Borat is Interdating


He’s known best for pretending to be a virulently anti-Semitic Kazakh reporter, but Sacha Baron Cohen, the star of Borat, is the son of Orthodox Jews and is dating Isla Fisher, a non-Jewish Australian actress. You might remember Fisher as the crazy sister from Wedding Crashers.

According to this article and other sources, Cohen and Fisher are engaged and are planning a Jewish wedding, on the condition that Fisher convert.

Also, among the six new Jewish representatives to Congress elected on Tuesday, at least one of them is from an interfaith family. See this blurb from the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix article “Ms. Giffords Goes to Congress”:

“My Jewish heritage has really instilled in me the importance of education and caring for the community,” said Giffords, who has a Jewish father and a Protestant mother and said she grew up “with a mixture of my parents’ religions. After visiting Israel in 2001, I realized Judaism is a part of my life I hadn’t focused on before. I consider myself Jewish without any equivocation.”

For the curious, there are now 30 Jews in the House (up from 26), and 13 in the Senate (up from 11).

A Tangled Knot


As promised, I’m returning to “Untying a civil knot,” where Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer argues that the state should have nothing to do with marriage.

His argument needs to be explained in detail before it can be refuted or critiqued. His fundamental assumption is that marriage is a religious act, and under the principle of the separation of church and state, it should therefore be separate from the state’s control.

He believes the state should instead issue a “civil commitment certificate.” This certificate would essentially be a contract that couples would sign where they would make certain legally binding promises regarding “the exclusivity of the union, how it is to be terminated and what the responsibilities of each party will be at termination and beyond.” Any couple who wants to make their marriage in a religious institution legally binding in the secular world would be obligated to get a civil commitment certificate.

The benefit of this solution is twofold, he argues: one, it frees civil courts from the expense, time and pain of determining divorce settlements because everyone who has a civil commitment certificate will essentially have a prenup; and two, it resolves the contentious issue of same-sex marriage because it would be illegal to bar two homosexual men or women from entering into a contract together.
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Families are much more than just “interfaith”


Reading an obituary of the controversial theater critic Richard Gilman, I found myself pondering a quote of Gilman’s that was referred to in the article. He had said, “I don’t think of myself as a critic or teacher either, but simply — and at the obvious risk of disingenuousness — as someone who teaches, writes drama criticism (and other things) and feels that the American compulsion to take your identity from your profession, with its corollary of only one trade to a practitioner, may be a convenience to society but is burdensome and constricting to yourself.”

Thinking about the quote, I realized that the same thing is true in a different way for interfaith families: The identity as an interfaith family is usually one small part of a family’s overall identity, not something they want to be reminded of all the time–they may be a family with two young daughters, a mom who does x and a dad who does y, close with their friends, family, etc… and also interfaith.

Ronnie F

Interfaith Families at Day School


Not much time to write today, but one important link I forgot to share with you on Friday: the cover story of the Oct. 27 issue of the J., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, was on interfaith families who send their kids to Jewish day school.

The piece is testament to the committed, powerful Jewish choices that interfaith families make, and makes the important point that in some cases, the non-Jewish parent is the driving force behind the children’s Jewish education. (The story even includes the story of a non-Jewish single mother who adopted a child who was born Jewish and decided to send the child to Jewish day school.)

And there’s also this great quote:

“Children are the main thing,” says Dawn Kepler, director of interfaith resources at the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. “Reasonable adults can make a lot of compromises, but when it comes to kids, it’s the King Solomon thing. In any parenting situation you have to make sacrifices.”

The Link Sink


Some interesting links:

  • Rabbi Dov Marmur, a major figure in the World Union of Progressive Judaism, has changed his tune on patrilineal descent. He used to oppose the notion of recognizing children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers as Jewish, but he’s changed his mind after meeting numberous people of Jewish descent who longed to be part of a Jewish community:

    I have seen the splendid results in many congregations, not least in Europe, that have been soft on the law, but firm on integration. Many children of mixed marriages who otherwise might have been lost to Judaism are now active members of Jewish communities and are raising Jewish children, because rabbis and congregations put people before principles – liberal Judaism at its best.

