How Should We Relate to a Relatives Non-Jewish Spouse?

A friend of mine, an FFB Ben Torah, received this letter from his estranged intermarried niece as a response, to a family wedding invitation. His sister an avowed atheist who has since passed on; isolated herself from the family well over 50 years ago and raised her children as atheists.

The letter which is pretty self explanatory basically poses the classic challenge of “How are you going to accept my (non-Jewish) spouse?”; within the framework of the background of “my mother estranged herself from yiddishkeit but I grew up this way and is there any way for us to have common ground”. This is another twist on the timeless issue of how to deal with intermarried relatives, but when neither side has changed or forfeited their original lifestyle

Any ideas for a response or an approach?

– R’ Reuven

Here is the letter:

Dear,

It has been a long time since you have heard from me so I have decided to share some of my thoughts with you so you would better understand what is behind that silence. I have felt confused about how to handle a relationship with you knowing we live in different worlds though we come from the same family. There is much you do not know or understand about my world and life and the same can be said about my dim knowledge about your life. I do however appreciate your reaching out and making some efforts to see me. I was curious to meet you and anxious to learn more about my mother’s years with a family destiny has cut me off from knowing. I wanted desperately to understand my own mother better since there was so much about her past she did not talk about or share with me. But there was a serious problem with our meetings we never addressed. How come we could not meet in my home where you could meet my husband who was made to feel left out of the picture as if he did not exist? I do not wish to exclude him from any future contact I would have with my family which has caused me to distance myself from you.

Last year I received an invitation to a wedding in your family and I was very pleased at the thought of meeting the family and being invited. There was something holding me back from feeling comfortable with the invitation. There was no mention of my husband. Was he also invited, would he have been welcome?

I do not foresee the possibility of close relations between us because of the complexity of the past and the differences in our lifestyles and life choices. However, some degree of communication could be possible, even desirable, if there would be some acknowledgement of the fact that my husband is part of the family dynamic. His exclusion is unnatural and hurtful to both of us. I know my mother left this world with many things unresolved in relation to her family and her tangled past. But I also know there were many painful things she could not talk about openly that bothered her, and one of them was how to resolve or bridge the rift between the family she was born into and the family she created and raised. I have no doubts that if we could find some way of overcoming these obstacles she would have been very pleased, especially since it was something she could never find a way of accomplishing in her own lifetime.

This letter is meant as a friendly gesture, a means of conveying what is on my mind and a chance for you to think about how you wish to handle our relationship. It is important to me that any relationship we might have include both me and my husband, for that is the family I belong to. You and your wife are welcome to visit us in our home in ……. where we have been living the last few years since our retirement.

………………………….

I hope your family is well and that you are in good health.

Respectfully,

53 comments on “How Should We Relate to a Relatives Non-Jewish Spouse?

  1. Why not write a long, beautiful and heartfelt handwritten letter on lovely stationery to the intermarried niece? Emphasize that both she and her husband are wonderful individuals personally, but that intermarriage in general is a very difficult problem for the Jewish people.

    Point out that whole Jewish communities like the one in Kaifeng, China totally disappeared due to intermarriage and assimilation. Discuss how hundreds of Jewish families who came to the United States between 1654 and 1880 simply vanished. Notable celebrities like Elvis Presley and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were rumored to have been descended from maternal grandmothers who intermarried, making them actually Jewish through matrilineal descent.

    Your niece as an older Jewish woman may be receptive to the fact that many Jewish men who intermarried in the sixties and seventies blamed it on the supposed failings of Jewish women. These men justified marrying out by claiming that Jewish mothers were neurotic harpies and Jewish girls were spoiled princesses. Jewish women received a very undeserved negative public image (think of the novels of Philip Roth and of the movies of Woody Allen).

    Hopefully your niece is honest enough to admit she married her husband because she loved him and not because anything was wrong with Jewish men or Judaism. A long, heartfelt, kind but honest letter would do a great deal to keep the family connection while not approving of the action.

  2. #31 (Fern) “After all, it the religious Jewish community that cares to have a connection with today’s secular Jews, not the other way around. It’s kind of hard to bring someone closer to Torah when you have shunned them.”

    As I have learned from personal family experience, if you outright shun the intermarried spouse, you have effectively slammed the door on the Jew ever returning to Torah. Granted, it’s a VERY fine line and one that contantly needs to be managed. But, you cannot have hashpa on someone if there’s no contact.

    #42 (Ben-David)”It will only convince them that they are not really missing anything of substance by skipping Judaism.”

    As several have stated, once an intermarriage occurs, you have to conduct yourself differently. You never know how your behavior may be construed and remember, as a frum Yid, everyone is watching. When you conduct yourself with sensitivity and derech eretz you could bring change in a number of ways. You could show the Jew how a Torah Yid lives & behaves, thereby planting the seed of interest. This could bring about a divorce of the intermarrieds, bring the Jew back, or even bring about a conversion that IS al pi halacha. At the very least, you will be making a Kiddush Hash-m. IMHO, if we always keep the idea that all humans are created b’tzelem Elokim, you will make a Kiddush Hash-m. That’s always the high road.

