Why Jews Only Marrying Jews Is a Bad Idea

The Rabbinate is determined to reduce the number of people who can immigrate to Israel, but why are secular Israelis playing along?

Menachem Benn
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Illustration of a couple getting married.
Credit: Eran Wolkowski
Menachem Benn

My son is married to a wonderful American woman who is not Jewish. My brother is also married to a wonderful American woman who is not Jewish. And unlike Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, who said he would prefer if his son married a Jewish woman, I have no such qualms. On the contrary. As I see it, these marriages broaden the Jewish people rather than diminishing it – unless we allow failed, racist, dark and foolish rabbinical notions to determine our way of thinking.

Consequently, the attempts by a traditional Jewish Israeli such as Miron Izakson (“Phasing Out Jewish Identity ) to condemn intermarriage on behalf of his father and grandfather, and secular Israeli Uzi Baram to defend the same stance, suffer from a deep and dark misunderstanding, whose distorted roots and dangers are important to explain.

Let’s first consider the issue on the simple, immediate, insulting and hurtful level. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Israel who are in intermarried families in which one spouse is not Jewish as defined by halakha (Jewish religious law). And overseas, in the two most important Diaspora communities – the United States and the former Soviet Union – there are millions of Jews who are married to non-Jews. In fact, most Jewish marriages in the United States and Russia are mixed marriages.

This means that any such talk and preaching of such views by Izakson regarding marrying “Jews” (and, incidentally, who is a Jew?) is insulting to them and drives them away from us.

Israel has a very simple and clear choice. We can view intermarriage as “assimilation,” thus distancing millions of Jews and Israelis out of foolishness, evil and ignorance (and, in the process, very dangerously reducing the number of Jewish people and those able to immigrate to Israel). Or we can lovingly embrace these intermarriages (without reference to the primitive Chief Rabbinate) and view them as part of the Jewish and Israeli people, and in the process grow by millions.

In this sense, the proposed new conversion bill and the cabinet’s decision not to proceed with plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall mark a very bad direction that the Israeli government has chosen to take. It’s good it has partially come to its senses following the wave of anger expressed by American Jewry. That’s because conflict with American Jewry, which ultimately also involves conflict with the United States itself, constitutes an existential threat for Israel.

In other words, the members of Israel’s religious and ultra-Orthodox parties, and their ignorant partners from the country’s other parties, are endangering our very existence with their racist limitations on who is a Jew. It’s no coincidence, of course, that immigration to Israel has declined during the term of current Interior Minister Arye Dery, who heads the largely ultra-Orthodox and Sephardi Shas party. His Population, Immigration and Border Authority shows hostility, through various regulations, toward every intermarried family that wishes to immigrate to Israel.

In Dery’s eyes – and this is the same man who, along with then-Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, denounced the wonderful mass wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s (and where would we be without that?) – every new immigrant reduces the relative proportion of Sephardi Jews in Israel. As a result, it is unacceptable to him from the outset – particularly if said immigrant is part of an intermarried family whose members have no chance of voting for Shas.

The horrific and racist injustice toward members of intermarried families is prominent in any number of fields, sometimes reaching shocking heights. The Rabbinate, for example, has objected to the burial of non-Jewish soldiers in military cemeteries. You understand? Some members of the ultra-Orthodox community, which is not drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, are deciding which combat soldier killed defending the homeland will be buried in IDF cemetery plots.

There is no limit to the chutzpah, heartlessness and malice. Any such talk about intermarriage is insulting to these hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Rabbinate’s questions about their Jewishness shouldn’t even interest us, just as the entire Rabbinate shouldn’t interest anyone who doesn’t want to be subject to its rulings.

These are Israelis in every sense of the word, like the rest of us. Many of them have made huge contributions to our lives at every level – military, economic and cultural.

The big problem here is that a large portion of Israelis, who have been subjected to Rabbinical rule their entire lives, simply don’t understand they have appropriated the same definitions. When Lapid, for example, announces that he wants his son to marry a Jewish woman, does he mean a Jewish woman as defined by the Rabbinate – meaning a woman born to a Jewish mother? Or would he suffice with an Israeli woman coming from a Jewish father and purely Russian (but charming) mother?

In general, it’s so dumb that most secular Israelis, who through their lifestyles essentially reject the Rabbinate’s views on desecration of the Sabbath, for example, accept its definition of who a Jew is. (What do they care? After all, they themselves are considered Jewish by the Rabbinate even if they eat pork and don’t believe in God.) And even the LGBT community has petitioned the High Court of Justice seeking to let gays and lesbians marry in Israel, since, after all, they are also Jewish.

The biblical prophesy of the end of days speaks of the nations of the world converting to Judaism on a grand scale – and that certainly would include intermarriage. And that’s without considering our biblical forefathers, some of whom married magnificent non-Jewish women. That includes Moses, whom the Bible says “married a Cushite woman” (and woe unto anyone who speaks out against her). Or King Solomon, the wisest of them all, who married the daughter of an Egyptian king.

By the way, just so you understand who I am, I absolutely believe in God and am in love with Hebrew and Zionism. I am also completely fascinated by the Bible (especially the prophesies of the end of days) and completely hate the Rabbinate.