Intermarriage And The Ghetto Mentality

Intermarriage And The Ghetto Mentality March 29, 2013

Ever the hot topic in the “Shry Gevalt” quarters of the Jewish community, intermarriage still remains a bogeyman for many otherwise liberal rabbis. Even open-minded Reform rabbis who have no problem welcoming gay couples often draw the line at those who dare to venture beyond a Jewish ghetto mentality.

I’m all for Jews marrying Jews. I’m also all for Jews marrying whoever the hell they want. I love performing ceremonies for them and my single condition is that they are committed to each other and that they love and respect one another.

By way of interfaithfamily.com I came across two pieces concerning Reform rabbis and intermarriage. The first is from the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. It’s about Rabbi Mark Levin who in his 37 years as a Reform rabbi has never sullied his hands with the impurity of performing the magical rites of an intermarriage.  He has now had a change of heart:

“I have been absolutely consistent with this decision over the years, even with some deeply meaningful circumstances,” he said in a recent interview.

“There have been plenty of people I have wanted to officiate for and I couldn’t,” he continued.

He wanted ever so much to help those people out. But he couldn’t. He just … couldn’t. Except now he can. He explained his new policy in the congregation’s February newsletter:

“The interfaith marriage rate among Jews in greater Kansas City is… well over 50 percent. …Whereas I continue to agree with my religiously principled previous position, another set of religious facts has emerged, i.e.: Many of our young people are marrying without regard to the Jewish status of their spouse, but not without regard for Judaism. They are raising Jewish children, and receiving a commitment from their spouse prior to marriage that the family will support Judaism and the Jewish community.”

So his eyes have suddenly been opened by all those new “religious facts” that emerged from intermarriage statistics that we’ve known about since 1990 when the Jewish community had its collective mass freak-out over this. I guess he just got the news.

Another new religious fact that emerged for him is that it was cutting down on business:

Over the years he has noticed that he was officiating at fewer and fewer weddings, which factored into this change of heart.

…Now, Rabbi Levin said he will officiate at the weddings of people who believe they are marrying into the Jewish community.

However, before he marries them, they have to sign a statement along the lines of what he wrote in his temple bulletin:

One of the partners may not be willing to confirm his/her Judaism at this time or in the future, but will need to be able and willing to commit to participating in a Jewish family and being part of the Jewish community. In other words, both parties to the marriage will need to commit to having a completely Jewish family regardless of the Jewish background of one partner in the marriage.

And here’s why:

For the community to solemnize marriages whose very existence opposes the maintenance of the vitality of the community in which the marriage takes place is to propose religious suicide and to lend credibility to the destruction of the very belief system in which the ceremony occurs. …There must exist a reason for the couple to choose marriage within this particular community. It cannot be simply an arbitrary convenience…. We cannot simply solemnize marriages willy-nilly, with no connection to the beliefs or welfare of the community other than some accidental association.

Religious suicide?! Arbitrary convenience?! Willy-nilly?! Accidental association?!

One of the reasons that I’m a Secular Humanist Jew is because I came to understand that Jewish continuity is not a sufficient excuse to treat people like crap.

When Jews look for a rabbi to do an interfaith wedding, it is usually anything but convenient, much less arbitrary. They do so because the Jewish partner has asserted his or her Jewish identity, accidental association or not, and wants to celebrate it as part of this very special life cycle event. So either help them out or don’t. But please refrain from creating stupid signing statements that force couples to live the way you want them to live. If the Judaism you’re serving up is so wonderful, why do you need this?

In a case of similar authoritarianism, Reform Rabbi Mark Miller wrote in The Times of Israel about a rabbinical student – the child of intermarriage – who supports accepting intermarried candidates into the rabbinate:

[His] position is the logical and lamentable outcome of Reform Judaism’s embrace of assimilation, of wanting to be everything to everyone, and of exalting the individual at the expense of the community. There are simply no standards, imperatives, or obligations. The adoration of autonomy led first to compromise, then to appeasement, and now to anarchy. For Rabbis to say there is no difference between the marriage of two Jews and a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew has led to the spectacle of Reform Rabbis officiating at intermarriages with non-Jewish clergy on Shabbat in churches.