    Isn’t it ALWAYS best to show the Jew & Gentile that observance of Torah nurtures Jews to be refined, sensitive & straight? Why can’t we treat people with respect while maintaining our principles? It’s important to convey the message that although you may not approve of their lifestyle choices, you will always love them.

    For many, you may be the only frum Yid they will ever know. It’s a huge responsibility.

  3. While a person shouldn’t pasken halacha for himself, in most cases shunning family events that, pre-BT, a person would have attended is generally a bad idea and a chillul hashem. As someone mentioned above, a person needs an appropriate Rav.

  4. “If the Kohen Gadol’s children had remained intermarried… would have been disqualified from serving as Kohen Gadol.”

    Steve – thank you for these sources. They certainly drive home the gravity of intermarriage for the KLAL. One little couple may think they’re doing the seemingly divine act of loving one another… while in truth acting like the “private” drill holer in the ship.

    Still, this should NOT be construed to indicate that ANY intermarried Jew who fully fasts on YK, and certainly if he sincerely partakes in the services, does not get kapara. The Cohen Gadol is judged on a much finer level.

    Really now, this cuts right into the core of the tension between realizing how much H’ loves ea. individual Jew vs His loathing our sinful actions. We too must emulate His ways and seek out every opportunity to love the individual while being very clear on when to keep a distance from his actions. Even if that will cause them to feel unloved.

    Btw, I think the passuk from a cpl of parshas ago abt Leah being sanua, hated, is very cogent. Obviosuly Y.Avinu didn’t hate her! But his needing to keep some distance made HER feel that way… and the end, she benefitted from it!

  5. BD – who told you its ok to invite the non-Jewish business associates? The pt is that a chasuna is a specifically JEWISH event, and one revolving around the fine art of kedusha at that. Hence bringing in elements that contradict the basis of kedusha (which non-Jews have no connection to) is simply, let us say, counterproiductive.

    Still, we all know about b’dieved. S-o-m-e-t-i-m-e-s business associates would be offended if not invited. If that really can’t be avoided, then it may be mutar. Yet this would only be in cases where they aren’t outright involved in any aveiras (like the cross-wearer, earlier discussed).

    This is in contrast, of course, to the intermarried Yid. As many have noted, with all the greatest respect, these are ppl doing very grave, ongoing aveiras. While you may want to blurr the lines with provacative exagerations of the issue as one of shunning and snobbing, for those of us who care deeply about the integrity of Halacha, you are entirely missing the point.

    Re. your pt about whether this Halacha might “convince them that they are not really missing anything of substance by skipping Judaism”, I think you’re right that this is a very difficult consequence of Halachic observance. For me personally, as I’ve tried to indicate, it’s at times profoundly sadenning.

    But we must chose our priorities. For Halachically faithful BTs, somewhat like A.A. and his father, as mentioned, it sometimes means making short term sacrifices for longer terms gains.

  6. I’m Jewish, my point was not what would actually happen, but which halachic principal would win out, not offending or to give approval to a halachically impermissible act.

    In fact you can’t show approval for a halachically impermissible act, whether the person wants the approval or not. And I think it’s clear that the poskim are the ones to decide what is showing approval, and not what you or I might feel is or isn’t showing approval.

    The question is what acts constitute showing approval.

    And you are correct that Kiruv is important, but you can not violate Torah halacha even for Kiruv and the first determination has to be if halachic principles are being violated.

    Many great Poskim have struggled and continue to struggle with these questions, so I am working on clarify what halachic principles are in play here. I’ll try to post what I find out.

  7. “What happens at the next visit if the niece proclaims publicly that “I’m glad you finally approve of my marriage”. Would you keep silent so as not to offend?”

    These people have been married 30, 40 years or so if they are retired. I understand that approval of one’s spouse is paramount in the Orthodox community, but you cannot take Orthodox norms and assume that they apply to secular culture. I highly doubt that the niece is looking for this uncle, who has had little to do with her over the years, to “approve” her husband. She’s looking for her uncle to treat her husband with dignity and civility, of course. But not to “approve” him as a suitable spouse for her.

    And the poster above is correct; shunning the husband will not result in the niece saying, “My, this Judaism that I’ve been missing out on for so many years — I’d better explore THAT more in depth!” It will only result in them thinking that Orthodox Judaism is an anachronism and that they are better off without it. It will damage any potential Yiddishkeit.

  8. yy, this boy is marrying a Jewish girl after what he’s been through and you don’t think that’s reason for a major mazal tov? I tell you what, I already feel enough mazal tov for the both of us. So that leaves you free to ponder the ratzon of Hashem. Let me know what you come up with.

    In the meantime, you don’t think it’s just a tad judgmental to say that there’s “no cli for receiving” the mazal tov?

