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Intermarriage is not the same as assimilation

The task of our generation is to help mixed couples integrate Jewish culture and peoplehood into their new family life
Reshet news anchor Lucy Aharish and 'Fauda' actor Tsahi Halevi at their secret wedding on October 10, 2018. (screen capture: Channel 10)
Reshet news anchor Lucy Aharish and 'Fauda' actor Tsahi Halevi at their secret wedding on October 10, 2018. (screen capture: Channel 10)

Last week, a raging debate erupted in Israel, replete with tones of violence and racism, to the marriage of Lucy Aharish, a well-known Arab Israeli broadcast journalist, and Tsahi Levi, famous as both a singer and cast member of the hit TV drama Fauda. I don’t want to write about Lucy and Tsahi, but the storm over their nuptials offers an important opportunity to discuss intermarriage and assimilation.

Here’s a fact that many Israelis may not know: In the past year, most Jews who married outside Israel married non-Jews. Many Jews, especially in Israel and among those who grew up in traditional homes in the Diaspora, are appalled at this reality. Jewish history is full of attempts by other peoples and religions to force us to assimilate, and now, many Jews are seemingly doing so of their own volition.

Intermarriage can not be significantly reduced much less stopped. When there is deep love and a desire to share life with someone, especially in the context of globalization and secularization in a liberal country, the question of a partner’s religious or national background becomes marginal. The loving couple will get married. The key to dealing with this widespread phenomenon is to understand that from a national perspective, intermarriage and assimilation are not the same.

Assimilation is a condition in which a person loses his identity and national belonging. He does not see himself as part of the Jewish people. Jewish culture no longer has a role in his life and he raises his children in a way that is detached from their national origin. By this logic, there are plenty of assimilated Jews who have not married non-Jews. They are considered Jewish according to halachic religious law, but this has no meaning in their lives and sometimes their children may not even know they are Jewish.

On the other hand, intermarriage can occur while maintaining Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people. You can marry the non-Jewish love of your life without losing your love and ties to Jewish texts, Jewish culture and Jewish heritage. In the time of the Bible, from Moses to King David, such intermarriage was commonplace. True, later commentators suggested that the wives of biblical heroes had converted, but there was no trace of it in Scripture, and apparently at that time there was no conversion at all.

Marriage to a non-Jew actually often intensifies a desire to express in various ways the national identity that a person brought into the relationship and sets the offspring of such couples on a fascinating journey of seeking identity. These children will lose all contact with the Jewish people and Jewish culture if they are not given the opportunity to be part of a Jewish community and to receive Jewish education.

In light of this, if we want to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, we must understand that the task of our generation is not to fight intermarriage, but to help those who choose this path to preserve their identity, and integrate Jewish culture and connection with the Jewish people into their new family life. I know that it is not easy for many of us. I know that those who wish to preserve halakhah find themselves in a difficult situation in the face of this phenomenon, but it is precisely those who are truly interested in the Jewish people, those who want Jewish culture to flourish, who should embrace mixed marriages, or at least not disparage them, not exclude them from Jewish life, and not insult them.

About the Author
Lior Tal Sadeh is the Chief Content Officer (CCO) at Kolot, an Israeli Beit Midrash for leaders and influencers.
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