One of the most important issues for the next generation of Messianic Judaism and interestingly a rarely discussed issue is the question of intermarriage.
As the wider Jewish world has moved from Tevye’s traditional stand of “Never!” to intermarriage (he had allowed his first daughter to marry a Jew without the help of a matchmaker, second to marry a Jewish “outsider” from the big city, yet when his third daughter fell in love with a non-Jew that was a line that could not be crossed), according to the recent Pew Study, 58% of Jews that have married since 2000 have intermarried and the study also shows that only 20% of children of intermarried Jews are raised Jewish with most opting for no religion for their children, compared to 96% of children of in-married couples being raised Jewish, we see that there is a crisis for the continuance of a distinct Jewish people.
Sadly the numbers of Messianic Jews marrying non-Jews I would posit is even higher than the rest of the Jewish world, especially in previous generations. For the Messianic Jews in their 20’s and 30’s who represent the future of our movement and are now moving toward the chuppah it is vitally important to take seriously the issue of choosing to date and to marry a Jewish person. The issue of Jewish survival and a distinctly Jewish core and influence in Messianic Judaism for the future is dependent on having future generations of Messianic Jews reared in Messianic Jewish homes by parents who are Messianic Jews.
There are those in the larger Jewish world that hold Messianic Jews to a higher standard for fidelity to Jewish life, especially with our belief in Yeshua as Messiah setting us up to be seen as “other”. This could be seen in an article in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal written by David Klinghoffer where he wrote:
…since belief in Jesus is among the most powerful known acids on the existence of the Jewish people. When Jews accept Jesus, they marry other Christians or their children do, thus disappearing into the Christian population.
We have to take this seriously for both the future of our movement by keeping Messianic Judaism, a Judaism of Jews and for the Jewish community and also so as a witness to the larger Jewish world of our fidelity to Jewish life and building Jewish families and not seen as apathetic to Jewish life and melding into the larger Christian world after becoming followers of Yeshua demonstrated by marrying non-Jews and setting ourselves up to meld into the non-Jewish world.
We need to take this to heart as we look to make important life choices. This can call for sacrifice to follow this through. On a personal note, I will freely admit that about 10 years ago, I did not pursue a relationship with a Messianic Jewish woman who liked me (and which I liked back) because of the fact that I am not yet Jewish (there was no MJRC Conversion program at the time). I am now in a no man’s land on this issue, being that I am now looking to pursue conversion to Judaism. I know that at this time in my life that I shouldn’t pursue a relationship with a Jewish woman until after I am near completion of the conversion process and also I know that it would be problematic to have a relationship with a Messianic non-Jewish woman unless she is also on track to convert to Judaism. So I am in a quandary if I hold true to my values, of which I intend to. So those who seek to follow what I am calling for, you are not alone.
One of my friends came up with a mantra that he shared with a Messianic Jewish guy looking to date a non-Jew:
Not a Jew, not for you.
Though simple and seemingly crass, it is powerful in that in it’s simplicity it reveals the heart of the matter that Jews should date and marry Jews and non-Jews should date and marry non-Jews.
To those who are already intermarried, I am not going to say “put away your foreign spouses”, but I will say that it is vitally important for you to see that if you have children or plan to have children, that your children are raised as Jews and that you encourage them to find a Jewish spouse. Messianic Judaism must reach out pastorally to the intermarried especially given that 58% of all 21st century Jewish marriages are intermarriages but we also need to also teach and counsel the Messianic Jewish singles in our synagogues the importance of dating and marrying only a Messianic Jewish spouse.
Those in the next generation of Messianic Judaism can play a vital role in keeping Jewish life and Judaism alive in our world by our choices on who we marry, especially with those of our age in the larger Jewish world for which marrying Jews and building Jewish homes and community are becoming less important, given the increased willingness to intermarry.
This is an issue that calls for more discussion than this one post and I hope this begins an important dialogue as we work to build up a Messianic Judaism for the future and to do our part to keep alive the Jewish people, the seed of Abraham as an ongoing testimony to the world of the faithfulness of our God.