Is Assimilation Outdated?
I saw the production of Fiddler On The Roof a few weeks ago and enjoyed bellowing out the tunes of ‘If I were a Rich Man’ and ‘Tradition’, much to the annoyance of the audience around me. Anyway, it’s a great show, but I couldn’t help but thinking about one of the main themes of the production – marriage.
The main character, Tevye, is an orthodox Jew in a small village somewhere in Russia in the late 1800’s. He has 5 daughters whom he would like to see married off to decent men who will provide for them. A matchmaker is involved and sets up the eldest daughter with an older wealthier butcher, but the daughter pleads with Tevye to let her marry a poorer man with whom she has been friends since childhood. Tevye relents. The second daughter falls in love with an enlightened modern Jew who is involved with the politics of Russia. Tevye relents, because after all, he wants his daughters to be happy and she was marrying a Jew. The third daughter falls in love with a non Jewish man. And poor Tevye can’t hack it.
It is a very good production and I can understand poor Tevye’s reluctance to accept the relationship. It goes against everything he believes in and against all of his traditions. The result is he loses his daughter, and it is as if she no longer exists - a heart wrenching decision.
Mixed marriages today are seemingly much more common and accepted in the Jewish community. Well almost. Most Jewish parents wish their children would find suitable Jewish partners who will make them happy. The tradition will go on. They can build a Jewish home and their children can be taught Jewish values and learn all about it. But should a lovely non Jew walk into their child’s life, most parents are more accepting today than Tevye was. Well almost.
A family member of mine was explaining to a Tevye style orthodox thinker that I was a wedding celebrant and I performed ‘Jewish style' ceremonies between a Jewish and non Jewish partner. This orthodox person disagreed with the concept of such weddings, and would not promote a mixed marriage by celebrating a Jewish style wedding, because it wasn't Jewish. He was clearly sitting in Tevye’s camp. And here is why I disagree with this man, and with Tevye.
A mixed marriage does not necessarily mean the Jewish person will become less Jewish because of it. Or that their identity will diminish. Or their practices. Or their values.
It is when community leaders shun these couples and their families, that they are more likely to turn their backs on Judaism. When they are made to feel unwelcome, they are less likely to become a part of the Jewish community.
If a person in a mixed marriage no longer continues any Jewish practices, or loses their Jewish identity, I’m not convinced that this is a direct result of a mixed marriage. There are many Jewish couples and families who observe less than many mixed marriage couples or families.
Mixed marriages will be full of compromises on both sides. Should they wish to teach their children about Judaism, they will need to think through carefully how and what they want to teach their kids.
So to our modern day Tevye, please understand that I will continue to perform Jewish style weddings for those wishing to incorporate some yiddishkeit into their ceremony. And I will proudly and happily do so. And I'll endeavour to to make mixed weddings as inclusive as possible.
Marriage is an important decision and choosing the right person who has similar values to you is of utmost importance. Choosing someone of your own religion or background can certainly help with that, but is not necessarily predictive of a long-lasting happy marriage.