Judaism and Intermarriage Introduction
Judaism and Intermarriage Post 1
Judaism and Intermarriage Post 2
One of the biggest misconceptions I once encountered, concerning the Bible, was one involving race. When I graduated from high school I spent a summer working at MCI Telecommunications in Kansas City, MO. During one of my job assignments I had to work with 3 gentlemen who came off as nothing more than rednecks. During one my conversations with them, one of them boldly stated that the Bible stated that the races were not supposed to mix. He tried to use passages of the Bible that, in his mind, suggesting some element of racial separation. Essentially, he was incorrect because he had no real concept of what the Bible is and what it says.
It has always been interesting to me how people can come to such wild conclusions, when they are not reading the ORIGINAL Bible i.e. in Hebrew, to begin with and when they are doing so without a historical and cultural context. A person reading a translation can in no way claim that they somehow have the ability to make authoritative statements about a text that they cannot read in its original form. Also, when a person reads a text without a connection to the culture that the text comes from they can in no way perceive the true intent of said text. These kinds of misconceptions, based on ignorance of history and culture, can also be found amongst certain Jews as well.
What Does the Bible Say About Race?
The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), has been preserved by Jews since ancient times. So if the Bible is to be understood it MUST be understood within a Jewish context text. The reason is as simple as the fact that for thousands of years Jews have lived by the Tanakh, died to preserve the Tanakh, spent vast amounts of times studying the Tanakh and the languages associated with it (Hebrew and Aramaic), and Jews have impressed upon their children to do the same. So the Bible can never be understood outside of a traditional and historical Jewish context, or using translations as the first line of understanding.
Now getting back to the issue of race within that context, the Bible makes no distinction between black people and white people, or any other denomination of skin color characters in the way that they are used modernly. The Bible's distinction of humanity follows the same path, as I mentioned concerning Judaism, it deals with religious, national, and social alliances. So for example when the Bible talks about ethnic groups such as the Moabites it does not do so in terms of what their skin color they were, but instead based on their religious, national, and social norms and values. The same goes for the Canaanites, the Phillestines, etc.
Many of the prohibitions in the Bible concerning marriage do not even concern the majority of humanity, but instead is directed towards the Israelites i.e. Jews. What this means is that about 90% of the does and don'ts found in Bible are commands that God directed towards Jews, not the world in general. There are of course areas of the Bible that are geared towards mankind in general, but when you look at the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy the recipients of the commands of God were the Israelites, the Gerim (converts), and non-Israelites who chose to LIVE amongst the Israelites by believing in the God of Israel, but not specifically converting to Judaism.
The redneck gentlemen I noted earlier were not even remotely Jewish so they were wrong in acting as if those Biblical prohibitions somehow relate to them, or even have anything to do with race. In reality some of the prohibitions in terms of marriage, mentioned in the Bible were self imposed by the Hebrews, the Israelites, the Jews, and their descendants while others were divinely imposed.
A Few Examples
Within the first two books of the Bible there is much about the culture that the ancient Hebrews and later Israelites had concerning who they would and wouldn't marry. Taking into account that ancient Hebrews and Israelites were already a mix of Middle Eastern and East African peoples, we can take on a more accurate understanding of what the real issues were concerning their marriages.
- The biblical patriarch Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac. He requires that the woman not come from the Canaanites, but from his family in Mesopotamia.
- The biblical matriarch Rebbecca requires that her son Jacob find a wife from her family, also from Mesopotamia.
- Israelites who are from the priestly family are required to marry only certain types of Israelite/Jewish women. They were not allowed to marry female converts to Judaism, but could marry the daughters of converts.
- There exists within the Israelite tribes non-Israelites who had joined themselves to those tribes i.e. converted to Judaism.
- Ruth, a foreigner from Moab is exemplary for her faithfulness to her Israelite in-laws, even after the death of her husband. Ruth became a Gioret (Female convert) and married an Israelite man named Boaz. One of their descendants King David went on to become the greatest of the Israelite warrior kings.
- Solomon married hundreds of wives from many nations in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and East Africa for the purposes of political expediency and ultimately falls from grace by engaging in pagan forms of worship which they have introduced 1 Kings 11. In Solomon's case the problem wasn't that he married non-Israelite women. The problem was that he married women who either didn't fully convert to the Israelite faith or who continued to latch onto their former pagan religions and cultures. This in turn caused Solomon to take on some of their pagan practices, something forbidden in the Israelite and Jewish faith.
Even within the Israelite tribes there were marriages that were forbidden on moral and social grounds. For example, mothers could not marry sons. Brothers could not marry sisters, etc. For some time after their entry into the Land of Israel, the 12 tribes did not intermarry between tribes. Also, the tribe of Levi had additional marriage restrictions placed on them due to the fact that they were the Israelite priest tribe.
Modernly, one can look at Jews and discern that there had been in some ancient time a mix of Jews with local Gerim (converts) who originated from different places all over the world. That is why many Jews from India look similar to non-Jewish Indians. The same as Jews from southern Arabia look similar to Arabs from Arabia. The same way that Jews from Poland look similar to non-Jews from Poland. In my next and last post about Judaism and Intermarriage I will discuss the issue of Jewish Genealogy and how marriage to local Gerim (converts) has shaped the physical features of Jews from all over the world, and how it affects Jewish culture.