Culture, Global, Identity, Religion

To date or not to date?

As a young Jewish man, I have often wrestled with the dilemma that dating poses: that is, do I confine myself only to Jews?  In my view, the question it comes down to is one of priorities.  Which is more important, an uninterrupted or unimpeded relationship, or my obligation (desire?) to raise my kids Jewish?  Are they mutually exclusive?
Theoretically, and in my ideal world, they wouldn’t be.  But in actuality it’s a lot more complicated.  In my hometown, for instance, there are a lot of families with one Jewish parent, usually the father.  I have many close friends like this.  And almost universally, they are completely non-religious.  I don’t say this in any sort of condescending, not-Jewish-enough-for-me kind of way.  What I mean is that they as a family have no interest in being Jewish.  Now that is obviously their own personal choice, and as such I have no intention of criticizing it, but I fully intend to have a Jewish family.  Here’s the issue: how many of those people did too?  How many went into that relationship convinced that they could do it, convinced that their spouse would be interested, engaged, capable, and that they would have Jewish kids if not a Jewish family (i.e. their mom wasn’t really a part of it)?  The answer is that I don’t know.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that none of these men went into the marriage with the intent of having a Jewish family, as I do.  Again, a personal choice.  But I doubt that’s as universal as the lack of that concept’s actual instances in the real world.  It’s definitely food for thought.

Thus, there is an issue of whether I can even do it if I try.  But I suppose the more basic question is, should I try in the first place?  Is it moral for me to insist to whoever I marry that my religion take precedence?  Is it okay for me to be the influence?  Is it Jewish?  Obviously “mainstream” Jewish teaching is in favor of the maintenance of the heritage.  But that same teaching frowns on intermarriage, and, in my opinion is, as a philosophy at large, responsible for the seclusion Jews have often held themselves to.  It’s true that Jews have been historically discriminated against in many respects, but there has definitely been an element of deliberate self-seclusion, perhaps in response to that discrimination.
But the modernized Jewish philosophy that I tend to associate with in most cases, the same one that says that a two-state solution is better than a “pure” Jewish homeland, and that gay marriage is acceptable in a synagogue, tells me that I need to keep my religion out of other people’s way.  That they have as much a right to theirs as I do to mine.  That all religions are created equal.  So do I have a basis for almost arbitrarily imposing my religion on my future family within Judaism?  I could certainly mix-and-match between Jewish schools of thought, borrowing from more orthodox viewpoints (maintenance of the bloodline at all costs) to allow for my raising my kids Jewish, and still maintaining an attitude of general tolerance.  Nope.  That seems completely immoral and subversive to me; using orthodoxy to enforce the spreading of progressivism, in a sense.  I need a progressive basis for raising a Jewish family with a not-born-Jewish wife.  Or I need to prove that none exists, and drop the idea entirely.
I guess I could say that it depends on the person I marry.  If that person is up for becoming Jewish and raising Jewish kids, then we’re all set.  Otherwise, I can say goodbye to having a Jewish family.
Do I want to leave it up to chance?  Or what might as well be chance, because I’m not really going to screen who I date by how likely I think they’d be to want to convert at some unspecified point in the future.  That’s just too much to ask.  Picture meeting someone in high school or college (I’m there now!), and telling them you can only date them if they’d convert if you got married.  That’s almost a more difficult criteria than “I won’t date you if you’re not Jewish”.  At least not being Jewish is an immediate disqualifier – I’m not asking someone to look ten, twenty years into their future, and decide if they will a) still be with me, b) want to marry me, and c) want to convert at that point.  You can’t start a relationship by looking at how you want it to end.
But no more can you ignore its end.  I don’t like the idea of starting a relationship with the intention of ending it, in any case, whether it’s because you don’t really want to stay with the person, or because you don’t think they’ll convert.  Either of those is just manipulative.
This is as of now an unresolved issue I’m thinking about.  I certainly haven’t confined myself to dating only Jews in the past, and I don’t think I will in the future.  I see intermarriage and intermingling as beneficial to any group; being insular is ultimately weakening.  So I suppose that, because of my desire to have a Jewish family, I’m looking for a way to ensure it within the moral bounds I’ve set for myself (equality, etc.); a fail-safe.  I haven’t yet found it.  I think I can do it, but I don’t want to step on anyone along the way.
Ultimately, this is the struggle of being a modernized Jew; how do you maintain the practice of a religion while simultaneously subscribing to ideas of universal religious equality?  They’re not mutually exclusive by any means, but you can’t just sit back and expect them to coexist.  You have to self-define and expand your boundaries constantly.
To me, that’s the most Jewish practice of all.
Cross-posted to my blog.

111 thoughts on “To date or not to date?

  1. It seems to me that the only reason you wish to create a Jewish family is to pass on the same self-doubt and anxiety on to your children that you have exhibited in this post.
    Which seems cruel to me. Teach your children to be proud (G-d fearing optional appearently) Jews. Don’t inflict on them the kind of childrearing I can postulate from your writings.

  2. I often have the sense that what really matters is intention. If Judaism is important to you, then you’re going to forge a household in which that’s reflected, and your putative children will grow up valuing it because it’s a part of their upbringing. If it’s not important to you, then you’re not likely to make it part of your life in an organic way, and your kids aren’t likely to grow up with it, either. It seems to me that this is the really important metric.
    Anecdotally speaking, I’ve known Jews who married other Jews who had lukewarm religious lives and whose kids grew up with next to nothing — and Jews who married non-Jews but who created vibrant, powerful Jewish lives for their households and their kids. The real question may be: how important is Judaism in your daily life? If it’s a part of your life, then it’s a natural thing for you to bring to your dating life, your partnership and marriage, your childrearing — everything that you do — and anyone with whom you would partner will know that about you from the get-go.

  3. You say you want to raise your kids as Jews, but are you living life as a Jew? I don’t think you’d be having these agonizing decisions if that were the case. I think if one is living their life more in tune with your Jewish faith, many of these mental battles simply become irrelevant constructs.
    You want to have a non-Jewish wife, while at the same time getting Jewish kids. You can’t have both. If your wife is not Jewish, your kids are not Jewish, regardless of how you raise them.
    formermuslim is exactly right. You need to deal with your own confusion before you commit another generation to agony.
    Second, do you understand there is like a 2:1 ratio of Jewish women to men in many East Coast American communities? We men have absolutely NO excuse for not finding a Jewish woman under these conditions, NONE. Get crackin.

