Had it up to here ^ with multifaith family stereotypes

Merry Christmukkah, my ass.

It must be the holiday season that comments about multifaith/interfaith families are more frequent, because I’m going mad about this. Even well-intentioned people are making the mistakes that put me, my friends, and 50% of Jewish people under the age of 25 into a stereotyped box. My people, a subset of our people.

The stereotypes need to go. The “indecisive” parents who “can’t or won’t pick” one religion over the other. Their children who are “confused” and “have no religion”. We are more complicated than most of you, the darlings of Jewish continuity, can understand. These kids defy ALL stereotypes. Let me give a couple examples of participants off the Birthright trip I led:

Benjamin. 25 years old, dresses like Slim Shady, enrolled in the US Air Force, and has two giant tattoos sprawling across hugely muscled triceps: on the left, a gigantic Magen David with the Sh’ma in Hebrew which he cannot read, and on the right, a gigantic Catholic crucifix with dying Jesus and hellfire flicking beneath.

Eliza. An loud and proud African American Jewess. Left the room crying when Israelis and certain American Jews started talking about how Arabs in Israel shouldn’t have national rights, had no hesitation in describing Israeli society’s discrimination against Bedouin and Arabs as “racist” — and for damn good reason.

Rachel. Japanese American Jewess from a Christian family. Only came on the trip because her friend was going.

Me. Two-generation product of intermarriage, 1/4 Costa Rican native, 1/4 Warsaw Jew, 1/2 seventh-generation Spanish Catholic; usually the only Jew my age across 7 states like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and Washington; my Judaism came from books because more Jewish people blog on Jewschool in a given week than I ever befriended before the age of 18.

This is also the Jewish people. We’ve never been or rarely attended your Reform summer camps, your NIFTY conventions, BBYO clubs, day schools, or Sunday schools. We take the Holocaust just as seriously, because a sliver of Jewish ”was good enough for Hitler” and it counts as extra baggage in the identity milieu. We suck at Jewish geography.

There is a cabal, an in-crowd, of self-selected and self-certified Jewish spokespeople who have declared that this kind of Jew is hybrid, mixed, intermarried and unusual. This is overlooking the fact that if you’re Ashkenazi, you’re the descendant of unwelcome (by the same token) interracial marriage with Poles, Germans, Brits and Prussians. Same with Mizrahi Jews, or as I believe is a more accurate label, “Arab Jews.” Back up the family tree, Catholic, Muslim and Protestant religious attitudes entered the family with foreign semen and ova. We are all unwelcome, if this is the assumption. We are all intermarried.

There is no one Judaism any more than there is one Christianity, and sitting between two religions — Catholic and Jewish in my case — we can see the uniting factors of religious communities. We see the in-fighting, bickering, claims to exclusivity, wrestling of liberal and less liberal interpretations, and the xenophobia. All of it the same on both sides. Worse, all of it in our families.

We also see the postive similarities: ethics and morals, care for life, models of selfless service, worshipful piety, poetry and music, and if not a belief in God then at least a straining for something spiritual. Rather than “confused” about “which” faith to “pick” we understand that God is more universal than your damn particularness. Though I understand that Judaism is what speaks to me, that is my window dressing, not yours and I don’t expect yours to be the same. To be intolerant would be to hate myself.

And I’ll tell you a big secret: we mixed feel sorry for those who lack the self-confidence to be proud of their combined heritages and instead run panicked into the arms of religious fundamentalism. Chabad may be welcoming, Aish may posit answers, but their communities are founded on the same thing as “straight camp”: denying a part of you. They offer false absolutes. Our own lives speak to life’s intertwined, betwixt and between reality. Nothing is pure, nothing is clean, nothing really is kasher.

We are not their the community’s “problem” — we are your solution, for a society dying and dwindling, starved of new ideas. Contrary to Jewish communal in-speak, cultural fusion is the only way out of stagnation. Judaism is shot full of Christian ideas and precepts the same way that Jewish food is a stew of local foods sometimes adjusted for kashrut. There is no such thing as purely Jewish and we’re the new model. (Except maybe matzah, only we would invent that.)

In a few decades, we’ll be the norm, whether the nervous spokesmen and women like it or not. And the recognized purebloods can die out, having convinced themselves they’re all alone. Looking back centuries later, the normative Jewish scholars of that day will describe how differently Jewish was defined. And the orthodoxy will still consider them infidels. Plus ca change.

Or, we can be embraced, and a very rich fusion could take place sooner, quicker, with all the resources we have now. We can move past the uneducated, prejudiced and xenophobic stereotypes as a starting place.

I’m soliciting articles, proposals and rants from intermarried Jews and products of intermarried Jews. You can reach me at me@judaismwithoutborders.org. Guest posts will be shared between now and New Year’s.

64 Responses to “Had it up to here ^ with multifaith family stereotypes”

  1. [...] 15, 2008 by Sari(ta) This got me [...]


    Chrismukah « Un-Fieldwork · December 16th, 2008 at 12:56 am
  2. Excellent post.


