Tisha B’Av, Intermarriage & Slippery Slopes

letter-447577_1280

11 b Menahem-Av

Formerly Orthodox Professor Noah Feldman, writing in the New York Times Magazine , “Orthodox Paradox,” July 22 two days before Tisha B’Av, complains that the Jewish Day School he attended (Maimonides of Boston) does not accept with equanimity his marriage to a non-Jew.

R Shmuley Boteah defends his friend, Noah Feldman, in his Jerusalem Post oped “Stop Ostracizing the Intermarried” .(There are 224 talkbacks so far!)

An astute comment was made on Feldman’s NYTimes piece by a friend of ours who is an Orthodox rabbi, a Harvard graduate who lives deep in the haredi city of Bene Brak, is a professor of Greek and Classics at Bar Ilan, teaches daf yomi, and keeps abreast of current issues. Our friend himself is a person who embodies and personifies the ability to live in several worlds that Feldman describes as the goal of his Maimonides’ education. Apropos Tisha B’Av and commenting on Feldman’s piece, he quoted Midrash Rabba on Eicha, Ptichta 22.

At first they used to worship idols in secret places, as it is stated, ‘Then said He to them, hast thou seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark?’ Because they were not restrained by the authorities from doing this, they next practised it upon the rooftoops… Because they were not restrained by the authorities from doing this, they next practised it… in the gardens….upon the moutaintops…. at the cross-roads….… Because they were not restrained by the authorities from doing this, they next practised it in public squares….. To what extreme did this go? Until they intoduced it into the Holy of Holies

The baaley hamidrash knew something about slippery slopes.

Feldman also seems to understand slippery slopes when …. it doesn’t involve himself. Feldman describes (and rightfully condemns) the actions of Dr Baruch Goldstein who massacred Muslims in Hebron Purim 5754 (1994). Feldman writes about Goldstein’s purported (not verified) discrimination againt Arabs before the massacre that “his actions were not met by universal condemnation.” From this I understand that Feldman is not clueless about the phenomenon of a slippery slope. If Feldman’s actions (and I am obviously not comparing Feldman’s actions to Goldstein’s) are not met with condemnation, why shouldn’t every Jew intermarry without having to forfeit standing in the Jewish community?

Feldman writes:

I have sent the [alumni director] several updates about my life for inclusion in the Mazal tov section of the [Maimonides] newsletter. I sent him news of my marriage [to a non-Jew, SLS]. When our son was born, I asked him to report that happy event. The most recent news was the birth of our daughter this winter. Nothing doing. None of my reports made it into print

The Maimonides School authorities also know something about slippery slopes.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She is on the board of the Charedi College of Jerusalem. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survved the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She s available to lecture in Israel and in the US.

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34 Responses

  1. HILLEL says:

    ORI:

    GOOD LUCK! I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, thank you for the links. I’ll read them as time permits. I’m going to drop off this discussion for a few days though – I need to go to a hacker convention (www.defcon.org) and I might not have an Internet connection I could trust.

    I thought about what you said about parenting, and you might be right. I have to consciously fight various things my parents said. Right now I know I have a strong influence on my children, but they’re very young (the oldest isn’t five yet). I assumed that was the main reason they listen to me. Maybe I was wrong – I’ll know more as they get older.

  3. HILLEL says:

    ORI:

    You DO MATTER A GREAT DEAL, and what you’re teaching your children is that NOTHING THEY DO MATTERS A GREAT DEAL.–that’s why you don’t perceive any STRONG INFLUENCE. What do you expect, with such an ambivalent attitude on your part!

    I will look up the Aish.com site to find Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s lectures on the “48 Ways to Wisdom,” which he gives to all Baalei Teshuva who come into his Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, just across from the Kosel HaMaaRovi–The Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem.

    You can probably find it yourself, now that I have specified it for you.

    I will close with this gem from the legendary New York Yankees pitcher Yogi Berra, who was also a great raconteur:

    “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.”

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL,

    I think we’ll need to agree to disagree about parental influence for now. I’ll keep trying to raise my kids as best I can, but it would take a lot of evidence to show me that I matter a great deal.

    As for proof of the validity of tradition, can you show me where on http://www.aish.com it is? I saw a lot of history material there by Rabbi Ken Spiro – is that what you meant?

  5. HILLEL says:

    ORI:

    I still say you’re copping-out. A parent’s influence on bis children– by word and deed–is profound, and it follows him thoughout his life.