  4. RB: Yes, you have the right to find a partner who shares your values- in fact, that’s the only way a partnership will last.
    Regardless of your dating quandaries, I think you’re a bit confused about the point of a “two state solution”- the point is not to be all multicultural and lovey-dovey but to separate communities (Arab and Jewish) who probably can’t share a state without killing each other. In other words, the point of a two-state solution is precisely to create a more “pure” Jewish homeland, in the sense of one with a Jewish majority, albeit in a smaller piece of real estate.
    Just FYI.

  5. Just because you marry and reproduce with another Jew does not guarantee that said progeny will have any interest in Judaism. They may be like, screw that, I’m gonna go be a Pentecostal Christian/Buddhist monk/evangelical Discordian! And then what? You gonna disown them for that? You could. Many people today would, and in generations past it was certainly the norm in such cases.
    On the other hand, you could marry a non-Jew and have an infant conversion performed and have that child be hardcore into Judaism for the whole of their life. I’ve seen both scenarios in my time.
    Intermarriage is a taboo because of our mythos, not because of the made up reasons we use to justify our distaste for exogamy. You see, even when there is no longer a Pinchas/Ezra/the Maccabees/self-righteous prophet to condemn us for taking non-Jewish spouses, their legacy is still ingrained in the Jewish psyche.
    And indeed such oppressors are celebrated in our literature, as are those who wished to stifle religious freedom and tolerance within our midst.

  6. @formermuslim Question my judgment, not my motives. Obviously I don’t want to have a Jewish family so that I can give my kids a hard time. I think this is an intellectual burden that people need to shoulder.
    @Neal I absolutely disagree that the reason for a two-state solution is to maintain “purity”. It’s a response to the need for reasonable self-governance, something Palestinians are currently denied.

  7. General note: I’m editing part of this post to clarify my meaning: the part where I said “It’s over”. I meant that my Jewish family dreams were over, not the relationship.

  8. Part of the issue here is why you date. If fun and experience is part of the reason, then there’s no reason to limit yourself. If your primary reason for dating is to find a spouse then you need to directly find answers about the person’s compatibility as a spouse early on. If they are not Jewish (or even if they are Jewish!) do their values and how they want to raise children match yours? This includes the importance and place of Jewish observance and learning.
    There are times when the answer will be you don’t know, but there will be more times when the answer will be definitely not. If the answer is definitely not, then by continuing to date someone and pretending the relationship might lead to marriage, you are either lying or planning to impose practice on that person that they don’t want.

  9. RB: I don’t disagree at all that part of the reason to embrace a two-state solution is to give the Palestinians a chance at self-government. It also gives Israel a Jewish majority, which enables the Jews to have sustainable self-government, again, in a smaller piece of land. It’s precisely Palestinian and Jewish “purity” , in the very, very limited sense of “state with a clear demographic majority” which would enable sustainable self-governance on either side of the border. I don’t think we actually disagree about this.

  10. RB,
    If an overwhelmingly “Jewish” Israel were not a goal, why would anybody support the two-state idea, which only a fanatical optimist would believe has a chance of bringing true peace?

  11. Self-doubt and anxiety? Assumptions that renaissanceboy doesn’t live as a Jew? I must have read a different post then you guys… I thought this was a well thought out exercise in weighing values and mores.

  12. I wouldn’t think of your desire for a Jewish family as “imposing” on the other person. It’s not about you winning over the other person and getting your way, or you being so loving that you abandon what’s important to you for that perosn. It’s about deciding whether the other person is a good fit for you and whether you are a good fit for them, whether you share enough of the same goals in life that you can make a life together. And that doesn’t just apply to religion but to all sorts of things. It seems clear you want children. Are you limiting yourself to dating only people who want children? And so on …
    Everyone has their breaking points, the things they can’t compromise on, and everyone has the right to those. And they also have the right to reconsider those in the context of a real-life relationship or as they grow and change.

  13. I think that Rachel Barenblat brings up an interesting point regarding intentions. In my personal experience, love is what matters more than anything in being in a relationship. Love, in my opinion, is not something that we choose or have control over. We can choose to ignore it, or we can choose to act on it, but love ultimately chooses us. Jews who are raised in tight-knit Jewish communities end up falling in love with other Jews because that’s who they socialize and interact with. However, we are constantly in situations with non-Jews (thank God!) and it does happen that people fall in love with one of them. If Jewish life is an influential and essential aspect of your identity, the one you love will either love it or leave it. It’s not a simple or easy road; it can actually be quite rocky in certain circumstances. But if the non-Jew you fall in love with is interested in NOT converting and/or raising a Jewish family MORE than they love you, or if you love the idea of living a Jewish life with a partner who has a similar relationship to Judaism and Jewish custom MORE than the non-Jew you may fall in love you, well, you’ll likely know what to do as painful as it may be, one way or the other.
    No matter what the faith or upbringing one has, like em said, personalities and interests are going to grow and change. When I met my wife, I was an athiest with ill-feelings towards Judaism above many other religions. One day (after a series of experiences, incidents and life-altering events) I decided to become shomer mitzvot and learn Torah, then one day I decided to become a rabbi. When we met my wife was very different than she is now, and the changes that occurred in both of us I NEVER would have been able to believe when we first met and fell in love.
    The fact is, love evolves, faith evolves, and if you find someone that you can go through those changes with the faith they prescribe to or the ethnicity they carry in their genes is not always the most important part of the relationship.
    In terms of ending up in the situation where however many years down the road and having to deal with it then, the only thing one can do is be 100% open and honest from the get go. But I can tell you this, when my wife told me a few days after we met that our relationship wouldn’t work because one day I’d want her to convert (I laughed at her, btw) I didn’t care if she converted or not. But I changed, my interests and needs changed. So you never know where it ends up. Love is a ride that we don’t drive–you either live it and go with it, or walk away.
    And, hey, you could always bring up the conundrum on a date with someone, at the very least it would be an insight for a non-Jew as to how insane we truly are 😉

