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Purim and Intermarriage

Originally published March 14, 2006. Reprinted February 27, 2012.

The emphasis in the story of Purim, the Jewish holiday which falls in March this year, is usually on the costumes and raucous booing to drown out the villain Haman's name. Children parade in their alter egos — as everything from kings and queens to Batman. Jewish communities hold carnivals to revel in the victory of the Jews fighting against the decree of Achashverosh, the drunken king. Friends send each other packages of food called mishloach manot, based on the traditional celebratory ending of the reading of the Megilah, the Purim narrative. We eat hamantashen cookies, tell jokes and write purimspiels, satirical and silly plays, to highlight the fact that the Jews get the last laugh.

Shalach mones
A beautiful mishloach manot basket with hamantashen for Purim. Photo: Flickr/Dremiel.

But wait, aren't we forgetting something? At the very center of this story is an intermarriage! It is about none other than our Queen Esther, named as one of the prophetesses in Israel. She is such an important person that the entire book is named after her. The very fact that the Jews are saved is dependent on a Jewish queen married to a non-Jewish king. Because of Esther's position she is able to intervene and save the Jews, and she does this without compromise to her religion.

Now, as we know, intermarriage has not been celebrated in our communities over the centuries. Parents have cut off children, families have been shunned. We have lived with the fear of assimilation. However, in this day where the rate of intermarriage is close to 50 percent, it is time to look around and notice some of the benefits. Here is a role model from our tradition that seems to indicate very clearly that marriage to a non-Jew has it advantages.

In today's world there are still plenty of Hamans. Iran is threatening Israel with nuclear attack and Islamic Jihad sends suicide bombers. Skinheads still tattoo themselves with swastikas and synagogues around the world are defaced. Jews are still killed because they are Jews.

Perhaps we now have a glimmer of hope coming from an unlikely place. Intermarriages, which until now have been so troubling, now offer us opportunities and new realities.

Perhaps in all the intermarriages that are happening today, we are acquiring allies for the Jewish people. Perhaps we now have hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who are also committed to the survival of the Jewish people, its customs and teachings, and to raising Jewish children. Perhaps we have fellow travelers who appreciate the richness of our heritage and will step forward to help us combat the hatred that exists. Perhaps we will find it safer to live as Jews.

Perhaps, like the Purim story, there is and will be a silver lining to intermarriage, one that will become another reason to celebrate.

Yiddish for "Haman's pockets," and shaped after the three-corner hat of Haman (the villain of the Purim story), these are triangular cookies with poppy seed, jam or fruit filling in the middle. Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story.
Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael

Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael is a rabbi in private practice in the Philadelphia area. She has a specialty in interfaith weddings and welcomes couples to her home on Shabbat. In addition, Rabbi Rayzel is an award winning singer/songwriter. You can visit her at

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