Monday, February 11, 2008

Judaism and Intermarriage: Introduction

For some time now I have been wanting to do a post about Judaism and intermarriage. Partially, because of how difficult it can be to describe to people who are not Jewish, as well as because of how it affects how Jews are viewed. Secondly, this issue affects me in a number of different ways. It is also a matter of recent importance in the Jewish community since there has been an increase in the discussion of such in the Jewish community, mainly outside of Israel.

Because this topic has the ability to give the wrong impression, I will ask that those who read it understand that I am going to be breaking up this topic into several parts. Missing any one part will obviously give a wrong impression about the whole of the discussion. In the future posts I will link the previous posts. Please remember that this is simply an introduction.

Also, I will be using a lot of illusions in the course of this discussion because it is hard to convey in writing. Often you have to explain a lot things from a number of different sources, and I don't want to lose the reader in that. It is also easy for my ability to convey words in writing, as compared to a face to face conversation. There is also a lot of baseline information that helps explain this issue more completely, but for the essence of time I will try to sum it up.

Basic Understandings

In order to understand this issue one must first understand that Judaism is more than just a religion, but it is also a national and local social structure. Even when people are not active within the religious context of Judaism the national and social laws of Judaism can still affect their lives as Jews. It must also be understood that being Jewish is a Mitzvah i.e. universal religious, national, and social responsibility that can be accepted or evaded, yet the only reason to be Jewish is based on things that are above and beyond a culture or an ethnicity.

There are several terms that a person not familiar with will need to know to understand this group of posts.
  • Hashem - Hebrew termed used in place of pronouncing God's Hebrew name. Complicated issue, but for those familiar with the English Bible whenever you see Hashem, think The Lord.
  • Yahaduth - I.e. Judaism, or the combination of Biblical, religious, historical, social, and legal beliefs and practices as passed down throughout the Jewish people.
  • Sefer Torah - 5 books of Moses Genesis to Deut.
  • Torah - Teaching, law
  • Mitvah, Mitzvah - Commandment
  • Torah SheBa'al Pe - Oral Torah i.e. Oral Teachings
  • Tanakh - Hebrew Bible
  • Halakhah - Jewish religious, national, and social law
  • Traditional Judaism - Judaism as it is practiced by Middle Eastern, African, Asian, and Orthodox Jews
  • Mamzer - A person born of an illegal religious relationship.
Jumping Into The Topic

First and foremost, in order to understand this topic one must first understand some key facts about Judaism. Unlike most mainstream religions Judaism is more than just a set of religious beliefs and practices. Judaism operates on three distict levels: a religious structure, a national structure, and a social structure. This understanding and application of Judaism is one that is found predominately in Traditional Judaism thus historically defined and preserved Jewish identity. According to Halakhah i.e. Jewish law, a Jew is someone who was born to a Jewish mother, or who converts to Judaism in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. Further, during the time when there existed a national Israelite identity tribal identities were through the father. So it plays out that having both parents as members of Israelite/Jewish society defined ones place within in the religious, national, and social structure. As the old saying goes, your father teaches you how to live as a Jew, and your mother teaches you how to love being a Jew.

The Biblical Responsibility
Deuteronomy 14:2, "For you are a holy people to Hashem your God, and God has chosen you to be his treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth." This verse must also be taken into context with the following verse, "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure of me above all people,"
"For all the earth is mine: and you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5, 6)
"Hashem did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people; but because Hashem loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your ancestors." (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8)
The other issue of concern is that as Jews, the Mitzvoth i.e. commandments of God towards us do not make us better than the non-Jewish nations: they simply make us distinct. God choose to give Israel the Torah not just for the sake of Jews being special. The Torah is clear that we are no different than any other human being on the planet, the main difference is in our actions due to the moral code that we accept.

Israel was chosen to be and live by a certain group of directives, so that the doing of said actions made us distinct in the way that someone who takes an oath as a police officer or a person in public office. Said oaths normally involve vowing to uphold and protect a certain set body of laws. As Jews we have the same responsibility to God. This does not mean that God expects nothing from the non-Jewish nations, the Torah is clear that non-Jews are also expected to live by certain similar moral attributes, yet we choose to live this responsibility or evade it. I created the following video to explain some of the basic principles of Judaism.



My concept here that God has two different paths that eventually lead to the same place, comes from the fact that:
  1. God made a covenant concerning all of humanity with Noah.
  2. God made a covenant concerning Israel with Abraham.
  3. God made a covenant with Abraham concerning all of humanity who would hear of him and live by his example.
Each of these covenants with God gave different responsibilities to different segments of humanity. The rest is for a future discussion, but they are considered the baseline for all of humanity Jewish or not Jewish. In the next few posts I will dig more deeper into the matter.

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