Will ‘Kosher Jesus’ affect my children’s shidduchim?

No Holds Barred: For religious leaders to suggest that children will pay for a father’s actions by not being able to marry is loathsome and grotesque.

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February 20, 2012 22:54
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Of all the things that have been disheartening about the recent battle over my book Kosher Jesus – which, though painful, wasn’t all bad given that it propelled the book to best-seller status – the worst was the large number of people, principally from Chabad, who told me I was being unfair to my children, who now would, God forbid, have trouble finding shidduchim and getting married. One critic wrote in a public email to a group of Chabad rabbis: “This book is a travesty for Shmuley’s children, who will now pay the price with their dating.”

This is about as low as it gets. First, to bring anyone’s children into a public dispute about ideas is a gross violation. But for religious leaders to suggest that children will pay for a father’s actions by not being able to marry is loathsome and grotesque.

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There are things that need to change in the Orthodox Jewish world. The values by which some of us marry are at the top of the list. Here you have the most authentic and spiritual decision of a person’s life, and what is it based on? For a great many, it is first and foremost yichus, pedigree, with other shallow criteria like money and physical attractiveness figuring more prominently than character and spiritual beauty. There are, thankfully, many who put Godfearing qualities first. But for an increasing number in our community, these are becoming secondary considerations.

For the record, I am immensely proud of Kosher Jesus and have already written five major defenses of the book, all available online. I believe it is a work that will have a significant, perhaps even global impact on the non-Jewish world, bringing Christians closer to Jews and Judaism. It will also educate the Jewish community as to the real story of Jesus, immunizing its members against missionary encroachment and educating young Jews as to the power of their tradition to mold world ideologies.

But even if that were not the case, what does any of this have to do with my kids? Does not Judaism proudly proclaim that each individual will be judged by his or her own actions rather than by their parents’? The prophet Ezekiel expressed it best: “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.... The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.

The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them” (19:19-20). Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not subscribe to the transmission of original sin.

I WANT to make it clear that I am writing this column not to protect my children, who are each, thank God, special in their own right and no doubt will date and marry people who will judge them on their individual merits. My children would, I hope, in any event, stay far away from cowardly, conformist, shallow people who prefer to marry the parents. Those people aren’t ready to marry anyway, since they have yet to reach a level of maturity or individuality that would allow them to participate fully in a relationship. Rather, I write this column to point out that superficial criteria in Orthodox dating must stop if we are to be true to our values.

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Abraham’s father was an idolater named Terah. One can only imagine how our forefather would have fared on the shidduch market today.

The shadchan (matchmaker) would call: “I have this amazing young man for your daughter. His name is Abraham. He discovered God on his own in Mesopotamia. He’s handsome and has a great personality.”

“Well,” the Orthodox mother would reply, “that’s all nice. But I hear his father worships idols. He’s not for us.”

Moses, our greatest prophet, grew up an Egyptian prince. On the shidduch market? Toast. That is, unless his princely status might appeal to some who want their kids to marry money. I can hear the girls’ mothers now: “I don’t think this Moses guy is for our daughter. I hear he wasn’t even raised in a Jewish environment.”

“But wait,” the shadchan says, “he brought the Torah from Mount Sinai and God Himself speaks to him every day.”

“Yes, that’s nice. But I don’t think, given his background, he’d really fit into our family.”

King David would have gotten it worst: “Are you seriously suggesting my daughter go out with a shepherd?!” WHEN I was a rabbinical student in yeshiva, one of my teachers objected to the time I was spending writing a publication on creation and evolution (it has since been expanded into a full-length manuscript called The Church of Evolution). He then added, “As it is, you’re starting the shidduch process behind your colleagues. Your parents are divorced. So I would be extra careful if I were you.” As I exited his office I thought, how pathetic.

I was fortunate to marry a woman who judged me for who I was, and who, in any event, loves my family and my parents. Likewise, my wife’s family has wonderful values and welcomed me into their home regardless of whether my parents’ marriage was intact or not. But since I want to make sure that my sons and daughters only marry people of character, it may be said that I’ve done them a favor by weeding out, ahead of time, all the charlatans, fakers and people of low values who would be interested in them because of who their father is or is not. I really hope my daughters marry someone who is interested in them rather than me, or conversely, who likes them despite me, and that my sons marry women who love them for who they are rather than any packaging they arrive with or without.

Thank God, my eldest daughter married into a wonderful Chabad family of the highest integrity, people who raised authentic children who were looking for a spouse of genuineness. I have a loving relationship with my son-in-law. But in truth, I don’t much matter in the equation. It’s my daughter he was always interested in, my wife and I being a distant afterthought, as we should be.

Seeing Mushki marry a young man of character was one of the great highlights of my life. I never fully thanked Penny Rabinowitz of Save the Day Events, a woman of extraordinary creativity, professionalism and heart who made the wedding luminous and magical, from the overall plan to the smallest detail. Penny treated Mushki’s wedding with the same care as if it were her own daughter, and indeed since there was a power outage in our neighborhood before the wedding, Mushki even stayed at her home prior to her nuptials. Likewise, Eddie Iszo of Main Event catering and the Rockleigh Country Club together made the wedding a lifelong memory for all who attended. Together this team staged an event of immense spiritual feeling that showed that it’s not the pedigree of one’s ancestors, or the amount of resources, but the joy and light that surround a couple as they create a new and independent home that really matters.

The writer, whom Newsweek has called ‘the most famous rabbi in America,’ was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium and received the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. The international best-selling author of 27 books and an award-winning TV host, he has just published Kosher Jesus. On Twitter: @RabbiShmuley. www.shmuley.com.

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