  9. No time presently to properly respond to BD & Steve (assuming you’d want a “proper”one), but I’d like to quickly share a fascinating parallel happening in my little corner. Just so you see I’m not making judgments from some pedastol:

    Big sis had married a very nice goy, afterwhich my brother and I discovered Torah, which drew her to explore and eventually, after 3 children, let him know she couldn’t remain in that marriage. He started studying, did a fairly serious geirus, and a cpl years later they remarried. We were all ecstatic… but life threw them many curve balls and he became understandably discouraged after a few yrs in the local frum community.

    Eventually, everything fell apart. He left the community, all the kids went otd,and he started netting until he found another mate! But big sis remained steadfast tho broken in her faith. They divorced a cpl yrs ago, after 20-something yrs together. H’ Yishmor.

    Now the oldest boy, with whom I once was very involved with, flying over to his Yeshiva high to help him, bringing him to us for stints, etc, has had ups and downs in general life til it was unclear if he’d ever just be a healthy human being. Eventually he impressed us all with working his way into college, towards a medical degree. Then he got hooked in with an Arab girl(!), until he regained consciousness and vowed to find a Jewess.

    Well, he has, thank G-d, and they are clearly a match. They’re to be married in a cpl of weeks.

    The “problem” is that while he had wanted me to join and even offered to arrange a private corner for me to eat my Kosher takeaway, the who ceremony is a very unkosher “Jewish style” event. Thankfully, I really don’t have the money to go. But the truth is I don’t even know how I can celebrate from afar. He wants his father to give one of the brochos under the chuppa! One of his gentile cousins is to be among his “best men.”

    Now tell me, chevreh. Let’s think this out clearly. How can I discern ratzon H’ in this one for me?

    No, BD, there is no interest in “snubbing.” And certainly not in “policing.” But there IS a recognition of a need for Mazal Tov vs the realization that there’s no kli for recieving it!

    Etz HaDaas, Tov v’ra. How to refuse to take a bite while acknowledging its value, in the long run…

  10. YY-Look at Sefer Zecharyah 3:4 where the Kohanim are told to remove the soiled clothes of Yehoshuah Kohen Gadol prior to his assuming the role of Kohen Gadol. RYBS pointed out that the Talmud in Sanhedrin 93a interprets this vision as a command for Yehoshuah’s children to divorce their gentile spouses. RYBS quoted his father RMS in the name of RCS that one who marries a gentile rejects the fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith and hence cannot receive atonement on YK. If the Kohen Gadol’s children had remained intermarried, he would have been unable to request atonement on their behal and thus would have been disqualified from serving as Kohen Gadol. Thus, the Kohen Gadol’s children had to divorce thei gentile spouses before the Kohen Gadol would be allowed to perform the Avodah ( See, Machzor Mesoras HaRav LYom Kippur, Pages 599-600, Noraos HaRav, Vol. 6, PP41-42, Mesorah Journal, Vol.2, Page 22).

  11. 1) So it’s OK to invite a slew of non-Jewish business associates to a wedding, but not a non-Jew married to a Jewish relative?

    2) I don’t know about other Torah observant people, but I really do have my hands full policing my own behavior.

    Many of the opinions and halachic rulings cited here reflect the Chareidi world’s unfortunate tendency to give out grades to other people – and the BT’s unfortunate tendency to define oneself by snubbing those “left behind”.

    Which is just the sort of holier-than-thou judgmentalism that repels non-religious relatives.

    This woman is reaching out.
    She is long married to this fellow.

    Anyone interested in being a “positive influence” must look past her to her children.

    A little common sense please.
    And derech eretz, too.

    Snubbing the husband will not “educate” anyone.

    It will only convince them that they are not really missing anything of substance by skipping Judaism.

  12. Last pre-shabbos response:

    Martin said (29): Seeing families split apart becasue some members don’t like the way others observe or don’t observe, always seems far more destructive than helpful.”

    I cannot emphasise enough how understandable your position is. I’d even further it: Family unity is undoubtedly a strong DIVINE value that you can find echoed in many authoritative Halachic sfarim, let alone sifrei Hashkafa. The problem is when their is a conflict with Emes. If it’s just a matter of what some members PERSONALLY are uncomfortable with, you’re %100 right. And unfortunately many conflicts between BTs and their families seems to invlove this.

    But once we get knowledgable about the din and Kabbalah, realizing a little something about the soul POISON involved in aveiras of this nature, the issue become more complex.

    Would you vote for family unity in a family that includes a known criminal of notoriety? How about if he’s a gangster who sees his family as an exception, loving them and respecting them greatly, while doing havoc outside??

    I’m often encouraged by the Rash”y re. A. Avinu at the end of Par. Noach, how we hear abt his father Terach’s death way before the reality in order to not publicize that A.A. abandoned him in his old age. Later in “Lech-lecha” we learn that A>A> is informed that Terach did Teshuva!

    Apparently there is more than one way to do kibud Av…

  13. DISCLOSURE: I’ve really been trying to wean off the blogging and bklal have come to the conclusion that my views on this blog are too often seen as “hardlining” or somehow hurtful to others due to my understanding of emes as non-negotiable with the whims of Kiruv needs. Still I’m drawn to glance over here and share what keeps hitting me as a rare format for deep comraderie among thoughful BT’s tackling personal issues that challenge their BTness.

