Parashat Pinhas

Pinhas in America?

The Torah portion deals with intermarriage, a problem we know all too well today.

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For most American Jews, a flight back into the seclusion of the ghetto is unacceptable. The zealotry of Pinhas is no longer helpful.

Permit me to close with a concise formulation of my own view. First, I believe that if our children end up marrying non-Jews we should not reject them. Their choice of a mate is usually not made out of pique with us or in rebellion against Judaism. They happened to fall in love with a non-Jew because that is where circumstances, which admittedly we might have better controlled, placed them. Indeed, we should love them more in order to retain a measure of influence on their lives, Jewishly and otherwise. Life consists of constant growth and our adult children may yet reach a stage when Judaism will suddenly take on new meaning for them.

Second, we should not miss an opportunity to give the non-Jewish spouse of our son or daughter a chance to savor Jewish experience. We should start from strength by taking them into our families and exposing them often to the emotional warmth, ethical standards, intellectual power, and artistic beauty of Judaism. While religious conversion remains for me the final goal, I realize fully that helping someone even consider the idea takes patience, sensitivity, and understanding.

Third, in the midst of our confusion and pain we should not ask of Judaism to adopt measures which do violence to its integrity. Judaism is not responsible for the intermarriage crisis nor is it without resources to address it. That is why I stress the historical significance of conversion as a reflection of religious openness and universalism. We absolutely need to do as much outreach as possible, giving intermarried couples a sense of being welcome and an appreciation of the sacred in Judaism, but without eliminating boundaries. In time, Jews by choice will undoubtedly enrich Judaism with their own religious sensibilities.

And, finally, long before intermarriage takes place, we need to deepen the Jewish consciousness of our children. If we can extend their study of Judaism beyond bar-and bat-mitzvah, enlarge and enhance the Jewish teaching profession, build more day schools and enrich the curriculum of our afternoon schools, expand the opportunities for informal Jewish education in Israel, at camp, and in youth movements, and, above all, turn our home into a venue of holiness, we will dispose our youngsters to seek a Jewish mate, and, short of that, to expect of their non-Jewish mate to become a Jew by choice. With sufficient pride and knowledge they will not long abandon us or Judaism. In sum, where external barriers no longer exist to separate us from our neighbors, we must cultivate inner resources to offset the pull of complete assimilation.

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Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.