“And Pharoah removed his ring and placed it on Joseph’s hand…” (Genesis 41:42)
Parashat Miketz describes Joseph’s rise from prisoner to Pharoah’s second-in-command. Pharoah provides Joseph with the trappings of power and also bestows upon him an Egyptian name (Tsaf’nat Panei-ach) and an Egyptian wife (Asnat). This makes Joseph one of the PEW Report’s 44%: a Jew (by religion) who marries someone non-Jewish. They have two children together, Menashe and Ephraim. Will they grow up Jewish?
Miketz’s language gives a hint. It says, Asnat bore the boys “to him,” meaning to Joseph (Gen. 41:50). Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; a German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) interprets this to mean Asnat adopts Joseph’s religious outlook for herself and agrees to raise the children accordingly (making their intermarried household among the 20% in the PEW Report who do so.) We know their childrearing is effective, since the two boys’ names are invoked as the archetypes in the Biblical blessing Jewish parents offer their boys Friday night. (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah are invoked for girls.)
Parashat Miketz usually coincides with Chanukkah. Joseph’s challenge in maintaining his individual identity as a minority surrounded by a majority culture provides a frame for understanding the core issue in that later national struggle: how much of the majority culture can you absorb before losing your unique identity? The events that lead to the holiday of Chanukkah begin as a civil war between Jewish factions and is a conflict about assimilation, not religious coercion by external forces. The PEW Report reminds us these questions remain relevant in our time. JCCs are there to stimulate and support conversations about the range of possibilities.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom
Chag Urim Sameach (A happy Festival of Lights)