    EV · December 16th, 2008 at 1:23 am
  3. ditto


    Justin · December 16th, 2008 at 2:01 am
  4. I’m proud of you. Thank you for the glimpse into your Chrissmukkah. I teach at a lovely Reform synagogue, and was struck by how many kids, when writing “coupons” to give gifts of themselves to their families this Chanukah, wrote that they would help trim their Christmas tree. It’s not my Zayde’s Chanukah, and it’s not mine. But it is absolutely theirs and they are writing a new chapter of the Jewish people along with you.

    You do such a wonderful thing when you reach back with your writing and report about this. It can be very scary for traditional people who are afraid of watering down the religion. Your message may appear somewhat diffuse and fuzzy to them, but the passion and integrity are refreshingly familiar.


    eve · December 16th, 2008 at 3:30 am
  5. thank you. thank you. thank you.


    sarah · December 16th, 2008 at 3:50 am
  6. Thank You. This was my first comment post in 2 years of reading jewschool. I may take you up on the guest post (read: rant) offer.


    Jacob Wake Up! · December 16th, 2008 at 4:20 am
  7. I’m just a dense Am-HaAretz coming out of lurkdom because I am befuddled. Usually, I’m a fan of this blog, but–someone, please help me understand this post.

    You talk about wanting to eliminate the myth of children of intermarriage being “confused” and “having no religion,” and then offer up the example of the young man with body art expressing conflicting theologies. Please explain how that dispels the stereotype, and please– you’ll need to use small words and connect all the dots for me.

    I’m personally affected by Jewish xenophobia too–heck, I don’t knowingly have any Jewish DNA–but mostly, I only encounter it in the virtual world. My real life Jewish community is completely accepting. So again, I don’t get this.

    “Judaism without borders”–I assume that would mean Jews for Jesus are included, and ain gevul, all the “completed Jews” out there too. Does it mean no distinctions whatsoever–no kodesh or chol, nothing forbidden? Is that still Judaism?


    Ruth B · December 16th, 2008 at 4:57 am
  8. Wow.

    Once again I hear myself saying: “they just don’t get it”.

    YOU get it.


    Joel · December 16th, 2008 at 5:47 am
  9. Good post. One point of contention, and don’t get mad.

    This is overlooking the fact that if you’re Ashkenazi, you’re the descendant of unwelcome (by the same token) interracial marriage with Poles, Germans, Brits and Prussians.

    This is true, but not as true as we used to think. There was genetic flow, but not that much. We do remain a Middle Eastern based people, and some Jews aren’t comfortable with that, but the genetic code does not lie.

    In the end, we have to ask ourselves if we can grapple with the following questions…are we a people, or are we a faith? If we are both, than aren’t products of intermarriage also both if they are Judaism-identified? If the answer is no, then how are we different from the frummies? If we answer yes, than how do the parameters change?

    I feel that one of the obstacles we are facing is Jewish supremacism thinly veiled behind victimology. We look down on those who are not exactly like us. But with the contempt towards those with hyphenated-identities, our own contempt for others is most clearly revealed.

    The cost of endogamy is also frighteningly high. So many genetic disorders. Isn’t nature trying to tell us something?


    DK · December 16th, 2008 at 7:13 am
  10. Thank you.


    Pedantka · December 16th, 2008 at 8:07 am
  11. Excellent post! Thank you for writing it.

    I’m white and have two Jewish parents. I have certainly experienced sharp realizations that I’m missing a level of complexity because I can’t as easily identify with multiple ethnic, cultural, or religious labels.

    You mentioned the “unwelcome (by the same token) interracial marriage with Poles, Germans, Brits and Prussians”. I do have red hair. I don’t think that having that minimizes my cultural myopia. It does however bring casual, party-speculation about which of my great-grandmothers was raped. From my perspective that’s not educating me about my heritage diversity. It’s just listening to someone I don’t know speculating that my great-grandmother was raped.


    JoannaShmoanna · December 16th, 2008 at 8:09 am
  12. Thanks, great post. the funny thing is that those of us with non-Jewish mothers couldn’t even go the Aish/Chabad route if we wanted to, we’re not “real Jews” even if we identify exclusively with the religious practice. On the other hand, it’s easy to get rid of the Lubavitch dudes in Union Square by telling the truth.

    This time of year I find myself hating on Xmas a lot, but it’s the saccharine sentimentality meets trampling-immigrants-in-WalMart consumerism of Xmas that I dislike (not to mention attempts by assimilationist Jews to make it equally soulless and materialistic).

    Personally I was raised with a very secular family-and-food-oriented version of Xmas that, along with Thanksgiving, complemented our Jewish holidays instead of somehow “competing” with them or confusing us.


    jordan · December 16th, 2008 at 8:38 am
  13. PS by “it” I meant Chanukah, oops.


    jordan · December 16th, 2008 at 8:39 am
  14. If you keep posting, I may have to start reading Jewschool again. Thanks for this.


    Proud Self-Loather · December 16th, 2008 at 9:18 am
  15. excellent post, but…”Jewess”?


