Married mere days, Dovid found himself seated at the head of a table with his new wife, in-laws and a host of strangers, including some rabbis with long beards.
He wasn’t nervous around rabbis; his personal journey from California teen-age martial-arts aficionado to 20-something Orthodox yeshiva bochur had been fueled by things he had learned over the years from just such rabbonim, and by the inspiration he gleaned from the lives he saw them living.
But this Sheva Brachos was different from the ones that had preceded or would follow it. He was in a city he had never visited before, his parents weren’t able to be present and the only people he knew at the table were his new wife and in-laws.
The bride, seated to his right, had been looking for a young man with just Dovid’s combination of brights, calm, and ehrliche frumkeit. Although Chana came from an frum family and knew that it was not common for someone with her background to marry someone who had not grown up observant, she knew when she first met Dovid that she had (if Dovid agreed) found her husband. She in fact saw much of the sincerity and commitment that had so impressed her as directly related to the fact that Dovid had had to make choices in his life that she had been spared.
She knew, too, that her parents – somewhat atypically for their circle – would not hesitate to consider an otherwise qualified baal teshuva as a potential marriage-partner for one of their children. Dovid’s dedication, reputation and middos were what had mattered. To be sure, research into his Jewish genealogy, as in any such proposed match, would have to be done. Sadly, the proliferation of intermarriage and substandard conversions over recent decades have served to call into question the halachic Jewish status of non-Orthodox families. Once upon a time, observant Jews could take for granted that a family, by simple virtue of its affiliation with a Jewish congregation, was halachically Jewish. But those days, tragically, are gone.
Dovid’s yichus, thankfully, was ascertained to contain no mixed marriages or conversions. His European forebears had in fact been religious Jews; and his parents, although they were not raised Orthodox, had grown deeply proud of Dovid’s and his siblings’ adoption of Torah and mitzvos.
Dovid’s new in-laws were enamored of both him and his parents, and overjoyed at their daughter’s marriage. They hoped, moreover, that their example might perhaps, in a small way, inspire other “frum-from-birth” Jews to entertain the possibility of such matches from outside their own community.
The importance of mishpacha is an understandable concern for many, to be sure; and there are other halacha-related issues that also come into play in such cases. To some, such concerns may even be paramount, and that stance is their prerogative.
At the same time, though, it cannot be denied that there is something real and valuable that is gained, too, when frum Jew from a frum family marries an equally frum Jew from a different background – gained by the latter, by the former and by Klal Yisroel as a whole.
Dovid’s father-in-law was thinking precisely those thoughts at the Sheva Brachos, as a rov sitting to his left, the Mashgiach at the local respected yeshiva gedola, turned to the newlywed and asked him about his learning background. Dovid responded with the name of a well-known yeshiva in Yerushalayim that caters to the newly observant.
The rov’s eyes lit up and he smiled. “I learned there, too!”
It took a minute for the response to register. “You?” Dovid asked.
The rabbi happily confirmed the fact and related what a wonderful rebbe he had been privileged to have there decades earlier. Wide-eyed, Dovid replied that he had been taught by the same rebbe. And so the conversation continued.
Overhearing it all, Dovid’s father-in-law felt a deep sense of gratitude to Heaven for the unplanned encounter. That an alumnus of the very yeshiva Dovid had attended had become a talmid chochom to whom scores of talmidim looked up and learned Torah from was a poignant thing for the young man to see.
And then Dovid’s father-in-law’s smile broadened, as he remembered that the Mashgiach speaking with Dovid was married to the daughter of the Rosh Yeshiva of a well-known major American yeshiva. Chana’s parents could take pride in that illustrious precedent. They had hardly been the first frummeh Yidden to welcome a baal teshuva and his family into their own.
© 2007 AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]