Saturday, June 20, 2009

Solutions for a marriage between born Jew and ger/gyoress

In addition to being offended by this notion that anyone who is married to a convert is in the same category as someone intermarried, there is more that bothers me.

I am bothered at this notion that assumes a convert will take the kids to the grandparents for Xmas and Easter. Personally, most of my family is deceased. Actually, we were small to begin with. However, if I had family, the solution would be to have spend Thanksgiving and/or July fourth with my family and eat kosher. If I didn't have space at my place, we could go to a restaurant or I could bring the food and a plug in blech to the relatives to reheat the food. You would use the disposable stuff that people use on Shabbos anyhow. Fourth of July is easier because you can buy kosher food (hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, mac salad, potato chips etc.) If it's hosted at someone else's house, you can buy a small cheap grill and bring it with you.

Some people invite gentile family for Jewish holidays. I think that would create more problems, especially with Passover where the kosher restrictions are more than the rest of the year. Perhaps the gentile family could come for the seudah mitzah on Purim. I actually think Chanukah would be a bad idea because their non-Jewish cousins would be talking excessively about Xmas.

Which brings me to another point, one should be prepared to explain Xtian holidays to Jewish children. This would be more of an issue for children of intermarriage, a converted parent and Jewish children in public school. However, I have seen it come up with Orthodox Jewish day school children whose parents are both Jewish from birth. After all, there is all that stuff in the stores. Personally, I would tell them that some people think G-d became a human, which is silly. Xmas is when they think this person was born. Easter is when they think he died and came back to life. It's that simple.


  1. I think the fundamentals of the Christian religion are unbelievable enough to the average Jew that there's nothing to worry about when explaining Christmas to Jewish children or whatnot (G-d was manifest in a man, which negated the Law of Moses etc etc, and today was when that man was born. I don't see kids becoming Christian offhand after hearing that)...

  2. The problem is that if we don't teach them what is at the heart of Xmas, they find out it's about decorated trees and bright shiny presents during a season when they eat a latke and spin a dreidl.

    For Easter, they would see that the goyim color eggs and go to find a basket of chocolate, instead of finding out they think G-d became a human and they are celebrating when he became walking dead whatever. Incidentally, I think the romans stole his body.

  3. The problem is Haloween; after you explain it it doesn't seem any better..

    "Incidentally, I think the romans stole his body."- I never understood 1) why it should make any difference where his body is (if he was in fact one actual person), and 2) how in the world would you differenciate between one 2,000 year old crucified body and tens of thousands of others?

  4. Obviously, all depends on the dynamics and specifics of the family. But speaking from the personal experience of my own family:

    My mother was raised as an Evangelical Christian, and later converted to Judaism. (Actually, hers was Reform/Conservative, and I have recently done my Orthodox conversion. But the point is that she converted to some sort of Judaism, whereas her family of course remained Christian. For our present purposes, the ritual validity of the conversion is not valid. Incidentally, the Meiri held that a conversion without eidim is bedievad a kosher conversion, and Rabbis Joseph Soloveitchik and Yehiel Weinberg both held that Reform conversions were safek giyur, and perhaps kosher bedieved. Tzarich iyun (we have to clarify the details: eidim, milah, mikvah, how, when, by whom, etc.), but suffice it to say, things are not as clear-cut as the dogmatists would suggest.)

    But I don't remember any reticence of ours to visit her side of the family on Christmas and the like. Now, for their part, the Christian side's, they'd make sure that there was nothing inherently Christian that my side of the family would have to participate in. There'd of course be a tree present, but the point of the family get-together was to have a family get-together, and not to celebrate Christmas per se. If the Christians, in their own minds, are getting together because the specifically religious aspect of Christianity is fitting for family gatherings, that's their prerogative. But externally speaking, outside of people's minds, we were celebrating family, not Christmas per se.

    And growing up, my mother quite often would illustrate Jewish concepts and put them into relief, by comparing them to Christian beliefs. I'd note that Rabbi Dr. Leo Adler's magnificent book, The Biblical View of Man (Urim Publications: 2004) - Rabbi Adler grew up in Hirschian Germany and received smiha from the Mir - illustrates "the Biblical view of man" by comparing Judaism's view to the Christian and Greek conceptions of man's nature. This is surely naught but excellent pedagogy. I certainly cannot understand Orthodox Jew objecting to this; in the immortal words of Rav Hirsch:
    t would be most perverse and criminal of us to seek to instill in our children a contempt, based on ignorance and untruth, for everything that is not specifically Jewish, for all other human arts and sciences, in the belief that by inculcating our children with such a negative attitude we could safeguard them from contacts with the scholarly and scientific endeavors of the rest of mankind... You will then see that your simple-minded calculations were just as criminal as they were perverse. Criminal, because they enlisted the help of untruth supposedly in order to protect the truth, and because you have thus departed from the path upon which your own Sages have preceded you and beckoned you to follow them. Perverse, because by so doing you have achieved precisely the opposite of what you wanted to accomplish... Your child will consequently begin to doubt all of Judaism which (so, at least, it must seem to him from your behavior) can exist only in the night and darkness of ignorance and which must close its eyes and the minds of its adherents to the light of all knowledge if it is not to perish (Collected Writings 7: 415-6).

