Did another Open Orthodox rabbi just open up to intermarriage?
Did another Open Orthodox rabbi just open up to intermarriage?

It just happened again. Another popular Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT, the Open Orthodox Rabbinic Institute) graduate has opened up to intermarriage.

In an article entitled "Intermarriage Isn’t Good, or Bad" Rabbi Aaron Potek writes:

“Will any particular interfaith couple successfully raise a Jewish family? That depends on many factors, including: Is the Jewish partner able to share Judaism with the non-Jewish partner? How does the non-Jewish partner relate to Judaism? Does the non-Jewish partner actively practice another faith? Does the couple actively talk about religious differences? Do they have a plan for how they will incorporate Judaism into their home?

“These are important factors for those who are in (or looking to be in) a serious relationship to consider. There is no guaranteed formula for successfully building a Jewish home or raising a Jewish family, though depending on the answers to these questions, couples will have an easier or harder time navigating their differences. What’s important is acknowledging that intermarried couples are not a homogenous bunch. It doesn’t make sense to have a blanket view on intermarriage – you cannot draw conclusions about people’s connection to Judaism without knowing their backgrounds or the complexities of their particular relationships.

“I’ve become much less interested in the question of whether one should date or marry Jewish. By focusing on the act of intermarriage, we ignore the far more significant questions: what role does Judaism play in your life, and what do you want your Judaism to look like in a romantic relationship?” 

What’s so disturbing – aside from the fact that the writer of the above words seems to feel that intermarriage is something about which one should not “have a blanket view” and he writes that “I’ve become much less interested in the question of whether one should date or marry Jewish” – is that, as someone who presents himself as an (Open) Orthodox rabbi, the halakhic aspects of intermarriage and the halakhic status of children born from an intermarriage seem to be simply disregarded. It is true that Rabbi Potek’s article was written for a nondenominational organization, but that does not grant him license to toss the Shulchan Aruch away, certainly not if he calls himself a rabbi.

The prohibition of intermarriage is not a minor issue. It is featured in Shulchan Arukh/Code of Jewish Law - Even Ha-Ezer 16:1-2. Furthermore, the Book of Ezra relates that there was rampant intermarriage with local women upon the return to Zion from Babylonia, such that the very existence of the Jewish community was in jeopardy. Ezra convenes the people and  exhorts them to rid themselves of their non-Jewish wives (Ezra chaps.9,10; see also Nehemiah, chap.13:23). Even after the intermarriages were terminated, the Sanhedrin had to investigate and determine the Jewish status of every single family!

Although Rabbi Potek’s article is not able to plausibly serve as a legitimate “kiruv” (outreach) tool, for the article refused to condemn intermarriage, it is quite telling that this is the same Rabbi Potek who last year wrote a controversial article in which he argued that:

“I do not think Jewish organizations should serve only kosher food.”

The article was a rebuttal to an earlier article by Dr. Erica Brown about the importance of Jewish organizations serving kosher food.   

Although Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), which ordained Rabbi Potek and Rabbi Mlotek (the YCT graduate who wrote the other recent, shocking article about intermarriage – Time to Rethink Our Resistance to Intermarriage) issued a statement condemning intermarriage, the Open Orthodox/progressive Orthodox Torat Chayim rabbinical organization publicly posted and appeared to endorse both the Mlotek and Potek articles. Regarding the Mlotek article, Torat Chayim declared:

“Rav Avram Mlotek, a rabbinic member of Torat Chayim, calls for Radical Inclusivity on the Intermarriage issue!”

Torat Chayim’s membership is comprised of some of the most prominent names in Open Orthodoxy/progressive Orthodoxy, such as Rabbis Daniel Sperber, Nathan Lopez Cardozo, David Rosen, Dov Linzer, Ysoscher Katz, Yitz Greenberg, Shmuly Yanklowitz, Jeremy Rosen, Haim Ovadia, Eugene Korn, Daniel Landes, and many others. Whatever damage control value the YCT statement regarding intermarriage may have is challenged by Torat Chayim’s posting and apparently sanctioning, if not celebrating, the two articles by its members that dilute the anti-intermarriage message. (Please also see here.)

Some online commenters have defended the Mlotek article and argued that it does not represent acceptance of intermarriage, but that its emphasis is rather on how to deal with those who have already married out. However, the best way to understand Rabbi Mlotek’s views on the matter is to read his own words about it.

Replying to comments and questions about his article, Rabbi Mlotek responded to several head-on queries:

Question: I'm curious what you would say to someone who was dating a non Jew and asked you if you thought it was ok for them to get married…

Rabbi Mlotek’s reply: it would depend on the couple and the most honest answer is I don't know. I believe there is a l'hatchila position and a bdieved one vis-a-vis "intermarriage" but I can't claim to know what's right for every couple and it is rare in this day and age for couples to come asking me for their permission vis-a-vis whom to marry.  

Rabbi Mlotek’s reply:  there seems to be an underlying assumption in your question that halakha works for every Yid. I'm not sure that's true.
Question:  But in the hypothetical when someone does actually come asking, does it really depend on the couple? Doesn't halakhah give a clear one size fits all answer?...

Rabbi Mlotek’s reply:  there seems to be an underlying assumption in your question that halakha works for every Yid. I'm not sure that's true. While halakha may indeed have a clear answer vis-a-vis who Jews should marry, I am not the embodiment of halakha. I strive to answer from a place of halachik integrity while also being sensitive to the shoel before me. Therein is the delicate balance of being open and Orthodox, whatever that means. 

Question:  I'm not sure what you mean by "works for every Yid." I don't assume every Jew is ready to follow every halakha. I do assume that if a Jew chooses to ask an Orthodox rabbi for permission regarding something as clear and fundamental as intermarriage, that the answer should be based in halakha. Considering, as we agree, that it is rare for couples to come asking your permission, if and when they do, that's a great opportunity for an Orthodox rabbi to encourage halakhic observance to someone who might be open to it.

Rabbi Mlotek’s reply: agreed. Based in halakha and in the needs of the people before us.

It is clear that Rabbi Mlotek and Rabbi Potek most certainly do not outright condemn intermarriage, to put it generously.

But the issue at hand goes much deeper. It strikes to the heart of what Torah is all about. Is Torah about Surrender (to quote Rav Soloveitchik) - unconditional submission to the halakhic process and the Divine Mandate, even if we at times do not understand it and even though it may conflict with contemporary human values? Or is Torah about fusing halakha and traditional Judaism with contemporary human values and arriving at a compromise? When progressivism, pluralism, egalitarianism, feminism and other contemporary values are extolled as virtues in and of themselves, and Judaism is presented as something into which these secular values must somehow fit, the resultant concoction is toxic.

The unchallenged supremacy of halakha as interpreted by its preeminent authorities is the theme of Parshat Korach. Imposing outside values upon Judaism, or extoling those values to the extent that they ipso facto become a prominent part of one’s Judaism, is a deviation from Torah. We must learn from those whose teachings resonate with Torah purity, so that when we leave the beit midrash, the only message reverberating in our minds is “Moshe emet v’Torato emet” – “Moshe and his Torah are the truth.”