Daniel Landes

Rabbi Rafi’s rejection of Diaspora Judaism

By Jewish law, there is an obligation to all Jews, including those who intermarry, to transmit the light of hope and connection

Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz (head of the Jewish Home Party), now the head of the United Right, reveals his odious Kahanist identity in stating that the Jewish rate of intermarriage in the Western World is a ‘second Holocaust’, in that ‘the Jewish people have lost 6 million.’ For Peretz and his ilk, Iran, Israel’s neighbors, the Palestinians, ‘leftists and assimilationists’, are all harbingers of the Holocaust, and now he adds the Jewish people of the Diaspora to that list.

Peretz is short on the poetic and metaphoric. He means what he says. We must stop now and ask – so what does he actually mean? Is he saying that those who intermarry are virtual Nazis and Kapos who kill Jews? Or is he claiming that those who intermarry are Jewish corpses, now dead to Judaism? The Murderers or The Murdered!? If, albeit a noxious task, you read the literature of Israel’s far right, both images are evoked and both statements are combined: that Diaspora Judaism is a Self-Destruct Mechanism, which in its assimilationist spiral cannot do anything but consume itself. For the right, only Zion, in a particular construct – radically right-wing, racist, Messianic and religiously obscurantist – can promise Jewish continuity.

This image of “Jewish continuity” should not come as a surprise to us [see: ‘I Shut My Orthodox Synagogue’s Doors to Racist Rabbi Meir Kahane. But Others Let Him In’]. It is no more than Kahanic vitriol from a saboteur of Jewish potential. Additionally, while this is about something on a much higher plane than politics, and while perhaps we could withstand Peretz’s shenanigans spending a few months in our cabinet, he is not sitting atop just any ministry. As one who should be seen as the Educator-in-Chief of the State of Israel, he should be sent packing before he causes further damage – we cannot survive his statements and potential mischief until September 17th elections.

Leaving that last absurdly suicidal, fundamentalist conviction and conclusion alone, let’s return to the dual charges against Diaspora Judaism. It is embarrassing to even have to state this, but Jews do not choose their partners in order to destroy the Jewish people. Indeed, many have some or even a strong Jewish attachment. They feel that they can be with those they love and that some form of Jewishness will persist in their lives and in their children. This attitude may be concrete or usually vague, but it is real and should not be dismissed. At the same time, it is simply grotesque to say kaddish over these Jews. They are alive, they exist, and even if the flame of their Jewish souls may flicker it is immoral to extinguish it.

Stated in Halakhic Jewish legal language, we have a particular obligation to these Jews, as we do to all Jews – to help their lives flourish. Zion and the Torah that should emanate from it must remain a refuge, a light of hope and an opportunity for connection. The blood libel of ‘Murderers and Murdered’ is hardly that.

Moreover, we are obligated to their children. From a Halakhic perspective, the children of a Jewish mother are fully Jewish. Jewish familial friendship, protection, and love are due to them just like to any other Jewish child. Children of a Jewish father should be halakhically considered as Zera Yisrael – from Jewish lineage with the potential of expanding and consolidating their Jewish identities if they choose to follow that direction as an act of conviction.

And if we as Jews must be very concerned with the Jewish partner in the intermarriage, and with their children, this means we certainly need to reach out to the non-Jewish partner. Our hearts tell us to do this, but this is true even if only for the fact that they are the great influence upon their children. At the very, very least we need to have a parent who values and respects Judaism and the Jewish people. These parents are neither Murderers nor Murdered, and their/’our’ children are very much alive.

For those serious about Judaism and the Jewish people, think about a transformed Rabbi Rafi who has done moral teshuvah – penance. This is what is called for – doors must be open for a serious conversion for all intermarried families. Let all the parents and children immerse in the mikveh together (consider loose bathing suits to let the transformative waters touch the entire body), let all the males have a serious brit milah – ritual circumcision – or the letting of the pinprick of blood. Let there be a joyous crying out of the Shema Yisrael (Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One)! If the non-Jewish parent can’t convert, let them be there at “poolside” cheering their spouses and children on.

Let the image of belonging to the Jewish people change from an open or closed door to one of a ladder leading to greater commitment and inspiration as one climbs. And let Israel (a country where the children of all of its inhabitants need to be treasured, loved, and protected) be the source, not the problem, of unifying the Jewish people. Greater commitment means identifying with the Jewish people, continuing education and participation in Jewish life, dismissal of all immoral idolatries in following God, the source, as Rav Kook taught us, of Good. Judaism of the Galut is not a Self-Destruct Mechanism. It – and for that matter, the Judaism of Israel – have the potential of a full resurrection in this life.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Landes is founder and director of Yashrut, building civil discourse through a theology of integrity, justice, and tolerance. Yashrut includes a semikhah initiative as well as programs for rabbinic leaders.
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