|Vol. II, No. 12
Adar 5605, March 1845
Intermarrying With Gentiles.
I perceive by the last number of your valuable periodical, that you have not been unmindful of the importance of the above subject, which concerns a practice, which, unless something be done, and that in the most decisive manner, and with the most unflinching firmness, will shortly undermine and destroy the harmony and well-being of our religious society in this country. It is a subject, above all others, demanding at this time our consideration, from the large number of persons who have contracted marriage with those not of our faith; a subject which presses itself upon the attention of every well-wisher of his religion, and which concerns the very existence of the Israelites as a separate nation. In this country, where, by its peculiar form of government, and the liberality of its laws, there are no legal disabilities for the maintenance of any opinion, the Jew, like every other citizen, is untrammelled in his religious and civil rights; it is therefore a natural consequence that he should mingle and associate with persons of different religious beliefs in social and friendly intercourse and business pursuits. But it is a great misfortune, and one which ought speedily to be remedied by the great body of Jews in the United States, that many of our people, and generally those who could support a wife of their own persuasion comfortably, and often in affluence, become intermingled with the gentiles by marriage; and it so happens, that after so marrying, they are allowed to remain in good standing in the various congregations and societies to which they formerly belonged, as if they had committed no wrong, nor done any thing against the common welfare of Jewish society, much less been guilty of an act which, above all others, is most certain to destroy them and their associates from being a nation on the earth with distinct laws and origin. It has farther to be remarked, that the offspring such marriages are generally introduced into the community of Jews, without their having become regular proselytes; they are unfortunately not looked upon by many as strangers to our faith, which they actually are; and thus the landmarks of our religion are broken down by the intermarriage of such children with those who are truly of the house of Israel, destroying thus those well-established lines of ancestry, and those religious and national distinctions, which have kept us a peculiar people during so long a period, amidst all the troubles, oppressions, and persecutions, which we had to encounter.
In fact the time has now arrived, when it is actually necessary, in self-defence, to commence doing something towards remedying this growing evil; for every congregation has ample power within itself of discarding all its members who marry gentiles, and unless something of the kind be shortly done, it will be difficult, in but a few years hence, to know who among us are actually entitled, according to our laws, to be regarded as Jews.
How ridiculous it is to see a man who has married a gentile wife, and has for her sake given up every thing which his religion demands of him, mount the reading-desk on our most solemn days, and participate in the religious services of the day; or to see a woman who openly says that she has married a gentile, boldly entering the place of worship, and placing herself in the front ranks among the true daughters of Israel, as though she had not violated the duties of her religion. It is a great fault in the trustees of congregations, that they do nothing to prevent these things; and that they in a manner encourage them, by selling seats in their places of worship to persons of this class, thus setting a baleful example for their own sons and daughters. To countenance acts like these is not the way to put a stop to them; not to punish by setting on them a mark of public disapprobation, is to encourage them; and surely we do not set a good example to the rising generation, whom, we pretend, we are striving to rear by all means at our disposal to become proper representatives of Judaism, whilst we do nothing to prevent this increasing bane of our nation, since we allow a person who has in a measure voluntarily abandoned his religion, to remain a member of our societies and congregations. Among us the object of punishment is not so much the disgrace of the guilty as the deterring of the yet innocent from the committal of wrongs; and I therefore hold it requisite, in order to infuse a wholesome fear in the minds of the young, not to permit any of those who have married out of the congregation, be they men or women, to have any part or share with us in the religious rites or services of our ancient and holy religion; they have voluntarily withdrawn themselves from us, there let them remain, it is an act of their own, done without any necessity, and our very existence as Jews demands of us, as such, that they should not be permitted to re-enter,* or to have extended to them, any of the rites or privileges of our religion; they should not be permitted to purchase or hire a seat in the Synagogues ; the men should not be allowed to be called to the reading of the law, nor to be reckoned to make Minyan,† nor in any way to be countenanced or regarded as Jews. Besides this, in case of their death no especial notice should be taken of them, they having made their selections of companions for life, let their gentile relatives take care of their dead bodies, and inter them in any manner they may deem proper.
This may be considered severe punishment, but desperate diseases require desperate remedies. To put this much needed reform into practice is, however, not without its many difficulties; for many of the above persons have fathers, and brothers, and other relatives, among the rulers or managers of our congregations and religious societies, and this cause, if no other, offers great obstacles to carrying out effectually and fully the great principles I have just presented. But however unpleasant it may be for a person to be compelled to refuse another those offices or services, which he would under any other circumstances willingly render, stern necessity requires that this class of offenders should no longer be permitted to be associated with us in the conducting of our religious affairs; for if not prohibited from interfering in our societies, and this intermarrying with gentiles be permitted without any show of opposition on our part, by allowing the transgressors to retain their former rights in congregations and societies, the name of Jew, in this country especially, will, I fear, soon be a matter of history, but not of reality. Yours, &c.
