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Abraham, Part 3: Do You Have to Marry a Jewish Girl?

Running from Genesis 12 to 25, the story of Abraham is, among many other things, a cliffhanger drama of Jewish continuity. It starts with God telling Abraham, when he’s still a Mesopotamian:

Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

And I will make of thee a great nation….

But even though Abraham goes to live in Israel as he’s bidden, serious complications arise. It turns out this putative father of a great nation and his wife are an infertile couple. God, miraculously, solves that problem for them only when Abraham is a hundred years old and Sarah ninety, evoking incredulous laughter from them both.

Their son Isaac is born; but some years later the troubles continue when God again comes to Abraham and says:

Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Since Abraham — whose identity, as I discussed last week, is based on obeying God — has no choice but to comply, it appears again that the future of the “great nation” has been lost, until God again intervenes and rescinds the terrible decree.

The next major event is Sarah’s death. Abraham, who is “old, and well stricken with age,” knows that the issue of Jewish continuity has still hardly been solved, since in all of Canaan there isn’t a single “Jewish” girl whom Isaac can marry.

Instead Abraham tells the “eldest servant of his house”:

I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:

But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.

So begins one of the Bible’s loveliest tales.