Activity: Exploring Intermarriage

The aim of this activity is to understand the way in which Judaism relates to the question of intermarriage and the reasons for this; and to consider some of the implications for the contemporary Jewish community.

  • If there is anyone in the group who is the product of a mixed marriage, ask them (check prior to the activity whether they are willing) to speak to the group about their experiences. This should lead to a discussion on the subject. It is a personal subject that should cause a lot of debate and argument.
  • Following this, ask the group why Jews have traditionally been so negative about intermarriage. Offer them the two pieces from Devarim and Malachi, and help them to work out the roots of the problem.
  • Present the story of Ezra and the intermarriage of the Judeans in the early Second Temple period. The story appears in the book of Ezra chapters nine and ten. Divide the story up into a number of different scenes, then divide the group into the requisite number of sub-groups. Each sub-group should prepare one of the scenes. The relevant sub-group should incorporate the following piece of text into their final presentation of story about Ezra.

    You have been unfaithful: you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. Now make confession to the Lord God of your fathers and do His will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.
    Ezra 10: 10-11

  • After the presentation, ask the group how they feel about Ezra’s actions. Why is this seen as one of the more crucial moments in Jewish history? Was this model good or bad for the Jews? Would they feel the same way with regard to people who intermarry today? Can Ezra be a model for the contemporary community? Should there be a punishment for intermarriage in terms of casting out those who intermarry and denying them a place in the community?
  • Explore with the group the positions of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements world that encourage outreach to intermarried couples in order to bring them into the communities in which they live, rather than attempting to push them out of the community and de-legitimizing them through communal sanctions. It is important to explain their positions fairly and objectively, without taking a stand for or against them. You will now have presented the students with two different ways of dealing with the question of intermarriage in the community.
  • Divided into small groups, tell the students that the community has decided to formulate a strategy for dealing with intermarriage. They are part of a community think-tank whose task is to recommend a five-point plan which will be taken to the leadership of the community. The title of the campaign is “Outrage or Outreach?” Each group must come up with a basic approach - either one of outrage (i.e. according to Ezra’s ideas) or of outreach (according to the non-Orthodox movements) - and then translate this into programmatic terms.
  • The sub-groups should present and discuss their recommendations.
  • Finally, the students should discuss the situation in the particular community, presenting figures for its rate of intermarriage. This can be done either by bringing in a representative of the community leadership or simply by obtaining the figures from them.


 

 

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10 Dec 2006 / 19 Kislev 5767 0