    As my Rebbe, Rav Avigdor Miller ZT”L, used to say: “Propaganda works!”

    As for proof of the validity of your trdition, it exists, if you truly want to know it. Rav Weinberg has traced the path of our Torah tradition from Sinai very clearly and authoritatively at http://www.aish.com

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, there are two issues in providing guidance: knowing the right path, and getting somebody to follow it.

    As an Orthodox Jew, you believe that there are only two right paths, sanctioned by G-d: being an Orthodox Jew and being a righteous Noahide. Of those two paths, only one would be open to your children. Therefore, you have a clear idea how to guide them.

    I don’t have this certainty. I don’t know which path G-d wants me or my children to take. Various people told me what G-d wants, but none of them could provide proof – and a lot of them contradict each other.

    Nor do I get a clear idea from observing people on various paths. Most of the peers I grew up with are Atheists. Some seem to be leading good, ethical lives. Others’ lives appear empty. The same, as far as I can tell, can be said for people on other paths.

    The second matter is my ability to plan things for my children. Your food analogy is appropriate. Can you tell your children what to eat while they are at home with you? Sure. Can you explain to them which foods are good for them and why? Sure.

    Can you plan what they’ll typically eat five years after they get married? Not really. It will depend on them, what they want, and how they were brought up. It will also depend on their future spouses.

    I am guiding my children. I just don’t believe my guidance is the sole or main factor in their future decisions.

  7. HILLEL says:

    OI-VEY, ORI, I PITY YOUR CHILDREN:

    What a cop-out! Shirking your responsibility to give your children the guidance they are entitled to from parents who have real practical life experience. Forcing them to jump into uncharted watrers on their own, with the ever-present danger of drowning.

    It’s your job to give your children a head-start in life. As an intelligent parent, you wouldn’t dream of giving your children the choice of trans-fat-laden hamburgers and french fries, topped off by saturated-fat-laden ice cream and caffeine-sugar-phosphate-laden Coke.

    So, why do you give them the choice of crashing and burning spiritually?

  8. rak says:

    Ori,
    I did understand what you meant by wimpy when I read your comment (I completely agree).
    Your comments are indeed a breath of fresh air.
    Alei v’hatzlach.

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Nachum Lamm: R’ Meir Kahane, as I’ve pointed out on another forum, would take your argument a step further, and say that rejecting intermarriage for any reasons other than halacha is racist. Would you agree?

    Ori: As a blanket rule, saying it’s always bad, yes – racist. As a general recommendation, no. All other things being equal, it is easier when you marry somebody from the same background. People who marry people from other backgrounds should expect they’ll have more difficulties. This doesn’t just apply to Jews and Gentiles BTW. It would also apply to an Orthodox Jew marrying a Reform/Conservative Jew or an Israeli marrying an American.

    Having said that, all other things are never equal – a spouse is a person, not a car you can customize.

    Also, anybody who expects their marriage to be difficulty free is probably too immature to get married. You have difficulties, and you handle them because you love your spouse. That’s true in all cases.

  10. SM says:

    Ori,

    Good for you. It takes moral courage to paddle your own canoe.

    Feldman is essentially asking for an individual choice he made to have no collective impact at all. If he really studied Torah for 12 years then he should have learned that we are a collective religion. That of course is the essence of Jewish community – that much envied property. But if I say that I am responsible for me and for him, then why can’t I also say that I reject his choice?

    It seems to me to be proof of the proposition that one can be clever and still be a fool.

  11. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, I think I gave the wrong impression. I don’t plan on my children choosing to convert and become Orthodox. They’ll be Heterodox (like me, but we can debate the Rambam’s 8th principle some other time), be Orthodox, or reject Judaism altogether. I can’t make the choices for them, only give them the information and tools to make the choices themselves.

    My grandmother’s parents were frum, and probably expected their children to follow in their footsteps. None of them (and there were more than four who survived the holocaust) did. My parents were staunch Zionists (mother still is, father is dead). Two out of their three children chose to live in the US. I lack the arrogance to believe that I can tell my children which path to follow when they grow up.

    HILLEL: Why don’t you just keep it simple, and convince your evidently-spiritually-oriented wife to convert and legitimize the whole thing!

    Ori: Things work a lot better when I just let her do what she wants and stay out of the way (or encourage her). She’s the one who decided we’ll start restricting our electricity use on Shabbat. She’s the one who suggested we’ll join the Conservative synagogue when she saw me becoming more observant. The worst thing I could do is make her feel pressured.