    Joey Maloney · December 16th, 2008 at 12:27 pm
  16. We are not their the community’s “problem” — we are your solution, for a society dying and dwindling, starved of new ideas. Contrary to Jewish communal in-speak, cultural fusion is the only way out of stagnation. Judaism is shot full of Christian ideas and precepts the same way that Jewish food is a stew of local foods sometimes adjusted for kashrut. There is no such thing as purely Jewish and we’re the new model. (Except maybe matzah, only we would invent that.)

    Can’t you stand up for yourself without making yourself the Messiah? I don’t think Judaism *needs* rescue by injecting foreign ideas into it. It was evolving and developing fine through all periods of Jewish history, whether there was openness to new concepts, or high rates of intermarriage, or not.

    Furthermore, KFJ, my friend whom I do love and respect, you’re positing a GENETIC salvation of the Jewish Ideal. While that’s probably a good idea for all of us descendend from generations of inbred, country, shtetl forebears — for medical reasons — it’s completely off-base as a road to the future of Judaism.

    Judaism has 3000 years of history behind it, and you nor I will ever get to the bottom of it. But unless Maxine Mixed or Isaac Intermarriage puts their forehead to the books, bones up on Judaism as a real, weighty, deeper-than-they-are phenomenon that commands intense study & grappling, and not as an excuse for “Holocaust&Israel”-branded me-too Kislev gift-giving, then their contribution to the “new” Jewish people will consist of mistranslated superficial rituals and Christo-compatible hollowed-out slogans. You and me and all the Jews out there, however we are tied into Judaism, aren’t going to make a difference in anything if we think our blood is the way to the future, because it’s not. Just like with any other project, it’s KNOWING what you’re dealing with and putting in the effort to DEEPEN it which is the way forward. Painting syncretistic ignorance with a self-righteous shine isn’t.


    chillul Who? · December 16th, 2008 at 1:39 pm
  17. KFJ, great post. It’s worth noting at this time of year that one of the (IMO unfortunate) legacies of the Maccabees is the tightening of boundaries around who is a Jew. Although the children’s version of the story has the heroic Jews fighting the evil Greeks, the historical record is closer to a scenario of the Greek-Jews-who-observe-one-way (aka the Maccabees) fighting again the Greek-Jews-who-observe-a-different-way (aka those aligned with the prevailing power structure)… and when the Hasmoneans took power, they instituted conversion rites so they could expand their city-state the same way other Greek city-states expanded – through force.

    (After all, it’s not like Ruth ever went to the Mikveh… and after her first husband died, her mother-in-law encouraged her to simply go back to her Moabite origins… doesn’t exactly sound like the with us or against us model people cling to today. And she ended up with the brass ring of Jewish grandkids!)


    dlevy · December 16th, 2008 at 1:44 pm
  18. “because a sliver of Jewish ”was good enough for Hitler” and it counts as extra baggage in the identity milieu. ”

    Does this mean that before we make decisions, we should ask: What would Hitler have done/thought?


    Jonathan · December 16th, 2008 at 4:11 pm
  19. As a child of intermarriage, I find this post disturbing. While I intimately appreciate the desire not to be demonized or labled as “other,” as well as the need to appreciate and explore all parts of our complex identities and webs of familial relationships, I think you go too far. Communities cannot exist without boundries, and there is no meaning to being “in” unless there is a line that defines some people as “out.” So you can call for different borders in different places, but if you don’t have any you have no peoplehood. And in terms of Judaism as a religious path – we are talking here about a beautiful and deep thousands of year old path of wisdom and connection to the divine. It’s certainly not the only viable or powerful way to access wisdom or G-d, but it doesn’t need an influx of external ideas to make it vibrant. And at some point, you do need to choose. You can (as I do) have positive family memories and even ideas that come out of your other cultural heritages, but at some point you have to decide if your primary paridim is Judaism or not. Otherwise, you do the tradition (and maybe also yourself?) a great diservice. It isn’t designed to mix and match as effectively as the genetic code.


    jewtah · December 16th, 2008 at 5:09 pm
  20. KFJ, I love you guy, but I think you’re mixing two different things – reasonably enough, since they’re hard to separate in Judaism:
    peoplehood versus religion.
    I love my little nieces whose mother is not Jewish, but they aren’t Jewish. They practice Judaism, and they’re part of my people, but to be called lawyer in this country you have to pass the bar. There’s nothing moral about passing the bar. There isn’t even any necessary intellectual advatage. It doesn’t show you know more. But you gotta do it, and that’s that.

    Furthermore, you have to pick one legal system. It’s great to be a lawyer whose passed the bar even, but if you’re using the Dutch legal system, what you’re practicing isn’t American law. And if you’re serving Dutch law and you mix it with American law, it’s still not American law. Again, I’m sure the Dutch have all kinds of lovely things going for their legal system, but it’s not ours, and if you want to be a lawyer, you’ve got to decide what system you’re in. YOu can’t really mix, it just doesn’t work that way.


    KRG · December 16th, 2008 at 6:10 pm
  21. WRT the religion/people-hood question:

    Jews are called to be a light to the nations. In physics, the model used to describe light is that it is both a particle and a wave–a concept that is a little counter-intuitive, but it is the model that works. We have a duality–and the more we try to pin down the mass of the particle, the less we know about the momentum of the wave, and vice versa. Similarly in Judaism–try to remove either the religious identity, or the people-hood identity, and you start to describe something else.