Behold yet another reason that I left the Reform movement and embraced Secular Humanistic Judaism. Miller’s lamentable ghetto mentality encapsulates for me everything that is wrong with the course set by Reform Judaism.

Instead of embracing a message of love, tolerance and acceptance, these rabbis stamp their feet and demand “standards, imperatives” and “obligations.” They reject what they see as insufficient “regard” for Judaism.  They condemn any rabbinical acceptance of a couple’s life choices as an “adoration of autonomy” wherein Jews of “accidental association” are pursuing “willy-nilly” weddings that often amount to no more than a “spectacle.”

Levin and Miller may freely offer or deny their wedding services as their consciences dictate. As I see it, they have already lost the battle for the hearts and minds of modern liberal secularized Jews. In the 21st century the clerics are no longer in charge. Rabbis obsessed with the purity of their communities, who provide laundry lists of requirements for who’s in and who’s out, are probably working for the wrong Jews.

If the so-called liberal Jewish movements keep this up, they won’t need to be worried about committing religious suicide. They’ll just peacefully slip away into the recesses of history, irrelevant and forgotten.

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  • JRKmommy

    Coming from a different perspective, I have a problem with Reform rabbis requiring this sort of commitment from non-Jewish spouses because it sets up a dysfunctional family dynamic.

    Marriage, in this day and age, should involve some sort of equality of the spouses and a healthy amount of compromise.

    Is it realistic and fair, from a relationship perspective, to expect one spouse – who has not chosen to become Jewish themselves – to refrain from ever celebrating their own religion with the family, or raising the children with their religion? To agree that the Jewish spouse’s religion must ALWAYS trump?

    Now, I do know some non-Jewish spouses of Jews who are genuinely interested in Judaism, and actively work to support their families’ involvement in all things Jewish. The ones that I know are quite amazing, so I want to acknowledge that they exist.

    At the same time, though, I’m concerned that it’s too easy for a Jew to enter a relationship with a non-Jew without reservations, only to suddenly announce when things get serious that they expect this “my religion will always win” commitment as the price of marriage. If it is being requested because family members demand it, then the commitment will simply be a sham. If it is being requested by someone who cares about being Jewish more than they admitted earlier in the dating process, then that person has been less than honest and is engaging in some emotional blackmail.

  • Sifrina

    Many great points but especially love this one regarding “…stupid signing statements that force couples to live the way you want them to live. If the Judaism you’re serving up is so wonderful, why do you need this?”

    A friend of mine agreed to one of these deals (in order to please her Jewish in laws and have a Jewish ceremony) and guess what? Her kids attend her Christian bible Sunday School classes where she teaches and church every Sunday, and they really don’t seem to have much Jewish identity. Her Jewish hubby seems fine with it (though he refuses to attend Church), so I guess this is what works for them, but what was the point of either her agreeing to this, or requiring her to agree to this??

    I have always had a hard time with rabbis, especially the homosexual rabbi I know of, who refuse to officiate at what they consider intermarriages. Adults should be free to marry who they want… period.. And I won’t have someone marry me who refuses to get this. This is yet another reason I’m so happy to be a Secular Humanistic Jew!

  • Stephen

    I may be a little (or a lot) late in commenting but I have to say I am 100% in agreement with you.

    My situation is a bit different from most since I am “not technically a Jew” (to quote the reminder I was given recently by one of the members of the congregation I attend) as I am still going through the process with the help of our student rabbi since we are too small to have a full-time “fledged rabbi” as the student describes it. While the student and myself are both basically Reform (I waiver between that and being a Humanist), the congregation is the combination of two dwindling groups so we have a weird mix of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. One of the more Orthodox folks brought up the recent ban in the Netherlands of ritual slaughter as an affront and lamented it and one of the Reform members retorted “…and this matters why?”. It is a very amusing group in many, many ways that makes one think of a synagogue based version of a .

