Friday, August 15, 2008

Va-Etchanan: Intermarriage and Gilgulim

This week’s parsha is where the sources regarding intermarriage and matrilinieal descent appear.

I once mentioned to somebody—a reasonable Chabadnik—that even though no one can (metaphysically, at least) opt out of the Jewish people, its almost as if halacha provides an escape route, notwithstanding the level of sin ascribed to it: that a man could choose to have children who would not be Jews.

He related to me a kabbalistic concept that the non-Jewish children of mixed marriages—or other liaisons—often come back to be our worst enemies. That’s one of the reasons I always believed that somehow Hitler yemach shmo somehow KNEW that his father had been the product of a liaison between his grandmother and the teenage son of the family she worked for. (Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler gives a stark account of the author’s researching this very question.)

I also was told by a convert whose father was Jewish of another kabbalistic concept: that non-Jewish children of mixed marriages are gilgulim of Jews who intermarried and now must exercise the choice to get back in.

The first is just why the concept of gilgulim makes sense in the first place. The world population is currently six billion; it didn’t reach one billion for the first time until early in the 20th century. Also, consider that the world lived much the same way for almost 10000 years until the advent of the industrial revolution. One should be able to correlate that, as well as the later technological revolution and consequent exponential population explosion over the last half of the 20th century and beyond. I’m just too lazy to do the math.

In any case, my point is this: anyone who lived and died before, say, 1750, might have been a reincarnated to live in the current world in some form or another.

Which brings me to my next point. Why would they be reincarnated now?

The social scientists Alan Wolfe has said, loosely, that the 19th century was about economic freedom, the 20th was about political freedom, and the 21st will be about moral freedom. The current climate of moral freedom provides an opportunity to exercise bechira chafshis on a level that just was not truly possible in any other era. That’s why it would make sense that anyone who lived at a time where moral choices were severely circumscribed by one’s social circumstances might be reincarnated—and possibly “retested”—in a time when the moral climate is different.

That may be the ultimate message of intermarriage. The choices may not be condoned; they may even be condemned. But they’re there. Hare’shus nitnah.

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