Of all the things that have been most disheartening about the recent battle over my book Kosher Jesus, which, though painful, wasn't all bad given that it propelled the book to best-seller status, it was the large amount of people, principally from Chabad, who told me I was being unfair to my children who now would, G-d forbid, have trouble finding shidduchim and getting married. One critic wrote in a public email to a group of Chabad Rabbis: "This book is a travesty for Shmuley's' children who will now pay the price with their dating."
This is about as low as it gets. Firstly, to bring anyone's children into a public dispute about ideas is a gross violation. But for religious leaders to suggest that children will pay for a father's actions by not being able to marry is loathsome and grotesque.
There are things that need to change about the orthodox Jewish world. The values by which some of us marry is at the top of the list. Here you have the most authentic and spiritual decision a person makes in life, and what is it based on? For a great many it is first and foremost Yichus, pedigree, with other shallow criteria like money and physical attractiveness figuring more prominently than character and spiritual beauty. There are, thankfully, a great many who put G-d-fearing qualities first. But for an increasing number in our community these are becoming secondary considerations.
For the record I am immensely proud of Kosher Jesus and have already written five major defenses of the book, all available online. I believe it is a work that will have a significant, perhaps even global impact on the non-Jewish world, bringing Christians closer to Jews and Judaism. It will also educate the Jewish community to the real story of Jesus, thereby immunizing them against missionary encroachment and educating young Jews to the power of their tradition to shape and mold world ideologies. But even if that were not the case, what does any of this have to do with my kids? Does not Judaism proudly proclaim that each individual will be judged by his or her own actions rather than by their parents? The prophet Ezekiel expressed it best: "Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live... The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them." (19:19-20) Unlike Christianity, Judaism not subscribe to the transmission of original sin.
I want to make it clear that I am writing this column not to protect my children, who are each, thank G-d, special in their own right and no doubt will date and marry people who will judge them on their merits. My children, I hope, would, in any event, stay far away from cowardly, conformist, shallow people who want to marry the parents before the children. Those people aren't ready to marry anyway since they have yet to reach a level of maturity or individuality that would allow them to participate fully in a relationship. Rather, I write this column to point out that superficial criteria in orthodox dating must stop if we are to be true to our values.
Abraham's father was an idolater named Terach. One can only imagine how he would far on the shidduch market. The shadchan, matchmaker, would call. "I have this amazing young man for your daughter. His name is Abraham. He discovered G-d on his own in Mesopotamia. He's handsome and has great personality." "Well," the orthodox mother replies, "that's all nice. But I hear his father worships idols. He's not for us."
Moses, our greatest prophet, grew up an Egyptian prince. On the shidduch market? Toast. That is, unless his princely status might appeal to some who want their kids to marry money. I can hear the girls' mother now. "I don't think this Moses guy is for our daughter. I hear he wasn't even raised in a Jewish environment." "But wait," the shadchan says, "he brought the Torah from Mt. Sinai and G-d Himself speaks to him every day." "Yes, that's nice. But I don't think, given his background, he'll really fit into our family."
The one who would have gotten it the worst is King David. "Are you seriously suggesting my daughter go out with a shepherd?!"
When I was a Rabbinical student in yeshiva, one of my teachers objected to the time I was spending writing a publication on creation and evolution (it has since been expanded into a full-length manuscript called The Church of Evolution). He then added, "As it is you're starting the shidduch process behind your colleagues. Your parents are divorced. So I would be extra careful if I were you."
As I exited his office I thought, how pathetic.
I was fortunate to marry a wife who judged me for whom I was and who, in any event, loves my family and my parents. Likewise, my wife's family has wonderful values and welcomed me into their home regardless of whether my parents' marriage was intact or not. But since I want to make sure that my sons and daughters only marry people of character, I guess, in some way it might be suggested that I've done them a favor by weeding out, ahead of time, all the charlatans, fakers, and people of low values who would be interested in them because of who their father is or who their father is not. I really hope my daughters marry someone who is interested in them rather than me, or conversely, who likes them despite me, and that my sons marry women who love them for who they are rather than any packaging they arrive with or without.
Thank G-d, my eldest daughter married into a wonderful Chabad family of the highest integrity, people who raised authentic children who were looking for a spouse of genuineness. I have a loving relationship with my son-in-law. But in truth I don't much matter in the equation. It's my daughter he was always interested in, my wife and I being a distant afterthought, as it should be.
Seeing Mushki marry a young man of real character was one of the great highlights of my life. I never fully thanked Penny Rabinowitz of Save the Day Events, a woman of extraordinary creativity, professionalism and heart who made the wedding luminous and magical, from the overall plan to the smallest detail. Penny treated Mushki's wedding with the same care as if it were her own daughter, and indeed since there was a power outage in our neighborhood before the wedding, Mushki even stayed at her home prior to her nuptials. Likewise, Eddie Iszo of Main Event catering and the Rockleigh Country Club together made the wedding a lifelong memory for all who attended. Together this team staged an event of immense spiritual feeling that showed that it's not the pedigree of one's ancestors, or the amount of resources, but rather the joy and light that surround a couple as they create a new and independent home that really matters.