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Zangwill Explains His Intermarriage

January 29, 1924
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The Chicago Israelite prints an interesting interchange of correspondence between Israel Zangwill and Robert Lee Straus relative to Mr. Zangwill’s marriage to a non-Jewess.

Mr. Zangwill wrote as follows:

"Although I think such queries as yours are somewhat out of order, yet I will say I do not see the paradox to which you refer, sincy my wife, who has the same Jewish ideals as those which you credit me, was the child of parents who were not Christians, and was brought up by her father’s second wife, the brilliant Jewish Scientist, who is believed to have been the original of Mirah, on George Eliot’s ‘Daniel Deronda’.

"Judaism is spiritual, but you appear to make it racial. Have you forgotten the message of Moses?"

On which Mr. Straus comments as follows:

"There is nothing in the five books of Moses, or in the entire Bible or Talmud, for that matter, which sanctions the intermarriage of Jew and non-Jew. Indeed, we find in Exodus 34,1 the specific injunction forbidding intermarriage of the sons of Israel with the daughters of other peoples. The law of Moses referred to by Mr. Zangwill is therefore quite vague. He may perhaps allude to the fact that Moses himself married outside of his people. It will be remembered that his wife was the daughter of Jethro, priest of Midian, a woman who today would be classed racially as mullatto. It must be considered, however, that at this time there had been no dispensation of the Law. Hence, technically speaking, Moses cannot be said to have intermarried. It was not until much later that Jethro and his family accepted Judaism. Mr. Zangwill’s contention that his wife is the daughter of non-Christian parents hegs the question and proves nothing relative to the Jewishness of her family. A formal act of acceptance on the part of the non-Jew is still the basis for conversion to Judaism. To take a classic example, Ruth, the Moabitish woman, becomes a Jewess by espousing the people and the God of Israel. But Mrs. Zangwill has never formally accepted Judaism. In fact, Mr. Zangwill has himself requested her not to do so. One therefore fails to apprehend how Mrs. Zangwill can by any manner of means be considered Jewish.

"The great English writer is a man of paradoxes. He not only speaks and writes them; he also lives them. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that he is a vital genius, and by this very admission we must allow him breathing space beyond the conventions and the laws of our everyday world. Genius, after all, is probably a law unto itself."

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