On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Inter Marriage Wedding Invitation

Nothing can send the cause more friction than a wedding invitation from a close friend or family member who’s marrying a non Jew.

The percentage of Jews marrying non Jews is probably the worst that it’s ever been in our history.  In America, the statistics are well over 50%.  If you take out orthodox Jews from the equation, it probably reaches over 80%.  There are very few families who have not seen inter marriage.  Even if one’s immediately family happen to all marry Jews, it’s an almost guarantee that our cousins wont be so fortunate.

This topic was much harder for me to write about then others.  Thankfully, my brothers and I all married Jews, so it wasn’t a personal issue that made it so difficult.  Since it’s a newer problem, there is very little written about the subject in the usual sources for Jewish law (Talmud, Mishnah Torah, Shulchen Aruch, Mishnah Berura, etc.)

Before we go too far into what one should or should not do, I’d like to define several different cases. 

  1. Jewish friend or relative marrying a non Jew – This is clearly the most common situation out there.  In the same category is a non Jewish friend or relative marrying a Jew.  While less common, this is still a real life situation.  Before I became religious, one of my roommates and best friends was a Non Jew.  He married a Jewish girl.  While these wedding invitations can cause a lot of stress, it appears to be a prohibition to attend the wedding ceremony or reception.  Attending a inter marriage wedding would be a prohibition of Chillul Hashem or desecration of G-ds name.  The source comes from Leviticus (Vayikra) chapter 22, verse 32.   
  2. Jewish friend or relative marrying a non Jew who went through a non-orthodox conversion. -  This is a little different then case 1 and 2.  When marrying a non Jew, most Jews no that this is a violation of Jewish law and do it anyway.  When marrying a non-orthodox convert, the Jew may not know they’re doing anything wrong according to Jewish law.  Needless to say, an orthodox convert is treated as a natural born Jew in every regard.  In fact, we have to be more sensitive to their background.  One should never verbalize a doubt as to the sincerity of an orthodox convert.  While traditional Judaism doesn’t recognize the validity of the conversion, there may be some room here to attend the wedding since the participants are not knowingly transgressing the word of G-d.
  3. Marriage between two non Jews – Since it’s a mitzvah for non Jews to marry each other, there is no problem in attending their wedding as long as the celebration doesn’t take place somewhere where there are statues or paintings of things that they consider divine.  In simpler English, stay out of catholic churches.  Mosques and quaker meeting houses are probably OK since they don’t create any physical symbols of G-d.

It’s not a case, but it seems like a good point to talk about inter racial marriage.  In Judaism, a Jew is a Jew.  According to Jewish law, there is no difference between Jews of different skin colors.  That being said, there is no room for racism against fellow Jews within Judaism.  In fact, discrimination against any fellow Jew would be a violation of the Torah commandment to love your fellow Jew like yourself.

One may have a hard time finding a way to express their disapproval without destroying the relationship. This is a very slippery slope.  The Talmud tells us that we are required to rebuke someone when they’re doing something against Jewish law if we believe that they will listen to us and change their actions.  However… and this is just as important… it also tells us that it is as equally important to NOT rebuke someone if we don’t believe that they will listen to us and change their actions.  You can express their disapproval briefly or simply by not attending.  If you don’t believe that your rebuke will result in them calling off the engagement, its best not to make your expression of disapproval any longer then it has to be.

Now that we’ve discussed what you can’t do, let’s talk about what you can do.

You can spend time with your friend or relative and tell them while you’re not happy with their choice to marry a non Jew, you love and care for them very much.

You can visit them before the wedding and tell them how much you love them.

You can visit them after the wedding, as long as your visit as no connection to the wedding itself.  For example, if the wedding was on a Saturday night and they were having lunch for the wedding party on Sunday, it would probably be best not to attend the Sunday lunch.  It would be OK to visit Sunday night and spend time with them.

While we can’t celebrate with them, we can and should still treat them as our friends and loved ones.  If the Jew is a woman, their children will be Jewish, which means all the more reason to keep a strong loving relationship.

The key to navigating through this is the same as most areas in life.  If your relationship with the person is on solid footing and built on a respect of the choices that each of us make, it will survive.  It’s our job to nurture those relationships so they can get through challenges no matter what they are.

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