world, but did not begin until Nisan.  Rabbi Isaac Luria, the holy Arizal, likens the process to the two stages of conception and birth, the former taking place at Tishrei, the latter at Nisan.  Hence the prayer we recite following the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, “Today is the conception of the world.”

According to Kabbalah, the two stages manifest themselves in our personal identity.  On the first of Tishrei, the entire world is judged by G-d.  Our prayers in the synagogue are universalistic in nature – we pray for every human being and every creature.  Tishrei represents the creation of the entire universe.

By contrast, Nisan is a uniquely Jewish experience.   We sit at our seder table and recount the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the nation of Israel.   Nisan is the creation of the Jewish people.

These two occasions are paramount to our understanding of ourselves and our purpose in the world.  We were created by the Almighty to make this world a better place.  We have an obligation to be citizens of the world and care for every individual and creature.

Integral to that worldview, however, is the necessity of having a strong Jewish identity.  If G-d has entrusted the Jewish people with a mission to teach the world His values of morality, love, peace, freedom and tolerance, we can only do so if we maintain our special Jewish character.   If we lose our identity in the process, we will ultimately forget that we have been charged with a unique task.

Natan Sharansky teaches that without a strong identity and value system, one cannot appreciate the importance of protecting democratic freedom.  To understand and love the ‘other,’ means that I have a strong sense of self and appreciate what I have been tasked to respect and protect.   

We must teach our children to love all peoples and promote tolerance and appreciation for all religions, cultures and nations.  But at the same time we must imbue them with a powerful feeling of pride in their own special heritage.  Telling them to love every individual and appreciate every culture is no way contradictory to asking them to love and appreciate their own identity.  On the contrary, it is an integral part of the message.

Tishrei and Nisan are the two poles of the calendar that are designed to hold sway over us.   If you feel that you are being pulled in the direction of universalism and also pulled in the direction of Jewish particularism, it’s because there’s a centrifugal force drawing you towards Tishrei and a centripetal force drawing you towards Nisan.

Both are integral.   With a strong Jewish commitment and identity, you and your children and children’s children will help to foster a global community of peoples living in harmony, tranquility and respect for all.  

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