Eliezer Shemtov

Rabbi Shemtov will discuss his book: Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her? Readers can send questions

Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov received Smichah from United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth, Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1984, and was sent together with his wife, Rochel, by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to establish Chabad of Uruguay in 1985. Since then he has served as director of Chabad activities in Uruguay.

Shemtov has published a book on Intermarriage, titled Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?, which has since been printed in Spanish, and is being translated into several other languages.

Here is how this book is being described by the publisher:

"This original and eye-opening book records the fascinating e-mail correspondences between a rabbi who was answering questions on Judaism through www.Askmoses.com and two different non-Jews who were dating Jews. By addressing their questions about Judaism and intermarriage, Rabbi Shemtov gives important answers on this topic that everyone can benefit from."

Readers can send questions to rosnersdomain@haaretz.co.il.

Dear Leizer,

Forgive me for saying this, but I think your response to the question on "two Jewish people" (bellow) does not address the real problem: what do you do with the 50% of Jews (or for that matter 50% of Jewish men) who now marry non-Jewish women. Many of the children of these couples will consider themselves to be Jewish. You think they are not. So their you are - having two Jewish people.

Is there a way around it?



Dear Shmuel,

I think the issue boils down to the following question: What is the relationship between a nation, its members and its laws.

In general it is the nation that defines its laws; after all, the laws are made by the nation to help it function. Rules and laws are meant to serve their creators, and may be adjusted as the need arises.

Regarding the Jewish people, however, the opposite is true. We do not define the laws; the G-d given laws of the Torah define us and our role as well as that of all of mankind. The function of a Rabbi is not to decide what he thinks is right, but to decide what he thinks G-d thinks is right in any given situation.

The way we can access G-d's 'thoughts' and 'desires' is through the Torah and the G-d given rules of interpretation and application that accompany it and their practical expressions in Halacha.

These are basic foundations of Jewish belief. Anyone that makes choices not in the context of this system is in essence choosing to subscribe to behavior and values that are not Jewish, because it is the Torah that defines what Jewish means.

Behaving independently of this system does not lead to two Jewish peoples; it leads to assimilation or the creation of a non Jewish people, as history has proven many times.

True concern for those that marry out or their children behooves one to first and foremost make them aware of the truth and that their lives can and should be lived in accordance with it.

There are no shortcuts.


Dear Rabbi,

What would you do about the fact that Jews who do not belong to the orthodox branches do marry with non-jews. How do you prevent the creation of "two Jewish peoples".

Thank you,

Avi Lamir,Jerusalem

Dear Avi,

Thank you for your question.

First of all I take issue with your term 'Jews who do not belong to the orthodox branches". Although a Jew belongs to the Jewish people, I cannot say that he or she 'belongs' to any particular movement; the ideas one espouses belong to the individual, not vice versa.

There is no essential difference between Jews who subscribe to Orthodox, Conservative or Reform interpretations of Judaism as far as their belonging to the Jewish people is concerned with all of the responsibilities that that implies. One is either a Jew or he is not.

Hence, a 'reform' Jew that marries a 'reform' Jewess will produce Jewish children, whereas an 'orthodox' Jew that marries a non Jewish woman will produce non Jewish children.

The question you raise about 2 nations is a very serious one. In a letter dated 8 Adar I, 5719 (1959) the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, in response to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion's query regarding the subject of the Law of Return, deals at length with the dangers to national unity, and even security, inherent in the tampering with the criteria defining who is a Jew. The only way to prevent such dangers, writes the Rebbe, is by adhering to the original, traditional, time tested criteria as defined in Halacha, namely a Jew is one who was born to a Jewish mother or who has converted according to the criteria of Halacha.

The way to prevent the split of the Jewish People into two nations is by adhering to the one set of criteria applicable to all vis-a-vis Who is a Jew, thereby uniting us in our definition, rather than allowing alternative criteria that would cause division.


Dear Rabbi,

I'm a father of two, and for a while was struggling to explain to them why marrying a Jew is important. They think I'm a racist at worst, or old fashioned at best. How would you make the case in a convincing way to a none-orthodox youth?

Thank you for your thoughts,

Neil R.Toronto

Dear Neil

Thank you for your question.

Well, you can start by reading the book... ;)

You can read most of it online here.

In the meantime let me point out that there is a basic misunderstanding regarding the concept of Racism.

Racism is when I say you can marry anyone BESIDES someone from X, Y or Z race or religion. When I say you may not marry anyone except one of us, that is not racism; that is self preservation.

A Jew, by definition, is part of a nation. That implies responsibilities as well as privileges. The main responsibility towards his or her nation is to perpetuate and defend its integrity and strength. One of the most important ways of doing that is by building a Jewish family. The only way to do that is by marrying Jewish. Of course, when faced with the choice between apparent personal happiness and the vital interests of the Jewish People, many people succumb to the former at the expense of the latter. The challenge is to educate the new generation so that they understand that the two objectives are intertwined and one cannot truly have the former without the latter.


P. S. Perhaps the following argument that I once heard from my colleague Rabbi Eli Silverstein will convince a 'not old fashioned' youngster: We are against intermarriage because we believe in Biodiversity.... We do not want the gentiles to become extinct...