    That is, I too take very deeply to heart the need to find a BALANCE between Emes and kiruv and the highest aims of Yiddishkeit: Pure dveikus, relative to each individual.

    So how can I not seek to clarify my views and learn from others within this amazing thread?

    But time is tight; shabbos is coming. So let me suffice today with a few responses:

    Mark (19): “It’s a difficult path to not show approval, but to show respect and love”
    %100. I know you believe I’ve failed in the latter a few times, but I ask you to dan l’kaf zchus that this is truly my aim, and that my critiques are only b/c I am deep concerned that the former is being far too easily toyed with, as per the convenience of maintaining cultural comfort levels, power issues with the “zealots”, etc.

    Steve (21):”someone who intermarries cannot gain atonement on YK”
    I find this incredibly hard to believe and if it is somehow indicated in sifrei koidesh, that it has consensual approval amongst the majority of Poskim.

    First that ‘someone’ we’re speaking of might be a tinok sh’nishba.

    Second there is so much written about the power of teshuva EVEN for those who consistenly fail in certain Mitzvos. I imagine only the one who intermarries DAVKA whould come close to being excluded from YK kapara.

    Really now, this is one area that my hardline persona will not play into. I’m hardline for EMES, not Orthodox conventions. And the Emes is that Y.K. is a unique moment for when H’ reaches out far and beyond…

    Avigdor (30): “YY, being “emestitik” doesn’t equate with being a yirei shamim… Most folks these days aren’t k’neged.”

    Yes, it might not equate, but SHOULD lead to it. If chv”sh my calls for emes lead anyone to pick up a substantial lack of Y. Sh., PLEASE tell me. I admit this is a fine art and I’m committed to learning it. I’d like to believe that my 25 years of doing so until now, including the raising of a family who stand out, k’ayin ha’ra, for their Y. Sh., says something. Still, I do suffer from jealousy over the trampling of emes when applied to ppl from my background, so I welcome any help this way.

    Shaaaaaabbos

  14. Would that change your approach, if you knew she was looking for that?

    Possibly. That’s what I meant by subjective though. Usually people aren’t explicit so I don’t think, based the psak you and I have gotten that we need to go into someone’s head to figure out if our action is causing them to feel approval.

    Like you said we really agree, and are getting into the small stuff here. I’m happy to help you keep your page hits up if you’d like. :)

    Shabbat Shalom

  15. I don’t agree that the niece is seeking approval of her marriage. She is now post-retirement age, past the usual stage of approval-seeking, and what she wrote was “if there would be some acknowledgment of the fact that my husband is part of the family dynamic.” Acknowledgment of his inclusion in her life, not approval.

    I think this is a good segue (sp?) into an important point which should be discussed by itself on BBT, and that is how one chooses a rav to advise you about sensitive BT issues. The rav of a shul, as good as he may be at poskening every-day sheilas,or with some other areas of expertise, may not have the requisite life and halachic experience with baalei teshuva and their issues to give hadracha and psak that is appropriate. It is acceptable to have a separate rav for BT-sensitive sheilas, even if he isn’t someone whom you would bother for other questions. Someone, for example, who has spent years in kiruv and has researched these issues and spoken to gedolim about acceptable choices, given the anguish involved. Just like people go to experts in medical halacha when a family member is sick and needs halachic guidance. The issues are just as large and the implications are almost as heavy as those in the medical halachic area.

    For example, many years ago we went to a gadol (himself, and in kiruv) with the question of whether we should attend my husband’s brother’s intermarriage wedding. He told us not to go to the ceremony but to go to the reception afterwords(hiding our eyes from the dancing, dress of the guests, etc.) !! He said the same thing about our niece’s reform bat mitzvah where she read from the Torah. Not to go at all would have created a deep rift in the family and his psak was not what we would have expected from our average LOR.

  16. Menachem, we’re in complete agreement on balancing not offending with other halachic principles and on leaning on the side of not offending.

    I’m not sure what you mean by a great deal of subjectivity.

    If the niece is like most people, she does probably want spousal approval regardless, of what she wrote in the letter. Would that change your approach, if you knew she was looking for that?

  17. Nobody is “sloganing” that menshlechkeit always wins, and of course there may be times we have to “offend”. But those times are very rare and halacha, depending on your posek, can be extremely flexible in the face of offending and/or embarrassing another human being. The psak you brought above (#21) is an example of this flexibility and it also implies a great deal of subjectivity.

    Regarding the niece above, I didn’t say that she’s not seeking approval, everyone does. However my impression from her letter is that she’s not expecting it from her uncle and all all she’s seeking is that non-active disapproval that your Rabbi Welcher said was acceptable.

  18. Menachem, I think people do want approval of extremely important things like their marriage choices and will also take the absence of such as disapproval.

    I think the heart of this issue is balancing the halacha requirement of not showing approval of a serious aveira with the halachic requirement to be a mensch. As in all halachas, when you look deeply into it, it’s not so simple as sloganing that menshlechkeit (i.e. not offending) always wins.

