A JEWISH LIFE REQUIRES A JEWISH SPOUSE.
BY RABBI REUVEN MANN
One of the most misunderstood aspects of Judaism is its categorical prohibition of intermarriage, i.e., the wedded union of a Jew with a non-Jewish partner. This is not just an ordinary injunction, but it is one which goes to the heart and soul of what it means to be Jewish. It is of the greatest importance that we seek to understand and appreciate the deeper reasons for the Torah’s insistence on “marrying Jewish.” We note with sadness the high rate of intermarriage, which is a byproduct of the extensive cultural assimilation of contemporary Jews.
Marriage, according to Judaism, is a divinely ordained institution, which is vital to the fulfillment of man’s purpose on earth. The Torah says that Adam, when alone, was “not good” (lo tov) i.e., not in an appropriate state. He needed an “ezer k’negdo”, a helper alongside him. We must recognize our limitations. No human, however talented and capable, is entirely self-sufficient. He or she requires a specially suited partner with whom to join in building the unique physical and spiritual relationship in which their life’s’ goals will come to fruition. The life of man is not simple and one dimensional like that of an animal. It contains many diverse and complicated activities such as working, raising a family, building a community, etc. Most people regard these mundane aspects of their lives as being separate from religion. Judaism is different. It is a profound philosophy of life with values, ideals, and a deep wisdom that pertains to all areas of human endeavor. Love, marriage, children, family are endowed with holiness when they incorporate the spiritual purposes assigned to them by Judaism.
It is therefore untenable to treat Judaism as a narrow and shallow religion and say “I am only Jewish when I perform specific religious actions such as praying, fasting, etc. When that activity is concluded I go to work and what I do there has nothing to do with the requirements of my religion. When work is finished I go home and interact with my spouse and children. I do not see these activities as having any connection to my religion.” Such a view is contrary to the very essence of Judaism.
The first paragraph of the “shema” states “and you shall speak these words when you sit in your home and when you travel on the road, when you lie down and when you arise.” This teaches that Torah is an all encompassing philosophy which relates to and enhances every zone of the human experience. Love and marriage are not isolated ends in themselves. They are vital components of a lifestyle, which is founded upon the appropriate service of God.
The most important aspect of the partner with whom you seek to establish a life which fulfills the Torah ideals is his or her “spiritual quality”. How can you marry someone who does not share your most central beliefs and ideals? How can a Jew marry an atheist and establish with that person a home whose values are based on the awareness that “in the image of God He created the human”. It goes without saying that a Jew cannot, by definition, be married to a Christian, Moslem or adherent of any other religion. The Torah describes the married couple as becoming “one flesh”. This means that an all embracing partnership is formed between two people who are compatible on every plane of existence and view their relationship as a means of achieving the purpose God spelled out for us in His Torah. By joining together they become one person working and striving in tandem to fulfill themselves and to give life to the next generation.
The service of God, which Judaism prescribes, demands that we do not live only for ourselves. We are obliged to help others and share with them the benefits of life with which we have been graced. A major aspect of this obligation involves the bearing and raising of children. No mitzvah is more significant than this. By bringing more manifestations of the “tzelem Elokim” (Divine image) into the world we join with Hashem in the work of creation. While it is obligatory to help people in the material necessities of life, the highest form of compassion is that which assists them in fulfilling their spiritual purpose. One who imparts values and ideals to another person and facilitates the development of a vibrant, wise, and morally upright personality, engages in the truest form of human compassion.
Thus, the most noble and compassionate endeavor is the proper raising of children. While the parent provides for all the physical and emotional needs of the child, the most exalted expression of parenting is expressed in the verse, “and you shall teach them to your children…” One’s service of God achieves its highest level when one creates new life and transmits our greatest treasure, the Torah, to the next generation. For one to benefit from Judaism and keep it to oneself would be extremely selfish. To be a Jew in the fullest sense means to live a life all of whose goals and endeavors are permeated with the wisdom and compassion of the unique philosophy and “derech” (pathway) of Torah. It is only with someone who partakes of Jewish values and is committed to the Torah lifestyle that we can truly become “one flesh”.