    Our marriage is probably atypical, but this arrangement works best for us.

  12. Nachum Lamm says:

    Ori: Ah! I take your meaning. Good point- thanks for clearing it up.

    R’ Meir Kahane, as I’ve pointed out on another forum, would take your argument a step further, and say that rejecting intermarriage for any reasons other than halacha is racist. Would you agree?

  13. HILLEL says:

    ORI:

    You’re TOO CLEVER by a half!

    According to Murphy’s law (a law that never goes wrong), whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

    In order for your scenario to work, everyone has to do everything just right–FAT CHANCE!

    Why don’t you just keep it simple, and convince your evidently-spiritually-oriented wife to convert and legitimize the whole thing!

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Bob Miller: Ori, giving in to one’s yetzer hara is wimpy.

    Ori: Yetzer hara can manifest itself as a desire for a particular marriage, or as a desire for social acceptance. Your guide would be Halacha – the yetzer hara direction is the one that’s opposed to it. Noam Feldman obviously rejects Halacha, so he doesn’t know. He would be perfectly rational in believing that rejecting the marriage would have been the yetzer hara direction.

    Nachum: Well, then, you are a breath of fresh air in this crazy world. Like I wrote, I’m not sure Mr. Feldman is.

    Ori: Thank you. It’s an attitude I learned from my wife. She’s not a New York liberal, but a Rural Texas conservative.

    Nachum: As to “wimpy”: No one is talking about community. Mr. Feldman violated halacha with his marriage (as, no offense, did you), not some “community” standard. I myself ended up not marrying someone I’d very much have liked to because of halacha. (I am a kohen.) Am I a “wimp”?

    Ori: No. You did it because you honestly believe that Halacha, dictated by G-d Himself, told you not to get married to her. Noam Feldman obviously does not believe in the divine origin of Halacha. He does not discuss Halacha, but community acceptance – an insufficient reason to avoid a marriage in my book.

    Of course, no offense taken. I know I violated Halacha. I’ll violate it again tomorrow when I use the car to take the kids to the (Conservative) synagogue. To be Heterodox, at the basis, is to reject Halacha.

  15. shaulking says:

    Slippy slope is judging and condeming Baruch Goldstein for his actions, without any background information re: that fateful Purim in Chevron. It was well publicized his non neglect to Arabs in the clinics he worked in.

  16. Eliyahu says:

    Actually, there is one positive aspect of Noah Feldman’s article. He is still bothered by the lack of acceptance. Which means that somewhere (may be in the very deep recesses of his heart) he knows that what he did was wrong, and that he betrayed his upbringing. So he wants Maimonides to give him an official heter/hechsher to assuage his guilty conscience. This is one reason why we don’t honor people who intermarry (especially in the case of someone who was brought up to know better). It reminds them that everything is not ok.
    As long as his neshama is still sending out SOS signals, there is hope.

  17. Nachum says:

    “I do not expect, nor do I have any right to expect, for you to accept my behavior.”

    Well, then, you are a breath of fresh air in this crazy world. Like I wrote, I’m not sure Mr. Feldman is.

    As to “wimpy”: No one is talking about community. Mr. Feldman violated halacha with his marriage (as, no offense, did you), not some “community” standard. I myself ended up not marrying someone I’d very much have liked to because of halacha. (I am a kohen.) Am I a “wimp”?

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Garnel Ironheart: There is a difference between acceptance and tolerance, two things which are often confused for each other. Tolerance implies that I don’t go crazy when I see you doing something I think is wrong. Thus when Feldman describes going to his class reunion and being warmly greeted by his friends instead of being coldly ostracized, this shows tolerance. Acceptance is far different. Acceptance implies that when I see you doing something wrong, I not only tolerate it but assume that, from a different point of view, it’s a correct thing to do.

    Ori: I agree. As a heterodox Jew I expect to be tolerated here (and indeed, you make me feel very much at home – thank you). I do not expect, nor do I have any right to expect, for you to accept my behavior.

  19. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Larry: Too wimpy to get married? Is it really “wimpy” to be concerned with the Torah’s (G-d’s) halachic imperatives and with the effect of one’s actions on one’s standing in the community of the faithful?

    Ori: I did not explain myself properly. It is entirely proper for somebody to avoid a marriage because of a belief in the Torah and Halacha. That is doing something for the right reason, because that’s what G-d wants.