    If the niece did say publicly that she’s glad the uncle finally approves the marriage, would you keep silent in the name of menshlechkeit?

    Do you agree that the halacha sometimes requires an act that will offend somebody?

    As an aside, I do want to point out that in this very forum we sometimes offend each other with our point counter-points, but thank G-d most of us do get past this.

  19. Mark, it’s not at all clear that the invitation opened a door. The invitation was a year earlier. Had it been addressed to both of them, as your psak indicated was feasible, she probably would have come. It sounds like she’s writing in spite of and not because of that invitation.

    If Reuven’s Rav did pasken that the husband’s name be left off, then it’s clear he’s operating in a much stricter mode than many of us have expressed here.

    If that’s the case then I think the best the uncle can do is to continue the correspondence with his niece and have no expectations about a face-to-face meeting as she wants something he may not be able to give.

    It also does not appear that she’s looking for approval of her marriage, but rather just some of the menshlechkeit we’ve been discussing.

    As an aside, I find the idea of shunning the non-Jewish spouse interesting as it’s really the Jewish spouse who’s doing something wrong.

  20. Perhaps there is some room here to give Reuven some benefit of the doubt.

    Perhaps his Rav paskened that you can’t address an invitation to the non-Jewish husband because that would be an indication of approval.

    It’s also interesting to note that the invitation did open a door that the niece walked through, despite its potential inadvisability.

    He clearly wants to reach out to the niece and has even come here for advice. The situation may be very uncomfortable and uncharted from where he sits. Did any of us ever act in a family situation and offended them?

    It seems to me that the line between not showing disapproval and showing approval is very thin and difficult to navigate.

    What happens at the next visit if the niece proclaims publicly that “I’m glad you finally approve of my marriage”. Would you keep silent so as not to offend? What if the halacha required that you can’t keep silent in that situation?

    It is great to be sensitive to not offend, but sometimes the halacha requires us to act in ways that will offend people.

  21. I completely agree with Dina.
    As for yy’s question of someone wearing a cross or from Jews for J, I would suggest reading the insightful article cy R’ A. Lichtenstein called Brother Daniel and the Jewish Fraternity concerning the monk who attempted to become an Israeli citizen by virtue of the right of return (Brother Daniel was raised in a monestary during the Holocaust).

  22. I’m curious what the hard liners on this topic would counsel when its your own parent that has intermarried. I’ve mentioned before that my father is not Jewish. Should I shun my parents? Should I only invite my mother to my children’s simchas? Maybe I shouldn’t have invited my dad to my own wedding?

    Quite frankly, I think doing any of the above would be the height of ridiculousness. I’m not nearly as learned as most here on what the Torah demands in the situation of intermarriage, but I find it hard to believe that the rule is as hard and fast as some are making it out to be.

    Inviting an already intermarried niece and her husband to an event is hardly condoning intermarriage. Perhaps the act of shunning the niece would have made an example out of her to others in generations past. But today’s secular Jews hardly fear a lack of relationship with the larger Jewish community. The time to stop that wedding has come and gone. The only thing left is to try and influence the niece’s current behavior. After all, it the religious Jewish community that cares to have a connection with today’s secular Jews, not the other way around. It’s kind of hard to bring someone closer to Torah when you have shunned them.

  23. Be civil or be silent. As Dina and others pointed out, excluding the gentile spouse is a slap in the face; what is the point? Invite both if there are good reasons to do so . Like to be mashpia on their Jewish children or to influence them toward both towards Yiddishkeit (life is full of b’devids, convert the gentile to be m’karev the Jew).

    YY, being “emestitik” doesn’t equate with being a yirei shamim. What’s the famous midrash where emes complains the Jewish people won’t keep the Torah and H’ throws emes to the ground for the sake of shalom?

    Further, I don’t understand your comparisons. How can you equate mishkav zachor with intermarriage? All humans are forbidden those actions but all of humanity is supposed to have children. Intermarriage itself can end if the non-Jew converts al pi halacha (again, a b’dieved). If a Jew practicing Christianity isn’t in your face and understands the family simcha isn’t a place to “witness” perhaps you should invite him and hope to draw them closer. Most folks these days aren’t k’neged. They just don’t know and that changes a lot.
    My intermarried relatives, the Jewish ones at least, wouldn’t give half a thought to marrying a gentile. Why should they? They just have no idea, completely innocent. Any negative signal sent is simply misunderstood. Kinda like hitch-hiking in Israel using your thumb: you want a ride and people wonder why you’re making a rude gesture. Of course you don’t say mazel tov on the “marriage,” there’s no tov there.

  24. Hi,
    I am not a BT and not FFB, just a lifelong “unorthodox” Jew constantly struggling to make sense of a religion I love and a tradition I cherish. My problem has always been my feeling that Judaism is only important when it is important for everyone — all of humanity. Seeing families split apart becasue some members don’t like the way others observe or don’t observe, always seems far more destructive than helpful.

