The son of Benjamin Netanyahu was the catalyst for a heated debate of intermarriage and assimilation in the Jewish community this week when word got out the 23-year-old student was dating a blonde, beautiful — and non-Jewish — Norwegian girl.
Word of the couple first came out when the Norwegian daily Dagen reported Netanyahu spoke to the country's Prime Minister, Aryeh Deri, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, where he told her his son and a fellow classmate, Sandra Leikanger, 25, have been dating for months and even visited Norway together over the summer.
Unsurprisingly, the report triggered heavy backlash from the ultra-Orthodox community, both in Israel and abroad, who denounced the prime minister for promoting intermarriage within his family. The Israeli organization Lehava, whose stated goal is to prevent intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, called on Netanyahu to prevent the relationship.
"It is hard to believe that someone like you would let assimilation through the front door. The repercussions of your son's actions are far-reaching," they stated in an open letter. "What kind of example of this for the son of the prime minister of the Jewish state that invests millions of dollars to prevent assimilation in the Diaspora, when assimilation is happening in his own home?"
Aryeh Deri, leader of the Israel political party, Shas, went so far as to insinuate the relationship caused the Prime Minister and his wife great "heartache." Fellow Shas party member Nissim Ze'ev also told the Jerusalem Post, "As the prime minister of Israel and the Jewish people, he must display national responsibility via the values he presents inside his own household."
Even the Netanyahu's brother in law, Hagai Ben-Artzi, took to the Israeli ultra-Orthodox news station, Kikar Shabbat, to express disapproval over his nephew's relationship.
"Yair should know that if he does such a thing, if he doesn't break off the relationship, then ... he is spitting on the graves of his grandmother and grandfather who loved him so much and raised him," he said during his interview.
But for all the people who seemed to have a problem with the young couple's affair, there have been others who've tried to make a case for assimilation in the Jewish Diaspora. Some on the other side, like left leaning Yossi Sarid, a former Israeli education minister, told the media the uproar was "nonsense" and one could not "expect fairness from those people," referring to the ultra-Orthodox and Haredi community — an opinion most commonly shared by secular-thinking Jews today.
Yair Netanyahu may be simply following the trend of many American Jews these days. Last October the Pew Research Center's survey of American Jews renewed communal concern about assimilation. The survey found that 58% of American Jews who married since 2005 have non-Jewish spouses. The Union for Reform Judaism's leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, gave a speech last December in which he advocated for accepting those who wish to marry outside the religion as a way to welcome others into the Jewish faith. "Incredibly enough, however, I still hear Jewish leaders talk about intermarriage as if it were a disease," Jacobs said in his speech.
Who's to say this Norwegian Shiksa won't fall in love with the Jewish faith and want to convert for the PM's son? In his younger days, Netanyahu was married to a non-Jewish woman who converted for him. Considering how the Jewish people are supposed to accept, welcome and applaud those who wish to enter the religion without prejudice, naysayers might be better off spending less time rejecting other religions and more time showing outsiders how appealing the Jewish faith could be.