Assimilation, Expulsion, Extermination

It is a very natural mistake for the Jewish people to be lax in learning the important messages of Jewish history. There is a well known quote that those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it. If we add the teachings of our Torah and sages, we come out with a clear historic lesson. Every country in the history of the Jewish people, where Jews lived, was always terminated. We were meant to see ourselves as guests in any respective place of dwelling. Our “visit” ended with either assimilation, expulsion, or extermination.

For Jews, 1492 is remembered as the year when the “Golden Age of Spain” ended when Jews were expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Christopher Columbus wrote in his diary that his expedition to conquer America came one month after the Jews were expelled from all of the territories of King Ferdinand’s kingdom. This was the most famous expulsion, but there were others.

Many Jews were murdered by pogroms and crusades, but nothing compared with the extermination of six million Jews in World War Two. Jews were comfortable in Germany and many achieved high positions and great prestige. However, their welcome period ended and they were clearly unwanted guests.

In modern times, we are being devastated with the plague of assimilation and intermarriage. Assimilation takes place when Jews stop thinking like Jews and their attitudes and behaviors are borrowed from the respective societies in which they live. Intermarriage always follows assimilation as there is no longer an identification with Judaism and Jewish values. It makes no sense to be limited to a Jewish spouse and one will look for a partner who shares his outlook on life.

Back in the seventies, I remember hearing of the first relative that I knew of, that had a non-Jewish partner. I went to my elderly, wise rabbi for consolation. He told me that the description of the tenth plague in Egypt, the killing of the first born, ended with the words, “There was no home that did not suffer a death.” The rabbi went on to say that the verse was referring to our times when virtually every family has been smitten with the plague of intermarriage.

Admittedly, this is a very unpleasant subject that most would prefer to sweep under the carpet and not face up to. There was a time when families would sit Shiva for a family member that married out, but today this phenomenon is so rampant that Jews do what they do so well. They rationalize and swallow the bitter pill. They choose to reluctantly accept the intermarriage because they love their children and are not willing to cut them off. I am not judging anyone nor do I blame anyone for their behavior. However, in terms of what this means for the future of the Jewish people, it is a huge tragedy.

It is also understandable why there is so much intermarriage. Jewish men seem to be more kind and sensitive than the more coarse Gentile men. This draws the Gentile women as they would like to be treated with respect and dignity. The Jewish men find the Gentile women to be less demanding and more eager to please than the Jewish women. They would rather have more peace of mind, so they opt for the Gentile over the Jew. Understandable it is, but it does not minimize the fact that a majority of their offspring are lost to the Jewish people forever.

Now that we’ve had the courage to state the problem, what is the solution? Firstly, it begins with the home and the example that the parents set. If the parents do not show that Judaism is important to them, and their children do not see a real commitment towards Jewish practices, why should they choose a Jewish spouse? If the parents don’t really care about Judaism, why should they?

Secondly, there must be a serious investment in Jewish education. From a young age, children need to be taught how special it is to be Jewish. Families should make regular trips to Israel to see first hand where many biblical events occurred. They should choose educators for their children who inspire. Their childhood memories should be filled with Jewish heroism from David slaying Goliath to the modern day heroes of the Israel Defense Force. They need to know about the potential of achieving holiness that only Judaism can offer. And throughout the ages, we have been led by sages that have shown remarkable levels of sanctity in their serving our Creator.

Lastly, the real solution at combatting assimilation and intermarriage is to live in Israel. The intermarriage rate in Israel is minimal. But much more than that, Israel is the only place that our prophets have promised us that once we return, we will never leave again. In every other country, there will be an end to Jewish existence either by expulsion, extermination, or assimilation. There is still time to come home when we can hold our heads high. Not only will we guarantee our own survival and that of our children, but we will doing the greatest thing possible to strengthen the people and Land that we love so dearly.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.