Monday, July 14, 2008

Chabad and EJF - Pioneers in lenient Orthodox attitude towards intermarried couples

Just came across the following article published on Interfaith Family Blog from the point of view of those who tolerate intermarriage. It claims that Eternal Jewish Family and Chabad - are leading a change in the Orthodox world to be more tolerant of intermarried couples in the hope of converting the non-Jewish spouse. They even cite Avi Shafran - spokesman for the Agudah as not being hostile to intermarried couples.
Cracks in the Orthodox Armor?

Our site is full of stories of people who encountered resistance to their interfaith relationships from Jewish family. But their problems pale in comparison to the rejection and ostracization experienced by Jews from the Orthodox community who are dating or married to non-Jews.

In her latest “In the Mix” column, Julie Wiener tells the story of “Ilana,” an intermarried Orthodox woman who “was urged to hide her children from her grandfather and tell him she was still single, for fear the news of her intermarriage would trigger a heart attack.” In the Orthodox world, intermarriage is one of the great taboos–perhaps akin to declaring yourself a racist in the secular world.

At the same time, Rabbi Avi Shafran, the spokesperson for the ultra-Orthodox organization Agudath Israel of America (and a genuinely nice, if ideologically stringent, guy), tells Wiener, “intermarried couples from outside the community are, I think, increasingly seen by many Orthodox Jews as people not to be summarily rejected, at least if there is any chance of the non-Jewish partner’s sincere and halachic conversion.”

Indeed, there does seem a movement afoot among the Orthodox to accept an intermarried couple as long as the non-Jewish partner is dedicated to an Orthodox conversion. Its biggest proponent is the organization Eternal Jewish Family, which has organized conferences of Orthodox rabbis to set standards for the conversion of non-Jewish partners. This condition of acceptance is harsh, but it’s a big step for a community that once considered intermarriage one of the unforgivable sins.

On a related note, over on Jewcy, Tamar Fox talks about her conversations with friends who have started seeing non-Jewish boyfriends or girlfriends. She says, “I have seen all kinds of reactions to inderdating, from violent outbursts to ignoring the situation completely.” Clearly, she’s coming from a more traditional place than typical secular Jews, but she has some wise things to say about interdating. Her main point? If you’ve thought about and talked about the issues with your significant other, you’re on the right path.

4 Responses to “Cracks in the Orthodox Armor?”

  1. on 18 Jan 2008 at 2:29 pmHal

    It is true that Eternal Jewish Family is proactively reaching out to intermarried couples–something that is still a matter of some disagreement within the Orthodox community. [...]

  2. on 18 Jan 2008 at 2:48 pmMicah Sachs
  3. on 20 Jan 2008 at 2:25 pmh.

    to the Orthodox, interdating and intermarriage are pretty much unforgivable sins. if you are raised all your life to know that marrying Jewish is the most important decision you’ll ever make, then chances are pretty high that you’ll be looked at crooked if you don’t follow through. look at Noah Feldman, for example. he went to one of the most renowned yeshivas in the US, where he no doubt was lectured many times about the dangers of intermarriage. and while i’m sure Professor Feldman did his best to find a suitable Jewish mate, he ultimately chose love over tradition…and look at the controversy it caused. yet oddly enough, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (who isn’t exactly in favor of intermarriage) stood behind him throughout the entire ordeal. he may not have agreed with Noah’s decision to intermarry, but he felt that retaining him and welcoming his wife would be more productive than ostracizing them. and he’s right. the Orthodox are not immune to intermarriage like everyone assumes. although the intermarriage rate among Orthodox is less than 4%, it shows that even those who are staunch in their observance of Judaism can fall in love with someone from the outside, non-Jewish world. it’s rare, but it happens.[...]

    Rabbi Shafran is right. intermarried couples should not be written off so quickly, especially if there is the possibility that the non-Jewish partner has a sincere interest in converting and is not just doing it to “keep the peace”.

    Chabad seems to have the right idea. despite the constant rumors of Chabad attempting to convert non-Jewish partners, i’ve heard countless stories of interfaith couples entering Chabad houses with no problems. while Chabad does not approve of intermarriage, they recognize that we are all human beings and we are not all the same. in fact, on the website it clearly states that their educational centers are accessible to everyone, including “curious Gentiles.” does the non-Jewish partner ever convert in these instances? not always, but at least they know they have a place in the community where they can feel welcome and learn about Judaism all they want.