    Judaism is not mind control, neither is it all or nothing; some are blessed with a greater ability to believe than others, some are simply born to other religions. What’s the harm and why the fear from the frum community as long as one — even the nonobservant one — always struggles to understand the Almighty and is never disrespectful? How can we repair the world when we are stll destroying ourselves — families falling apart simply because they are at odds over how certain members use the power of free will God gave them? Remember, doubt was a gift of God without which belief would be meaningless. In the same vein, the world must be full of other choices equally as compelling as Orthodoxy for the choice of Orthodoxy to be meaningful. The more loving and accepting we can be toward the “other” the more they will warm to our ways. The more we ostracize them, the more fearful and unsure we seem about our own beliefs. Why is that so hard to understand?
    mem

  25. yy, a yid who has converted and is wearing his cross has renounced something. true, he is most likely a tinok shen’shbeah, but the distinction to me is that he has embraced something else instead of judaism.

    remember those bumper stickers that said, we never lost it? well, this woman and others like her, however, never had it (except in the sense that deep down, her neshama, like mine and yours, was hard-wired with a homing device.)

    the woman who wrote the letter in the post above seems to be so sincerely searching, trying to understand how she got where she is, and what came before. to my view, a compassionate, open letter explaining in respectful terms how much it would mean to us to be able to serve as her window into her mother’s life is what is in order here.

    i myself would be happy to help the recipient fo the letter quoted above to come up with something warm, welcoming and truthful that may go a long way to helping this woman (i am a professional writer with experience in dealing with similar situations – would do this gratis.) i can be contacted via BBT.

  26. “Reuven’s” niece mentioned not only that a wedding invitation was addressed only to her (without her husband’s name) but also that Reuven and his family have in the past declined to meet her for any kind of meeting in her home, where her husband would be present. I am assuming this is not an issue of kashrus, as he doesn’t need to eat anything in order to meet her. This level of dis-acknowledgement is strange and uncivil. It is pretending that the husband doesn’t exist. While halachically we can understand that he just isn’t her *husband* because there cannot be kedushin with a non-Jew, the fact remains that this woman has been living with him for many years and is an integral part of her life.

    It is also strange that a wedding invitation was sent only to one member of a couple. Why send it at all? It is a slap in the face. It is like saying, I want to get to know you, but only on terms that are personally insulting to you and that therefore you cannot accept. I think the niece wrote a very menschlich letter given the treatment she has received in the past. And, she is showing a good level of respect for her husband by not accepting his exclusion. She sounds like a very nice and fine woman who just doesn’t understand where we are coming from and who is trying to sort out her family history.

    As for Reuven’s question, I don’t see how, 30 or so years post-marriage, what is to be gained from continuing to alienate this woman by actively excluding her husband. I am not sure why going into their home for a family discussion translates into “approval of the marriage.” And while I can understand why some people would not want a non-Jew at a religious ceremony, there was no necessity to send the invitation in the first place after so many years of not speaking. Instead they could have invited them to a sheva brochas or any other weekday dinner.

    Just my two cents,

  27. “In terms of invitations, Rabbi Henoch Liebowitz said you should address it to both parties without the title of Mr & Mrs.”

    So according to Rov Henoch you can invite a Jewish relative with the non Jewish spouse, just write their last name on the invitation without their actual names? I just wanted to make sure I understood.

  28. One other issue that warrants consideration is that although RYBS mentioned that someone who intermarries cannot gain atonement on YK, the issur is far graver for a Jewish man than a Jewish woman-whose children will be halachically Jewish.

  29. One can suggest that there are basically three levels involved in this issue-before any marriage, attending the marriage and after the marriage. I have heard RHS say that one may not even wish a Mazel Tov in any way and obviously not attend the ceremony or meal, but that after the ceremony, one can certainly be civil and mentschlick because one never knows whether the relationship will last and because the Jewish side of the relationship may opt out.

    The other issue that the post did not address is that I am sure that we all have relatives and friends whose “significant others” are not Jewish and who have no intent on getting married, even if they share the same address, etc. IMO, one can either take a “lo plug” POV and assume that they are married and maintain a civil and cordial relationship or assume, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they intend to get married.

  30. This looks to me like a fairly straightforward choice.

    You can either have a relationship with her, and her husband, and any children they have. Or you can choose to continue the estrangement from that branch of the family.

    Note that I did not say it was a straightforward decision; I’m hardly in a position to say whether it is permissible or not, or to what degree you can show respect for her husband. But the choice itself is fairly clear.

  31. Since any reason to wish a “mazel tov” is long past and irrelevant in this particular situation, it’s a non-issue here.

    The issue, as I see it, is to show this woman that we don’t think she’s “evil”. Again, I wish to emphasize the point I made earlier – no where is it apparent that there was ever any reason for this woman to think she was doing anything wrong. She was never raised even remotely as a Jew. But if Hashem accepts teshuva from us till our last breath, can’t we at least hope that by being civil to all these parties (including, her Jewish children), we will be acting in a mentchlich way. Anything else will just drive them all further away.