    Rabbi Hirsch is speaking more of social and natural and exact sciences than of other religions, but I believe his words can still apply, even if not as strongly. Most importantly, we should focus on what he says at the end: if we hide knowledge from our children, they'll believe that Judaism can survive only amidst ignorance. We must let them know that Torat Emet is not weaker than other knowledge, G-d forbid; on the contrary, thank G-d!

    to be cont.

  5. (This same reasoning would serve to justify if not mandate having observant Orthodox Jews attend university. We might note the immortal words of Rabbi Benzion Uziel, the late Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel:
    Our holiness will not be complete if we separate ourselves from human life, from human phenomena, pleasures and charms, but (only if we are) nourished by all the new developments in the world, by all the wondrous discoveries, by all the philosophical and scientific ideas which flourish and multiply in our world. We are enriched and nourished by sharing in the knowledge of the world; at the same time, though, this knowledge does not change our essence, which is composed of holiness and appreciation of God's exaltedness.
    Each country and each nation which respects itself does not and cannot be satisfied with its narrow boundaries and limited domains; rather, they desire to bring in all that is good and beautiful, that is helpful and glorious, to their national [cultural] treasure. And they wish to give the maximum flow of their own blessings to the [cultural] treasury of humanity as a whole, and to establish a link of love and friendship among all nations, for the enrichment of the human storehouse of intellectual and ethical ideas and for the uncovering of the secrets of nature. Happy is the country and happy is the nation that can give itself an accounting of what it has taken in from others; and more importantly, of what it has given of its own to the repository of all humanity. Woe unto that country and that nation that encloses itself in its own four cubits and limits itself to its own narrow boundaries, lacking anything of its own to contribute [to humanity] and lacking the tools to receive [cultural contributions] from others.

    Regarding Rabbi Uziel, see:
    --- Rabbi Marc Angel's book, Loving Truth and Peace: The Grand Religious Worldview of Rabbi Benzion Uziel
    --- Rabbi Angel's article in Tradition magazine (30:1, Fall 1995), "The Grand Religious View of Rabbi Benzion Uziel"
    --- See also Rabbi Angel's book about Rabbi Uziel's student: Rabbi Haim David Halevy: Gentle Scholar and Courageous Thinker

  6. cont. from above

    Alternatively, in the introduction to an abridged Hirsch Humash (Trumath Tzvi, Judaica Press, p. xvii), we read:
    How, asked Samson Raphael Hirsch, can we understand the sublime word pictures of world history painted by the prophets without an adequate knowledge of contemporary secular history? The Jewish youth who knows from his historical studies [the contempt for human life shown by the ancient Egyptians,] the social oppression and moral degeneration in Rome of old, the oppression and licentiousness of [ancient Greek society], understands and appreciates a thousand times better the sublime and divine character of the Sinaitic law. And as to the study of nature which is so necessary for the understanding of Jewish religious thought and practical religious life, the Talmud reproaches those who fail to undertake it with the words of Isaiah (5:12): "And the doing of God they do not contemplate and the work of His hands they do not see" (Shabbath 75a). (Footnote: “I. Grunfeld, Three Generations: The Influence of Samson Raphael Hirsch
    on Jewish Life and Thought (London: 1958), pp. 15-16.”)

    Some might object that there is a prohibition of learning heresy. But at, starting at the bottom of page 11, Rabbi Shelomo Danziger answers beautifully: According to Rav Saadia Gaon, the prohibition of learning heresy refers only to putting the Torah aside and accepting any personal view that occurs to him from his own personal speculation. Rabbi Danziger thus explains how Rambam could testify that he learned every book on heresy available, and yet also prohibit learning heresy. The answer, says Rabbi Danziger, is that Rambam learned heresy in order to forbid it and in order to learn what the Torah opposes. The prohibition, however, is to learn heresy in and itself, lishmah, for the sake of accepting that knowledge as true. The difference is that in one case, Torah is the benchmark and starting point, whereas in the other case, all knowledge is equal. Only the latter case is prohibited, whereas the first case is a mitzvah.

    So the ability to celebrate Christmas with relatives depends on personal family dynamics. But so far, we have found no basis to prohibit a convert from teaching her children about her former non-Jewish religion, assuming she is teaching her former religion in order to emphasize what Judaism says, to put the Torah's view into sharper relief. This is naught but excellent pedagogy, and far from being a sin, it is a mitzvah. In all seriousness, perhaps in some ways, marrying a convert is superior to marrying an FFB; the convert, unlike the FFB, will have knowledge of non-Jewish philosphy, and will be able to put the Torah into sharper relief, and will be better able to understand what makes the Torah different from other knowledge.

  7. I think you should write me a guest post or two. I would love one about Orthodox Jews going to college.

    michalbasavraham at gmail dot com