The Israeli media went into one of its periodic feeding frenzies this week over reports that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's oldest son Yair has a non-Jewish girlfriend. Gentile media around the world gleefully reported the faux hand-wringing in Israel.
In a world in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Jews are in some level of "romantic involvement," with non-Jews, Yair Netanyahu's love life is, by any rational standard, a non-story. In America today, more than four out of five marriages involving non-Orthodox Jews are intermarriages.
So why would anyone profess to be distressed by Yair Netanyahu's alleged romantic interests? (The Prime Minister's bureau, incidentally, issued a statement that Yair and the Norwegian woman identified as his girlfriend are nothing more than study partners at the Herziliya Interdisciplinary Center.)
The Jews are a small and ancient people. Their continued existence, despite the rise of those determined to destroy them in every generation, is history's most prolonged miracle. Even today, Israel is the only country in the developed world not on the path of demographic suicide, in which elderly retirees will nearly equal younger workers in the foreseeable future.
For believing Jews, Jewish survival reflects G-d's choice of the Jewish people to be the primary vehicle through which He reveals himself to the world. Jews have held fast to that relationship for more than three millennia. Across the globe and in every historical period, great scholars and simple peasants have willingly given their lives rather than abandon their relationship with G-d.
When a Jewish male marries a non-Jew, that unbroken, millennial chain of ancestors is severed for good. His children are not considered Jewish in Jewish law. And if a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, it is virtually guaranteed statistically that her offspring will cease to be Jewish within one or two generations. In America, three-quarters of children of intermarriage marry gentiles. Only 14% of intermarried homes describe their religious orientation has primarily Jewish, according to a large mid-90s study of intermarriedcouples conducted by Bruce Phillis, and 60% of those have x-mas trees.
Bluntly, the non-Orthodox segments of the Jewish people outside of Israel will cease to exist in one or two generations through intermarriage. The end of so many family lines extending back to antiquity causes sadness.
Yet intermarriage is the consequence rather than the cause of a more fundamental change. Most modern Jews have lost connection with the distinctive beliefs and practices that have always characterized the Jewish people, in particular the belief that the Jewish people were chosen for a unique historical mission.
Without the belief in a particular purpose for the Jewish people, it makes perfect sense to look for marriage partners from among those with shared political views or tastes in movies. The real tragedy is that "Jewish" constitutes such a small part of the self-identity of most Jews today.
What Orthodox Jews mourn when their assimilated brethren intermarry is the finality of a step that cuts off them and their offspring of from the possibility of rediscovering what it means to be a Jew.
Size is not a Jewish standard of measure. The Bible itself promises that we will be the smallest of the nations. But the loss of any Jew is nevertheless a tragedy. For at Sinai, the Jewish people were not only given a collective mission. Each soul that stood there or would descend from those who stood at Sinai was created with the potential to reveal, within the framework of the Torah's commandments, some aspect of G-d by virtue of his or her unique combination of talents and challenges to be overcome and particular familial and historical situation. The loss of that potential is a diminution of the entire Jewish people.
MANY NON-JEWS, and increasingly many Jews as well, find Judaism's stress on endogamy to be racist. That's nonsense. Membership in the Jewish people is open to any human being who is willing to take on the same commitment as those who stood at Sinai. Judaism does not sanctify gene pools but rather commitment to a mission.
One need not be Jewish to serve G-d. Judaism is unique among the major monotheistic religions in not viewing eternal reward as contingent on becoming Jewish. Yet Jews have always believed that they were chosen for a unique mission.
For those in whom that sense of historical mission still burns the case for endogamy is a matter not just of Jewish law but logic. A sense of mission -- especially one that has always entailed a high price, along with its rewards -- can only be transmitted consistently from generation to generation by two parents who share a common vision.
The decision to marry only another Jew is one to make shared spiritual goals paramount in one's marriage.
Don't all religions advocate the same, according to their specific beliefs?