I have marriage on my mind. My daughter recently became engaged to a wonderful young man who shares a similar religious outlook with her. This is the norm among Orthodox Jews. Barring subtle nuances, the reality of an Orthodox Jew marrying someone close to his religious perspective is taken for granted. Almost as taken for granted as the non-Orthodox Jew marrying someone out of his faith.
Florida Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz threw the spotlight on this issue several weeks ago with her comments on intermarriage. In a speech to a Florida Jewish group she remarked that, “We have the problem of assimilation. We have the problem of intermarriage.”
After receiving an avalanche of criticism, Wasserman Schultz backpedaled on her comments that “too many” Jews are marrying non-Jews. “I do not oppose intermarriage,” she insisted. “In fact, members of my family, including my husband, are a product of it.”
For a partisan hack like Wasserman Schultz, who is a master at spinning reality into Democratic talking points, the irony lies in her recanting a rare truism. Wasserman Schultz is known for twisting criticisms into falsehoods. Her comment on the 2011 Ryan plan, “Republicans have a plan to end Medicare as we know it,” and her recent excoriation of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as having “given women the back of his hand” are but two examples.
The fact that a congresswoman and head of the DNC felt the need to recant what is obvious and at the same time threatening to American Jews is more of a commentary on the state of American Jewry and less on the dishonesty of a dithering politician. Wasserman Schultz’s wading out from the strict parameters of politics into the quagmire of American Jewish assimilation got her stuck in a bog the size and implications of which differ depending on which Jews are asked about it.
The 2013 Pew poll emphasized the skyrocketing rates of American assimilation and intermarriage. 71.5 percent of American Jews marry outside the faith, and the number is significantly higher when factoring in non-halachic conversions. The Pew poll also highlighted the disproportionate rate of intermarried Jews who lean toward the Democratic Party and liberal policies as opposed to Orthodox Jews who largely identify with Republicans and conservative values.
The reality of this split has ramifications beyond the tragic diminishing of the American Jewish community. At a time when Jews worldwide, and especially in Israel, face existential dangers, the threat of Jewish spiritual decline has a direct effect on Jewish physical decline. Jews who do not identify as Jews are much less inclined to be at the forefront of defending their brethren and their homeland. Those Jews who have already been spiritually annihilated seem less agitated by the danger of physical annihilation.
We are witnessing this phenomenon against the backdrop of the Iranian nuclear threat and the fallout from House Majority Leader Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Jewish Democratic congressional leaders, while pledging support for Israel, proved that partisan political allegiance trumps support for America’s ally. Senator Dianne Feinstein derided Netanyahu as “arrogant” for claiming to represent the Jewish people and Representative John Yarmuth bashed Netanyahu’s speech as “fear-mongering.” It is obvious that the leader of the Jewish state does not speak for them but the leader of the leftist element taking over the Democratic Party does.
Among the first to protest the Netanyahu speech was Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who called the speech a “bad idea” and “ill advised.” Predictably, he was joined by Jews in the media such as Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg who love nothing better than an opportunity to bash Israel. They were followed by the ADL and J Street, the leftist organization that agrees more with Israel’s enemies than its advocates.
J Street’s anti-Netanyahu petition (“I’m a Jew. Bibi does NOT speak for me!”) was a particularly revealing indicator of how, for all too many Jews, leftist policies and partisan politics have eclipsed authentic Judaism.
Jews who think Judaism means eating matzah on Passover and who have replaced the 613 commandments of the Torah with the directives of left-wing social justice and political correctness have long lost the battle to retain true Jewish identity. Jews who do not believe in Torah mi’Sinai seem to have increasingly little appetite for defending the nation the Torah represents. Lacking the defining identity the Torah bestows on its adherents, too many assimilated Jews are unable to recognize the dangers they face.
It is up to Jews on the right, primarily the Orthodox and those whose pintele yid still speaks to them, to wage the battle for Jewish survival. These are the Jews – from the Orthodox Union to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, to individual rabbis –who came to Netanyahu’s defense. Some of these rabbis scrambled to sign a petition supporting Netanyahu spearheaded by Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, New York.
In Israel, more than sixty prominent religious-Zionist rabbis sent an open letter of support to Netanyahu in which they quoted the words of Moshe Rabbeinu (Devarim 31:6), “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.” Netanyahu went on to repeat these words in his address to Congress.
The divide highlighted by the partisan bickering over Netanyahu’s speech was not just between Democrats and Republicans. It was between Jews and Jews. With the loss of so many Jews to intermarriage, those of us connected to Torah need to double down on our efforts to support organizations and efforts dedicated to Jewish survival.
As Jews increasingly leave the fold in a loud and rancorous manner, which threatens those of us left holding the mantle, it is our obligation to protect that mantle in an equally vociferous manner. Now is not the time to waver. Be strong and resolute.