Tomorrow, December 7th, 2010, every unmarried Jew in the world will marry a gentile. Instantly, the Jewish people are doomed: their kids will lose their identity as Jews. A generation or two later, they’ll become gentiles.
Voila! No more Jews.
That’s the fear among religious Jews, at least.
Intermarriage, as it’s called, will destroy the Jewish people by assimilation.
And while it’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s happening at a staggering rate, with some commentators suggesting a 50% intermarriage and assimilation rate in Western nations, with some places as high as 90%.
In other words, 1 of every 2 Jewish people will marry a gentile and their kids will be assimilated into the nations as gentiles, thus losing Jewish identity in a generation or two.
James Pyles, a gentile Messianic married to a non-believing Jewish wife, asks tongue-and-cheek:
I'm a Gentile and my wife is Jewish! Should I divorce her for the sake of her Judaism?
I am a Gentile Christian (I consider myself "Messianic" but my wife thinks of me as a "Christian") and my wife is genetically, ethnically, and religiously (non-Messianic) Jewish.
James details a his marriage to his wife 30 years ago – when both were secular – and how they’ve changed their paths since then: him becoming Messianic, her going Chabad.
Go read James’ post. Go read it, now.
Still not convinced intermarriage is a real problem? Stats back this up:
During the Soviet era, there was a steady decline in the official Jewish population from 2,267,800 in 1959 to 1,450,500 Jews in 1989. Then, from 1990-2000 period, a further 980,000 Jews (1.4 million by the Law of Return definition of a Jew) emigrated from the FSU (Former Soviet Union). Meanwhile, in Russia, there were then about 2.8 Jewish births and 30.0 deaths per 1,000 Jewish population. Intermarriage was about 70 percent. and close to 80 percent in Ukraine and Latvia in 1996; furthermore a non-Jewish nationality was generally preferred for the children of outmarried.
Other world statistics are a bit more optimistic, but still not that good, suggesting about 1/3rd of all Jews intermarry:
Religious Jews freak out about this stuff. No, really, some religious Jews say this is the worst thing to happen since the Holocaust:
Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, 12 million were left afterwards. Today there are only 13 million Jews in the world. Where are the rest that by natural increase should number close to 20 million? The answer is that the silent holocaust of assimilation has caused them to disappear as Jews.
While that’s from a biased source, note the staggering statistic: he’s saying there are 13 million Jews today when there should be 20 million.
In other words, 7 million Jews have been lost to assimilation since 1945.
That’s more Jews than died in the Holocaust.
I do wonder whether these statistics account for the inverse scenario of gentiles who rediscover Jewish ancestry, thus creating Jews out of thin air, and also those gentile proselytes. But let’s set that a side for a moment and ask, who cares? Does God care?
Is it important for Messianic Jews to avoid marrying gentiles?
Obviously for traditional Judaism, intermarriage is a problem. If Jews disappear, Judaism does, too, so it’s a matter of survival. Duh.
And for Christianity, no one gives a turd. We’re all One In Jesus, blahbity blah blah.
But for Messianics, there’s something interesting here.
We Messianics are certain God intended for the survival of his special people, Israel. It’s all over the Bible, including the New Testament. So we should side with the Orthodox Jews, right? No intermarriage. Frown on that shih-tzu with a righteous frown!
After all, God told Israel not to marry gentiles.
In the famous 613 commandments list compiled by a medieval Jewish scribe, commandment #162 is “not to marry non-Jews”. It’s taken from Deuteronomy 7:3:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
Although the commandment is not to intermarry with the nations occupying the Canaan area, modern religious Jews extend this to mean “don’t intermarry with gentiles, period.”
So, do we follow the Orthodox Jewish route and frown on Jews marrying gentiles?
Look at the commandment. Unlike most commandments, God actually gives a reason for this commandment. The reason is:
They [the gentile spouse] will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods.
Christians may be misguided about many things, but they are not serving other gods.
Christians are worshiping the God of Israel. Jesus is not a 2nd god. (Can I get an ‘amen’?! )
If we can agree that gentile disciples of Messiah are not worshiping other gods, then we must concede that the “no intermarriage” commandment does not apply to Christians.
Yep. It follows: there is a commandment against marrying pagans, but Christians are not the old pagans of yesteryear. (Sorry to all you paganoid demon-under-every-stone types!) Even the strictest Messianic Jew will concede gentiles in Messiah are part of the commonwealth of Israel; this commandment, then, could not work against them, seeing they are co-heirs and fellow citizens.
Jewish Messianics may object, “But what about the preservation of the Jewish people?”, and they have a point, but we must concede that that goal is a given, not a commandment. There is no commandment that says a Jew cannot marry a gentile follower of Yeshua.
To claim Deuteronomy 7 applies to gentiles in Messiah is to claim such people are following other gods, in essence, claiming Christians are idolaters and deserve death through stoning.
