There is much to discuss regarding the future of the Jewish People, and the importance of the acceptance and legitimacy of all three of the major, universally accepted streams of Judaism by the State of Israel. Forgive me for going in and out of context of within the State of the Jews, and world Jewry, however we ARE mutually inclusive.
Let’s start with the mother of all mothers from the time we became the Jewish People upon receiving the Torah at Sinai (the fifth mother, if I may). Interesting enough, she shares her holiday with our receiving of the Torah and officially becoming the Jewish People.
Ruth, through whose lineage was born our beloved King David. Ruth, who insisted upon staying at the side of her mother-in-law, Naomi, when she was given every opportunity to return to her land of birth. Ruth, a non-Jew, married to a Jew, and accepted into the Jewish community of her mother-in-law.
Ruth, whose conversion process may or may not have included the rituals of a full year of the study of Judaism and sealed with immersion in the mikveh. (Ah, but she followed the Torah! OK, so which stream of Orthodox torah did she follow? What does “following the Torah” really mean? She was willing to give herself to Boaz, because she did as she was told, was this following Torah? She certainly honored the mother she adopted; she certainly followed tradition of the time. Note: Tradition believes he was chaste with her and did not “defile” her. Other discussions I have had with orthodox Jews have passed the rendezvous off as it simply being a different era, and thus acceptable.)
Let’s start from the fact that her husband married outside of the tribe. Clearly it was not considered too big of a deal, seeing as the topic is barely discussed, and both Ruth and her sister-in-law were NOT Jewish. However, this topic is so relevant to the intermarriage issues we are dealing with today. Whether intermarriage is good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable at this point is rather irrelevant. It is quite prevalent. The religious institutions cannot simply devalue these people (Jewish if born to a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, non-Jewish if born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother).
Intermarriage is clearly not a modern issue.
The question cannot be how to stop intermarriage, as we clearly (again, speaking from my understanding, which is of US Jewry) lost a generation or two attempting to do just that. It isn’t working.
What we need is to consider other avenues, brainstorm communally regarding ways to invite them into our community, welcome them, not disregard them. I was very impressed by a project that fellow blogger Sarah Tuttle-Singer took part in for the month of Father’s Day sharing the stories of non-Jewish and Jewish fathers raising Jewish daughters.
US Jewry well understands that we are losing the demographic battle. This said, I know of many intermarried families, including one of my closest friends. In my friend’s case, she craves her Jewish identity and to bring Jewish values into her home. If my friend speaks for the majority of those trying to find that identity, they simply do not have the tools to do so. They do not know where to begin!
We are an assimilating People. Not necessarily (though certainly partially) by the fault of our own generation. Parents who do not instill Judaism, our identity, our values, and our practices, into their children, cannot be surprised to have children grow up missing such a beautiful aspect of who they are. As is the case with my friend, and many others like her, she strongly senses the gap of this missing portion of herself. She feels it even more strongly watching her babies grow up in a non-Jewish environment.
My friend has done nothing wrong. Many may argue, that people like her should just take back their Judaism, become observant, and blame them when they don’t. Life, however, as with our incredibly beautiful, vibrant, and flexible religion, is simply not black and white. Those who believe this is the case regarding Judaism are likely (though I am clear to state, not always) surrounded by other Jews, living in modern shtetls, or have chosen to separate themselves from the non-Jewish (and sometimes non-orthodox Jewish) world.
I argue that rather than to spend our days in sometimes productive, and sometimes bitter debate amongst ourselves, we consider the holiday of Ruth (acceptance of converts and outsiders) and of receiving our Torah, in the form of ten very special commandments, given to us by G-d on Mt. Sinai (becoming the Jewish People). I argue that rather than lock ourselves into the path which harms our own existentiality, we continue in the path of the Jewish People, that same flexible religion which is based upon those same commandments that we received at Sinai.
Our religion has changed over time, much more than more orthodox members of our People care to admit. Yet these changes have not hindered our religion; they allowed for the continuance of our People against all odds. It is now our turn to keep alive the flame of the Jewish People, for all of our sakes.