    My fiancee is a Wesleyan and is very understanding and supportive of my choice of Judaism. The issue we have run into is that we are trying to find a rabbi for the wedding because none of the local folks will be involved because I’m still “technically not a Jew” and not to mention that we are having a Saturday service. It is a touch frustrating but it has led me to explore more and continue learning so that can’t be all bad. From every frustration should spring the chance of an expanded wisdom and knowledge.

    I find this desire to keep “Jews with Jews” thing almost a case of the German Nuremburg race laws being reinvented in an odd way. It is extremely shortsighted because such an attitude will simply wind up alienating the rest of us much like how the one gentleman in question who likes to point out I am “not technically a Jew” every chance he gets makes me not as welcome as I could be. Eh…there’s one in every crowd right?

    While I understand the desire to preserve traditions, what I think these “Kosher Chicken Littles” (“Oy vey! The sky is falling!” if you pardon the bad attempt at a joke) are missing is that those of my generation who are likely to fall in love with a non-Jew are probably not interested in the traditions in the same way as their parents or grandparents regardless of the religion of the person they marry. I know I certainly do not share the views of much of my family including my racist/anti-Semitic/bigoted and generally all around unpleasantly crazy aunt who declared me “dead to her” when she found out I was converting. Note: apparently responding with “How stereotypically Jewish of you!” is apparently enough to warrant a high-five from a rabbi friend of mine when I told him about it even though just the look on my aunt’s face was all the reward I needed.

    That may be an extreme example but the end result is the same: we see what works for us, what doesn’t work for us and choose the best path. The trick is how to do that while being respectful of those you care about who hold those things you are not able to incorporate meaningfully into your life to be dear to them. Just like I turned away from my growing up as a Presbyterian and later Episcopalian (despite having a largely non-religious family), I do not leave what the people I dealt with who taught me how to be a good person during that time behind me.

    I will always carry it with me, just like someone from a Jewish family who does not find the particular “blend” of Judaism that his parents or grandparents favor to be to his taste never sheds what his family gave him. If you have raised a good, decent and functional person getting your underwear in a knot because of whom they choose to love is an incredibly good way to undo some of your hard efforts to produce someone who values their fellow man. To me- and I could be very well be wrong- the very act of disavowing, disrespecting or otherwise degrading the love of your family member for their future spouse is to deny or withdraw your own love for them because the love they feel for their chosen mate is a product of what you taught them. Love flows from one person to the next. It is not something you can withhold without consequence, often of the most direst form. If someone does not know love in its purest form- platonic, kind and steady support without concern for recompense- from their family, it is very unlikely that they can come to find it in a way and time that allows them to develop a steady and undamaged partnership with another.

    Why would you, at the very moment that they are beginning to most honestly spread the virtues you instilled in them, teach them that support, kindness and love are to be used as a token only to be given when someone agrees with your opinions and they agree to march in lockstep with your wishes. That is the last thing you should ever start off a friendship, let alone a marriage, with. It is akin to beginning to build a house by burying under the foundation a destructive charge set to explode at some undetermined point in the future.

    Then again, maybe I am missing something because I don’t have the heritage to understand the issue.

    Sincerely and respectfully,

    Stephen

    • Rabbi Jeffrey Falick

      Well stated.

      Once we understand that Judaism and all the other religious cultures were manufactured by humans, then we understand that we have complete ownership over them to do with them as we will and to fashion them to suit our needs. (This is separate from the question of whether there’s a God, but assumes that if there is one, it had nothing to do with the creation of religions.)

      Of course, from my point of view you’re absolutely a Jew simply because you decided to identify as one. Given the traditional attitudes regarding admission into this “exclusive club,” I certainly understand your desire for a formal conversion. However, as I know you are aware, there will always be many Jews who will deny the validity of your conversion. To them you’ll never be a Jew, “technically” or in any other way. Theirs is a tribalism of the most disturbing – yet pervasive – kind.

      Best wishes and good luck with navigating your way through Judaism. You will always have a home in our movement, though as small as we are we can be difficult to find!