  4. on 21 Jan 2008 at 11:43 amHal


    You raise a very good point, and I want to address it, because we certainly went through a rather lengthy period where we were exploring Orthodoxy, and my wife had not yet decided whether to convert. Were we welcomed? The answer is–it depends.

    Certainly, there were several Orthodox Rabbis and many Orthodox Jews who did welcome us even before it was 100% clear that this is where we were heading. And yes, there were others who were very clear that there really wasn’t a place for an intermarried couple who planned to stay intermarried.

    Although I understand why some would have a problem with this, we never did. First, there were enough people in the community who did welcome us and did give us encouragement. And in every case, even where a Rabbi was not so welcoming, we were always welcome to attend their synagogue, and there were people in those synagogues who invited us for a Shabbat meal–again, even where the Rabbi had taken a very clear stand. [...]

    For a long time before we ever looked into Orthodoxy, we were involved in a non-Orthodox synagogue. The people were all very nice. My wife was “fully accepted” although she hadn’t converted. But after a while, my wife wondered what the point would even be of converting if, in the eyes of the congregation, it seemed to be all the same anyway. In other words, while of course we must be welcoming to the intermarried and find a place for them, if we essentially treat the intermarried as if they are a conversionary family, then aren’t we in effect sending the message that the process of conversion is meaningless?

    The road to conversion is a process, and especially in the case of Orthodox conversion, sometimes a rather long process. I agree that it’s important that intermarried families have some space to explore that process, which means being welcoming in some form. As H. above pointed out, Chabad houses are very welcoming. I’ve seen a number of Chabad houses, and there are intermarried families in every one of them, something that goes against some of the conventional wisdom about intermarried outreach and where the intermarried will feel comfortable. And it’s not limited to Chabad. For a time, I had attended an Aish HaTorah weekly Torah study session. The Rabbi knew I was intermarried. He welcomed me. And there were others there who were either intermarried or children of intermarried who had not grown up with any religion and were trying to figure it all out. In my own synagogue now, there is an intermarried family where the wife is Jewish. She is completely involved, she sends the kids to day school, her husband does not intend to convert, and the family is welcomed just like anyone else. (I imagine this is, in part, because there is no halachic issue concerning the children and everyone deems it important that they be raised as Jews. If it were a Jewish husband, the issues would be different and there would probably be a different approach.) [...]


  1. Rabbi Levi Brackman

    Is Chabad part of Orthodox Judaism?

    Hassidim petition High Court after local religious council refuses to approve building mikveh with two immersion pools saying Chabad is not part of Orthodox Judaism

    A seemingly simple argument over the construction of a mikveh (ritual bath) in the community of Elkana is set to reach the High Court, asking it to rule whether Chabad is part of Orthodox Judaism.

    Hassidim from the Chabad movement in Elkana who seek to build a mikveh with two immersion pools faced opposition from the local religious council, claiming also that this opposition is part of a growing trend in an attempt to force Chabad people to leave Elkana, a religious community 15 miles east of Tel Aviv.

    According to the Chabad petition, the local religious council in Elkana is aware that if successful in preventing the construction of the mikveh by following the Chabad requirements, Chabad Hassidim will have to travel long distances to use other mikvehs.

    Chabad also specified in the petition that there are over 100 mikvehs across Israel with two immersion pools like they require, not to mention that the Ministry of Housing and Construction helped in financing them.

    The Ministry of Housing and Construction is not opposed to Chabad's requirements, on condition that the local religious council would approve.

    The religious council, in turn, said that it is guided by the decisions of the community rabbi and the Chabad movement is not part of the Jewish Orthodox group and therefore it can not use the facilities of this group.

    'Local Chabad hassidim are from messianic cult'

    Judge Edna Arbel issued an injunction last month, and the construction stopped at the site. The court then suggested that the two sides should take the matter to Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and accept his ruling.

    The two sides failed to reach a compromise and the High Court will have to decide whether the Chabad movement is part of the Jewish Orthodox group. If not, Chabad will be entitled to a separate and independent funding of a religious group, like any other recognized group.

    Attorney Motti Mintzer, representative of local religious council and a resident of Elkana, told Ynet: "There is mikveh in Elkana since it was established. We moved to the permanent community and decided to build a new mikveh, according to the instructions of the local rabbi, and he ruled according to rulings of outstanding rabbis throughout the generations."

