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Torah Sparks

November 29, 2003 - 5764

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Annual Cycle: Genesis 25:19-28:9 - Hertz, p. 93; Etz Hayim, p. 146
Triennial Cycle 3: Genesis 27:28-28:9 - Hertz, p. 99; Etz Hayim, p. 157
Haftarah: Malakhi 1:1-2:7 - Hertz, p. 102; Etz Hayim, p. 162

Discussion Theme: Intermarriage

Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am disgusted with my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries a Hittite woman like these, from among the native women, what good will life be to me?” (Genesis 27:46)


  1. Her argument is decisive, because, as 26:34-35 have already informed us, Esau’s union with the local women has become intolerable to his parents. (Nahum Sarna, JPS Commentary to Genesis 27:46)
  2. And Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4)
  3. This is the first indication of the Jewish norm of endogamy, of marrying within the clan. Jewish law requires that Jews marry Jews (see Genesis 26:35, 28:1; Deut. 7:3) (Rabbis Elliot Dorff and Susan Grossman in Etz Hayim, Genesis 24:3)
  4. After all this (history of anti-Semitism), it is now, paradoxically, in the modern world, where Jews are accepted as equals, that the Jews seem in danger of annihilation. Although the Jews survived persecution and hatred, the question today is whether they can survive acceptance and success. Everywhere we turn, rampant assimilation and intermarriage seem to engulf the Jewish people. Apathy and boredom among the young have made synagogues empty and the Friday nightclubs full. Secular culture seems to entice young Jews to abandon, or never explore, their 3,500-year-old heritage. (Shmuley Boteach in Judaism for Everyone)
  5. American Jewry should take to heart the truth expressed in Exodus 13:17 “And it came to pass… that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines although it was near.” The newly freed Israelites needed to be shielded not so much from danger but from temptation. Today American Jews find themselves remarkably free from danger but in the midst of temptation, temptations of the most philistine and the most sophisticated sorts. The future of American Jewry depends, first, on a rejection of the false idols of our times; second, on a willingness to “bend the knee and bow in worship” only to the Holy Blessed One; and finally, on the ability to demonstrate and articulate reasonably the nobility and profundity of the religion into which we have had the good fortune to be born. (William Kristol “Reappropriate our tradition,” in Moment Magazine, 1997)
  6. Being a Jew is a verb. Jewish living means, how do you live? We must develop a vibrant core of committed people who care about Judaism, who learn, who are enthusiastic, and who let that radiate. We always try to get the kid who doesn’t want to go to Jerusalem to go. We forget about what to do with the kid who does go. We try to attract new people to join a synagogue, but we don’t ask sufficiently what to do with the person who is already there. Let’s enjoy our Judaism now and stop worrying so much about what the future will be. Let’s not always talk about all those Jews who are alienated; instead, let’s talk about the joys of Jews who celebrate their Jewishness, who love to visit Israel, who commit themselves to the UJA campaign, who want to line up with the Jewish people. Let’s nurture them, and let those nurturers give light and fire to the rest of the Jewish world. (Rabbi David Hartman in Moment Magazine 1998)
  7. We either teach Torah or something else at every moment, “when we lie down and when we rise up.” If we do not teach Torah enough of the time, the opposite of Torah will prevail in the world. Arnold Eisen, Taking Hold of Torah Being Jewish doesn’t get you influential friends but it sure gets you a diverse bunch of enemies. But to join the Jewish people just to avoid parentally inflicted guilt — why bother? That kind of Judaism provides no incentive whatever for adult outsiders to join. What Jewish people in cults seek are purpose, meaning, community, and transcendence. Why have so many Jews felt the need for these things and sought them elsewhere? Cultural Judaism transmits the need for these values but can rarely fulfill those needs. For people, especially young people, who are looking for guidance in personal, community, and national ethics, who are looking for help in deciding what to do for a living, how to treat family members and employees, how to alleviate poverty and suffering around them, how to understand and respond to disappointment and bereavement, and in general what to use for a moral compass, neither cultural Judaism nor conventional Orthodoxy has much to offer. Neither, for that matter, does cultural Christianity. If the Jewish community takes on these areas of human existence and comes up with some serious answers and meaningful demands, it will increase. (Marian Neudel, “Are Bagels and Lox Worth Dying For?” Jewish Spectator, Fall 1993)


What insights do the above thinkers provide concerning the increasing rate of intermarriage? Most Jewish people that marry out of Judaism do not do so because they heard a bad sermon or had a bad experience in religious school. They leave because Judaism is irrelevant. How do we build a Judaism that speaks to us on a daily basis, not just a few times a year? How do we build a Jewish life that contains moments of passion? How do we fashion aJewish life that makes demands on us so that our children see that Judaism has relevance? How do we build a Jewish identity that is so strong that our children will deem it unthinkable to share their lives in marriage with someone who is not Jewish?

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