  14. Anonymouse, the entire point of this post is to raise the issue of how to have Jewish kids with a wife who wasn’t born Jewish. I’m arguing that I can in fact have both. And this is not a bloodline argument; I know that a lot of Jews would say that my kids won’t be Jewish. Frankly, I don’t care; I’m not going to let someone else tell me that my family isn’t Jewish enough. About confusion: Dude, that’s what I’m doing! Why else would I be writing posts about this and participating in discussions if I wasn’t thinking about it? Enough of these ad hominem attacks. Let’s really discuss the issues. On that note, your ratio of Jewish women:men is totally irrelevant. The reason I date non-Jews is not that I don’t think there are enough Jews. I just happen to think that religion is not a good reason not to date someone if you want and can have a functional relationship. Even if it raises these ethical issues. They’re well worth being raised.
    shmuel: This is also a very good point. I have no intention of disowning my children if they convert. That’s their choice. But I do want to raise them with enough awareness of Judaism in the household that they don’t feel as though it’s something they have to subscribe to; I want them to own it.
    @Jonathan1 Fanatical and optimist don’t really belong together. I’m overjoyed to be labeled an optimist. Fanatic, not so much. What’s fanatical is to maintain the status quo of religious and cultural discrimination. If Israel as an establishment can’t treat its citizens equally and deal with neighboring countries on reasonable diplomatic and territorial terms, then the people being negatively affected should be given their own governmental power and their own governmentally-protected territory.

  15. Use your dictionary.
    then the people being negatively affected should be given their own governmental power and their own governmentally-protected territory
    I 100% agree, but the single-state idea is more feasible then trying to create another nation-state in the finite area between the River and Sea. Ensuring an overwhelming “Jewish” Israel is part of the calculus for most of us who pray for a partition.

  16. How is the single-state idea more feasible? There already is a single-state. And I don’t think it could be transformed enough to institute actual equality in any kind of reasonable time period.

  17. Is there currently a single-state? It seems more like one sovereign nation-state within the Green Line (which is a success story, despite everything,) and then a grey quasi-state situation in the territories, where the Israeli military is the law, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens live as Israelis under that military regime, and millions of Palestinians live without civil rights.
    Presumably, under a single state, the territories would be officially annexed, and all people there would be granted full citizenship. There’d have to be something like a 25-year-moratorium on the Law of Return and any Right of Return. Groups like Gush Emunim and Hamas would have to be banned from running in elections. There’d be truth and reconciliation committees set up (a la South Africa,) etc.
    For 61 years, the Israeli government, military, banks, commerical sector have all worked well. So, it might just take a slow process of including the millions of new citizens into that process (as happened in post-1989 Germany.)
    Obvsiouly, something like that is not guaranteed to work, after a century of animosity and violence between Arabs and Jews.
    But, how feasible is the alternative, in terms of creating a genuine peace that will last for generations? Let’s just take one example: How can a Palestinian leader ever sign an agreement that will leave ultimate control of the Jordanian border in Israeli hands? How can an Israeli leader ever sign an agreement that does not?
    Still, partition is the only way to ensure a “Jewish” Israel, and to ensure that the Palestinians have a place of their own, too. We’ll probably just have to keep fighting from that new situation, unfortunately.

  18. How feasible is the alternative? Much more feasible than any kind of peace and equality now! There is de facto discrimination against Palestinians in many areas, and the Israeli government doesn’t take any action. Creating a state would allow for increased international pressure on Israel to deal equitably.

  19. Lasting relationships grow out of shared values. Love is terrific and all, but it’s not very stable, as people fall in and out of love all the time. Shared values is where it’s at. I agree with all those folks who say that a Jewish home is the result of people committed to a Jewish life. Two disinterested Jews marrying one another will build a less Jewish home than an intermarried couple that is committed to Jewish practice and expression.

  20. “@formermuslim Question my judgment, not my motives. Obviously I don’t want to have a Jewish family so that I can give my kids a hard time. I think this is an intellectual burden that people need to shoulder.”
    Here is a question. Why do you insist on making way for others? Stand up for yourself and your heritage. You think that “all religions are created equal” but somehow act as if yours is less than the others. Indifference to your own heritage does not show love or respect toward those of others. On the contrary, it makes it more doubtful you’ll be able to appreciate theirs.
    Raise your kids Jewish. It’ll make the world a less boring place and add some, yes, diversity to a christian, muslim and china dominated landscape.

  21. Rereading your post and this thread, it occurs to me that while most of us are responding with relationship advice, you’re also asking if you are, by even caring about raising your children Jewish and having a Jewish family, asserting some objective superiority for Judaism. And in this one (and probably only) regard, I agree with formermuslim. Saying that your own religious tradition is very important to you and you want to pass it on to your children, particularly given that we’re a pretty small minority, isn’t saying it’s objectively better or truer than another religion. It’s just saying that it’s yours and important to you.

  22. @jonathan1:
    I still believe my idea is the best. Pay the palis to leave. If anyone objects just let some ambassador yell ” whaddya gonna do, start a war because we give money to arabs?”.
    It’s waterproof.

  23. I don’t make it a rule to date or not to date Jews. This is how I evaluate dating:
    What matters is that my partner is compatable with my spirituality and religiousity. I need someone who’s going to embrace my quirkiness, a do-it-myself style, and an excitement for tradition. There are a lot of Jews who are not compatible, and a lot of non-Jews who are. The chances are undoubtedly greater that such a person is familiar with Jewish tradition, and either grew up Jewish or around some. But not necessarily.
    My grandfather, when fleeing Warsaw, found his way to South American. Ultimately, he married a Costa Rican woman who converted and raised my mother. Their marriage lasted 60 years. My mother in turn married a recovering Catholic, my father, who later converted when I was 10. There was commitment to Jewish life on the part of both partners, because that’s what they wanted in a partnership. But they didn’t limit themselves to Jews only. Without them, I wouldn’t have been born.
    So do I limit myself to Jews? No, not at all. I have a family history of judging people by their worth, not their allegiance.

