Why Is/Was Intermarriage Forbidden?

Rabbi Ethan Tucker

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Our public discussion of Intermarriage is mired in questions of demographics and frequently devolves into simple binaries of inclusion/exclusion and tradition/change. Presented as the 2018 Spring Lecture Series.

First, we will return to the Biblical and rabbinic texts that actually engage intermarriage in an effort to define a substantive canon of values and ideas to which we could (and perhaps should) be accountable.

Next, we will aim to push halakhic discourse to (and perhaps past) its breaking point.  What argument would one have to make to embrace or justify intermarriage in keeping with the values and concerns of traditional Jewish law and practice?  What would be gained or lost by this argument and how tendentious is it?  Our goal will be to see how halakhah might be able to say more than we might imagine on this front while identifying limits we might not have expected.

Finally, having taken stock of the halakhic canon, we will return this discussion to our present moment.  What ways forward feel possible, plausible, or necessary?  We will explore how discussions around intermarriage are really projections of dramatically divergent views of what Judaism is about, and the role of the Jewish people in making it manifest.  We will make the case for an enduring commitment to endogamy in Jewish life (necessitating boundaries and red lines) while nevertheless exploring the brave new world of a Judaism detached from the Jewish people that seems to be the implied preference of many contemporary American Jews.