    Accept the uncertainty principle as part of the Jewish identity.


    Ruth B · December 16th, 2008 at 6:34 pm
  22. To the (hopefully) small number of ashkenazim who are obsessed about “breeding out” their genetic disorders in their children. There is a simple way without having to intermarry.

    Marry sephardim! There, was that so hard to come up with?


    formermuslim · December 16th, 2008 at 7:21 pm
  23. KRG writes:
    Furthermore, you have to pick one legal system. It’s great to be a lawyer whose passed the bar even, but if you’re using the Dutch legal system, what you’re practicing isn’t American law. And if you’re serving Dutch law and you mix it with American law, it’s still not American law.

    Except that Judaism doesn’t just have a single legal system, or a single definition of who is Jewish. And the largest Jewish denomination in the United States would probably consider your nieces Jewish (though I don’t know their personal details).

    I think what you’re actually saying is “If you’re using the California legal system, what you’re practicing isn’t American law”, and this is incorrect. It would be correct to say “If you’re using the California legal system, what you’re practicing isn’t Missouri law.” California is part of America even if some people in other states think it isn’t or wish it weren’t.


    BZ · December 16th, 2008 at 8:00 pm
  24. Well, actually not so, BZ, because the Reform movement by its OWN lights doesn’t follow Jewish law, or believe it to be binding. That makes the analogy unfortunately very loose in the case of the movements that don’t consider themselves part of Jewish law – that’s where the whole peoplehood versus religion gets kind of difficult to navigate, at least analogically.

    It’s more like those folks who refuse to pay taxes and say that the government has no right to demand it of them. Um, well, as a matter of fact it does. Which is why the Israeli Reform movement decided not to mess with matrilineality – the Israeli Reform movement in fact does not accept patrilineality.


    KRG · December 16th, 2008 at 9:44 pm
  25. “Marry sephardim! There, was that so hard to come up with?”

    *AHEM* or gerim! Or better yet, someone who’s both Ger AND Sephardi! *hinthint*


    B.BarNavi · December 16th, 2008 at 10:46 pm
  26. Also, people don’t seem to get here is that intermarriage is the PRODUCT of a watered-down Jewish identity, and not the other way around. The reduction of the American Jew into the simple “cultural Jew”, carefree of any concern save for Yiddish and/or the Holocaust, was done not by children of intermarriages, but of BORN Jews of Jewish marriage.

    But what of the Orthodox community, who we would NEVER accuse of watering down Judaism, but experience intermarriage anyway? Well, perhaps it is their rigid “my-way-or-the-highway” Judaism, which only really began in the 19th century, that caused their children to become disaffected and marry gentiles, who in turn are treated as second class citizens even if they ARE halakhically Jewish.

    So those who view intermarriage as some sort of crisis, and their children some kind of bastard-spawn: This was of your own making!


    B.BarNavi · December 16th, 2008 at 11:07 pm
  27. BTW, just to clarify, I DO NOT believe that intermarriage is an aberration and their children worthy of shunning. That was writing from the perspective of someone who does subscribe to that view.


    B.BarNavi · December 16th, 2008 at 11:31 pm
  28. Well, actually not so, BZ, because the Reform movement by its OWN lights doesn’t follow Jewish law, or believe it to be binding.

    Show me a citation for this, from a source that represents an official position of the Reform movement.

    Of course, the Reform movement has a different understanding from other movements of what constitutes Jewish law, but that’s precisely my point.

    That makes the analogy unfortunately very loose in the case of the movements that don’t consider themselves part of Jewish law – that’s where the whole peoplehood versus religion gets kind of difficult to navigate, at least analogically.

    There are certainly many Jews who don’t consider themselves part of Jewish law (even if there isn’t a major movement that has this as an official position). What this tells us is that the law frame doesn’t encompass the full range of Jewish identity.

    But in any case, even among the movements that in your view “consider themselves part of Jewish law”, there is nothing close to “one legal system” that all recognize. Instead of talking about people with non-Jewish mothers, we could be talking about people who have had Conservative conversions, and then you’d also find lots of people arguing “they aren’t Jewish”, and making the same analogies to claim “you gotta do it, and that’s that”. (And the Conservative movement’s claim to observe halacha wins it no points with said people.) But I think that part of KFJ’s point is that Judaism is so much bigger than me or you or our arguments about who’s in and who’s out.

    It’s more like those folks who refuse to pay taxes and say that the government has no right to demand it of them. Um, well, as a matter of fact it does.

    Funny you should say that — I was thinking of making the same analogy in the other direction, comparing those who define some Jewish streams as not Jewish or not Judaism to those who (refuse to pay taxes because they) say Ohio isn’t a state.

    In your analogy, who’s the Jewish “government”?

    Which is why the Israeli Reform movement decided not to mess with matrilineality – the Israeli Reform movement in fact does not accept patrilineality.

    I’m not following the logic – can you explain how this relates to the previous statement? And the Israeli Reform movement does accept Reform conversions, which means that it doesn’t have a general principle of only accepting people as Jewish if they are universally accepted as Jewish. Such a principle would be impossible to maintain.


