It is hard, actually impossible, to find a Jewish scholar of any repute who argues that marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew is acceptable.
All scholars return to the fifth book of the Torah, Deuteronomy or Dvarim, which clearly forbids it.
However, just as there are Jews who eat non-kosher foods, wear garments made of a mix of wool and linen and believe in star signs – all Jewish no-nos – there are Jews, many Jews, who marry non-Jews.
I am one of those Jews (although I can honestly say I don’t believe in star signs) and I am calling for our community to embrace the “Jewish adjacent”, as I like to call the non-Jewish partners of Jewish people. If this sounds like a call to hug my husband, then maybe that is exactly what it is.
Jews are huggers, cheek pinchers, face kissers – I am asking you to extend this affection to the “Jewish adjacent”.
It is important for me to clarify that I am not encouraging or endorsing marriage between Jews and non-Jews. What I am asking for is that our Australian Jewish community in 2022 becomes a comfortable space for all Jewish people, regardless of how many mitzvot they keep, and their partners.
The “Jewish adjacent” may not have gone through the formal conversion process, but many have sat through dozens of Shabbat meals. They have helped search for the afikoman. They shlep, shvitz and use shmattes to clean up shmears. They know that you have to set your alarm clock for a brit milah, and that you might leave a barmitzvah with a lolly-shaped bump on the back of your head. Based on completely unscientific research among the non-Jewish people I know who have married a Jewish person, they tend not to have strong religious affiliations of their own. Put it this way, I have never heard of a couple with a mezuzah on the front door and a crucifix above the bed. This absence in their own life gives them space to learn, understand, and sometimes embrace the Jewish traditions of the family they have joined. While this isn’t always the case, it is often the case.
If I am to get all Martin Luther King and declare my dream, it is that we destigmatise the presence of “Jewish adjacent” people in Jewish spaces. This work has begun, especially with our many Jewish arts festivals welcoming all-comers to share in the richness of our global and historic culture. There are also a number of rabbis in our community who welcome the active participation of Jewish congregants, including when they are accompanied by their Jewish-adjacent family members.
But we could be doing better.
In June this year, the UK newspaper, The Jewish Chronicle, featured a number of “Jewish adjacent” parents playing an active role in Jewish life. These non-Jewish mums and dads cook traditional foods for their family at Jewish holidays, volunteer for security duty and actively support their children receiving a Jewish education. The same quietly happens in the Australian Jewish community, although our Jewish media seems to shy away from mentioning it, perhaps afraid of the backlash from more conservative readers.
It is time for us to comfortably embrace the “Jewish adjacent”, give them a hug and see them as valued members of our community.