MK Einat Wilf On Being Intermarried But Not Interfaith
09/07/2011 - 20:22

As promised, my interview with intermarried, up-and-coming Knesset member Einat Wilf is now online, so please check it out.

In case you just want to read the in-the-mix-related highlights, I excerpt them below. Interestingly, she insists that her marriage is not interfaith, because she and her German husband share the same faith: atheism. Although I'm not atheist myself, as a very liberal agnostic, I wish American politicians could get away with this kind of unapologetic, completely un-closeted atheism.

And if you are too tired to read anything, you can watch this video message she made for the Jewish Outreach Institute’s recent Judaism 2030 conference.

Here's the excerpts:

...On top of the high-power career (she authored two books and served in various senior positions in business and nonprofit worlds before entering politics) she also has an 8-month-old son and an international commuter marriage that entails flying to Europe once a month.

Perhaps more intriguing: she is intermarried and is believed to be the only intermarried Jewish Knesset member.

Husband Richard Gutjahr, who describes himself on his Google Plus profile as “Journalist. Blogger. Mensch,” is not just gentile: he is a German, perhaps (with the exception of Arab) the most emotionally and historically laden type of non-Jew a Jew can marry. The two met on a reconciliation program for the grandchildren of Germans and Jews who had been through World War II; they married in 2007, at a Valentine’s Day wedding chapel set up on the 75th floor of Manhattan’s Empire State Building...

...While she is completely open and unapologetic about her husband’s non-Jewish status, and outspoken in her belief that intermarriage should be considered a “plus one, rather than a minus one” for the Jewish people, it would be a mistake to see Wilf as a poster child or champion for the intermarried. Asked about Israeli attitudes toward intermarriage and the Jewish state’s lack of civil marriage options (forcing interfaith couples to wed abroad), she answers politely, but with little passion. By contrast, her bright blue eyes (a striking contrast to her jet-black hair) sparkle animatedly when she discusses the various big-issue challenges facing Israel, from the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and Arab world, to the need for improved education and a more diversified economy.

JW: How has your marriage to a non-Jew affected your views on intermarriage, and do you think it could be an obstacle to you advancing further in your political career?

W: I certainly hope it’s not an obstacle. I’m afraid my views on this issue have been longstanding and entirely independent of my personal life, long before it affected me personally. I’ve always felt Jewish leadership was making a grave error in looking at the issue of intermarriage as a minus one, rather than a plus one. I’m not talking about conversion, but about extended families, about extending the number of people who feel a sense of kinship with the Jewish people ... Certainly my husband is like that. He’s very supportive of all the work I do for Israel and the Jewish people, and he comes with me for many of my meetings and presentations

JW: Have you gotten a lot of flak from your colleagues in the Knesset about being married to a German?
W: I’ve always believed that people treat you the way you treat yourself. If you make a big deal out of something they will make a big deal of something, and if you don’t, they won’t. We recently had a kind of weekend of all the members of the [governing] coalition and their spouses. He was there. And everyone loved him.

JW: How do you manage living in different countries?
EW: We’ve become very good at it. He comes to Israel once a month, and I go to Munich once a month, so we see each other every two weeks. And when we travel, we find ways to coordinate our travel schedules ... As with everything, if the attitude is let’s make it works, then it works. It also works really well for the modern life. When we’re apart each one of us focuses on our work, and can work from morning to night, and then when we’re together we’re 24 hours a day together…

JW: And what about the baby? Does he have Israeli and German citizenship?
EW: The baby lives in Israel. Whenever I go to Munich I travel with him. He has many passport stamps by now! … He’s not a dual citizen and neither am I.

JW: What language do you and your husband speak together?
EW: I’m learning German, and he’s learning Hebrew. We want to make sure there’s no possibility for one parent to talk to the kid in a language the other parent will not understand. And with each other we speak English.

JW: Is it hard to be in an interfaith relationship in Israel?
EW: We have the same faith: atheism. If he were some religious person and I were an atheist, it would be very difficult. … We’re both completely devout atheists. We don’t see ourselves as being an interfaith couple. If anything it’s like an international couple: we come from two different nations, two different people, but not two different faiths.

JW: Has your family been welcoming of your husband?
EW: Oh, absolutely. At the end of the day you marry a person. You don’t marry symbols or ideas. My family was very impressed with how supportive he is of my dedication and devotion to Israel and the Jewish people and how deeply he cares about it.

