/ articles for review

Shared Destiny, More Than History, Holds Us Together

Not only should we rejoice when someone chooses to link their destiny to ours through an act such as marriage, but we as rabbis should do everything within our power to strengthen their ties to the Jewish people


The organizing principle that we Jews are "one people" has historically been true only from 30,000 feet, to borrow a phrase from the contemporary world. Since the earliest moments of our history, the facts on the ground have told a different story. Be it the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, or even the different schools of Talmudic scholarship, the Jewish people have been more an amalgamation of numerous groups with variegated beliefs, practices, languages, and histories than a unified people.

As we reflect upon our history, most of us can likely agree about the many "tribes" that comprised the Jewish people, beginning with the Twelve Tribes of Israel and continuing through to the modern age. Although there were, for example, Ashkenazic authorities that did not accept the rulings of Sephardic authorities, each accepted the other as an authentic "tribe" within the Jewish people. When Eastern European Jews began immigrating to the United States in large numbers, despite tensions and significant cultural differences, German Jews did in fact extend a hand of support to their co-religionists, accepting their authenticity as members of the tribe. It is this mutuality of authenticity that ultimately unites the various tribes within our people. There are many components to this mutuality of authenticity; a shared history and a shared destiny are two of the most important.

Perhaps the hostile environment of the Diaspora for most of Jewish history forced us to accept the authenticity of the other tribes: even if we didn’t want to acknowledge it ourselves, the rest of the world lumped us together as Jews without much regard for the nuances of tribal differences. This phenomenon began in Egypt: our taskmasters viewed us as Jews, rather than as Reubenites or Gadites. In Babylonia, in Spain, in Europe, in Eastern Europe, our foes had no regard whatsoever for the tribal differences that play such an important role in the Jewish world. As a people, we intuited that our survival depended upon an unspoken pact among the tribes: despite our internal differences, we each accepted the other. In this environment, we understood that not only were we a people united by a shared history, but more importantly, we were a people united by a shared destiny—survival. As a result, it was necessary for the tribes to stand together.

A shared destiny, even more than our shared history, is the thread that holds together the fabric of the Jewish people. Our shared destiny allowed us to survive and to thrive. Our shared destiny helped establish one of the greatest Diaspora experiences in Jewish history—North American Judaism. Our shared destiny pulled our people from the depths of the Shoah. Our shared destiny allowed us to join as a people to establish the State of Israel.

The idea that our shared destiny is the thread which binds the fabric of our people together also offers us a powerful opportunity to reimagine a Jewish world that is vital and relevant in the 21st century, and this is precisely the reason that I, like my colleague Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, made the decision some years ago to officiate at interfaith marriages.

There are many people not Jewish according to Jewish law who affirmatively choose to link their individual destiny to the destiny of the Jewish people when they marry someone who is Jewish. I fully agree with Rabbi Buchdahl that when we as rabbis can be present for these profound Jewish moments, the Jewish community is strengthened. Seen in this light, we can reframe the premise of Jewish peoplehood in a meaningful way to include not merely those with whom we share a common history, but—and I believe more importantly—to all of those Jews and even non-Jews among us that have chosen to share our common destiny.

Like Rabbi Buchdahl, I too have become evangelical about this issue. According to every study, each day we awaken to confront the reality that there are fewer and fewer Jews. Not only should we rejoice when someone chooses to link their destiny to ours through an act such as marriage, but we as rabbis should do everything within our power to strengthen their ties to the Jewish people. Rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings achieves that goal and in doing so strengthens the fabric of Jewish people and assures that our destiny will resonate in the world for many years to come.

Joshua Aaronson is rabbi of Temple Judea in Tarzana, California, and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Add a comment
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics