Talmidav Shel Aharon
22-5768: Mitzvah N-19-20
April 7, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 19 – This is a negative commandment: Do not intermarry with a non-Jewish person.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “Neither shall you make marriages with them.” (Deut. 7:3). It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
Negative Mitzvah 20 – This is a negative commandment: Have no mercy on idol-worshippers.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “nor shall you show mercy to them.” (Deut. 7:2). If someone sees an idol-worshipper drowning, he is not to save him. In his illness, he is not to cure him. If he is afraid of him or there is the consideration of consequent enmity, let him cure him for a fee, but not for free. It is, however, forbidden to end the man’s life with one’s own hands or toe push him into a pit and so on, if the other makes no hostile attack against him. One is not to give him any free gift, nor is one to speak his praise, and all the more certainly not in praise of his actions. It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
The Hafetz Hayyim lets Mitzvah 19 go without comment because, for him, it is evident and plain to see that intermarriage leads to idolatry. It happened in the Torah, in Parshat Balak, and it happens in the rest of the Bible over and over again. A non-Jewish spouse leads one away from the faith of one’s ancestors. This is one of the main reasons that paganism was to be kept far away from Israel and from Jews. One can even claim that the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut were designed to keep Jews and non-Jews from mixing in social situations, whether they are of a religious nature or not. Judaism does not recognize marriages between Jews and non-Jews. This is why there is no reason to have a Rabbi perform an intermarriage. The entire wedding ceremony presumes a marriage between Jews. The wedding would have no meaning if one of the parties does not claim to be a part of the Jewish people.
For the Hafetz Hayim, a Jew who married a non-Jew was lost to the Jewish people. Whatever Jewish customs they might maintain would almost certainly be lost in the next generation.
Today, there are families that intermarry and choose to maintain ties to Judaism. It is often a very difficult road and statistically, the next generation has a much less connection to Judaism. This, of course, does not apply if one person converts to Judaism. In this case, it is a marriage between two Jews and does not fall under the prohibition above. We live in a world where people do what they feel they need to do but living in a home where there are two religions is hard for the couple and hard on their children. We find that homes should have one faith to raise the children and the time to address this is before the marriage. As I said, it is not impossible for intermarriage to work, it is just very hard and one faith or the other will fade into the background, as the other becomes a larger part of family life. The vast majority of the literature on dual faith families is that children raised with two faiths, will, in the end, practice none.
Mitzvah 20 is complex for the Hafetz Hayim but far less for us. Jewish History is filled with Jews who worked on behalf of ancient and modern empires and faiths and did not follow the strict, almost bigoted, rules above. The Talmud states that one is to treat every non-Jew as one would treat a Jew if, for no other reason than “for the sake of peace” a topic the Hafetz Hayim touches on briefly in the explanation of the Mitzvah. If they are drowning, let me make this clear, we rescue them (as long as we do not endanger our own lives in the process; we are not allowed to save any other person, Jew or non-Jew if we endanger our own life). We treat the non-Jew and the Jew the same way when it comes to medicine and healing (The State of Israel heals Palestinian sick every day, ignoring borders and family connections). We treat the property of the non-Jew as if it was our own property and we return lost animals to non-Jews as we would return the lost animal of a Jew.
Also, it is forbidden to kill any human being for any reason or to endanger their lives in any way. All human beings are created in G-d’s image and all life must be treated as holy. We cannot be best friends with an idolater nor can we join them socially, but we do have to act to them as human beings who deserve basic human rights and privileges. This is not Conservative Judaism but all found in basic Jewish texts. There has always bee this trend in Judaism to favor Jews and reject all contact with non-Jews. It is always a minority opinion and the majority of Jewish sources insist that we treat all people fairly and with justice. Also, I remind everyone again, that Christianity and Islam are not considered pagan in Jewish legal circles.
In our interfaith world, we can learn about the faiths of others as long as they do not try to convert us to their faith by enticement or by force. Short of proselytizing, a non-Jew must be treated as we would a Jew in every other basic civic situation.