Posted on | August 27, 2007 | By Guest Contributor | 35 Comments
In much of this thread, there has been a lack of recognition displayed of the complexities at the level of the individual home, and sympathy for their plight. I absolutely *do not* argue with the basic premise that intermarriage is not only forbidden, but possibly far more harmful to us than other forbidden phenomena.
Nevertheless, over the years that I have spoken with rabbanim/poskim about these issues on a *practical* level, seeking paths to deal with real families in real communities, I have been tortured by the pain this issue creates for them. Moreover, all the rabbanim I worked with were pained by the difficulties facing these families in fixing the situation. I have seen grown men cry over this more than once. That pain is evident in writing as well; even in responsa from way back to Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher, or Rav Leifland (author of Gerim V’gerut, posek in Russia and later in the US). Whereas a ‘tough’ approach was appropriate in some communities in some times; this is not universally the case. Rav Leifland writes how he blames himself for an intermarriage continuing because he was tougher (in retrospect) about a conversion than maybe he needed to be.
Like any halachic issue, ultimate judgement and application is on a case by case basis. I am not advocating a touchy feely, let’s all just get along view. I am suggesting that rabbanim who shoulder the responsibility for such dealings tend to invest a lot of effort in understanding a family’s difficulties, and in seeking (not always finding) solutions for them.
Already 20 years ago, I sat in a shiur from Rav Gedaliah Rabinowitz, who questioned if some of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s decisions on these issues would still apply. He noted that it was indeed relevant to consider circumstances, time, and place. He noted how rabbanim like Rav David Tzvi Hoffman (M’lamed L’hoil) took differently nuanced approaches to the same issues, probably influenced by the atmosphere and environment they were working in. One could certainly argue that rabbanim like Rav Uziel took different approaches also because they honestly saw things a bit differently.
Maybe I am so disturbed because I have worked up close with successes and failures in helping families already confronted with the dilemma. Yes, we must prevent intermarriage. Yes, intermarriage is really a symptom of a lack of Torah. But for those families discovering Torah already after the fact, we had better be loving and patient and looking for every *legitimate* way to encourage and help them make a change.
That attitude was missing in much of this thread, and I am genuinely surprised at us. We, of all Jews, should know better. That’s why when Joshua Sachs posted here much earlier on, I was so disappointed that hardly anyone displayed any concern or sympathy over his plight. This isn’t just about being right in the argument or convincing someone; this is about caring enough about Jews with a most difficult plight to show them love and concern and encouragement.