Too often, Jewish continuity is equated with a need for endogamy (Jews marrying Jews). I believe that in today's world, conversations about continuity and intermarriage need to be separate. In other words, it is much more helpful to talk about what keeps Judaism alive without talking about intermarriage; and for those who are so inclined, it will be more helpful to talk about the topic of intermarriage without getting mixed up in a conversation about the future of the Jewish people. This sermon traces some points along the history of intermarriage as discussed in Jewish tradition, highlighting the break between pre-modern and modern understandings on this point.
Intermarriage and Continuity in Need of Divorce
In 1938, a young man by the name of Emil Fackenheim became a rabbi. By the time he died 65 years later, he would be known as one of the most influential Jewish philosophers of the 20th century.
The same year he was ordained as a rabbi, Fackenheim was arrested during Kristallnacht, and in 1939, Rabbi Fackenheim and his parents were deported from Germany, eventually arriving in Canada as refugees. In Toronto, Fackenheim served as the rabbi of Temple Anshei Shalom, earned his PhD from the University of Toronto, and eventually became a professor of philosophy there. In 1955, he married his wife, Rose, and they would go on to have four children. The whole family immigrated to Israel in 1986, where Emil and Rose would spend the rest of their lives.
Fackenheim was the author of more than a dozen books, but he is best remembered for one simple idea. As a philosopher confronting the enormity of the Holocaust, Fackenheim argued that classical Judaism could never have anticipated such evil. The traditional 613 commandments were insufficient to respond to the magnitude of the Shoah. So he proposed the addition of a 614th commandment: not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. In 1968, Fackenheim taught that there were four components to this new mitzvah. He said:
First, we are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish.
Second, we are commanded to remember the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish.
Third, we are forbidden to deny God, lest Judaism perish.
Fourth, we are forbidden to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God.
Fackenheim issued a powerful directive to the Jews of the 20th and 21st centuries: We must endure, we must remember, we must affirm God, and we must commit to the world. In this way, we can overcome the tragedy and the threat of Hitler’s evil enterprise.
In the fifty years since Fackenheim first articulated this idea, the concept of the 614th commandment has been widely misunderstood. In particular, the 614th commandment not to grant Hitler a posthumous victory is frequently and erroneously evoked as invective against intermarriage. The common argument goes that intermarriage leads to assimilation, which in turn leads to the demise of the Jews, handing Hitler his victory.
What is often overlooked, however, is that Rabbi Fackenheim himself never once denounced intermarriage; and he certainly never claimed that a Jew who married a non-Jew was helping Hitler. How could he? After all, Rose Fackenheim, Emil’s wife, was not born Jewish. She wasn’t Jewish when they met, nor when they married, nor when they raised four children. She did nevertheless maintain a committed Jewish home with her husband, and all of her children were raised as and remained Jews.
Emil Fackenheim was deeply committed to Jewish continuity. It’s his claim to fame. But he was not an opponent of intermarriage. For him, the questions of Jewish continuity and Jewish intermarriage were separate. Why, then, have so many assumed that his insistence on Jewish survival must have gone along with denouncing intermarriage? Is the question of the survival of the Jewish people the same as the question of intermarriage?
This week’s Torah portion gives us some answers. As we shall see, the Torah does consider marriage and continuity as one and the same. This view continues throughout Jewish history until the modern era, when everything changes. To better understand how today is different from one and two and three thousand years ago, let’s take a look at some of the classical Jewish sources on intermarriage and consider what they teach—and what they don’t teach.
It all starts in this week’s parsha, Ki Tissa. This section of Torah includes what has been called by biblical scholars the Ritual Decalogue (Ex. 34)—in essence a second set of Ten Commandments. The first of these commandments is fairly explicit:
11 I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Beware of making a covenant with the inhabitants of the land against which you are advancing, lest they be a snare in your midst. 13 No, you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts; 14 for you must not worship any other god, because the Eternal, whose name is Impassioned, is an impassioned God. 15 You must not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for they will lust after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifices. 16 And when you take wives from among their daughters for your sons, their daughters will lust after their gods and will cause your sons to lust after their gods (Ex. 34:11-16).
