Sunday, September 28, 2008

Learning from Joseph's marriage

For the past few years, the partner and I have attended a Bible study group at our synagogue. Yesterday, we read the last chapter of Genesis. It was cause for celebration: the Saturday morning group started Genesis four and half years ago. After the High Holy Days (which start with the Jewish New Year at sundown Monday night), we will literally start a new book.

Looking back on our studies, one topic kept coming up that I never expected to see so early in the Bible: intermarriage. Abraham relocated far from his extended family. And yet, Abraham took great pains to procure a wife for Isaac from within his family, preventing him from marrying within the local community (Gen 24). Jacob was also instructed to marry within the family; his brother Esau caused great family strife by marrying locally (Gen. 27:46 and 28:5-9). Even from the very beginning of the Jewish religion, intermarriage and assimilation were viewed very negatively.

And then there was Joseph. He took on an Egyptian name (Zaphenath-paneah) and married the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen 41:45); when his father died, Joseph had him embalmed and mourned for seventy days (an Egyptian practice) (Gen 50:2-3) before joining his brothers in mourning seven days (the Hebrew practice) (Gen 50:10). He lived a life of intermarriage and assimilation. But he played a very positive role in Jewish history.

Being a shiksa myself has made these passages more meaningful to me. Being in this group as it goes over these passages, hearing the rabbi's experiences, and especially the stories of the other members who intermarried or converted, has really left a positive impression. It is in large part experiences like this that keeps me coming back to temple, more attracted every year to this religion my partner introduced me to.

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