A Humorous Glance at Intermarriage Problems

    Issue Number 26 October/November 1999          
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A Humorous Glance at Intermarriage Problems


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Intermarriage Problems, B.C.E.

by Ted Roberts

Our Torah, the Book of Books, that perennial best seller of Moses - the Torah always tells it like it is. A characteristic that inspires credibility even in the eyes of those who might spend their Wednesday nights with an ecumenical Unitarian study group instead of an orthodox minyon. The biblical family of characters; patriarchs and prophets, kings and commoners are as real as the Goldbergs next door. And the lily is never gilded. David and Bathsheva, literally, could be a three-page spread in the National Enquirer and end up a week later in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Take intermarriage.

Four sub plots stand out.

First, Samson and his Philistine bimbo, Delilah, who turns out to be employed by the Philistine KGB. Not a great match.

Then there’s Solomon, who never met a non-Jew of the feminine gender that didn’t captivate him. A thousand wives, they say, and maybe three who’d qualify for synagogue sisterhood membership. You thought the Queen of Sheba lighted candles on Friday night?

And how ‘bout King Ahab and Jezebel? Ahab’s mate selection was as faulty as his soul. Jezebel, the Baal worshipper, gave her name to two millenia of witches, even until today.

The only really successful mixed marriage in The Book, is Boaz and Ruth. But women don’t say things like, “your food will be my food” anymore. They say, “let’s go to that cute quiche place tonight and since you hate quiche, when we get home you can defrost a nice hot dog and pretend it’s brisket in onion sauce like your mother used to make”. Ruth also said, “Your people will be my people” and hurried down to the corner mikvah. Sweet Ruth - a 6th Century BCE girl - not to be found in today’s neighborhood bars.

Intermarriage? What’s to do?

Let’s say you live in Yenneveldt, North Dakota. Population; 500 wholesome Christian neighbors, 200 unaffiliated sled dogs, and 3 Jews. You and your frostbit wife are two of the Jews. The other is your daughter, Leah - as warm and lovely as the sunrise over Mt. Carmel. But what good’s a sunrise on an uninhabited landscape? So, what’s the fiercest problem blighting the lives of mature Jewish couples with grown-up kids (beside the limited choice of yarmulkes in the synagogue box)? You got it. A Jewish mate for Leah or Manne.

In the case of our mythical couple in Yenneveldt, North Dakota, the only solution is maybe to move to Miami Beach where there’s a Jewish singles group pot luck supper every night of the week. Or at least send Leah to NYU, not the University of North Dakota - a fine school - but with a minyonless Hillel Chapter; and probably better attendance at the Lutheran social than the annual Purim party.

When my friends bemoan this problem, with corner of the mouth whispers, as the Rabbi explains the Sedra, I remind them of Jacob’s problem. Yes, Jacob, the son of Isaac. Here he was in Canaan - which makes North Dakota look like Crown Heights - surrounded by heathens. Son Joseph is already climbing the corporate ladder in Egypt where he’ll eventually marry the daughter of Potiphera, Priest of On. Not exactly a great way to start a Jewish family. Then, says the Book of Book with its usual candor, his brother, Judah, woos a Canaanite. I’m sure he told an anxious Jacob and Leah they were just good friends.

Leah: “Judah, didn’t I see Shua, the Canaanite, sitting on the hillside with you tending the sheep?”

Judah: “Oh yeah. Nothin’ serious. She needed help with her homework at Canaan U. Sheep Tending 101. A little on-the-job training, you know.”

Leah: “Uh, I hope she went home before dark. Those Canaanite girls, you know. I hear her mama’s a priestess over at the fertility grove and you’re old enough to know what that means.”

Judah: “Oh no - she just takes attendance, Shua says. And sprinkles incense once in a while.”

Leah: “Sure.”

Well, I mean what else could she say? Where was her golden boy to go and find an Israelite? There was Uncle Esau’s kids, but they were all males. Then there was Zayde Isaac’s brother, Ismael. But he was wild. I guess Judah could have dated Lot’s girls. But I don’t think either one was Bas Mitzvahed, much less Hadassah members."

The point is, of course, marriage possibilities were lousy due to a limited field. Like selling mezuzahs in Damascus. Also consider that by today’s rules of matriarchal descent, none of Jacob’s grandkids are Jewish because the boys were limited to Hittite, Perezite, Jebusite, and Canaanite wives. The one exception is the children of Dinah - Jacob’s only daughter. And the Book of Books doesn’t even tell us their names.

Ted Roberts is a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work appears in the Jewish Press. as well as in Disney Magazine, Hadassah, Wall Street Journal, and others. He lives in Huntsville, Alabama.


from the October/November 1999 of the Jewish Magazine

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