Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Intermarriage and Minyan

Can a man who is intermarried be counted for a minyan? The Minchas Yitzchak (3:65) quotes the Chakham Tzvi (38) who writes that there are certain sins that are so rebellious that the community would excommunicate someone who commits them. Examples he gives are openly violating Shabbos and repeatedly sleeping with non-Jewish women. Even if, the Chakham Tzvi writes, the community has not excommunicated such a person, we cannot give public honor to someone who should be excommunicated because it gives the mistaken impression to people that these sins are acceptable. Therefore, the Chakham Tzvi concludes, we should not count them for a minyan or call them to the Torah (cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Talmud Torah 7:4). This means that someone who is intermarried should not be counted for a minyan.

Writing in early twentieth century Germany, the Seridei Esh (Orach Chaim 7 [new edition]) writes similarly, that since the community must excommunicate someone who intermarries in order to teach that it is unacceptable, even if for whatever reason they cannot excommunicate him they still may not call him to the Torah.

The above Minchas Yitzchak raises the issue regarding someone who violates Shabbos, that people today are not necessarily raised in tight, traditional communities and therefore do not violate Shabbos with the same intentions as in past generations -- i.e., they are tinokos she-nishbu and therefore not fully culpable for their violations. Therefore, there is reason to be lenient regarding someone who violates Shabbos. While the Minchas Yitzchak does not indicate whether he agrees with this position (which has become fairly normative), he points out that this logic does not apply to intermarriage. In 1959 Manchester, every Jew was raised knowing that intermarriage is absolutely unacceptable and, therefore, no one can claim that they were not adequately educated regarding this prohibition.

Similarly, the Seridei Esh (ibid. 11:13) writes that since not calling Shabbos violators to the Torah is an issue of public policy and communal education, it is up to the local rabbi to determine whether refusing to call someone to the Torah will teach them (and the community) a proper lesson or will serve to alienate people from the Torah. If the former, then they should not be called up. If the latter, then the rabbi is free to permit it.

The question, then, is whether in the year 2007 intermarriage has sadly become so common that we cannot say that every Jew is raised knowing that intermarriage is absolutely unacceptable. Perhaps there are people today who are tinokos she-nishbu regarding intermarriage and our failing to call them to the Torah only alienates them further. According to the above reasoning, perhaps in certain communities and outreach synagogues, where there is not an issue of appearing to condone such violations, intermarried men may be counted for a minyan and called to the Torah.

R. Hershel Schachter (Eretz Ha-Tzvi 17:4-5) quotes in the name of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, based on Eruvin 19a, that God's covenant with Avraham required four things of Jews: 1) Belief in God's unity, 2) Performing circumcision, 3) Not intermarrying, 4) Belief that God gave to Avraham and his descendants the land of Israel. R. Schachter suggests that fulfilling these four conditions is a prerequisite for being a part of the Jewish people (regardless of one's personal status as a Jew). Therefore, someone who violates any of these conditions (e.g. intermarries) is not a part of the Jewish people and, if this is taken literally, should not be called to the Torah or counted for a minyan. I'm not entirely sure if R. Schachter would extend this idea that far, although see his article "Synagogue Membership" in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society.

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