New York, January 24th, 5605.
Note by the Editor.—We present above the views of one of our people on the article which we gave in January, under the head “Dangers of our Position.” We would merely remark that it is no motive of illiberality which prompted the production of our article; we spoke as a Jew should speak, fearlessly, upon a subject which has withdrawn many families from our communion; and we think at the same time that, when our religion is concerned, we cannot regard the feelings of parents, or of relatives, nor of our Christian friends, but must speak out what we deem for the best interests of our faith. It must not be forgotten that a marriage with a gentile is an act which is not liable to a remedy, at least it is of difficult attainment; since if we even were willing to adopt the gentile wife or husband into our persuasion, which we are opposed to on the principle, not to admit proselytes where we suspect interested motives, it is very doubtful whether the parties themselves would consent, or would have conviction enough to demand admission, except in rare instances; and then whether they would honour our religion by their strict conformity after they had been admitted into the body of Israel. Our recommendation therefore of withdrawal of fellowship, was owing to the superior claims religion has over consanguinity; and thus it would be an affectation of liberality which we neither possess, nor care about possessing, to hesitate, and to recommend merely half-measures, which would avail nothing in the end. It must be remembered, that we are in the minority all over the world, and that if we wish not to diminish, we must keep all our members within our pale. We know of no coercive measures, and if we did, we should neither recommend nor adopt them, to prevent persons following their inclination in matters of affection; but we actually think, that there ought to be a fair warning, proved but the punishment being carried out, that whoever quits the household of Israel, quits also the friendship of its members. Our illiberality is not against the gentile wife nor husband—it is against the offending Israelite; and whilst we would discard the one from our affections, we would protect the other and their children to the utmost of our power, though we would still regard them as not belonging to Jews, owing to their defective parentage. There may be a question whether parents will feel sufficient religious zeal, to act up to our recommendation; this is another thing; but that does not prove that our views are either wrong in principle, or not consonant with the strictest principles of mercy, for we regard just punishment to an offender, in every relation of life; as the best means of showing mercy to the innocent. There has, however, latterly sprung up a species of strange sensibility, which looks professedly to prevention of crime, by what is termed the reformation of the criminal; but still there must be punishment of some sort, or else the criminal could not be reformed, for no one is senseless enough to maintain that a gentle admonition by judge and jury will punish a murderer, or prevent a man of unbridled passions from laying violent hands upon his neighbor’s life. So then imagine a punishment decreed for the punishment and reformation of the offender, and the peace of the non-offending many; but no sooner has the decree been pronounced than the criminal becomes an object of pity, he has grown from the abhorred violater of the laws, into something to excite commiseration, because what every one demanded, the security of society through the visitation of evil upon the offender, has actually taken place. The crime, to be sure, is condemned, but the least punishment places the criminal upon a platform where the innocent do not stand, he is an object of tender regard to the sensitive philanthropists, and his misdeeds are forgotten in the tumult of pity, whilst those whom he has injured are not heeded, because they are sufferers, not criminals. Now we protest against such a system in our religion; the Bible demands that the guilty shall be punished as a recompense for the wrong, and as a warning to others; and upon this principle we claim that those who renounce, tacitly or by words, the fellowship of Israel, should, upon conviction of this great sin, forfeit our esteem, as a punishment to themselves, and a warning to others. This is our view, and we cannot help expressing it, whether it be regarded as illiberal or just.
Our correspondent will see that we have struck out a part of his recommendation against persons who lead a notoriously immoral life.
Christians, as well as we, condemn such practices; Judaism has nothing peculiar to dread or to recommend in the premises; and if one is notorious for his bad conduct, it is for the people themselves to refuse honouring him by bestowing offices in the Synagogues or societies upon him; but there is no power for excluding him from public worship or to hold a seat in the Synagogues. The latter is the case also, according to our apprehension, with persons married out of the pale; they are not entitled to any honour, at least each congregation, as we believe, can pass a law excluding them; but we do not think that we could, or ought to, prevent them possessing a seat in the Synagogue; all they can claim is to be buried themselves without the usual honours, and this we cannot refuse to any Israelite who has not publicly renounced his faith, and even then we doubt whether there is any power to refuse him burial, since we do not admit the right any Jew to disconnect himself from the congregation, and we regard all as Israelites though they have grievously sinned to the last. It is our doctrine אף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא “Though he has sinned, he is still an Israelite.” Is this liberality or not ? Let our readers decide.—Still though we differ from Mr. A. in some of his views, we give them to the public under the full persuasion that free discussion must ultimately bring out the truth. We are glad in the meantime that the subject has elicited attention, and we shall be happy could we be assured that we have contributed a little towards correcting so great an evil as admixture with gentiles, through bonds of consanguinity, the greatest danger which Israel is exposed in the dispersion.