  24. @formermuslim Having values is one thing. Automatically defaulting to applying them to a certain context without further thought is another. Obviously my practice is important to me. But that doesn’t put me in a position to automatically assert it over someone else. KJF’s “worth, not alleigance” is an excellent way of putting this concept. I don’t automatically disqualify or qualify people based on religion. Also, the idea of paying Palestinians to leave may be effective (although I have doubts), but it’s not really ethical. A governmental buyout amounts to a de facto declaration that Palestinians do not have landholding rights.
    @em It is a declaration of the superiority and universality of my religion if I assume that preserving it will take the same form in any relationship. It’s a question of adaptation. We’re people, not tools of an inflexible concept.

  25. Renaissanceboy asks: “How many went into that relationship convinced that they could do it, convinced that their spouse would be interested, engaged, capable, and that they would have Jewish kids if not a Jewish family (i.e. their mom wasn’t really a part of it)? The answer is that I don’t know.
    The Jewish sociologist Sylvia Barack Fishman has studied this, and found that, in general, Jewish men who marry non-Jewish women just aren’t asking the question about how their children will be raised until there are children.
    Here is an interview with her about this subject:
    The fact that RB is thinking about this question at all puts him way ahead of the curve as far as creating a future Jewish family.
    There is nothing wrong with wanting a Jewish family. RB should be upfront with any woman with whom the dating is more than casual about this. If you couldn’t live with a Christmas tree or an Easter ham in the home, you should make that clear early on on the relationship.
    However, I am personally very grateful that my born-Jewish husband started dating me and introduced me to Judaism. I love Judaism everybit as much as I love him. I now couldn’t imagine not having a Jewish household.

  26. This was a nice posting…unfortunately the author forgot one minor detail. Under Halacha, if the Mother of the child isn’t Jewish, neither are the Children. Regardless of the fact if under Reform accepts children who are raised Jewish but do not have a Jewish Mother, the Father is setting up the child for a lot of pain and suffering.

  27. the Father is setting up the child for a lot of pain and suffering
    This would only be true if Renaissance Boy raises his kids to be insecure about their Jewishness, which is the only way someone else’s standard would bother them. The only suffering would be at the hands of people cruel enough to pry into their private business in order to proactively limit their privileges in Jewish settings.
    There is also another way that his children they could suffer prejudice: if Israel never frees religion from the sole purview of the hareidi rabbinate. If things progress though, there will be no such cognitive dissonance upon visiting.

  28. formermuslim,
    I keep forgetting to ask each time you mention the payoff. I actually think it’s got some merit, but there is a problem of cost. How much is reasonable compensation for them to leave? I know right now the PA is trying to buy land in several areas of the West Bank from fellahin in order to build more urban city areas. In some places, they’ve had to resort to threats and trickery, playing family members against each other, leveraging PA benefits and threatening building permits, to get people into signing over the land. And that’s on top of offering millions of dollars, more or less market rates. Are you suggesting to incentivize emigration for non-land owners?
    How much could someone offer these people? $100,000 per family? If 1,000 families leave, with an average family size of say 8, that’s $100 Million for 8000 people. How practical is that? I’m interested how much you’ve thought this through.
    In response to rennaisanceboy, I don’t know how paying Palestinians to leave denies them landholding rights. It seems more like an affirmation of their landholding rights, and the buyout of those rights.

  29. @mika Would the government buy out Israeli citizens the same way? Doing this for Palestinians is shows that the government exists to protect the rights of only some of its citizens. That’s unethical.

  30. Mika:”How much could someone offer these people?”
    Here is a gross overestimate just to get us started. 3 million palis x 50.000 dollars per person = 150 billion dollar. Sounds doable, especially when it reduces the intensity of the conflict. That should save some money.

  31. “There is also another way that his children they could suffer prejudice: if Israel never frees religion from the sole purview of the hareidi rabbinate. If things progress though, there will be no such cognitive dissonance upon visiting.”
    Don’t obfuscate the issue. Jewish from the mother’s side isn’t an haredi invention.

  32. formermuslim,
    I’m pretty sure KFJ wasn’t suggesting Jewish from the mother’s side is a haredi invention, but rather pointing out that many requirements for qualifying as Jewish otherwise are.

  33. formermuslim:
    The Reform movement would accept RB’s children as Jewish, which for the purposes of Israeli law would suffice if the Reform movement were accepted as equally authoritative as the orthodox. Er, some of the orthodox.
    But let me go one step further: in an ideal world, the who is a Jew wouldn’t matter in ANY civil law matters, such as who can perform marriage, divorce, and internment in state cemeteries.

  34. Thanks BZ; that was in fact something I didn’t know.
    But I think there’s an intrinsic difference. If Israel were to buy out all of the current settlers, it would be out of an admittance that they’re breaking the law, and there’s no other way to get them to leave (which I don’t think is true). If it bought out Palestinians, it would be out of a belief that the land is in fact Israel’s to do with as it wishes. Perhaps it’s better for me to compare it to Palestinians buying out Israelis. That would be looked at as a huge insult. “This is our God-given land. You can’t buy it from us.”

  35. lets depose these right-wing haredi bastards
    like when we smashed the idols of our Caananite masters
    Both Moshe and Korach got swallowed up in the end
    with any luck the erev rav will come together again

  36. If Israel were to buy out all of the current settlers, it would be out of an admittance that they’re breaking the law, and there’s no other way to get them to leave (which I don’t think is true).
    That’s not why they’d be doing it. They’d be doing it to try to partition the country–as happened in Gaza. Or for other reasons, like removing the Sinai settlers as part of that treaty.
    Jews have a right to live in Judea and Samaria, no less than Palestinians have a right to live in Ramle or Lod.

  37. formermuslim, 50K is not near a fraction of the fair sum of money you can give someone to leave their homes. Its more like 5M.

  38. @BZ – different story. The Israelis were in Gaza as a temporary military presence and compensating them was not required, since they owned nothing there. THe Palestinians cannot be deported (or even encouraged to leave) under martial law and the geneva conventions to which ISrael is a party.