JW: Do you like "In the Mix"?

EW: Of course! That's why I like it on Facebook and follow Julie Wiener on Twitter!

Just kidding about the last two lines, of course. I am not enlisting Einat Wilf in my little social-networking advertising campaign. At least not yet!

view counter

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


To the conservative rabbi without judging you as a person, with all due respect you are hardly a rabbi. A rabbi even a conservative rabbi must commit to some halachic framework and your decision to marry outside of your faith is inconsistent with any halachic framework. To the Knesset member and all her supporters I pose this question: what is the definition of a jew if not a tribe held together by the Torah a life system. Without the system there is no jewish people. The torah our way of life is an integral part of the definition of a jewish people. Even more integral than the land. We remained jews without the land but when and where in jewish history have jews survived without the torah? Without the torah there would quickly cease to be a jewish people. What is the your right to the land of Israel if not as a jew? No Torah equeals no Jews equals no right to the land. Imagine a jewish poeple without the Torah. Thats right you cant. They would have become extinct very quickly. What is a jew without the torah? Just another person. What is the jew with the torah? A person who adheres to a system of life called judaism. Hence the "jew". Why even call yourself a jew without the torah? Why not just be a person? Whats with this jewish pride and identity? It reeks of tribalism and superiorism. Very backwards in todays modern and global society.

I am happy that Julie Wiener's column discussed MK Einat Wulf. As the only intermarried MK, she is of great interest to all interfaith families.

As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, I was disturbed by her apparent lack of enthusiasm for discussing and fighting Israel's negative policies towards interfaith couples and half-Jewish people.

Her statement that "I’ve always believed that people treat you the way you treat yourself. If you make a big deal out of something they will make a big deal of something, and if you don’t, they won’t" -- as an apparent rationale for her reluctance to take on the discriminatory Israeli policies towards interfaith families -- is based on denial.

I read Israeli Jewish newspapers and Wulf is routinely attacked for being intermarried -- no amount of her "people treat you the way you treat yourself" attitude has done anything to mitigate those attacks.

I think MK Wulf, an otherwise admirable woman, is in personal denial about the discrimination that faces her intermarriage and the discrimination her half-Jewish child may experience in the future in Israel. Plus, just ignoring poor treatment does nothing to help thousands of other intermarried couples and half-Jewish people in Israel who do not have Wulf's political power and are often treated very badly.

I hope MK Wulf will reconsider this denial and start championing the interfaith families of Israel, who desperately need her help.

who is the spy her or her hubby?

Anyone who thinks that intermarriage benefits Judaism is living in denial.

Whether both are Atheists, agnostics, or neither is very strong in their religious beliefs is immaterial.

The degree of wrongness shouldn't be influenced by whether or not the individual you marry is German, Russian, etc. This has nothing to do with tribalism or bigotry. It is about preserving Jewish values.

Judaism has survived 3,000 years of religious persecution and in-fighting, Baruch Hashem, it'll outlive this epidemic.

Hey y'all: I'm a retired Conservative Rabbi who has married a wonderful woman who is a praticing, if invalid, Catholic. We have a great relationship spiritually, becaue we both believe in God. We find it hard to believe that God cares how S/He is worshipped thought of etc. We believe that God only cares that S/He is. We are past child bearing years, so what is there that offends the Jewih faith?" Only the same intolerance that we deplore in other faiths.


" . . . If he were some religious person and I were an atheist, it would be very difficult." In other words, because we don't practice any religion, it works. But if one of us actually brought any Jewish or Christian content, respectively, to the marriage, then it would be a problem. It's all well and good to "celebrate" a famous person, an Israeli Knesset member, no less, who is intermarried. But she, by her own admission, is hardly a model for American intermarriage and the strengthening of Jewish identity - that is, unless somehow we say that religion-less intermarriages that consequently have no religious friction somehow will create a strong Jewish community (much less a strong Judaism). I suppose the case could be made, and there's probably someone out there (JOI?) who will labor mightily to make it - but it would nevertheless be hard to square with reality.

It's sad that we're still having this discussion as intelligent people, enough with the needless tribalism, we're a global community. Also, I was aghast at the question concerning her husband's German nationality, as if to be German is to be Nazi. It's sad, frankly.

Also, to the blog author, if you're not atheist, what god do you believe in?