    BZ · December 16th, 2008 at 11:37 pm
  29. 4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation. From the Pittsburgh platform.


    KRG · December 17th, 2008 at 2:06 am
  30. Within each area of Jewish observance Reform Jews are called upon to confront the claims of Jewish tradition, however differently perceived, and to exercise their individual autonomy, choosing and creating on the basis of commitment and knowledge.
    From the 1976 centenary perspective


    KRG · December 17th, 2008 at 2:08 am
  31. “Autonomy has been the battle cry of Reform Judaism since the inception of our movement, for a good reason: it is the philosophical tool we used to relieve ourselves of the traditional understanding of a binding, obligatory mitzvah system, many of whose components were uncongenial to modern living…If the individual Jew cannot accept a mitzvah as right, that is, cannot self-appropriate or self-legislate a mitzvah as right for him or her, then it must be rejected as non-moral, if not immoral, and not obligatory. Sometimes autonomy was discussed in terms of individual conscience, but it all came down to the same thing: tradition cannot command a Jew; only a Jew can freely command himself or herself.”
    Alan Henkin CCAR Journal, Fall 1999


    KRG · December 17th, 2008 at 2:15 am
  32. The previous paragraph of the Pittsburgh Platform says “today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.” So in the full context, it is clear that the platform is not rejecting the idea of binding Jewish law, but only a specific subset of the laws.

    Likewise, the paragraph you quote from the Centenary Perspective begins “Judaism emphasizes action rather than creed as the primary expression of a religious life, the means by which we strive to achieve universal justice and peace. Reform Judaism shares this emphasis on duty and obligation. Our founders stressed that the Jew’s ethical responsibilities, personal and social, are enjoined by God.” Within this context of obligation and responsibility, the part you quote about autonomy and choice is about the specific content, not about whether there is any binding obligation.


    BZ · December 17th, 2008 at 2:21 am
  33. I’ve never heard of Alan Henkin, so I doubt his article represents an official position of the movement (even if it’s a position held by many individuals).


    BZ · December 17th, 2008 at 2:27 am
  34. Also, “Autonomy has been the battle cry of Reform Judaism since the inception of our movement” is just factually wrong. Classical Reform was about promoting a specific worldview, not about leaving it up to individual choice.


    BZ · December 17th, 2008 at 2:39 am
  35. KRG- They practice Judaism and they are part of my people, but they are not Jewish?

    I know the technical halacha you are working with, but take a deep breadth and read that sentence holistically. Does it make any sense?

    Its clear that somehow the boundary and the content have become totally unrelated for you. I understand how that has happened, but doesn’t it make you pause just a little bit question how you are constructing the boundary.


    Chorus of Apes · December 17th, 2008 at 2:58 am
  36. Perhaps I should have said “They practice ‘Judaism’?”
    The thing is, it’s just not that big a deal to actually jump through the hoop, and it isn’t really any more of a big deal than the person who wants to be a lawyer but refuses to take the bar exam. Are they a lawyer, even if they know the law really well and can do a fine job representing you in court?
    It’s not a moral issue, but it is a boundary issue. I agree that it is a result at least in part of teh confusion of religious and national identity, but these are things that can’t be separated in
    Judaism.
    In terms of the Reform movement and whetherthey consider law binding, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they don’t consider what they consider to be ritual law biding. BUt Jewish law doesn’t – and can’t- make that distinction – because it’s quite difficult to tell what really we’re supposed to be learning from a given law or set of laws. Halakhah is a system, and it si designed to be holistic – you can’t just separate a part out and say, nope, that doesn’t interest me at all, so I’ll ignore it.

    Traffic law doesn’t work if you decide that STOP signs are symbolic so you don’t need to stop at them, but that hitting pedestrians is really bad.


    KRG · December 17th, 2008 at 3:59 am
  37. I must say, reading this strand together with the strand following BZ’s indy minyan conference post leads to some cognitive dissonance–

    There’s significant tension between the indy minyan, DIY model of informed, skilled, educated Jewish communities and the radical inclusivity that KFJ is advocating.

    KFJ, you seem to be arguing that a mixed Jewish identity isn’t necessarily an attenuated Jewish identity– that someone who identifies as both a Jew and a Christian and who has extremely limited Jewish skills or knowledge ought to be fully included in the Jewish world. I’m curious exactly what role you see these Jews playing. It seems likely that each of the people you describe would feel alienated in any sort of DIY community. Are you arguing that the maintenance of separate religious identities– a cross on one arm, a magen david on the other– is workable for many children of intermarriage? Is it realistic to expect people with multiple religious identities to acquire the skills necessary to participate in the Jewish world on a significant scale? Or are you rejecting the paradigm of communities that require knowledge and skills because it is insufficiently inclusive? In what sense are people with multiple religious identities the solution for Jewish society– I understand that multi-religious identity is complex and challenging, but what are the specific solutions that the children of intermarriage have created or will help create for Jewish society? How is Jewish society “dying and dwindling, starved for new ideas”? I don’t think that you’ve engaged the argument that intermarriage is a cause of the dwindling of the Jewish community– that the children of intermarriage are far more likely to stop identifying as Jews than are other Jews. Did you mean something by “dwindling” other than a decrease in the number of people who identify as Jews? Or did you not intend “dwindling” to be read pejoratively?

