Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Ezra[begin Strikethrough]'[end Strikethrough]'s Radical Solution to Judean Assimilation

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Ezra[begin Strikethrough]'[end Strikethrough]'s Radical Solution to Judean Assimilation

Article excerpt

The Torah contains specific prohibitions of[begin strikethrough]on[end strikethrough] intermarriage between Israelites and Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Ex. 34:11-16), a list to which the Girgashites were added (Deut. 7:1). On these prohibitions, Deuteronomy is unequivocal: You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods [begin strikethrough]...[begin strikethrough] (Deut. 7:3-4). This prohibition was enlarged to include a ban against Ammonites and Moabites, with a seemingly permanent prohibition on their descendants from ever being admitted into the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:4). (1) The exceptions to the rule against intermarriage appear to have been with Edomites (for he is your kinsman) and Egyptians (for you were a stranger in his land), who could be admitted to membership in Israelite society in the third generation (Deut. 23:8-9).

Besides these intermarriage prohibitions, Torah passages allude to moral impurity among foreigners (e.g., Lev. 18-24). However, there is no clearly stated [begin strikethrough]Priestly[end strikethrough] prohibition against intermarriage based on moral defilement until Ezra 9:11-12. This suggests that such a prohibition only came about during the Second Temple period, perhaps in response to a greater acceptance of foreigners among Ezra[begin strikethrough]'[end strikethrough]'s Priestly opponents. (2) Either way, from Ezra onward, Jewish communal leaders have viewed [begin strikethrough]viewed[end strikethrough] intermarriage with concern, disapproval, and even outright condemnation. The salient reason is the dilution of community, since the children of such unions could be raised without a sense of Jewish identity, a result that could ultimately lead to the disappearance of the Jewish people.

[begin strikethrough]Despite persecution in the European Diaspora, Jews, largely confined to ghettos and shtetls, remained a cohesive community, making intermarriage less likely and therefore not a threat. However, as such insular boundaries eroded, it was left to individual Jews and their communities to resist intermarriage and the inevitable consequence of assimilation. Initially, this trend remained largely successful, even in America where substantial numbers of Jews had immigrated since the 19th century. However, the 1960s onward saw the rate of intermarriage in the US skyrocket from 5% to an estimated 42%. (3) Not only did this trend result in many offspring lacking a sense of Jewish identity, but, for many, the actual loss of Jewish ethnic status. This status, according to the dictates of normative Jewish law, upholds matrilineal descent as the source of Jewish identity. (4) Hence, for contemporary Jewish leaders, intermarriage continues to be viewed as a threat to Jewish survival.[end strikethrough]

According to Jewish tradition, the concept of intermarriage applies to Jews who marry non-Jews. It does not apply to a spouse who has converted to Judaism, thereby adopting its traditions, beliefs and sense--of community.--A Jew who marries -a proselyte [begin strikethrough]convert to Judaism[end strikethrough] is, according to Jewish law, not viewed as having married outside of the community. (5) However, intermarriage is a different situation because of the potentially negative effect it could have for Jewish continuity. Yet intermarriage is certainly not a new challenge. It goes back to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when, upon their return to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile, they were compelled to address the stark reality of assimilation. Ezra,--to whom the tradition of matrilineal descent is traced,--enacted a directive requiring those who had intermarried to divorce their wives, who were then evicted, together with their children, from the land of Judah. A peculiar order, Ezra[begin strikethrough]'[end strikethrough]'s edict occurred at a time when there was no established tradition of conversion and where the Judean community was in the process of being restored. …

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