An Interview with Meir Abehsera

Nefesh Magazine (Nefesh - The Jewish Soul Vol 111, No. 1, 1995 / 5755: pages 21 - 23)

(Meir Abehsera, author of Cooking for Life and The Possible Man
was born in Morocco and educated in France.)

Assimilation, intermarriage and a plummeting birthrate cause demographers and statisticians to produce gloomy forecasts for the Jewish people. Nefesh interviews macrobiotic figure Meir Abehsera on the spiritual causes of intermarriage.

Nefesh Article - The Seduction of a Natiion Nefesh Article - The Seduction of a Natiion
You know you're really
assimilated when you
celebrate Passover in a
Cartoon by: Moshe Haim Gress
You know you're really
assimilated when you want
to return your Hebrew calendar
because it begins in September.
Cartoon by: Moshe Haim Gress

Nefesh: For quite a while the trend has been for Jews to intermarry. What are the reasons for this?

Meir Abehsera: It's not enough to find a reason, and even if you tell it to a person who wants to intermarry, he won't accept it. Even if he has some guilt and feels some shame, you have to realize he's presently living with this nice non-Jewish woman and doesn't want to hurt her feelings. His is a very human act. Anyone who's going to tell him to separate himself from her is going to seem like a barbarian.

Why is all this intermarriage occurring?

It isn't so easy to marry a Jew. It is seen as a commitment, whereas when you marry a non-Jew you're opting for an easier route. His decision flows with the warmth of his blood, whereas with Judaism you have to tighten your belt and go to work until you are a hundred and twenty years old.

Why would a non-religious Jew consider marrying another Jew in the first place?

If it is a man you are referring to, he's Jewish out of habit and it just makes him feel more secure staying Jewish. Or perhaps in spite of himself there lies within him traces of memory. There is no way he'll forget where he comes from. It is also possible that a Jewish woman awakens within him a heroic self - he's Samson, he is King David. He's there to insure the continuity of the tradition. There's also the other possibility that he marries a Jewish woman because of her charm. The charm is only an indication of something deeper, of course. Another possibility is he marries the Jewish woman because she is like a sister to him which is the deepest kind of love. This means no possibility of divorce whatsoever because brother and sister are forever bound to one another. It's a clean love. Deep down he knows all that.

We see that the majority of Jews are not sensitive to these inner qualities.

It's because they don't know. A person who is not with G-d has all the chances of being seduced by the stranger. He has all the chances of falling into the Egyptian trap. It's a pleasant suicide. Obviously such a person has lost his memory. He does not care to be redeemed but this doesn't mean that guilt doesn't flare up from time to time. It's an ongoing struggle. They don't admit it but they have regrets. However, if you insist, they will tell you it's too late now. They'll tell you where were you when I needed you and they are right. These people are fragile, they are decent people. Many times they are naturally gifted with better qualities than you have yourself. The women they want to marry are as nice as they are. It looks as if they are made for each other. You get ulcer attacks from facing such a dilemma.

What about a non-Jew - what motivation could he have to marry a Jewish woman?

I once read a poem by Pierre Louis that speaks about the love of a Jewish woman. He praised a Jewish woman for her uniqueness, for taking you far by loving you so totally. He sees her as being a perfect lover, but he can't know really why. He can't know that she is in exile, that she has pain and gives of her body and soul to forget. It is this false forgetfulness that makes her such a mystical lover. She loves in order to forget, like an alcoholic drinks to forget he's a drunkard. It is paradise on earth for a non-Jew by having a Jewish woman. He holds onto her physicality and her spirituality. But is it real? How long is it going to last? What is it worth in this world and the other world? It's a time bomb.

Isn't it ironic that a non-Jew can see all that in a Jewish woman whereas the Jew doesn't see it?

Yes. Isn't that crazy? He sees things from a different perspective. By contrast the Jew is spoiled. He is given too much. One day he decides he wants a vacation, which means he wants to vacate, make a void, forget his responsibilities. He wants to change diets in contradistinction with the old Eastern Jew who is happy with his kugel, chicken, coleslaw, and noodle soup. He has been eating the same food for centuries and is not tired of it. On the contrary he is surprised by it, he is alive. He finds life in what is already known. His love for his wife is infinite, not measured by the paranoid paradigm of modern society. The modern Jew has a lot to learn from this man.