This week’s parsha reflects a fear that when the Israelites conquer the land of Canaan, if Israelite men marry women from one of the indigenous tribes, those wives will seduce their husbands away from worshiping Adonai. This same fear is repeated in the Book of Deuteronomy, this time forbidding intermarriage with men and women alike. The message is explicit and clear: If you intermarry with other nations, you run the risk of being seduced away from the true God. Continuity and intermarriage are tightly linked.
These passages in the Torah are focused on specific tribes—the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, and so on—which lived in and around Israelite territory. A thousand years later, Jewish scholars debated whether the prohibition against intermarriage should be expanded to include all non-Jews. In the first century of the Common Era, the Greek Jewish philosopher known as Philo said yes. He wrote:
…[Moses] says, do not enter into the partnership of marriage with a member of a foreign nation, lest some day conquered by the forces of opposing customs you surrender and stray unawares from the path that leads to piety and turn aside into a pathless wild. And though perhaps you yourself will hold your ground steadied from your earliest years by the admirable instructions instilled into you by your parents, with the holy laws always as their key-note, there is much to be feared for your sons and daughters. It may well be that they, enticed by spurious customs which they prefer to the genuine, are likely to unlearn the honor due to the one God, and that is the first and the last stage of supreme misery” (On the Special Laws 3.29, ed. Colson, vol. 7, pp. 492-493).
Here, Philo shares the concern of the Torah, that foreigners may turn Jews away from their authentic faith. And he goes one step further: Philo teaches that even if you’re sure that you can maintain your Jewishness while married to a non-Jew, your children are even more at risk. Therefore, in the interests of Jewish continuity, intermarriage with all non-Jews should be prohibited. Again, continuity and intermarriage are interwoven.
This interpretation is later adopted by the rabbis of the Talmud and eventually becomes a codified component of Jewish law. However, there’s one major difference in what becomes official halakhah. While both the Torah and Philo explicitly talk about “marriage,” the rabbis declare that marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew is not even possible. Kiddushin—or sacred Jewish union—can only occur between two Jews. To the rabbis, a Jew in a committed relationship with a non-Jew is not married, and the Jewish status of his or her children is up for debate. Thus the rabbis go even further than prohibiting intermarriage; they declare that such a thing cannot even exist.
So far, we’ve seen that, in different ways, Judaism opposed intermarriage for thousands of years. At heart was always the concern that a non-Jewish spouse would יָסִיר אֶת-בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי, “Turn your child away from God” (Deut. 7:4). In the ancient world, it was impossible to be a member of two tribes – either a husband or a wife would have to join the tribe of the other. And in the medieval world, intermarriage was forbidden by Christianity, Islam, and Judaism alike, so in a mixed couple, one person would always have to convert to another religion in order to get married. Thus for millennia, both culturally and legally, the price of intermarriage was apostasy.
But in the modern world, this all changed. As civil governments took the place of theocracies, it became possible for people of different religions to get married without one of them first converting. A gathering of rabbis in France in 1806 parroted the new Enlightenment law of the land, affirming that a person could be “married civilly but not religiously,” and in so doing would retain their religious status as a Jew or a Christian. In the 19th century, for the first time in history, it became possible for two people to hold different faiths while still being married to one another. Continuity and intermarriage had been unified concepts since antiquity, but in the modern age, they finally got divorced.
What does this look like today, two centuries later? Today, intermarried parents—like Rose and Emil Fackenheim—can raise children who are absolutely committed to Jewish continuity. And on the other hand, in-married Jewish parents can raise children who are entirely uninterested in their Jewish heritage. Questions of Jewish continuity can no longer simply be answered by ensuring that Jews marry Jews. Today, Jewish continuity involves many factors—such as community, education, and ritual—not just marriage.
That’s why I believe it is a mistake to conflate concerns about continuity with concerns about the prevalence of intermarriage. In the modern era, these topics are no longer one and the same. Our people have inherited a deep and abiding antipathy toward intermarriage which persists to the present day, but I believe knee-jerk reactions against intermarriage hold us back from more helpful discussion and debate about issues central to the continuity of Judaism. Let’s spend less time talking about who marries who and more time talking about who our friends are, what we understand about Judaism, and how we make meaning in our lives in an enduring way.