  39. In my experience as both parent and child, it seems children absorb from us the values we live by – what we demonstrate by our own choices – more than what we say or think. What we actually do and invest our time and resources in? That’s what shows them who we are, and by extension who they are.
    Although my own parents were “interfaith” and/or “faithless” I learned a great deal from my Jewish mother about what is important in life, through her dedication to teaching, social justice, common decency, acceptance of all kinds of people, helping the less fortunate, protecting the environment. It was only much later that I learned what she herself may not even known – much of this agenda of responsibility to the world comes from a Jewish belief in the sanctity of life.
    I can echo Justin’s sentiment that partners change over time. I have been married for 18 years. We began as Born Again Atheists – now I have more spiritual leanings. You never know where life will take you, especially in a long term relationship – there are no guarantees, so marry someone you love, admire, and respect as a person – someone who treats you well, who “gets” you.
    Is it possible to raise Jewish children in an interfaith marriage? It is if both partners want it – which is not necessarily imposing your agenda on them. I suspect it’s healthier for children to grow up within a spiritual system because it’s a common human need to connect to God or whatever you want to call it – the source of the universe. I grew up as Nothing and it made me depressed. Who wants to live in an inherently meaningless universe? But I also think people who try to raise their kids in two faiths simultaneously dilute both traditions to the point that they no longer serve as effective pathways to spiritual awareness. This, of course, can happen anyway, in any religious milieu.
    I myself don’t know what to do about the conflict between the universal and the particular – I try to look at the core message of each religion’s teachings as a higher type of truth. Whether this works depends on whether you think there are many “truths” or only one Truth – but this doesn’t mean you can’t choose one system, one method, or that the others are wrong. People should choose what works. And I believe there are enough people who will find Judaism works for them that we don’t really need to be afraid about continuity – unless its teachers become so discriminatory and exclusive that those who didn’t grow up with it never have the chance to learn it. If Judaism were open to everyone, I don’t believe it would ever be lost.

  40. Back on subject, RB – I don’t think the “Orthodox” viewpoint is to “maintain the bloodline at all costs”. The Orthodox viewpoint is generally that if you’re not going to be observant, you’re gone forever anyway. Orthodox insistence on “marrying Jewish” for people who aren’t observant is just so they won’t be lost to future Kiruv efforts.
    Actually, the Orthodox are much more progressive on this than the Secular Zionists. If you act Orthodox enough in the Orthodox community, you’re in, while for the Secular Zionists (at least for some of them), you’ll never be in.
    Of course, when you merge Orthodoxy with a racist variety of Jewish NAtionalsim…

  41. And Jewish nationalism is not based on race – I have three convert friends who will attest to that – which surprisingly hasn’t stopped you from continuing claims of racism, against a people you pretend doesn’t exist in the first place.
    Stay honest, Amit.

  42. I have a feeling that words are being minced here. race is a matter of blood lineage and ethnicity is a matter of cultural heritage. For example, a Guatemalan of Spanish blood and one of Mayan blood, or mixed, would still be ethnically “Latino” (whatever that means) but coming from two different races. So this happens in the Jewish world all the time. African, European and Middle Eastern Jews are not racially the same, but they are all ethnically Jewish. At the same time, I think that “racism” has kind of evolved into an umbrella word for forms of hatred based on racial, ethnic and cultural heritage. For example, I’d be curious to know if those people dismissing the notion of Jewish nationalism as racist would consider anti-Semitism racist.
    Racist or not, it’s separatist and elitist and based on it or not, has basically evolved into a fairly hate-based ideology grounded in ‘us v. them,’ and that makes many Jews and non-Jews a little uncomfortable. In terms of Zionists and frumkeit and how they determine “in or out,” the bottom line of inclusion in the Haredi world is behavior and observance. The bottom line in the Zionist world is ‘are you one of us, with us or are you against us?’ In terms of converts who become adamant Zionists (or non-Jews who become Zionists, even) they are ideologically in line with Jewish nationalism and therefore may be accepted by Jewish nationalists, but that doesn’t mean that Jewish nationalism is devoid of racism. I would say that there is LOTS of racism in the Haredi world, that doesn’t mean that they don’t consider Torah observant Jews of color to be Jewish, right? But that doesn’t mean we could fairly say Haredi communities are not racist.
    So, could it be that the foundational concepts of Jewish nationalism are not necessarily racist while there are many racist Jewish nationalists?

  43. For example, I’d be curious to know if those people dismissing the notion of Jewish nationalism as racist would consider anti-Semitism racist.
    Of course anti-Semitism is not racism. The term “anti-Semitism” is a misnomer to begin with, btw.
    What we are asking is what does racist variety of Jewish NAtionalsim… mean, because it implies that nationalism, in and of itself, isn’t problematic, but that modern political Zionism is in fact racist.
    So, could it be that the foundational concepts of Jewish nationalism are not necessarily racist while there are many racist Jewish nationalists?
    Maybe so.
    The bottom line in the Zionist world is ‘are you one of us, with us or are you against us?’
    Strong words. Even if that’s true, is it any more so than in the American world, or British world? Which might be the criticism of nationalism that Justin often makes . . . . but it doesn’t adress others’ point that Jewish nationalism is somehow inherently more indsidious than other forms of nationalism.

  44. Justin’s “separatist” is the best of way of putting this I think. And Amit makes a good point about the qualifiers for being Jewish in different people’s eyes.
    The point of my post was that I’m raising my children differently. Separatism has defined Judaism in too many ways, and as KJF said in his last post, mingling makes us stronger.

  45. Separatism has defined Judaism in too many ways
    Separatism has defined non-Jews in too many ways. Yawn.
    Rennaissanceboy, are you familiar with the root of “Hebrew”? All these silly “racist”, “separatist” arguments boil down to one thing – you’re a Jew, and you’re not like everyone else. “Mingling”, “intermarrying” or trying on pantyhose might make you feel one way or another, but it doesn’t change who you are. You’re a Jew – not because you’re such a wonderful, progressive human being, or because you can run a five minute mile, or because of whatever self-worth or merit you think you have, just because. You’re a Jew who wants to raise his kids as Jews, when you haven’t even thought through what that means. All you know is that you’re a Jew, and that your kids should be Jews.
    Do you know what you call a Jew who acts irrationally out of his love of G-d? A Zealot. You’re a Jew and a Zealot. That’s worse than being religious, it’s pure mesiras nefesh – self sacrifice.
    The bottom line in the Zionist world is ‘are you one of us, with us or are you against us?’
    The bottom line in the anti-Zionist world is ‘are you one of us, with us or are you against us?’ Yawn.