    The RY zt”l was always known for his compassion for the entire K’al. It is no wonder that so many of his talmidim are engaged in kiruv. The yeshiva fosters a sensitivity to the fact that not all Jews are raised to care about being Jewish.

  32. Menachem, As I’m sure you agree, Kiruv or no Kiruv, as Torah observant Jews we must follow the Torah as codified in the halacha.

    I spoke to Rabbi Welcher this morning and he said that you don’t have to actively show disapproval, but you can’t show approval. Wishing someone Mazal Tov would be showing approval. The source is the Magen Avrahom who brings down a Gemorra at the end of the 5th Perek in Gittin.

    In terms of invitations, Rabbi Henoch Liebowitz said you should address it to both parties without the title of Mr & Mrs.

    In summary, you needn’t show disapproval but you can’t show approval and of course you should be respectful and show appropriate honor.

  33. We did not go to the wedding. It was excruciating for the entire family. We spoke to so many Rabbis about this, both in and out of Kiruv.

    Regarding the post-wedding behavior, it was not only my rav who said this, but the Rosh Yeshiva of a major Israel Institution among others.

    We don’t indicate our “approval” of the marriage but nor do actively indicate our disapproval, that was handled at wedding time.

    Mark, this is a Kiruv-based web site. Most of us deal with people doing Aveiros all the time and we’d get nowhere by constantly showing our disapproval.

    In some precincts the mindset has changed and we leave the disapproving to G-d, just as with the many aveiros that the majority of Jews frum and not do all the time.

  34. Menachem, Clearly there is a different response before and after the wedding, in that you can’t prevent the wedding after it has occurred, so a different path is called for. Did you go to the wedding? Do you indicate your approval of the marriage? Are there other aveiros that you Rav feels you can indicate your approval?

    It’s a difficult path to not show approval, but to show respect and love, but I think that is what the Torah requires.

  35. “Expanding the Orthodox community is unfortunately not a justification for violating Torah law.”

    Such delicate phrasing undoubtedly sounds better than my bad-guy questions. Kol Ha’kavod. Still, could someone take a shot at answering those questions (#10)? I appreciate your concern, Menachem, for “endearing” every Jew to Torah life, whenever and however he/ she shows interest. But there is a limit, no?

    How about inviting a Jews of J relative?

    I make these comparisons because it truly pains me to see the constant rebending of the rules in the name of kiruv until anyone daring to profess straightforward loyalty to them is labelled with all sorts of pejoratives about intolerance.

    Hate the sin and not the sinner. Doesn’t it boil down to that?

  36. Hi yy, I know you’re always seeking the emes and I’ve said before, there’s no one “emes” here on Earth. The emes for the Syrian Jews of Brooklyn and Deal is that conversion is Assur. The emes for some communities is the “tear kriya” approach, and yet for others it’s a kiruv rechokim approach.

  37. The amount of time is not relevant, she is still committing a constant aveirah for which no approval can be shown.

    Mark, while this is a common approach, it’s not universally accepted. A couple of generations ago shunning an intermarried couple had an impact (think Tevya’s Chavi in Fiddler). Since we don’t live in the shtetal anymore and people can live and affiliate wherever they want the effect of this behavior is pretty much negated, both for the couple and as a deterrent.

    Additionally, if the Jewish member of the couple is a woman and they have kids you’re then dealing with Jewish children. Demeaning, shunning, or even just being neutral to their father will do nothing to endear Judaism to them.

    This is a situation we’ve had to deal (and are dealing) with. Contrary to the “ongoing aveira” approach, the rabbinic advice we’ve received makes a clear distinction between before and after the wedding in how you deal with the couple.

  38. The amount of time is not relevant, she is still committing a constant aveirah for which no approval can be shown. Expanding the Orthodox community is unfortunately not a justification for violating Torah law.

    If the niece is mature and understanding and it is explained properly, she might be able to comprehend this aspect of Jewish law – ie that a Torah abiding Jew can not condone an aveirah of another Jew.

    At the same time, if the uncle can show appropriate respect (without approval of the marriage) to the niece and her husband, a relation can possibly be maintained.

    It’s clearly a difficult situation for both parties.

  39. “It’s not a question of being civil, it’s a question of showing approval of the marriage. My Rav said that you can not even wish Mazal Tov to a Jew marrying a non-Jew. According to Jewish law the person is committing a constant aveirah and we can not encourage that in any way.”

    But again, we are not talking about a twenty-something Jewish niece who just married a non-Jew. These people have been married for what, let’s assume 40 or more years if they are retired?

    I see no better way to continue to keep the Orthodox community a small one and continue to make Orthodoxy unappealing to most secular Jews, than to alienate the non-Jewish longtime spouse of a Jew who is reaching out to her family members.

  40. It’s not a question of being civil, it’s a question of showing approval of the marriage. My Rav said that you can not even wish Mazal Tov to a Jew marrying a non-Jew. According to Jewish law the person is committing a constant aveirah and we can not encourage that in any way.

    Perhaps a different case will shed some light. I have a non-religious friend who is not faithful to his wife. My Rav says that I should make clear that I disapprove of this behavour, but should still try to bring the person closer to Hashem in any way possible.

