Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ezra the Scribe: Valiant Warrior Against Intermarriage

On the Tenth of Tevet we fast, among other things, because of the death of one of our greatest leaders: Ezra the Scribe. Rabbi Berl Wein tells us about this great man:
The ninth day of Tevet is held to be the day of the death of Ezra the Scribe. This great Jew is comparable even to Moses in the eyes of the Talmud. "If the Torah had not been granted through Moses, it could have been granted to Israel through Ezra." Ezra led the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile. It was under his direction and inspiration, together with the help of the court Jew, Nechemiah, that the Second Temple was built, albeit originally in a much more modest scale and style than the grandeur of Solomon's Temple.

Ezra also renewed the covenant of Moses between Israel and God, staunched the flow of intermarriage that afflicted the Jews returning to Jerusalem, strengthened public and private Sabbath observance, and created the necessary schools and intellectual tools for the furtherance of the knowledge and development of the Oral Law of Sinai within the Jewish people.

A man of incorruptible character, great compassion, deep vision and erudition and inspirational charisma, Ezra the Scribe is responsible for the survival of Judaism and the Jews till this very day. It is no wonder therefore that Jews marked the day of his death as a sad day on the Jewish calendar. Since fasting on the eighth, ninth and 10th days of Tevet consecutively would be unreasonable, the events of the eighth and ninth were subsumed into the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet.

Indeed, Ezra's successful war against intermarriage is described in the Bible:
1 Now while Ezra prayed, and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there was gathered together unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children; for the people wept very sore. {S} 2 And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra: 'We have broken faith with our God, and have married foreign women of the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel concerning this thing. 3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of the LORD, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Arise; for the matter belongeth unto thee, and we are with thee; be of good courage, and do it.' {P}

5 Then arose Ezra, and made the chiefs of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they would do according to this word. So they swore. 6 Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib; and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water; for he mourned because of the faithlessness of them of the captivity. {S} 7 And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; 8 and that whosoever came not within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of the captivity. {S} 9 Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within the three days; it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month; and all the people sat in the broad place before the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain. {P}

10 And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them: 'Ye have broken faith, and have married foreign women, to increase the guilt of Israel. 11 Now therefore make confession unto the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do His pleasure; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the foreign women.' 12 Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice: 'As thou hast said, so it is for us to do. 13 But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without, neither is this a work of one day or two; for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. 14 Let now our princes of all the congregation stand, and let all them that are in our cities that have married foreign women come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God be turned from us, as touching this matter.' {P}

As we fast tomorrow, let's remember Ezra and his great deeds. In particular we should remember his uncompromising stand against intermarriage.

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