    "The local hassidim from Chabad are from a messianic cult and want to force the community to build the mikveh according to their specifications," he said.

    In response to Chabad's claims that the religious council does not consider them part of the Orthodox Judaism, Mintzer said: "We don't claim, we never did and we never will. Obviously they are kosher Jews, until they begin acting in a compulsive way, all the while refuting the authority of the community rabbi."

    Rabbi Yehuda Stern of Elkana commented: "I have ruled according to our custom on the mikveh issue. We are not a Chabad community and my ruling followed the rulings of outstanding rabbis throughout the generations."

  2. Israeli Rabbinate announcement

    In January 2000, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel released the following announcement:

    "At the meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel held on 10 Shevat 5760 [17 January 2000], a discussion was held regarding the newspaper advertisement signed by many rabbi shlita requiring that one obey the words of a prophet including the assertion that he is the King Messiah. By agreement of the Chief Rabbis of Israel and the members of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the following decision was adopted unanimously:

    In recent days announcements and declarations are being publicized that can confuse and mislead simple people with messianic propaganda that a certain hassidc rabbi is the King Messiah and one should call to him with various proclamations.

    We have no intention, God forbid, of diminishing the greatness and the global activities of the Rebbe of blessed memory, but because we are dealing with the foundations of the faith and there is danger in this propaganda, it is necessary to warn against this approach. It is concerning such matters that the Sages said,' Wise men, be careful with your words.'

    Individuals who are undesirable in the eyes of rabbinic scholars are exploiting the signatures of Rabbis and turning the simple faith in the coming of the Messiah into propaganda whose end cannot be foreseen. One must be careful and warn people that one must believe in the straightforward faith that the Messiah will come as our Rabbis have taught us, and anyone who adds diminishes."

    Hatzofeh, 11 Shevat 5760 (18 Jan. 200), 5. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger, 2001, published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization of Portland. Page 128-129.

  3. Some scholars of religion have made comparison with the development of early Christianity:

    Anthropologist Joel Marcus writes: "The recent history of the modern Chabad (Lubavitcher) movement of Hasidic Judaism provides insight into the development of early Christianity. In both movements successful eschatological prophecies have increased belief in the leader's authority, and there is a mixture of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ elements. Similar genres of literature are used to spread the good news (e.g. miracle catenae and collections of originally independent sayings). Both leaders tacitly accepted the messianic faith of their followers but were reticent about acclaiming their messiahship directly. The cataclysm of the Messiah's death has led to belief in his continued existence and even resurrection."

    Such comparisons are something which makes many Orthodox Jews uncomfortable.

    Scholar Mark Winer has noted that "The Lubavitcher movement's suggestions that their late rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Messiah, reflect Christian millenarianism".

    Anthropologist Simon Dein has noted: "Lubavitchers held that the Rebbe was more powerful in the spiritual realm without the hindrance of a physical body. However some have now claimed that he never died. Several even state that the Rebbe is God. This is a significant finding. It is unknown in the history of Judaism to hold that the religious leader is God and to this extent the group is unique. There are certain Christian elements which apparently inform the messianic ideas of this group."

    Some have gone so far as to describe Chabad messianism as halachic Christianity. Judaism scholar

    Prof. Jacob Neusner writes: "A substantial majority of a highly significant Orthodox movement called Lubavitch or Chabad Hasidism affirms that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was laid to rest in 1994 without leaving a successor...will soon return to complete the redemption in his capacity as the Messiah. Hasidim who proclaim this belief hold significant religious positions sanctioned by major Orthodox authorities with no relationship to their movement."

  4. In 1996 the largest Orthodox rabbinic grouping in the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America approved the following resolution. The resolution read:

    "In the light of disturbing developments which have recently arisen in the Jewish Community, the Rabbinical Council of America in convention assembled declares that there is not and has never been a place in Judaism for the belief that the Messiah will begin his mission only to experience death, burial and resurrection before completing it."

    Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor and former president of Yeshiva University wrote:

    "It is easy for the messianically-oriented to distort the rebbe’s teachings and say “that the rebbe is part of the God-head. That is completely heretical and quite dangerous."

    The Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb commented on the Chabad movement in a July 2007 comment piece for the Jerusalem Post bemoaning the fact that :

    "...the Rebbe's great piety, scholarship, and love of Israel should be sullied by such an unacceptable heresy is a grievous tragedy."