Nefesh Article - The Seduction of a Natiion Nefesh Article - The Seduction of a Natiion
You know you're really
assimilated when you don't
know the difference
between Chassidim and Amish.
Cartoon by: Moshe Haim Gress
You know you're really
assimilated when you hang
stockings on your Chanuka
Cartoon by: Moshe Haim Gress

Do you have anything to say about those people who have divorced a Jew and later married a non-Jew?

It is quite probable that the woman he left has very little to offer in terms of Jewishness. She did not take him on a journey, she did not stir his memory She did not have the inner beauty to strike him with a sense of deja vu. She wears no crown. He found no good reason to stay with her. He turns elsewhere to search for a glimmer of that in a non-Jew, and he finds her eventually. He finds her because she happened to be searching for "something real" - he reads that on her face.

Wouldn't you say that he turns to her because she has more to offer sexually?

It could be that but I'm not sure. Who's to say that Jewish love takes the pleasure out of love? On the contrary, pleasure is enhanced by the law. If not only for the fact that a woman separates from her husband for 12-14 days and then goes to the ritual bath - the separation makes the coming back together more special, the love more deep and pure and forever renewed. The law wants the Jew to be a mensch, not a regretful animal who goes from rut to a rut and from guilt to guilt. The law gives you permission to be yourself, not someone who is excited by the aphrodisiacs of the day. I tend to believe that if a Jew leaves his Jewish wife it is because the relationship was just flesh to flesh. Because the marriage was not hallowed, physicality decides the bond, and this is what happens when the flesh gets tired and aged. It never happened that two Jews divorced when their level was on the level of the soul - it is unheard of. It would be tantamount to tearing the heavens apart.

Some people can object - they can say, I didn't leave my Jewish wife because I was seduced by this other woman. I want this other woman for her qualities.

She's like a geisha to him. She gives him massages. The Jewish woman doesn't give him massages. The non-Jew plays folk songs for him - he's utterly delighted. Love for the other woman, a stranger from a strange land, is called by the French le repos du guerrier, the rest or peace of the warrior. That Jew is tired from going to war. He decides he's not going back to camp. He's going to stay with this woman - no more inner conflicts, that's what she offers him. He has had it fighting his evil inclination. He makes peace with himself by finally marrying this woman. Of course it's only a blanket, not real peace. By contrast the Jewish woman tells him - Get up, there's a war to fight. We have no time for an excess of sentimentalities - no massage, no cake, no tea for today. He's a very sentimental person. He wants attention. The Jewish woman is much too conscious of a war taking place to afford being a geisha. A geisha knows the needs of a man in this world - what brings him psychological and physical pleasure. But the Jewish woman can outdo the geisha. The point is she knows there's a war to fight. The Jewish woman says tomorrow perhaps, but not always today.

What would you say to someone who wants to marry a non-Jew?

I wouldn't try to convince him. You would be wasting your energy. He has made up his mind. He's about to reach for his sugar and all you can think of is slapping his fingers to try to take the sugar away from him. He will have a tantrum. The man is in a dream. He is bound by a thought and delights in every word of it - he is nourished by it. The only way I know to liberate such a man from his thought is to replace them with other thoughts. You have to take him on a wondrous journey, his own, the one he missed. You can't come moments before the wedding and shout, stop! They'll throw you out. They'll think the Jew is mad - he is ancient; he's full of dust - get him out of here. You have to know that the man lives off his short breath, he loves with his lungs, he will sneeze you out. He doesn't know how to control his hunger. When he is hungry he eats. You have to take him far. He has to get lost in you, you the Jew, until he finds himself, until he dreams his own true dream. In that sense we are all responsible for one another. When a Jew marries a non-Jew, it's all our fault.

But imagine we're not even speaking about the fact that such a decision to marry out of the tradition makes us an even smaller and diluted nation, that we are eaten up. Apparently we make the best meal. But the great beast will have to eventually suffer a massive attack of indigestion.

Nefesh Article - The Seduction of a Natiion Nefesh Article - The Seduction of a Natiion
You know you're really
assimilated when you think
yalmuka is a Japanese
Cartoon by: Moshe Haim Gress
You know you're really
assimilated when you your
last name ends in "Jr."
or "the second."
Cartoon by: Moshe Haim Gress

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