My Personal Intermarriage Story
You might say I’m biased. I’m part Jewish, and I married a beautiful and lovely and sweet and kind gentile Christian woman, Kristin. (Hold back your righteous frowns, you ivory-tower-dwelling religious butt-heads!)
I’m part Jewish, you see, and my wife is a gentile Christian.
My dad is Jewish, now certified as such by an Chabad Orthodox rabbi, and I have been raised as a son of the commandments and a servant of the God of Israel since I was a child. I have been keeping God’s commandments for 2 decades. I attended a church with my wife the other week, and someone asked if we had put our Christmas tree up yet; I responded, “As a Jew, I celebrate Hanukkah”. I love the people and land of Israel. I defend our people against anti-Semitism wherever I see it, public or private. I identify as a Jew.
Granted, I’m no thoroughbred. Modern religious Jews trace descent through the mother, and not the father; strict religious Jews may consider me a gentile. And the state of Israel has yet a different, broader standard for determining who is a Jew. Ultimately, I don’t care about what those groups think; I’m not looking for Orthodox Jewish approval, praise God.
More importantly, I identify myself as a follower of the Messiah, the only real Jewish Messiah, the future King of Israel, the person who showed us how to live the Torah: Yeshua. My identity lies first in Yeshua, before all other affiliations.
Does being Messianic get in the way?
When I married my wife, Kristin, the thought never occurred to me, “should you be marrying a gentile?”
Seriously, it never once crossed my mind.
Even if it had, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I knew there would be religious differences, but, as they say, love conquers all. And romantic love ain’t no exception, boy!
It wasn’t until being surrounded with and subjected to voices in the Messianic Jewish/Proselyte blogosphere telling me how evil it is to intermarry; only then did this question cross my mind. Should I prepare my face for a big honkin’ righteous frown when it comes to sweet forbidden Jew-gentile lovin’?
So here I am, 7 years into a kind of intermarriage, and folks on my side of the religious aisle more than ever are frowning on this kind of thing.
There have been problems in my marriage. Hey, I’m being honest. There have been problems as a result of our religious differences. Yep. But love really has conquered here. I mean, despite our religious differences, I really love my wife. I have no desire to marry anyone else. Religious pedants be damned. I love her.
Will my kids grow up following other gods? Ha. If any person can answer that with certainty, he has a career in fortune telling.
I will do everything in my power to ensure they won’t follow other gods, or No-God.
And I think I’m doing alright in that regard in raising my kids.
Will my kids grow up to be Christian, totally abandoning all their Jewish heritage, rejecting the commandments, identifying not as Israel but as Church?
Ha. That’s a hard question to answer.
I will do everything in my power to ensure my kids live a Godly life, with an understanding that they are part of Israel, and that the commandments are good and will lead towards a life of real joy in the Lord.
I concede that intermarriage weakens Jewish identity. It certainly will in my kids, no matter how much I protest.
The question is, how much does intermarriage matter?
- Utmost Importance - A silent Holocaust that erases Jewish people, as some stringent religious Jews claim it to be.
- Irrelevant – It doesn’t matter because we are all one body in Christ, as some Christians claim.
Or somewhere in between?
I am convinced: when my life is over, God will have plenty of sins to wash, but none of them will be my marriage to Kristin. It is not a sin for a Jew to marry a gentile follower of Yeshua.
I can’t imagine any of the disciples of Yeshua commanding us, “…if a believer among you is a Jew, let him not marry any gentile believer…”
That sounds more like a nightmare out of an MJTI conference than anything the disciples wrote.
But we don’t really have any great examples of intermarriage, for or against, in the New Testament, perhaps because the Jewish culture of the time itself forbade it. So it’s hard to say with any certainty whether intermarriage is at all important for us as disciples of Yeshua.
But what about Jews disappearing?
It’s a given that God will preserve Israel, one way or another. So relax. God can raise up sons of Abraham from little pebbles on the ground; is it too much for him to do the same for Jacob? Maybe that’s why the disciples found no need to issue such a clarification on Jew-gentile intermarriage, it just wasn’t a major issue. If that’s the case, we too should avoid making it a major issue.
Orthodox Judaism has been trying to preserve Israel by shunning intermarriages, and they’ve failed. Miserably. Intermarriage will happen when Jews are around gentiles. For Messianic Judaism, where Jews and gentiles are going to worship together, of course there’s gonna be a little Jew-gentile lovin’ going on.
Perhaps a deeper problem is the exile. Israel is in exile. When in exile, you tend to pick up the surrounding culture’s…uh, culture.
Intermarriage, then, isn’t the problem, but rather a vehicle and side-effect of the real problem of being exiled.
Perhaps that’s why God re-established the State of Israel. Exile now has a solution, intermarriage largely goes away, Israel is preserved, and God’s plans move forward.
Shunning intermarriage is a proven failure. Messianic Judaism would do well to avoid that failure.
How do you think Messianics should treat intermarriage? Should we consider it a grave sin like the Orthodox Jewish world does? Treat it as irrelevant like the Christian world does? Something in between?