  46. Mika, you’re missing the point. What KJF argues about intermarriage and I argue about dating is about rejecting the philosophy of “it doesn’t change who you are”. We are changing who we are. I can absolutely say that I have changed who I am as Jew in the past, am doing so now, and will continue to in the future. I am struggling to define what it means to be a Jew. And I’m far from the only one.
    “You’re a Jew who wants to raise his kids as Jews, when you haven’t even been through what that means.” Decided what it means, no. Been through it, absolutely.

  47. We are changing who we are.
    You’re confusing what you think and how you feel with who you are. You don’t get a vote or say in who you are… you just are, as you demonstrate right about…
    I am struggling to define what it means to be a Jew.
    Exactly right. You’re not changing who you are; you’re changing what it means to you, how you relate to it, or how you feel it should impact your life. You’re accessorizing, nothing more.
    It’s a beautiful thing. You don’t believe in any of this religion, essence and soul garbage. You’re in control, not some white bearded, four eye fatso floating in the clouds. Do you know the definition of a Zealot?!
    By the way, you misquoted me, above, and in doing so actually affirmed my statement. Read once more what I wrote and what you quoted me as saying, carefully. Freudian slip?

  48. @Jonathan1- I haven’t been reading this threat super closely, but did anyone say Jewish nationalism was more racist or racist in a unique way?

  49. That would have been me, misconstrued by Jonathan. I said that when Orthodoxy is coupled with racist Jewish nationalsim, then you get […].
    I chose my words carefully: not all Jewish nationalism is racist, and not all racism is nationalist. But in the special case of Israel, we’re now at a point where we have a large cadre of adherents of racist Jewish nationalism running the country, some of whom are Orthodox.
    We turn away refugees from Africa, becuase they’re African. We shoot arab citizens, because they’re arabs. THat’s racism. And say they wanted to convert? The defense ministry would have to approve it. Seriously.

  50. Of course, when you merge Orthodoxy with a racist variety of Jewish NAtionalsim
    I don’t think I misconstrued Amit’s words at all. But, he’s explained it further.
    To be fair though, Amit, was paying huge amounts of money to airlift 14,000 Ethiopians into Israel racism? Was bringing 2,000 Indian converts into the West Bank Israeli racism? Was brining in thousands of immigrants from the former “Muslim” Soviet republics: Tadjikistan, Dagestan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan (a lot of whom aren’t Jewish by any definition; some of whom are “mixed” white/yellow) racism?

  51. The Indian converts are only tolerated because they’re airlifted straight to the west bank. The Ethiopians may have been brought here, but ever since they government’s been doing everything to keep their heads down and casting doubts on their (coerced) conversions. The immigrants from the muslim republics are an oversight. Nobody thought about them for a minute.

  52. The Indian converts are only tolerated because they’re airlifted straight to the west bank.
    Aren’t they Israeli citizens?
    The Ethiopians may have been brought here, but ever since they government’s been doing everything to keep their heads down and casting doubts on their (coerced) conversions.
    Not everybody is trying to keep the Ethiopians down, and certainly not all government officials /rabbis cast doubts on their converstions.
    The immigrants from the muslim republics are an oversight. Nobody thought about them for a minute
    Aren’t you proving the opposite point of what’s you’ve been arguing?

  53. And also, they’re all “Jewish”. We tolerate “Jews” and Europeans, but goyische africans? and Arabs? ha ha
    That’s very true, which can be among the points that Jewish nationalism is brutal/failed (but not racist.)

  54. Rennaissanceboy, are you familiar with the root of “Hebrew”?
    Um, well, I’m familiar with the root. How does that relate?

  55. @Mika
    A classification has no meaning in and of itself. It’s how we choose to define it (or let it define us) that matters. There are certain things we take for granted given certain classifications, but they are all responsive to change.
    I do apologize for the misquote. But what I mean by “been through” and what you mean by “thought through” are the same.

  56. miri, Mika means the famous folk-etymology of Abraham being called “Ivri”, since he was on one “Ever” (side) and all the other world was on the other side.
    This is a folk etymology and it is of course false. It does, however, accurately point out that in rabbinic imagination Abraham was a lone monotheist among idolaters. But (Mika) this is not the situation today. The (western) world is by and large on Abraham’s side.
    Abraham wasn’t on one side for kicks, or because he was a member of an elite club. He was on his side since he was a believer in the one God, which nobody else was (in the story, at the time).
    But trying to draw conclusions from that, well… better you should go to Abraham’s rabbinic alter ego, Balaam:
    “For from the rocky peaks I see them / and from the hilltops I observe
    It is a people set apart / and of the nations takes no heed
    who can count the dust of Jacob/and number the sand of Israel
    may I suffer an honest death / and my end be like theirs”.
    (But is that who we are? or who we want to be? God took us out of the desert and brought us into contact with other people).