    Concentrating about the community’s views rather than the ideal spouse for you when you get married is different. People move, people change communities, but marriage is supposed to last for a lifetime. You should find the best possible spouse for you, not the most socially acceptable one.

    For example, imagine a community that is predominately Ashkenazik and somewhat racist about it (I’m not saying that such communities are common or even exist, this is merely a hypothetical example). Somebody from this community (let’s call him Yenkel) meets a Sepharadic woman (let’s call her Yael). They are compatible, they want the same things in life, they believe in the same goals and they have the same aspirations. Despite the separation that Halacha mandates during the dating process, they feel themselves falling in love with each other.

    For Yenkel to say: “Yael, I really want to marry you, I know we’d build a good holy house together – but my neighbors back home wouldn’t want me to marry a Sepharadic wife, so let’s look for other partners” would mean that Yenkel is too wimpy to get married.

    HILLEL: Every intermarried couple represents our failure as a community to communicate whay it is important to remain a Jew.

    Ori: In my case, it way more that Judaism was taken for granted and then used as a club to beat Zionism into my head (you’re Jewish, so you have to live in Israel, give up your freedom for a few years of military service, pay the high taxes, etc – otherwise a Hitler will come and kill you). In result was that I resented both Israel and Judaism.

    It took a long time, a new belief in G-d (influenced by my wife, BTW) and a lot of reading Project Genesis to change my mind about Judaism. I seriously doubt I’ll change my mind about the state of Israel.

    I am not apologizing for marrying the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met. Marrying her was the best decision of my life. I am merely explaining myself in case it’s relevant to somebody’s kiruv efforts.

    HILLEL: I’m truly surprised that you don’r realize the difficulties you are creating for your children—real or potential—by creating such an ambiguous situation.

    Ori: Four very real children, see here. Converted in a Conservative ceremony a few month ago. When they are older, I’ll teach them that Orthodox Jews do not see them as Jews. I’ll also teach them that if they want to be accepted as Jews by the Orthodox they’ll need to go through an Orthodox conversion and accept Halacha.

  20. dr. william gewirtz says:

    How one should treat one who has intermarried, is not decided by bloggers. I would suggest that circumstances are varied and personal interaction may differ from communal sanctions. Both Maimonides and R. Boteah may be correct.

    But in this instance, beyond intermarriage, Prof. Feldman chose to malign the MO who he implies are every bit as sectarian and bigoted as their charedi brethren. I found some of that he wrote, that I suspect he knew was misleading, as more damming than his intermarriage; malicious half-truths about all strands of orthodoxy.

    I have a hard time considering intermarriage as the beginning of a slippery slope; often, it appears to be closer to bottom of the hill. Intermarriage aside, the article is far down into the valley, well beneath contempt. One can only hope that his interactions with many in discussion will bring him closer to his people.

  21. JZ says:

    I wonder how many Orthodox Jewish editors feel guilt for the role they have played legitimizing intermarriage, by allowing announcements of these “marriages” to grace their papers’ social pages.

    Having read one editorial, I see that they are not looking in the mirror.

  22. Bob Miller says:

    Ori, giving in to one’s yetzer hara is wimpy.

  23. Nachum says:

    Ms. Schmidt, I’m not sure I get your point. A “slippery slope” assumes that something not so bad becomes something bad. Which is which here? Are you saying that acceptance of one intermarriage leads to more intermarriage? One intermarriage alone is outside the pale!

    Garnel, in the circles in which Mr. Feldman travels, “tolerance” is not enough. Homosexual activists, for example, are renowned for rejecting “tolerance” and insisting on “acceptance.” You and I may find this stupid, but I’m not sure Mr. Feldman does.

  24. Larry says:

    Ori writes: “Anybody who spent 12 years in an Orthodox school and does not expect his intermarriage to be rejected is a fool. Anybody who cares about such considerations when choosing a mate for life is too wimpy to get married.”

    Too wimpy to get married? Is it really “wimpy” to be concerned with the Torah’s (G-d’s) halachic imperatives and with the effect of one’s actions on one’s standing in the community of the faithful? Are the rejection of Torah mandates and the utter disregard for community views marks of the strong? And is the choice of a life mate nothing other than an issue of unbridled personal autonomy?

  25. HILLEL says:

    ORI:

    Every intermarried couple represents our failure as a community to communicate whay it is important to remain a Jew.

    Those who intermarry today do not usually do so our of malice. Rather, it just “no big deal.”–Why not?

