Scribbler on the Roof
By Ted Roberts | firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t mean to be heretical, but as Maimonides said in a hundred different ways, we must have a rationally open mind. And if we follow his lead, we must see a glimmering truth in the Chumash that’s rarely addressed by pulpit rabbis or Jewish scholars.
It’s not a bland statement of fact — more a between-the-lines interpretation.
It has to do with mixed marriage, conversion, integration — “outreach” may be a better word. I deduce that in the days of Moses and the initial homesteading of Canaan, Judaism in its formative years was much more open to non-Jewish mates — more so than even today, when the Greenbergs berate their daughter for marrying that fine Christian boy next door.
If one stood by Marcia’s side in this bitter family debate, one could deliver a knockout punch by reminding the Greenberg parents that Moses, our foremost prophet and CEO, married a Midianite. Yes, we know he was raised in the Egyptian court — no Hadassah chapters there — and later wandered amid Midianite sand dunes — not many of us there, either.
But later he was immersed in nubile, zaftig Jewish ladies. Yet he married Zipporah the Midianite. Obviously, it didn’t hurt his standing with his fellow Jews.
The Chumash offers no rationalization of Moses’ departure from the fold. Shocking, but there’s not a word of rebuke that this reader can find.
I don’t approve or applaud or condemn this strange event. I merely note it. And maybe this pairing wasn’t all roses and moonbeams.
Some scholars suggest reading Exodus 4:24, then seeing what you think. Some commentators interpret this mysterious passage, wherein G-d considers killing Moses, to mean that Zippy (as Moses called her in affectionate moments) was initially opposed to the circumcision of Gershom. You read it; you decide.
But back to our outreach theme. When the Chumash refers to the ragtag mob of fugitives at the Holy Mountain, it calls them a mixed multitude. Purity is absent. Evidently, the mob that navigated the Sinai was — you guessed it — “mixed.”
Then, of course, we have Judah, our namesake. We are called Jews, short for Judah. Judah, the head of the clan, marries a Hittite.
David, member of the Jewish Hall of Fame, picks Batsheva, another Hittite. And when he is excoriated by Nathan the prophet, he is cursed because he caused the husband’s death, not because he adds Batsheva, the non-Jew, to his harem.
The son of this sin, Solomon, so beloved by G-d that he is the builder of the first Temple, is noted for lust for women other than Jews. We were certainly a mixed multitude. And again our Bible finds no fault with Sol’s roving eye. Scripture is silent; it looks away.
To top off our marital tolerance, we have Ruth, a non-Jew carefully selected by Boaz, who is in the line of the Moshiach. Our Moshiach, savior of the world, has a touch of the non-Jew in his bloodline.
None of the above is to praise or recommend intermarriage. But this scribbler does believe that our attitude was perhaps more open in the days of yore. I cast no judgment — simply an observation.
Strangely, the Chumash repeatedly tells us to avoid contamination by Canaanite natives, yet when we have an Israelite-Hittite meeting under the chuppah, little is said. In every case — Joseph, Moses, Judah, David, Boaz, Solomon — the mating is ignored.
When I discuss this with my Orthodox friends, they have an interesting and rational response: In the case of the pre-Sinai characters, they were not Jews in the full sense of the word. Yes, they were Israelites, but how could you be a Jew without the Torah?
But still, I reply, they married outside the clan. The case of Moses is especially puzzling because, though brought up in pharaoh’s court, he matured in a neighborhood as Jewish as Jerusalem. The same is not true of Abraham or Judah, who lived on streets without Hadassah chapters or JCCs.
See what your rabbi says.
Ted Roberts is a syndicated columnist in Huntsville, Ala., who is happy to respond to reader comments.