    "his followers believe that he is the Messiah, and that he will return from the dead to once again lead his followers, and not only his followers, but all the world, into the Messianic era. The belief is certainly not mainstream Judaism, and in the eyes of many is a blasphemy to Judaism no different from the messianic beliefs of Christianity."

    Rabbi Elazar Shach, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Ponevezh yeshiva and a leader of Lithuanian Judaism, objected to the call for "forcing" the Messiah's appearance, an idea advocated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.Rav Schach repeatedly and bitterly attacked Schneerson and his followers on a number of issues, among them messianism, describing Schneerson himself as "insane" an "infidel" and a "false messiah"

    Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1892-1962), founder of the Lakewood Yeshivah in New Jersey, was severely critical of Lubavitch, in part because of the extreme emphasis on messianism.

    Rabbi Aharon Feldman, dean of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College expresses wonderment at the fact that the "great halachic authorities" have not published rulings on this subject and rules that it is forbidden to associate with Elokists under any circumstances due to their heresy and they cannot be counted for a Minyan. It is also forbidden to support meshichists in any way that lends credence to their messianic beliefs.

    Rabbi Feldman rules that anyone that can believe that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe could be Moshiach has entirely compromised judgment and should not be given any leadership position.

    " is clear that [messianists] are ignorant of Torah, thus, it is impossible to rely on their decisions in Torah matters... One who believes that amongst all those who have ever lived, the late leader of the Chabad movement is the best candidate to be our redeemer shows that he lacks any understanding of Torah values. The rulings of such a man cannot be relied upon in any matter of Torah, and a fortiori he cannot serve as a leader or Rabbi."

    In a letter addressed to Professor David Berger, Feldman points out that included in the Rambam's qualifications for the Messiah is that he "forces all of Israel to go in the way of [Torah and Mitzvos]...and fights the wars of Hashem...", and Feldman states that Schneerson has not fulfilled these credentials.

    Rabbi Elya Svei, Rosh Yeshiva of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia and others launched an effort to decertify Oholei Torah/Oholai Menachem from the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools.

    Senior American Posek, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin wrote that: "anyone who has even a spark of confusion about the boundaries between his Rebbe and an apostate. His shechita cannot be consumed, he cannot be counted for a Minyan and his testimony [in a Beit Din] and his rabbinic judgement is unsound."

    What is the basis to call Chabad Lubavitch "Orthodox" or even "Judaism"?

  5. Rabbi Avi Shafran

    "There is a reason why, to Orthodox Jews — and many non-Orthodox, no less — no matter how embracing they may be of the larger world, intermarriage represents a deep betrayal. It is more than a violation of Jewish religious law. It is an abandonment of the Jewish past and an undermining of the Jewish future.

    Because marriage, arguably the most important choice in a Jewish life, is not a partnership but rather a fusing — "and they shall be as one flesh," in the words of Genesis. Since a spouse is part of oneself, the personal consequences of intermarriage are profound, as the communal ones are in Feldman’s case; his children are not Jewish.

    Judaism views the Jewish people as a special and hallowed entity. Members of the nation are to care for all — "we are to support the poor of the nations along with the Jewish poor," as the Talmud directs. The righteous among the other nations, the Talmud goes on to teach, will receive their eternal reward. But the Jewish faith is clear about the ultimate redemption of the world: It is dependent on the Jewish people’s remaining a nation apart in fundamental ways. One way is in our basic beliefs — for instance, that God gave our ancestors His law and never subsequently changed it. Another is in our commitment to the integrity of the Jewish people qua people — our commitment, in other words, to marry other Jews.......

    If one begins with the premise that intermarriage is dangerous to the Jewish people and the Jewish mission, the intermarried cannot enjoy our acceptance. There may be quibbles about the means by which we express our rejection of their choice, but the absence of any communal expression of reproach is nothing less than an invitation to intermarriage.

    To my lights, it doesn’t seem extreme in the least for a Jewish school to make clear to an intermarried alumnus that despite his secular accomplishments, it feels no pride in him for his choice to intermarry. I wouldn’t expect people at an American Cancer Society gathering to smile politely at a chain-smoking attendee, either.

    It is painful, no doubt, to be spurned by one’s community. It is painful, too, for a community to feel compelled to express its censure. Sometimes, though, in personal and communal life no less than in weightlifting, only pain can offer — in the larger, longer picture — hope of gain.


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