Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama's Mission of Mercy and My Thoughts About Intermarriage

During Barack Obama's recent visit to the Middle East, he attempted to help an American woman who had married a Muslim man. The Muslim agreed that the children would be raised as Baptists. When the relationship soured, he went back to his home under the jurisdiction of the Palestine Authority. Now he will not let his ex wife have any contact with the children they had together. They are now being raised as Muslims . see story here
It is very common for people of different backgrounds to minimise the importance of faith and tradition in their home. The questions raised by this story have implications for Jews and others who are reflecting on the issue of intermarriage. Different holidays, different customs and mutually exclusive religious beliefs can make problems in an interfaith home. When someone comes from a culture where women are subjugated and stripped of their rights, the problem is multiplied exponentially.
I knew a lot of people who said that religion had caused most of the worlds problems. They professed a belief in universal brotherhood. They tended to create a hybrid patchwork of religious practices. Usually, Christian traditions were more dominant laced with a respect for Jews as an ethnic group.
When I came to Orthodox Judaism, I maintained contact with old friends. One friend had a background in science. He was very outspoken in his belief that nationalism and religion were responsible for most of the world's ills. To him I was going back to the middle ages.
I explained to him my new found conviction that intermarriage went against my beliefs by using chemistry as a metaphor, since my friend made his living in a field involving chemistry.
Matter is made up of subatomic particles such as electrons, protons and neutrons. The next step up the ladder is atomic particles. Atoms in turn combine to form molecules. We try to limit and control chemical reactions that might not be beneficial. We do not want metal to rust, for example. But we try to create new chemical compounds for medicinal and industrial use. We try to make use of our knowledge of atoms and molecules to make positive changes in our world.
Humanity is made up of individuals. Individuals usually belong to families. Families belong in turn to communities that make up a nation. This is basic to human existence. We try to make marriage choices that are constructive and not explosive. A community can enrich or embitter the life of an individual in it. This is not like the weather that is beyond our control but an outgrowth of personal and collective choices. A person who says that nationalism or group allegiance is bad is like a person who will accept the existence of subatomic particles but won't work with atoms or molecules. There is destructive chemistry and destructive nationalism. Bad chemical reactions can be can be caused by neglect, ignorance or malevolence. The same can be said for nationalism. Membership in a family or group can breed indifference to outsiders or bea reference point that deepens empathy with others.
Chemistry will exist whether we choose to study and utilise it or not. Social organisation and groups will also exist whether we want them to or not. Patriotism can descend into madness and ignorance or it can unite people in search of a greater good.
When someone decides to set aside their family traditions to build a home, they run the strong risk of cutting themselves off from something that could be a source of strength. Very frequently, they find out later in their married life that their heritage means more to them than they had thought. Instead of entering the circle of life strengthened by a common tradition, they stand at best outside the circle of traditions. At worst, competing religious systems create discord.
In some homes, the preservation of a language is important. In other homes it is the preservation of a faith. When a body of tradition dies at the hand of a neglectful generation, the world loses a facet of itself.
Reading the story of a woman in search of her children born to a home divided by faith rather than united by it has a personal relevance to me . There is much discussion of intermarriage in my family. There is in my family good will towards all nationalities that is often cited as a reason for "marrying out". My opposition to inter faith marriage is likewise born of a deep fondness for the diversity of the world's peoples.I am deeply grateful to those who value their ethnic and religious heritage enough to preserve it through educational and marital choices. The best gift you can give the world is to be yourself.

1 comment:

SJ said...

>> The best gift you can give the world is to be yourself.

Orthodox Judaism is about not being yourself. i.e.

1) dress code

2) not being able to interpret religious texts/rules on your own

3) minimal emphasis on creativity

4) dress code

5) dress code

6) dress code

7) dress code

did I mention dress code? XD