    BZ, you seem to celebrate our bifurcated Jewish world of participatory, knowledgeable communities for those of us willing to commit to regular participation in Jewish life, and institutional shuls for those who prefer occasional Judaism, or who made the “Faustian bargain” of going into the congregational rabbinate. Where do Christian-Jews fit into that paradigm? I agree with you about Judaism’s multiplicity, but it’s that very multiplicity which mitigates against serious commitment to Judaism and Christianity at the same time. If serious engagement with the Jewish world requires familiarity with a range of systems of Judaism, are there really many people out there who are willing to engage Judaism and Christianity this way as a part of their spiritual journey? Do we expect that Christian-Jews will be leading shacharit one morning and Christian prayer services the next? Even for individuals who are capable of maintaining more than one religious identity, is it invalid for Jewish community to normalize exclusively Jewish identity? I understand that Judaism has meant many things at many times, but one of the things that identifying as a Jew has meant the most consistently is not identifying as a Christian– do you agree with KFJ that this boundary ought to be done away with?

    Or are these two strands simply unrelated– one a reflection on individual identity, and one a discussion of institutions and a communal phenomenon?


    Ari · December 17th, 2008 at 6:08 am
  38. KRG-
    I completely understand where you’re coming from, in terms of the “in or out” argument. I’ve towed it for a number of years. But Chorus of Apes brings up an excellent point; there must come a time where we look at the halakhah that we have and wonder if it actually makes sense in practical terms. I’m not positing that we make intermarriage halakhic, I doubt it’s even possible.

    Your example, however, of needing to pass the bar to be a lawyer is not completely accurate to the situation because, well, a Jew does not need to pass a test to be a Jew. Some Jews are born Jews and don’t practice Judaism, no person is born a lawyer but chooses not to practice law. I’m not a Reform Jew, nor am I an Orthodox Jew. I check “Just Jewish” on surveys that offer it as an option. I respect and study halakhah, but much of it is simply theoretical; when put into practice, it doesn’t always work like its theory. The Talmud teaches us as much, think Rabbi Zeira and Rabbah in Megillah 7b.

    Even putting Reform (or other non-halakhic) practice aside, if a kid from a non-Jewish mother grows up from age 3 in kippah and tzitzis, shomer mitzvos, learns gemara and is a ba’al kri’ah, they’re not Jewish? Legally, halakhically, they’re not–but can we really say that person is not practicing Judaism?

    Jewish (Hebrew?) ethnicity and rabbinic Judaism are different things. Plus, considering the rabbinic model of relationship with non-Jews, is it something we really want to perpetuate in the same manner?


    Justin · December 17th, 2008 at 8:15 am
  39. formermuslim, I hope you read this. I am interested to hear your story. I am also a “former muslim” who frequents this blog. Please contact me at lostak87 at gmail dot com.


    another ex-muslim · December 17th, 2008 at 9:57 am
  40. KRG writes:
    The thing is, it’s just not that big a deal to actually jump through the hoop,

    Can you explain what you’re referring to? I thought it was conversion, but this description doesn’t fit.

    Yes, if someone is already living a fully Jewish life within a particular Jewish stream, then converting within that stream becomes a technicality, jumping through a hoop (a more significant one for men than for women, but whatever, it’s over quickly). But converting in a way that will be accepted outside that stream becomes much more difficult, and often impossible to do with integrity. Someone practicing non-Orthodox Judaism who wants an Orthodox conversion has to commit to becoming sociologically Orthodox, including sending his/her children to Orthodox day schools. Someone with a secular Jewish identity who wants a religious conversion (i.e. any conversion) has to profess Judaism as a religion. You may think that these are things that should be done anyway, but don’t dismiss them as “not that big a deal”.

    and it isn’t really any more of a big deal than the person who wants to be a lawyer but refuses to take the bar exam.

    I think you mean “the person who wants to be a New York lawyer but refuses to take the Wisconsin bar exam”. These people may not be Jewish by your community’s standards, but it’s a fallacy to assume that they want to be part of your community.

    I agree that it is a result at least in part of teh confusion of religious and national identity, but these are things that can’t be separated in Judaism.

    My own conception of Judaism agrees that these things can’t be separated. But there are millions of Jews who disagree, e.g. all the secular Israelis (including those with exclusively Jewish ancestry) who identify as part of the Jewish nation and also identify as “not religious”.

    In terms of the Reform movement and whetherthey consider law binding, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they don’t consider what they consider to be ritual law biding.

    Thank you.

    BUt Jewish law doesn’t – and can’t- make that distinction – because it’s quite difficult to tell what really we’re supposed to be learning from a given law or set of laws. Halakhah is a system, and it si designed to be holistic – you can’t just separate a part out and say, nope, that doesn’t interest me at all, so I’ll ignore it.