    I think the same would be in this case. The uncle could make it clear that according to Torah law, what the niece is doing by living with a non-Jew is wrong and he can not approve or encourage that which Torah law says is wrong. He could offer to explain the Torah prohibition if the niece desires. He should also acknowledge that the niece’s rejection of Torah law does not make it any less binding from the Torah’s point of view.

    At the same time the uncle should strive to love his niece as a Jew and treat the her husband with the respect we are obligate to treat every human being. The mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel for the niece requires helping with her physical needs, respecting her and speaking well of her. If the niece sees the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel in action , perhaps he can bring her a little closer to Hashem.

  41. I see no reason why one cannot be civil. Certainly, one should hope that one can talk to anyone, regardless of their religious faith, about subjects other than one’s religious committment.

  42. My sister would not marry her non-Jewish significant other until he converted. My brother-in-law was less than enthusiastic about any organized religions, including his own Roman Catholocism. When he met resistance from Orthodox rabbis he converted Conservatively. Being on opposite coasts has helped circumvent a number of issues, but I’ve never disincluded him. After all, besides his being my sister’s husband, he’s also the father of my Jewish nephews.

    Judaism has been a sticky issue in my relationship with my sister (I didn’t end up going to her wedding in Seattle) and brother-in-law, and has ended up being the elephant in the room we keep tip-toeing around. I sense myself being more judged by their family (not my sister) then I judge them, but I am careful to raise issues minimally.

    This month, I am happy to report, both my nephews, who are in their early 20’s, will be going to Israel on Birthright. The way they will choose to integrate their Judaism into their lives is not up to anyone but Hashem, but I’m wondering if I would have been rejecting and judgemental, their experience with Judaism might have sent them in a direction similar to the niece’s mother. But then again…

  43. May I play the bad guy? I really don’t want to. So many sincere thoughts here, on such a primally sensitive topic. I think noone can ultimately tell another what to do in these delicately interwoven family sagas….

    Still, the nerve of emes within me just can’t hold back from asking: What, in principle, is any different from a Jewish woman bringing her non-Jewish spouse to a kedusha celebration and a man bringing his homosexual one? Or a Yid who has converted whering his cross??

    Please, dear BBTers, forgive me if I’m shooting too straight. I don’t intend to hurt; only flesh out the emes.

    Met them privately for a cup of tea – why not? Include him in the “Seasons’s Greetings” card – sure. As others said, it might just open their hearts to explore the source of the good, open-hearted cheer coming from the mishpocho. But give him recognition as her other half at an official Jewish celebration???

  44. My sister intermarried, does this mean I can’t invite her and her husband to any simcha’s I make? Just inviting her would be a slap in the face.

  45. It sounds like she’s looking to reconnect, at least with the family members as people.

    Halacha would preclude going out of the way to make the spouse feel personally welcome (all on his own), but that’s different from alienating her by ‘you can come, he can’t’ to a family simcha.

    It doesn’t sound like she’s trying to throw anything in anyone’s face, just asking to be recognized as family, and this IS her spouse, at least in secular law.

    The niece is retired? So any kids are grown. Their kids, if any, are Jewish. I can see benefits to the whole extended family reconnecting.

  46. Hit “submit” before I finished my thought, which was – that if she feels she and her husband are treated “rudely” by their religious relatives, wouldn’t she then feel that her mother’s actions were justified?

  47. IMO what differentiates this letter from other similiar subjects is the fact that the wife was raised as a non-believer by a non-believing mother. If she has a desire to know more about the part of the family her mother was estranged from, why shouldn’t her spouse be acknowledged? If even those who know a bit about Torah are considered as kidnapped children, how much more so that would be applicable here.

  48. As David wrote above, it is difficult to walk the line. I have found it extremely difficult and the mistakes that I’ve made in this have been a source of personal pain and conflict.

  49. Hopefully the people involved in these kinds of sticky issues will consult daas Torah. We have often been comforted by Rabbinic guidance in these matters where making a decision ourselves would have caused much uneasiness.

    I don’t believe this is really about extending common courtesy, which is an understood obligation. It is more about inclusion, and there are halachic parameters to help define these relationships. Still, we need to accept that the non-frum relatives may not like the results. Halacha is not based on what seems right, what is comfortable and what feels good, but secular Jews often place these criteria as top priority.

  50. I don’t think that a non-Jewish spouse needs to be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, I have been counseled otherwise. It is, however, difficult to walk the line between being cordial and not showing approval.

    The letter, however, doesn’t speak about civility. It speaks about familial inclusion which is a whole different subject.

  51. I fail to understand why the relationship with the non-Jewish spouse can’t be one of civility, “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” You’re not being asked to go to their wedding, or acknowledge that the person is Jewish when he clearly isn’t — you’re just asked to acknowledge that this is so-and-so’s spouse, which is … well, it’s the truth, assuming they have a valid legal marriage license. So I fail to see what the big deal is about just talking to someone who is not Jewish and treating him with basic human courtesy.

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