  57. A classification has no meaning in and of itself.
    A classification is an external construct. We’re Jews – that’s an inherent state of being, more basic than our thoughts, our feelings, our self-image, perhaps even our humanity, not a classifier. Regarding the misquote, what I wrote and what you quoted are different, but I do think the language you chose – “being” – was no mistake (see previous sentence).
    I don’t know if this conversation is of any use to you. I’ll continue it as long as you wish. I have no illusions about transforming your self-narrative, and I certainly am not besieging it; I’m just sharing a perspective.
    Amit, your writings are very conflicted. We are a people, but we shouldn’t be. We are alone among the nations, but who would want this life. You bring a proof to support my argument – a proof you accept – and then mourn it’s implications. It’s not the first time, and so I wonder…
    I keep thinking that out of the contradiction that comes through in your writing you want to say something important, something meaningful, something painful, maybe. As it is, those of us on the receiving end are left with fragments of your true feelings, or snarky, reactionary one liners to piece together. Focus. I want to know what you have to say.
    G-d took us out of the desert and brought us into contact with other people
    This is a curious thing to write. G-d took us out of Egypt and brought us into the desert. As we enumerate in tefilah daily, G-d set us apart from the nations to receive the Torah, set His name upon our people and sanctified us with His commandments. How many more ways can one say the same thing? We are a nation set apart.
    this is not the situation today
    That we have been exiled and dispersed among the nations is not an abnegation of our status as apart from them, for as we also affirm daily, G-d will gather us from among the nations, even from the ends of the earth. We were apart. We are apart. We will be apart.
    You propose that “Ivri” no longer holds because…
    The (western) world is by and large on Abraham’s side.
    Is the Western world on Abraham’s side? If our mission amidst Edom was complete, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As a side note, I find it interesting you highlighted Edom, not Ishmael, as being on Abraham’s side. Say what you will about the Arabs, but they fear G-d. When Edom does teshuvah… may we live to see it.
    Abraham wasn’t on one side for kicks, or because he was a member of an elite club.
    Did anyone suggest that G-d set us apart “for kicks”? Another reactionary sentiment. Don’t be such a judgmental hardliner. After 2000 years of exile, we have Jewish Zealots multiplying on the pages of Jewschool. That’s really something special. Open your eyes.

  58. I read your post with sadness, as I am a convert(!) looking to deepen the way I observe Shabbat, the Jewish Holidays and having to divorce my Jewish husband. Why you ask? Because I converted on my own, for myself, before I ever dated a Jewish guy. I thought, as I was encouraged by all my Jewish friends, that I should just marry someone Jewish, that I love, and everything will be good. It’s not. When I am verbally attacked for studying Torah, and lighting Shabbat candles, by my Jewish spouse, in front of our kids, then why bother? We have had years of counseling, by our Rabbi too. The filter that I see your post through says that it is better to marry someone who supports you spiritually, even if that’s not their chosen path. Even if they are not Jewish. And to be open to them also. Because lack of that shared support will be the kiss of death to your (Renboy’s) relationships. As I look to the future of dating, I still ask the same questions you do, but I now have two lovely children, an ex-husband and am a convert that looks more Jewish than most people at my Shul. What’s a Jew to do?
    I now seek out the company of Jewish women. I am co-leading, with Rabbi Sue Morningstar, a Shekhinah Shabbaton this weekend for S’lichot, on her land that I share, in the Mountains near Ashland, Oregon. I have a yurt I built up there, where I keep eco-kosher, have heavenly Shabbats, and an amazing observant female Rabbi to study Torah with. I also head up (no pun intended) our Temple’s Rosh Chodesh group, which meets every month on the New Moon. I just hope and pray that the dating thing will work itself out with time and prayer…..
    Shabbat Shalom

  59. @Mika, we clearly have intrinsically different views on what “being” a Jew is. Personally, I’m a human before a Jew. And as such I can’t prioritize my religion over another person’s humanity.

  60. It’s counterintuitive to think of yourself as a human before your a jew. A jew is a type of human. If you consider yourself a Jew your not losing any of your humanity.

  61. Saki-
    that argument doesn’t really make sense… or maybe your word choice is imprecise. All of humanity the entire globe over can be genetically traced to a common ancestor just 60,000 years ago. We have been sharing our humanity for 120,000-200,000 years at least and have been “chosen” or “separated” as Jews for 4,000 of those and have been practicing a Jewish lifestyle that resembles anything like our Judaism (read normative Rabbinic) for less than half of that small time. Identifying as a human before a Jew does not lesson your Jewish identity, nor does identifying as a Jew before a human lessen your humanity. The recognition that one is “human before a Jew” is simply a recognition that not only do the Jewish people have a genetic and spiritual bond, but ALL of humanity has a common genetic and spiritual bond that transcends superficial divisions of ethnicity, gender or faith. At least that is my read on what rb is trying to say.

  62. zarhara
    Thankyou for that story! i really hope you find happiness and you’ve given an excellent example of what can be at stake in this debate. i personally agree that your spouse should have the same goals and values as you, seek to support you in those things you deem important and celebrate in your identity. And as you have shown, just because they might share part of your identity doesn’t mean a person will fulfill these things.
    It’s clear to me there is more to think about when considering life partners than “is she/he jewish”? For instance, my boyfriend is not jewish, but he is a wonderful partner that does the above things for me. I have no desire to make him convert because I do the above for him. we have a mutual respect for each other and try to support each other in our lives as much as possible even if the activities we are doing are separate.

  63. Mika – I would, but this comment thread has become much too long. Get the editors to ask me to write a guest post one day.

  64. I second that notion. Amit, I think you can just write it and email to KFJ/dlevy, etc. Jonathan, I’m not sure what KFJ would be writing about – the contradictions in his writings obscuring some deep personal truth?
    I personally feel the contradictions in Amit’s writings are more glaring precisely because he largely understands and is appreciative of halacha, while drawing highly non-normative conclusions.
    May you all have a sweet New Year!

  65. I wouldn’t say that Amit and/or KFJ have contradictions in their writing . . . I’d say that I’m truly not smart enough to understand their complex views on the nature of Jewish peoplehood/nationality/family.

  66. Its an altitude thing.
    At a hundred feet we are individuals. At a thousand feet we are jews. At ten thousand feet we are humans. From space we are earth. Recognizing we share a human bond should not mean leaving our Judaism behind.

  67. Thank you Trista for your response. I had a deeply moving and healing Shabbaton, and it felt good to deeply start the Teshuvah process on S’lichot, alongside Jewish girls and women from 5yrs old to 84. May the healing begin…
    Wishing you all a sweet New year.

  68. ” I see intermarriage and intermingling as beneficial to any group; being insular is ultimately weakening. ”
    well – then you are ignorant. what you are describing is assimilation.
    the only reason judiasm has existed to this day is bc of the people who kept it strong, by doing it together and not assimilating. the reason that judiasm is shrinking as a religion is bc of assimilation.