    You’re begging the question when you refer to “Jewish law” and “halakhah” as if they have one agreed-upon meaning for everyone. What you’re saying is valid within your own stream of Judaism, but there are other streams of Judaism that understand these concepts in a different way.


    BZ · December 17th, 2008 at 12:11 pm
  41. Ari writes:
    Where do Christian-Jews fit into that paradigm? [...] I understand that Judaism has meant many things at many times, but one of the things that identifying as a Jew has meant the most consistently is not identifying as a Christian– do you agree with KFJ that this boundary ought to be done away with?

    My own understanding of Judaism is incompatible with Christianity. I don’t advocate a combined Jewish-Christian identity, and I would not want any of my Jewish communities to adopt any Christian practices.

    But I believe KFJ that he’s describing a real phenomenon, and I am certain that the people KFJ describes don’t care what I think.

    Also, there’s a difference between people who want to be both Jewish and Christian, on the one hand, and people who identify as 100% Jewish (and, depending on which parent was Jewish, might also be universally recognized by other Jews as 100% Jewish) but also recognize their Christian ancestors and families as part of their cultural heritage.


    BZ · December 17th, 2008 at 12:24 pm
  42. Ari writes:
    I don’t think that you’ve engaged the argument that intermarriage is a cause of the dwindling of the Jewish community– that the children of intermarriage are far more likely to stop identifying as Jews than are other Jews.

    The latter clause describes correlation, not causation.


    BZ · December 17th, 2008 at 12:26 pm
  43. Friends, this is one helluva thread and life is busy today, so I’ll post again with more clarification, address your confusions, and debate the pionts we disagree.

    Thanks to all those who gave such positive feedback — and for those who commented for the first time or since long times, please, stick around and speak up. We need you.


    Kung Fu Jew · December 17th, 2008 at 3:27 pm
  44. This is also the Jewish people. We’ve never been or rarely attended your Reform summer camps, your NIFTY conventions, BBYO clubs, day schools, or Sunday schools. … We suck at Jewish geography.

    This is also true for some us who are 100% ethnically Jewish. If you do not grow up in a middle-class, non-immigrant family in a major North American city, you are out of luck. Part of the reason I am intermarried is that most Jewish organizations or groups were not welcoming to anyone different from them.


    thebookmistress · December 17th, 2008 at 9:02 pm
  45. I realize that I come from a different generation, but please don’t call me a Jewess. Would you call a Black woman a negress? I don’t think so.

    “We’ve never been or rarely attended your Reform summer camps, your NIFTY conventions, BBYO clubs, day schools, or Sunday schools. We suck at Jewish geography.”

    I never even heard the term “Jewish geography” until a few years ago and I’m 54. That is not what being Jewish is about.

    You can wear a cross and a Jewish star, but if you think that can be be Jewish and accept Jesus as your saviour, you are deluding yourself.


    Susan · December 17th, 2008 at 11:04 pm
  46. You’re not the only Jew in “Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and Washington.” Meet your Pacific Northwest bothers and sisters here: www.jew-ish.com.


    Jew-ish · December 18th, 2008 at 12:27 am
  47. “and I would not want any of my Jewish communities to adopt any Christian practices”

    Erm… too late? Guess we should disregard R’ Gershom’ taqana, then!

    BZ, I think KRG is well aware that different streams of Judaism conceptualize halakha differently. Not least because some Jews would still refuse to call her Rabbi, even if only to be courteous.


    B.BarNavi · December 18th, 2008 at 4:02 am
  48. “I would not want any of my Jewish communities to adopt any Christian practices.”

    I assure you that all of “your” Jewish communities have already adopted any number of Christian practices.


    Miri · December 18th, 2008 at 4:29 am
  49. B.BarNavi writes:
    BZ, I think KRG is well aware that different streams of Judaism conceptualize halakha differently.

    That’s why I was so puzzled by the rhetoric of “one legal system”.


    BZ · December 18th, 2008 at 11:19 am
  50. I assure you that all of “your” Jewish communities have already adopted any number of Christian practices.

    So the argument is “we dress like Christians, so we might as well take communion like them”?

    That’s an awful argument. Whatever happened to nuance and boundaries and definitions? It’s possible to distinguish between religion, culture, fashion, style, observance, procedures, language, etc and determine which are acceptable to adopt from non-Jewish life and which would compromise the integrity of Judaism.


    chillul Who? · December 18th, 2008 at 3:18 pm
  51. How about we model our pesach sedarim after the Greeks, our synagogue mourning rituals after 12th century Catholics, our lulavim and etrogim after canaanite rituals, etc etc etc…. I’m not saying there hasn’t been nuance, but our boundaries are much more fluid than contemporary Jews like to think.


    dlevy · December 18th, 2008 at 4:12 pm
  52. CW, you’re putting words in Miri’s mouth. We never said that because we ALREADY have so much marked Christian influence, we should start taking views/customs contrary to our own theology. All we are saying is that Judaism itself has so many influences from other religions INCLUDING Christianity, it’s foolish to assume that it was just one mesora miSinai.


    B.BarNavi · December 18th, 2008 at 5:07 pm
  53. I should have been more specific and said “practices that explicitly affirm Christianity”.