    Individuals thus integrated are understandably distressed when they are not accepted as Jews. I now believe that, despite halachic “irregularities,” it behooves us all to honour and celebrate their commitment, not to try to disenfranchise them.

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    Diversifying the Gene Pool


    I read a very powerful article in Tuesday’s New York Times about a 43-year old woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This woman, the mother of a young daughter, is intermarried and grateful for the fact that her Ashkenazic genes–which tend to be linked to a bewildering array of genetic diseases–are not the only ones being passed on to her daughter. In fact, in the article she expresses gratitude that she herself is the daughter of an intermarried couple, hence her genes are not all Ashkenazic.

    It’s an article worth reading and reflecting on.

    Does Jewish Marriage Require a Rabbi?


    There was a nice article in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent last week by Ryan Teitman called “Rabbi Deconstructs Marriage, in All Its Assorted Permutations.” It’s little more than a description of a Jewish marriage class taught by Rabbi Yair Robinson of Shir Ami-Bucks County Congregation, but it includes some little-discussed insights.

    For example, the article points out “that a rabbi [is] not a necessary element in the Jewish wedding ceremony.” As counter-intuitive as it may seem, a Jewish wedding does not require a rabbi to make it binding.
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    Making Intermarriage Legal in Israel


    Israeli leaders like Binyamin Netanyahu sometimes excoriate intermarriage as a grave threat to the Jewish people, which is easy to do in a country with a majority Jewish population. But Israel also has another leg up on preventing intermarriage: a Jew cannot legally marry a non-Jew in Israel.

    According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, a number of mixed and non-Jewish couples are suing the state to compensate them for their “expense and anguish” because they have to travel out of the country to get married. Under Israeli law, only a man and woman of the same religion can marry each other, and they can only get married by an official religious authority. In Israel, the official Jewish religious authority is Orthodox. Unlike in the U.S., there is no such thing as civil marriage by someone other than a rabbi, priest or imam.
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    One-Quarter of American Jewish Youth are Orthodox, Says Study


    There are more young Orthodox Jews than either young Reform or young Conservative Jews, says a study coming out this week, according to a Nathaniel Popper article in the Forward. Says the article:

    While the Reform and Conservative religious movements have long jockeyed for the title of the largest Jewish denomination in America, a new study finds that when it comes to the next generation, the Orthodox movement has the most children affiliated with its synagogues, setting the stage for a future shift in the balance of American Jewish power.

    …The new report puts particular emphasis on the figures relating to Jewish children. While only 43% of adults are affiliated with a synagogue, the number is 68% when it comes to Jews under the age of 18, according to Cohen’s computations. Of those young affiliated Jews, 37%, or 224,000, are with Orthodox synagogues. The number is 195,000 for the Reform and 147,000 for the Conservatives.

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    The Link Sink


    Some links for y’all:

  • Sue Fishkoff’s Hadassah magazine package on converting non-Jewish spouses is now available online. It includes quotes from IFF President and Publisher Ed Case.
  • For several years, I was a loyal reader of, which was founded by Binyamin Cohen. But when Cohen left Jewsweek to help start up Atlanta Jewish Life–which is easily the hippest, most accessible Jewish magazine in the country (sorry Heeb)–Jewsweek fell into disrepair. took it over, but every time you visited it said something like “Come back soon for the new Jewsweek!” Finally, after a year-and-a-half hiatus, Jewsweek is back! It’s not quite what it was when Cohen was running things, but it still is a solid spot to find edgy and hip Jewish stories. Like this one from Israeli Jewsweek columnist Orit, on dating a non-Jewish man for the first time. And if you’re interested in a contrary perspective from an equally hip, but more serious perspective, read this critique of Orit on Jewlicious.
  • Hillel has a profile on National Public Radio broadcaster Scott Simon, who is the child of a Catholic mother and Jewish father and also has adopted a non-Jewish child from China.