Is Leo DiCaprio "bad for the Jews?"

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Leo DiCaprio and Bar Refaeli
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Leo DiCaprio and Bar Refaeli at the Annual Cinema For Peace Gala in Berlin, 2010. Photo: Huffington Post

Why have an American actor and Israeli model become hot topics for the Jewish press? Lehava, a Jewish organization created to prevent assimilation, recently sent a letter to Bar Refaeli, a prominent Israeli supermodel, not to marry DiCaprio because it would be bad for Judaism. Some excerpts from the letter:

It is not by chance that you were born Jewish.Your grandmother and her grandmother did not dream that one of their descendants would one day remove the familys future generations from the Jewish people Assimilation has forever been one of the enemies of the Jewish people.

Well, Lehava certainly has chutzpah, to say the least. I dont think that its their place to be telling an independent woman (or man) who to marry, but it does bring up the interesting issue of what happens when a prominent Jewish figure marries out. While Bar Refaeli may not be a political or religious figure, she is an Israeli supermodel famous around the globe, and that certainly counts for something in terms of influence. So what kind of example does it set if she chooses to intermarry? (Which she has denied, by the way).

In reality, shes not so much setting an example as following a trend. The percent of American Jewish married people who are involved in an interfaith marriage is currently near 50%; intermarriage is no longer considered an anomaly but rather something to accept. So why does Lehava continue to struggle to fight against it? I found an answer on the Chabad website in an article called What is Wrong with Intermarriage. It talks about Jewish marriages lasting longer, the duty of Jews to carry on the Jewish race, and the implications for the children born of intermarriage, and gives advice on how parents can prevent their children from preventing such a tragedy.

The Chabad article is clearly a very traditional view on intermarriage, and a lot of it seems extreme and therefore somewhat easy to write off, at least in light of the statistic mentioned above. However, I personally believe that while calling intermarriage a tragedy is somewhat insulting and excessive, intermarriage is a serious problem for the Jewish people as a whole, as it means that as time goes on more and more of the Jewish population will slowly drift away. But I dont think that we, as a people or as individuals, can demand that someone make the choice not to intermarry, even if that person is famous. We are living in a multi-cultural world in which people fall in love with non-Jews. And as people have started to value love in marriages (something that wasnt so common in the times of Abraham), intermarriage has become a reality, not something that we can simply write off.

So, having said that, what do we do? Judaism must work on becoming inclusive, not exclusive. The traditional approach to intermarriage is obviously not working; Jews need personal reasons to want to stay with Judaism, not just statements thrown at them as to why not to marry out. That means that Jewish leaders should work on fostering Jewish identity not just with the people who already have one, like traditional Jews, but also with the Jews who only consider themselves Jewish because they are told so. And I think that part of doing this will include accepting intermarriages and the people involved in them, and working on keeping those Jews tied to Judaism so that their children will feel Jewish as well. So: Bar Rafaeli, if you do choose to marry Leo, remember that youre still welcome and wanted in the Jewish community.

Dina Lamdany is a Washington D.C. high school student and aspiring feminist who blogs at from the rib.

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