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A Nice Jewish Girl for Isaac (Chaye Sarah – 11/23/19)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

A Nice Jewish Girl for Isaac
Jewish traditions have deep roots. Bestowing a Hebrew name, circumcision at eight days, veiling the bride and burying the dead are all customs originating with the earliest stories in the Bible.
In-marriage, one Jew marrying another, is also one of those venerated age-old values.
It stems from Abraham’s request in the parsha we read this past Shabbat (Genesis 24: 1-4)
“And Abraham was old, advanced in days, and the Lord had blessed Abraham with everything. And Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his house, who ruled over all that was his, “Please place your hand under my thigh. And I will adjure you by the Lord, the God of the heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose midst I dwell. Rather you shall go back to my land and to my birthplace, and you shall take a wife for my son, for Isaac.”
Yet, there are some obvious problems with Abraham’s request. The famed medieval commentator, Don Isaac Abarbanel, points them out clearly:
“Why did Abraham order Eliezer to not take a wife for Isaac from the Canaanite daughters? If it was because they were idolaters, well, Abraham’s family from Charan were also idolaters. Now if Isaac told Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman, it was based on the horrid experiences they had from Esau’s wives. Abraham though did not have these awful experiences, so why should he distance them? Furthermore, Betuel and Nachor (Abraham’s nephew and brother) were known to be just as evil and sinful in their actions and beliefs as the Canaanites! On the other hand, Abraham did have some good Canaanite friends and allies in Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, so why not choose someone worthy from them?”
Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch suggested that since Abraham and Isaac were still considered sojourners in the land, if Isaac would have married one of the local girls, Isaac’s influence over her would be weak. She would be a proud daughter of one of the prominent local families and she would be divided between Abraham and Isaac’s religious goals and her family’s goals.
Our Lunch n’ Learn group suggested that even though Abraham and his brother’s family differed religiously, they shared a common family history and many ritualistic practices. God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation, therefore he was looking for a woman that could easily cultivate his goals. Rebecca not only shared the same history as Isaac but as is evident in her kindness to a total stranger at the well, shared the family values. Once she joined Isaac in marriage, it was assumed that she would then take on his religious beliefs as well.
Abraham’s desire to pass on his mission and values to the next generations still resonates strongly with many Jewish parents. Therefore, one of the most sensitive issues nowadays is intermarriage, as people fear it will lead to a discontinuation or weakening of the Jewish future. What was a minority union decades ago has become the path of most non-Orthodox Jewish Millennials. A recent study reveals that the intermarriage rate is estimated at 60%[1] and perhaps even higher.
This should not be taken as a failure by the parents to pass on their values and love of Judaism. Intermarriage nowadays occurs in the strongest and most devoted Jewish families. Rather, it’s a generational phenomenon. Rabbi Mike Uram explains in Next Generation Judaism,
“Not only do millennials prefer more intimate forms of Jewish community, they also tend to be turned off by any kind of affiliation or membership because that creates a wall between their Jewish lives and the rest of their lives in a way that doesn’t reflect who they are. Millennials see their identity as more fluid than previous generations. For example, rather than being either Jewish or American, millennials see their identity almost as a series of windows on a computer screen that can all be open at the same time or that can be rearranged or closed as desired. This means that they don’t want to be forced to choose between being members or non-members or between Jewish spaces and regular spaces. They want to feel that their different identity characteristics can be flexible and integrated with one another.”
Hence, whom they choose as a life partner is not binary as well. Choosing someone non-Jewish as a spouse does not mean they are quitting Judaism. Rather they believe they can practice Judaism and love someone who is not at the same time.
Many times, these families raise their children with both religions, and sometimes they are solely committed to Judaism. We have a number of intermarried families in our congregation who send their kids to Hebrew school, go through conversion for their children, and are devoted to spreading the love of Judaism from one generation to the next. It’s not uncommon to see these families surpass their in-married peers in their commitment to Judaism.
We cannot control our children. Influences from friends and peers many times outweigh what we try to impart to them. But we should know that our efforts are never lost. Those times spent together embracing the holidays, celebrating Bnei Mitzvot, enjoying Shabbat meals and discussing what they learned in Hebrew School (especially MHJC’s!) become part and parcel of our children’s fabric. If our child chooses to marry out, all those positive experiences will stay with them. When it comes to raising their children, we may be greatly surprised when we see them embrace all that is dear and cherished to us.
If our child comes home announcing they’re in love with someone non-Jewish, our initial response may be similar to Abraham’s. But wait and see, that person may be more like Rebecca or Isaac, than someone really named Rebecca!

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