Sitting shiva for a child who marries out
Sitting shiva for a child who marries out

Q. Is it true that some parents sit shivah if a child marries out?

A. Sitting shivah after an intermarriage certainly happens but not as frequently as in the past because mixed marriage was rare in pre-emancipation days.

Intermarriage is clearly prohibited in the Torah (Deut. 7:3) and spelled out in Nehemiah (10:31, 13:23-25). In the Talmud (AZ 36b) some argue that this applies only to the Biblical “seven nations” but Maimonides (Issurei Bi’ah 12:1) follows Rabban Shimon bar Yochai in ruling that the ban applies to women of all gentile groups.

The reason is that it is regarded as treachery (Mal. 2:11-12), i.e. a threat to Jewish identity and continuity.

However, a person who “marries out” is still a Jew, albeit a sinner, and can be counted towards a minyan (Orach Chayyim 55:11). There are communal edicts against allowing him to be called to the Torah; it is incongruous for the synagogue to honour him when he has dishonoured the Torah and the synagogue (Zichron Yehudah 1:45).

The person who has married out is still subject to Jewish obligations unless he renounces Judaism and becomes an apostate.

The sources are mostly in the masculine: “he”, not “she”. This is partly because this is standard legal language but also because Jewish men tended to marry out more than Jewish women.

There are some who believe that a person who marries out is to be mourned as if he were dead, but this may be a misreading of the views of Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz who sat shivah for his son, though it is not certain whether the son was alive or dead. If the latter, Rabbenu Gershom did not sit shivah when the son married out but when the married-out son eventually died (Or Zaru’a 428).

It is very hard and harsh for a parent to cut a child out of their life and to say when asked about their son, “I have no son”.


Q. Is there a Jewish view of dogs?

A. There are two approaches (see “Israel Legends” by SZ Kahana, edited by Leo Gartenberg):

1. The dog is a faithful friend, devoted to protecting its owner and his property.

Dogs helped the Israelites to leave Egypt; when the midnight hour arrived for the escape, the dogs did not bark.

The sages say that after Abel was killed by Cain, his dog guarded the body.

They also say that the dogs will be the first to sense the coming of the Messiah.

2. The dog can be fierce and frightening, as Jews learned during the pogroms when the antisemites unleashed dogs against them.

Jewish children in eastern Europe were therefore brought up to be afraid of dogs.

The adherents of the false Messiah Shabb’tai Tzvi spread a rumour that Jews were forbidden to keep dogs, but they were motivated by malice.

Since the rabbis believed that the Messiah would be greeted by dogs barking happily, Shabb’tai Tzvi expected a royal welcome. However, the dogs snapped at Shabb’tai’s messengers, which showed Shabb’tai was an imposter.