  69. Assimilating is a two-way process. Was it assimilation when Jews lived in a time when everyone was memorializing the dead and decided to establish Yizkor as a Jewish practice? Was it assimilation when Jews lived at a time when everyone was tightening the boundaries of ethnic/religious identity and so decided to establish formal, ritual conversion as a Jewish practice? Was it assimilation when Jews lived at a time when ethnic groups around the globe were fighting wars to gain rights to modern nation-states and decided to do the same thing on their own patch of land?

  70. Dlevy,
    I think the examples you give illustrate adoption, adaption, or appropriation. Assimilation yields a less distinctive community with a less cohesive communal life. Yizkor, Conversion rules, and Zionism may have been inspired by trends from beyond the Jewish community, but were used to reinforce Jewish communal identity.

  71. You say eggplant, I say aubergine. (Actually, I would never use the word aubergine, but quoting Ira Gershwin’s potato/potato doesn’t really work in a text-only environment.)
    When one culture borrows ideas from another culture, or (perhaps more accurately) multiple cultures living together change simultaneously in similar ways, they are assimilating new/foreign ideas into themselves. I would say this assimilation of outside ideas into Jewish religion and culture has often strengthened Judaism just as much as (if not more than) any other kind of assimilation may have hurt Judaism.

  72. the reason that judiasm is shrinking as a religion is bc of assimilation.
    Yes, of course, because nonobservant Jews marrying other nonobservant Jews breeds an amazing interest in religion. The reason Judaism is shrinking as a religion is because of all these people who think it is not a religion.

  73. And that’s my point. “Assimilation” isn’t an always bad thing. If you think it is, then you might want to question the clothes you’re wearing, the architecture of the house you’re inhabiting, the food you’re eating, the political process you’re participating in, etc.

  74. …and that’s a good point. People should be precise in speech and writing. What word should she use, since she’s talking about a specific type of assimilation that has been linked to intermarriage?

  75. Hm. I thought they meant identity, that people who out-marry give their kids weaker Jewish identities (of which less involvement in Jewish religion/culture is a symptom).

  76. Seriously. First of all, I’m not convinced that exogamous marriage produces “weaker Jewish identities” at a rate statistically different than endogamous marriages do. But how do you measure identities? And why does identity matter? I’d rather have ten people who are actively engaged in Jewish pursuits than twenty who check off “I’m Jewish” on a survey but otherwise do nothing in their lives that backs up that statement.

  77. I was just quoting common wisdom about outmarriage and identity rates – trying to explain where the commenter was coming from and why what they were saying was consistent.
    I’m not sure about how exogamy impacts Jewish affiliation. I’d tend to agree with you that other things are more important for how children identify than just if one parent isn’t a Jew, but I don’t have statistics to back me up.
    As for why identity matters, it’s like Rabbi Tarfon said with study — it’s important because it can *lead* to action. I don’t see many self-identified non-Jews “actively engaged in Jewish pursuits”.

  78. dlevy is making exactly the right point. First of all, does intermarriage yield significantly different results in terms of “how Jewish” the kids are likely to be? And second of all, is there any way of actually measuring it in the first place, given that (as this thread demonstrates) everyone has a different definition?
    The only person I can hold accountable for not living life properly as a Jew is myself, because I don’t know what anyone else wants from their religion. Now, if they told me, I could make a judgment as a friend, and I might often speculate as to what someone else is trying to do, but ultimately it’s up to them to define it and live it.

  79. Why am I always defending the status quo? I don’t think I’m so arch-reactionary….
    Anyway, RB, I think there may not be perfect objective measures of “how Jewish” someone is, but there are indicators of how involved in Jewish culture/religion and Jewish community someone is. And it makes sense for people/groups that value those things to encourage Jews’ involvement in them.

  80. “I’d rather have ten people who are actively engaged in Jewish pursuits than twenty who check off “I’m Jewish” on a survey.
    You would? On what basis to you make such judgements? you would rather people, who are already not fully committed to Judaism in your estimation, be lost altogether to Judaism, so that what? the more committed ones who remain Jewish – will what? what could possibly be of any advantage to judaism or the jewish family?

  81. To continue Saki’s argument:
    “Your lives and your Torah mean nothing to me! All you’re good for is making more Jews who might one day either man cannons or become ORthodox or both!”

  82. Saki, you’re not reading what I said. What I said was that I think there’s more value in individuals who act on their Judaism than there is in people who simply “feel Jewish.” I didn’t say anything about “fully committed.” Someone who thinks Jewish thoughts all day but never once takes part in a Jewish activity, be it lighting candles on Friday night, marching for peace in the middle east, studying Torah, or or what have you… what good is that person to “Judaism or the Jewish family”?

  83. dlevy,
    I read what you wrote I just couldn’t understand it. I agree with you that there is more value for Judaism in individuals acting on their Judaism than in individuals not acting on their Judaism. But I don’t understand how you put that value into numbers, 10 involved people are worth more to Judaism than 20 uninvolved people. Judaism cares for each of her children regardless of how they may be manifesting their Judaism at the moment.
    If I had wanted to continue my argument into an exaggerated and ridiculous form I would have. Until that time why don’t you stick to addressing my actual argument, which has nothing to do with manning cannons or orthodoxy.

  84. “Judaism” doesn’t do anything. Jewish people do things. And if we’re talking about what’s good for the Jewish people, it’s Jewish actions. (And before chillul Who? pops in with a Pirkei Avot quote, for the purposes of this argument, study IS action.)

  85. And if we’re talking about what’s good for the Jewish people, it’s Jewish actions.
    dlevy, why, I never! Jewish actions performed by who? Aborigines? Jews, of course! Are you finally accepting that if a Jew performs certain actions they become “Jewish actions”, while a non-Jew – falsely informed that they are a Jew – who performs the same actions does not, in fact, render them as “Jewish actions”, but merely actions?
    Up to now I’ve been under the impression that you didn’t care who (or what?) performed a mitzvah, as long as the act itself was completed.

  86. “Mika,” show me where I said that. Obviously, I would like to see everyone in the world treat those in need with compassion. However, I am only interested in getting Jews to go to shul or anything like that. However, if making shuls more welcoming to non-Jewish friends and families gets more Jews into shul, I think we all come out ahead. (And you and I may differ one who might be considered a Jew.)

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