The first commandment, and the central claim of Judaism from antiquity to today, is that there is a God who cares about us. The way we’ve understood that concept has changed from generation to generation, and we continue to wrestle with it today. In the ancient and medieval worlds, commitment to God was intimately connected to marriage within the tribe. In today’s society, as we think differently about God, Judaism, family, and everything else, let us also accept the challenge to think differently about intermarriage. Our dreams for Jewish life need not dwell on the specter of intermarriage. Rather, let them come to focus on the issues we’ve always cared about most deeply – the love of God, the love of Judaism, and the love of human community.
 Wolfgang Saxon’s “Emil Fackenheim, 87, Scholar Of Judaism and the Holocaust,” New York Times Oct. 13, 2003. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/13/world/emil-fackenheim-87-scholar-of-judaism-and-the-holocaust.html.
 Lawrence Joffe’s “Emil Fackenheim,” The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2003. Avaialble: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/oct/10/guardianobituaries.
 Victor Shepherd’s “Emil Ludwig Fackenheim 1916-2003: Philosopher, Professor, Rabbi, Friend—And Survivor of Sachsenhausen.” Available: http://touchstonecanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Jan-2008-article1.pdf.
 Paraphrased from full quote: “If the 614th commandment is binding upon the authentic Jew, then we are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God.” Delivered in a 1968 Charles F. Deems lecture at New York University, quoted in Gary Younge’s Who Are We -- And Should It Matter in the 21st Century? (2011) p. 87-88.
 Examples include Michael Goldberg in Why Should Jews Survive?: Looking Past the Holocaust toward a Jewish Future (1996) p. 146, Ofira Seliktar in Divided We Stand: American Jews, Israel, and the Peace Process (2002) p. 20, Scott A. Shay in Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry (2007) p. 3, and Darrell Jodock in his essay “Judaism Then and Now” in Covenantal Conversations: Christians in Dialogue with Jews and Judaism, ed. Darrell Jodock (2008) p. 23.
 Rose as well converted to Judaism under Orthodox authorities in Israel (see Franklin Littell’s “Emil Fackenheim for the Gentiles.” Available: http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm/fullbrowser/collection/p16002coll14/id/11475/rv/compoundobject/cpd/11480.)The credentials of this family as a model of Jewish commitment cannot easily be challenged. It was therefore painfully ironic when in 2009 an ultra-orthodox Israeli rabbi officially revoked the Jewish status of Fackenheim’s son. See Matthew Wagner’s “Rabbinical Court casts doubt on conversion of son of famed Jewish theologian,” Jerusalem Post, Jan. 19, 2009. Available: http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Rabbinical-Court-casts-doubt-on-conversion-of-son-of-famed-Jewish-theologian.
 Cf. Deut. 7:1-4.
 Cf BT Avodah Zarah 36b.
 Deut. 7:3 - וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן בָּם, “You shall not become related to them through marriage.” Also, Ezra 9:2 and Nehemiah 13:25 both use the root נ.ש.א. (“marry”) in prohibitions against relations with non-Israelites. Likewise, Philo identifies a sexual relationship with a member of one of the Canaanite tribes as a form of forbidden γάμος (“marriage”). As well, Josephus concludes that Moses had forbidden his compatriots γαμεῖν τὰς ἀλλοτριοχώρους (“to marry those of strange lands”) (Antiquities of the Jews 8.7.5).
 בעודם עכו"ם לא שייך בהו חתנות, “As long as they are gentiles, marriage with them is not possible.” Tur, Even Ha-Ezer 16.
 Ethan Tucker has explored at length the Jewish identity of children of mixed marriages in his divrei Torah on Vayigash, Shemot, and Va‘Era (5776/2015): http://www.mechonhadar.org/ethantucker.
 The Assembly of Jewish Notables’ reply to Napoleon. Available online: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/363_Transp/Sanhedrin.html.
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