Out of the blue, an old friend from Hollywood wrote me an email. He said that his son is having a bar mitzvah in another few months and they are thinking of celebrating the event by taking him on a trip to Israel. My friend wants to know if I have time to arrange a Torah reading at the Kotel and show them around Jerusalem.
The trouble is that my friend married a gentile.
My knee-jerk reaction is to write him the truth – that his wife isn’t Jewish, and that the reform or conservative conversion she may or not have had is totally invalid, and that his son isn’t Jewish either. At least this way my friend will have the option of correcting the mistake and terrible transgression he made and put an end to the charade.
On the other hand, I used this straightforward approach many years ago with a relative from America who also married out of the faith and was making plans for a big bar mitzvah. When I suggested that if the bar mitzvah was truly important to him, he should at least let his son study some real Judaism first and get an Orthodox conversion. Angered, my relative didn’t speak to me for years. Now, when we exchange an occasional email, the subject isn’t mentioned at all.
My wife thinks that I shouldn’t be brunt with my friend from Hollywood, and that I should meet them when they get to Israel, and try to influence them in a patient, loving, and positive manner. She’s probably right, but I keep feeling that it’s better to tell the guy the truth up front, with the hope that maybe he’ll have an awakening before carrying on with the masquerade.
What do you think?
To tell the truth, outside with an occasional Shabbat meal with some Birthright kids, I don’t have much contact with assimilated American Jews, and it could be that my “thunderbolt from Mount Sinai” approach is too heavy for them.
The situation is really a mess. So many people I knew in America ended up marrying gentiles. The relative I mentioned always told his son that he was Jewish, and that he should marry a Jew. So when the kid got older, he married a nice Jewish girl, who thinks she has a kosher husband when she’s really married to a man who isn’t Jewish at all.
The same thing happened with my relative’s daughter. She married a Jew also. Of course, thei r children aren’t Jewish, since the mother isn’t Jewish. But the kids were raised Jewish, with lavish bar and bat mitzvahs, and they’ll probably go on to marry Jews too, or people who think they are Jews, when in reality, none of them are Jewish at all.
Like I said, it’s a nightmare.
Thank G-d, in Israel, marriage is controlled by real rabbis who adhere to the Torah and officiate over real weddings, so at least you know who you are marrying.
G-d wants the Jewish Nation to continue. That’s why He commanded Jews to marry Jews, and why the prohibition of marrying gentiles, and having sexual relations with them, has always been forbidden.
A Jew is supposed to marry a Jew, just as a giraffe is supposed to mate with a giraffe, and a horse with another horse. If a horse mates with a donkey the result is a mule which can’t have progeny of its own. It’s the end of the line. Thus a generation-spanning pedigree of horses comes to an end with the birth of a mule.
It’s a little like a rope bridge stretching over a canyon. If one of the segments of the rope breaks, then all of the bridge plummets to oblivion into the chasm below.
If one segment breaks, the whole bridge collapses.
Or you can think of this way - the generation after generation survival of the Jewish People is like a human bridge stretching over the cavern of history, father holding on to the feet of his child who holds onto the feet of his child in turn, on and on and on. But if one great great great grandson breaks the chain by losing his grip and marrying out of the faith, then all of the generations that came before him, his father and grandfather and great grandfather before him, generation after generation of his family for thousands of years, they all plunge into the abyss of the canyon with a horrifying scream that echoes and echoes throughout the caverns of time.
The problem with this explanation is that it requires a feeling of collective responsibility. Americans often have a very self-centered, egotistical view of life. Bernie marries Bridgette because she makes him feel good. Blinded by his lust, he doesn’t think about his great grandfather or his future children. He thinks about himself. He knows he can pay a little “rebbe gelt,” to a make-believe rabbi, buy a phony certificate of conversion, and have a make believe bar mitzvah when the times comes down the road. To assuage his guilty conscience, and with the endorsement of the assimilated world he lives in, he comes to believe that the party is real.
In contrast, in Israel, even the most secular Jew has a feeling of collective responsibility and sacrifice for “Clal Yisrael,” the all-encompassing community of Israel, past, present and future. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t stay here. After all, military service and reserve duty don’t always come at the most opportune times, and taxes can be straining, and living in a region surrounded by hordes of primitive barbarians aren’t the easiest challenges. Though diehard leftists may be willing to give up huge chunks of the country to enemies, they think they are doing so in the best interest of the Nation, so that our children can live in “peace.”
Anyway, I don’t know exactly what approach to take with my Hollywood friend. My wife is probably right, but I’d like to hear what you think, especially you silent (and perhaps more mentally balanced) readers who usually don’t send in talkbacks. In the true spirit of democracy, I’ll do what the majority recommends.