Dear Leizer,

But seriously, isn't this battle over? look at the data: 50% of the younger generation of Jews will be choosing a non-Jew as a spouse. Why is it not better to find a way to accept, rather than reject, all those people?



The battle is never over, even for those that choose to intermarry; it is very far from over for the rest of us that choose not to.

Judaism is not a system of laws that were invented by Jews in order to be successful or win competitions against other nations. Judaism is based on doing what G-d wants. In other words, the main principle of Jewish law is the search for and adherence to G-d's truth, rather than utilitarianism.

Imagine if the US Govt. would have used the argument you suggested: "X% of American citizens are smokers. The battle is over. Let's declare smoking healthy."

Obviously, truth is not determined by popular vote. No matter how many people smoke, it will not become healthy to do so. No matter how many people intermarry, there are still only two ways to become Jewish, either by being born to a Jewish mother or by converting according to the criteria set out by Halacha.

It is not within our power to change G-d's definition of who is a Jew. It is within our power to educate ourselves and others regarding what being Jewish means.

Imagine: Mr. Michael Steinhardt's latest project to save American Jewry from assimilation is to build secular Jewish schools, 'because most Jews aren't religious...' I would say that the logic goes the other way around: since most Jews today do not identify with the religious aspect of Judaism, more should be invested in upgrading religious Jewsih education, in order to make it more appealing and successful, rather than writing the disinterest off as a "battle lost".

Dear Eliezer,

Here is the problem you need to grapple with: According to two recent studies, the chances that an interfaith couple will raise its kids as Jewish increases if the bride and groom find a rabbi that treats them well and marries them.

I've described the findings in this paragraph from a recent article:

In the Harvard study, 54 percent of mixed couples who choseJudaism were married by a rabbi - while only 10 of the couples thatrejected Judaism were married by a rabbi. In the other study, too,"statistically significant relationships" (though not perfect correlations) "were uncovered in regard to rabbinic officiation, including raising children as Jewish, synagogue attendance on the High Holidays and the absence of Christian observances" from family life.

So, by saying "no" you diminish such chances. Is it not your responsibility to try and "save" the children?



Dear Shmuel,

Thank you for the challenge and the opportunity to address this vital issue.

First of all I would like to point out that the objective of my book is not an attempt at explaining how to deal with mixed couples, but rather why Torah-true Judaism does not sanction intermarriage. My book explores the core issues of what it means to be a Jew, what the Jewish concept of marriage is and why a Jew may only marry a Jew.I believe the understanding of these issues at the conceptual level is crucial before attempting to deal with intermarriage 'on the ground' and searching for solutions.

Is one Jewish as a result of behaving "Jewishly" or does behaving Jewishly have meaning only for someone who is Jewish? What does behaving Jewishly entail, anyway? What does conversion to Judaism accomplish? Is it a mere formality? Is it a real transformation? If so, at what level? What are the conditions necessary for conversion to have any real effect?

The way we answer these questions will determine the way we approach the challenge of intermarriage and the options that we would consider as genuine solutions.

As opposed to other systems of law, in Halakha, being a system of laws based on G-d's law, the law defines the reality; not vice versa. We cannot, therefore, redefine who or what is a Jew based on changing demographics.

Regarding your question about 'saving' the children of interfaith couples: A distinction must be made, of course, between interfaith couples where the woman is Jewish and those where the man is Jewish. In the case where a Jewish woman has married a non-Jew and her children are Jewish, it goes without saying that all efforts must be made to provide them with a proper Jewish education. That does not imply that one should support a priori the decision for them to marry, as such a marriage, in addition to it not being sanctioned by the Torah, will likely subject the children to an unhealthy identity crisis and unfair emotional pain. In such a case, the option of converting the non-Jew is explored to see if it is an honest option. In the case where the man is Jewish and the woman is not, I ask: Why would converting their children to Judaism be considered 'saving' them? What is wrong with them being Seven-Noahide-Law abiding non-Jews? Why educate him as a Jew when he is not in fact Jewish? Why impose an alien identity on a child?

One of the great things I find in Judaism is that we do not only tolerate people who are not Jewish, we respect them for what they are. We have no intention or aspiration for them to become Jewish, even though were they to decide to do so sincerely, we would accept them as Jews. G-d wants Jews to be Jewish; he doesn't want non-Jews to be Jewish (unless they choose to become Jewish of their own accord, in which case they are accepted).

The Jewish people has survived, not just because Jews didn't intermarry de facto, but because they had a very clear knowledge of who they were and what it implies (and therefore not intermarrying).We have survived as Jews because we are Jews, not simply because we 'live as' Jews. Being Jewish implies a personal condition, not merely a circumstance. When you lower the bar regarding the definition of who or what is a Jew, you will not win Jews; you will lose Judaism.

The application of the law depends on each individual case, judged by a qualified rabbinical authority, based on its own merits. The concepts and definitions expressed in the book, though, are basic, universally applicable and indispensable when addressing the issues truthfully and honestly.