    I’m truly surprised that you don’r realize the difficulties you are creating for your children–real or potential–by creating such an ambiguous situation.

  26. Adam says:

    The article by Professor Feldman is learned, erudite, clever…and full of so much hot air.

    The situation is simple – there cannot be a reconciliation between intermarriage and trying to remain acceptable to the orthodox world.

    He fails to appreciate that the ‘Orthodox’ is no less important than the ‘modern’ and is indeed the noun and not the adjective in the term ‘Modern Orthodox’.

  27. Bob Miller says:

    Among the “several worlds” is the World to Come. Someone who threw that away now wants our approval?

  28. Jewish Observer says:

    ” If Feldman’s actions (and I am obviously not comparing Feldman’s actions to Goldstein’s) are not met with condemnation, why shouldn’t every Jew intermarry without having to forfeit standing in the Jewish community?”

    – so our mitzvah observance is so that we can have standing in the community? don’t we beieve the ribono shel olam runs the world and is in charge of s’char and oinesh? is it not arrogant for us to think we are responsible for calling the shots here?

  29. Steve Brizel says:

    WASR to the author, whose POV I generally support, I think that a better source can be found in Rashi in Parshas Bchukosai about improper attitudes towards Torah study and observance. While I have no qualms about the source or the Professor of Greek and Classics at Bar Illan, I do think that those of us who are more familiar with the MO POV and its pluses and minuses, both in theory and practice, may be able to add more insights on this issue.

  30. Sabba Hillel says:

    I would say that the fact that the children are not Jewish and that he is not (halachically) their father are valid reasons for not printing the “news”.

    Furthermore, the information would not go in the “Mazal Tov” section but with the other death notices. Actually, the editors probably were aware that it is information that he should be ashamed to have come out. He should reread Ezrah.

  31. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Having read that article, I should note that Noah Feldman misses one basic point (which I posted on my blog garnelironheart.blogspot.com).
    There is a difference between acceptance and tolerance, two things which are often confused for each other. Tolerance implies that I don’t go crazy when I see you doing something I think is wrong. Thus when Feldman describes going to his class reunion and being warmly greeted by his friends instead of being coldly ostracized, this shows tolerance. Acceptance is far different. Acceptance implies that when I see you doing something wrong, I not only tolerate it but assume that, from a different point of view, it’s a correct thing to do. The equivalent in the article would have been Feldman and his wife being left in the group photo. It would have implied that although Maimonides School frowns on intermarriage, they are okay with Feldman having done it and still accept him as one of their number.
    This is a major difference between the Orthodox (in some circles) and the Heterodox. The Orthodox shul will tolerate an inter-married couple attending services. Who knows? The positive influence of the environment may encourage the non-Jewish spouse to see the beauty of Torah and convert. But there are limits. The male, if he’s the Jew, can’t have an aliyah. They can’t be buried together. There is tolerance but not acceptance.
    The Heterodox, on the other hand, stress acceptance. Just come through the door, they say, and we’ll accept you no matter what. And where has that attitude led? 85% intermarriage rate, thousands (if not more) of people who call themselves Jewish and who really aren’t, potential heartbreak for any of those who then want to become frum.
    Feldman’s disappointment with his school is because he equates tolerance with acceptance. Maimonides School, fortunately, didn’t.

  32. bag says:

    I think it is unfair of Feldman to characterize Maimonides as shunning him when he was invited to the alumni affair and is friendly with his old claasmates. Not putting the picture in the newsletter is among other things a marketing decision. What yeshiva advertises intermarried graduates? Parents are not anxious to send kids to a school if graduates intermarry, and one can’t even fault Maimonides for dishonesty, since (not only are they not lying, just not advertising) the parental reaction would be that the school not only has intermarried graduates (can happen anywhere) but that the school is proud of it! This is shunning? To fail to see him as a grand success?

    I confess, I have never had my pictures or my activities reported in an alumni newspaper, despite having married in. I cannot take his grievance seriously.

  33. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Note: I am intermarried, and writing from that perspective.

    Anybody who spent 12 years in an Orthodox school and does not expect his intermarriage to be rejected is a fool. Anybody who cares about such considerations when choosing a mate for life is too wimpy to get married.

    When I got married, I knew that my grandfather’s family sat Shiva (= mourned for dead) his brother when he intermarried. I also knew that if anybody in my family were to reject my wife, I would just ignore them from that point on. Thankfully, I never had to do that.