Rabbi David Stav, a prominent religious-Zionist rabbi and head of the Tzohar rabbinic institute, has weighed into the recent controversy over intermarriage in Israel, saying that while the phenomenon is serious and must be combated, protests such as that which occurred yesterday outside a mixed-marriage ceremony were not the way.
While intermarriage is widespread the Diaspora, the phenomenon does occur in Israel as well, though to a far lesser degree. A recent marriage between a Jewish woman (who converted to Islam) and a Muslim Arab saw activists from the anti-assimilation Lahava organization hold a provocative demonstration outside the wedding hall where celebrations were taking place in Rishon Letzion.
But such action was both wrong in principle, as well as profoundly unhelpful in grappling with the issue at hand, according to Rabbi Stav.
"One of the main challenges on the doorstep of the Jewish people in our generation is to deal with assimilation, which is consuming us throughout the world," said Rabbi Stav, who is also the rabbi of the central Israeli town of Shoham.
"Assimilation exists around the world, but it also exists to a significant degree in our country," he noted.
That being said, he emphasized that assimilation and intermarriage could not be combated through antagonism or hostility towards non-Jews, "because it neither moral nor effective."
According to Rabbi Stav, the only way to actually prevent Jews from assimilating and losing their identity was to educate people about the importance of that identity and of their connection to the Jewish nation, so that they will come to value it themselves.
"Only via positive action can we reduce the rate of assimilation in our nation," he insisted.
Jewish law (Halakha) prohibits Jews from marrying non-Jews without a full conversion, and the practice is seen as the primary reason for the Jewish nation's remarkable longevity, despite thousands of years of exile and persecution. Assimilation and intermarriage are therefore viewed by Jews as an existential threat to the existence of the Jewish people, and even many non-observant Jews view intermarriage as a negative thing.
Even Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the secularist Yesh Atid party, surprised his interviewer on Galei Yisrael radio on Monday by saying that he was also opposed to intermarriage.
While expressing serious reservations about the Lehava demonstrations, he said: "If my son came to me tomorrow and say 'Dad, I want you to meet not Rina [a Jewish name - ed.], but Rona, who in an Orthodox Christian or a Catholic, and I will be marrying her and our children will not be Jewish', would that bother me? It would bother me greatly.
"I think that the Jewish nation is small, I think that we have a heritage, I think we need to protect it, and this [intermarriage] bothers me."
But Lapid's views are not shared by his entire party; Yesh Atid MK and Health Minister Yael Geman praised the mixed marriage in Rishon Letzion as "another step in the transformation of Israeli society into a more tolerant and pluralistic one."