    BZ · December 18th, 2008 at 8:41 pm
  54. Two-generation product of intermarriage, 1/4 Costa Rican native, 1/4 Warsaw Jew, 1/2 seventh-generation Spanish Catholic

    I’ve always considered it unusual in how I carry my multi-ethnic heritage as a badge of pride. Guess I’m not alone as I thought I was, eh?


    Radioactive afikomen · December 19th, 2008 at 4:54 am
  55. I’m pleased to have people with interesting backgrounds as Jews – the more the better – but I don’t really see why it makes you any different. Are you more or less Jewish than a Yemenite Jew or a Shanghai Jew or one from Mumbai?
    We can enrich our cultures through customs – as long as they don’t come in conflict with the principles of Judaism. But what can’t be done is mix Judaism and other religions. There’s nothing about being Costa Rican, Polish or Spanish that makes you better for worse a Jew. There’s nothing shameful – or laudatory- about being related to Catholics – or Muslims, Baptists, Buddhists or Hindus.
    It’s true that being Jewish these days is mostly a choice – but it *is* a choice, and when you make choices, it means doing one thing and not another. Be Jewish, I live on the East coast, but if you think that makes me party to Jewish geography, well. it ain’t true (at least outside my own, rather small family).
    Be proud of your heritage, and proud of your non-Jewish relatives,t o. BUt if you want to be Jewish you can’t be them. Just like ifyou want to be CAtholic, you can’t be Jewish, either.


    KRG · December 19th, 2008 at 12:33 pm
  56. Judaism itself has so many influences from other religions INCLUDING Christianity, it’s foolish to assume that it was just one mesora miSinai.

    Peshita. That goes without saying, B.BN. But that doesn’t mean the boundaries and definitions should be thrown down because “the walls have been breached already”, which is what was being argued for. KRG is right, everything has its edges, especially beliefs/cultures, and even when those edges are fuzzy/permeable.


    chillul Who? · December 19th, 2008 at 1:18 pm
  57. For Eliza who feels that Palestinian Arabs have rights in Israel – go to rhr.israel.net/ for Rabbis for Human Rights. They have a lot to say about this topic, and there is a video you can watch.

    Ruth, I loved your light metaphor, brilliant actually.

    Ari, you grow more and more interesting in your ability to synthesize the various ideas and intents. Thanks.

    To answer KRG and Chillul about having to choose to be Jewish or Catholic, perhaps you have to make choices. Just not necessarily the choices you want to be made. A Jewish friend in Colorado goes to a Church in Denver because he likes the minister who says there are no labels when you enter there. He doesn’t say the works about Jesus, but he enjoys it, and he keeps a kosher home and is happy. We choose, but we try not to judge.

    Chag sameach.


    David F · December 21st, 2008 at 1:00 am
  58. Jordan, my family also did Xmas at home, and it was expressed as a pagan ritual, not a Christian one, like Sukkot in that both have none Jewish or Christian roots.

    I am sorry I have not been reading this more. It is fascinating.


    David F · December 21st, 2008 at 1:09 am
  59. Sometimes I fear Judaism, and therefore Jews, were obviated with the rise of liberal Christianity.

    Who needs Orthodoxy when you have moderate and fundamentalist Islam? And who needs Liberal Judaism when you have Unitarianism?


    DK · December 21st, 2008 at 7:18 am
  60. [...] week, Kung Fu Jew’s post about multifaith families stirred up a lot of activity in the comments section. KFJ ended his post soliciting for other posts [...]


    The Anxiety of Influence | Jewschool · December 22nd, 2008 at 5:06 am
  61. Dear Kung Fu Jew and other friends like him:

    You are all cordially welcomed at the largest international organization for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, the Half-Jewish Network at:

    www.half-jewish.net

    We are a web home for you, regardless of how you look, which parent or grandparent was Jewish, and no matter what belief system and values you practice.

    Cordially,
    Robin Margolis
    www.half-jewish.net


    Robin Margolis · January 30th, 2009 at 8:29 am
  62. David F.
    What do you mean when you say that Sukkot is practiced like a pagan celebration with no roots in Judaism. if I am not mistaken, Sukkot is a very VERY Jewish holiday, dating back to the exodus When we had to live in Tents. It’s considered one of the High Holy days. This thread has given a lot of lip service to Chanuka, a rabbinic Holiday that came about in the Diaspora, but Sukkot is a holiday commanded by Torah


    Jake J. · April 4th, 2009 at 12:15 am
  63. Totally loved this. I feel vindicated. I am older but still feeling like the product of a [gasp!] “mixed” marriage makes me something not entirely appropriate in any available universe – the above-mentioned “bastard spawn” – not that it was MY choice. I just got born. Shame on me!

    Thank you, Kung Fu.


    Sara D. · April 9th, 2009 at 6:15 pm
  64. [...] from being able to come of age within that space. But mixed cultural identity is quickly becoming to my generation what gender and sexuality was to hers; we–I–need to learn her lessons and apply them to [...]


    A stumbling block for the homesick. « The Kippah and the Collar · September 8th, 2009 at 5:47 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik