We’re still not over it.
We Jews are still not over our fears of being forced to convert.
Jews’ negative feelings about proselytizing are so strong that even in Israel, a country where Jews are the majority, we continue to feel threatened by the idea that someone might force us to convert. To me, this explains a lot about the ways that the Jewish community has reacted to interfaith marriage. A recent story about Jews in Israel burning books brought this into sharp relief. The deputy mayor of the small Israeli town of Ohr Yehuda, acting as a private citizen, organized a collection of missionary literature, which some of the townspeople then burnt in a bonfire.
In response to the burning of copies of the New Testament in Ohr Yehuda, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Peter Knobel, President of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement: Continue reading
In his (presumably) last trip to the Middle East as president, Pres. Bush joined in the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Israel. But he also, as Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times, “received something else: a little lesson in cultural awareness.”
In a museum garden, where Pres. Bush and his wife Laura were speaking with a group of a dozen young people selected by the American Embassy, he asked if Jews and Arabs dated one another, or went to dances:
“No dances?” he asked, sounding surprised.
There was a slight pause in the discussion, until the American ambassador, Richard H. Jones, stepped in, politely telling the president that society was more conservative here.
As to the dating question, Manar Saraia, a 22-year-old Israeli Arab from Haifa, had an answer. She has Jewish roommates, which is unusual enough. A Jewish boyfriend, she told Mr. Bush, would be too much. “The parents and the children themselves,” she said, “think if we are of different religions, that it’s hard to live as a couple together.”
In last week’s The Jewish Week, Julie Wiener wrote about a “mini-trend” we first reported on earlier this year: the emergence of trips to Israel geared towards interfaith families.
Wiener addresses the trips through the lens of personal experience. When she was fresh out of college, she spent a year interning at a Jewish non-profit. Toward the end of her year there, her non-Jewish boyfriend Joe visited her:
Where for me, Israel was all about belonging and identity, for him it was a fascinating, historically rich foreign country that doubled as the backdrop for the Bible stories he had learned from the readings at Mass.
On a solo jaunt up to the Galilee (while I worked in Jerusalem), he stayed at a hostel run by nuns, something it never would have occurred to me to do. He went sightseeing in East Jerusalem and the Muslim Quarter without any concerns for safety, identifying as neither Us nor Them in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Today’s New York Times has an article by Ethan Bronner on Israel’s 60th anniversary, and how the country is celebrating by inviting a collection of the world’s top political, scientific and business thinkers to discuss major world challenges–with a uniquely Jewish and Israeli spin, of course.
Of course the article can’t avoid mentioning Middle Eastern politics, pointing out how Israel Independence Day is mourned as Naqba (“Catastrophe”) Day in the Arab world. But what’s a tad more unusual for a secular paper is the way the Times positions Israel in relation to the American Jewish community:
One significant development of recent years that will be discussed here is the shift in the relationship between Israel and diaspora Jewry. For decades, Israel was the needy child depending on contributions and support from abroad as it struggled to survive.
Today Israel’s Jewish population of 5.5 million is the world’s largest, just ahead of that of the United States, which is slowly declining through low birth rate and intermarriage. Israel has in fact become the center of Jewish life and is increasingly being asked to act like the older brother to Jewish communities elsewhere.
Mildred Loving died this past Friday of pneumonia. An obituary in the Washington Post tells the story of how Loving, an African-American woman, defied Virginia law by marrying her white husband in 1958, and wound up with her name on the 1967 Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia that ended miscegenation laws in the United States.
Bernard S. Cohen, one of the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers who argued the Loving case before the Supreme Court, was with Mildred Loving when she died. Cohen, who is Jewish, called the miscegenation laws “the last on-the-books manifestation of slavery in America.” Last year, on the 40th anniversary of the case in June, Cohen wrote with Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wilson, making an explicit connection between the Loving case and the current legal struggles over same-sex marriage. They wrote:
Through this post at Jewschool, I learned about this Israeli High Rabbinical Court ruling that invalidates all conversions done by the State of Israel’s own Conversion Authority under the current head of that government agency, former Knesset member Chaim Drukman. The High Rabbinical Court ruled this because they examined a woman who had converted 15 years ago on the occasion of her divorce, and decided that she was insufficiently observant of Jewish law. They put her, her children, and her ex-husband who was born Jewish, on a list of people who can’t get married in Israel. (What was the logic behind declaring the ex-husband not to be legally Jewish? You got me there.)
In the comments to the Jerusalem Post article, I found a link to this article from a far-right religious web publication, justifying the high court’s decision. The second article gives the impression that some Orthodox rabbis had chosen to invalidate Rabbi Drukman’s conversions because he worked with a Conservative-movement-trained rabbi in Warsaw.
I am flabbergasted that all of these people who converted to Judaism in good faith through the Israeli government’s Orthodox official religious courts are now going to be unable to marry in Israel, attending religious schools, be buried in Jewish cemeteries in Israel–all the things that Israel’s government religious courts control. All of this may stem from political ill-will between these rabbis and Rabbi Drukman.
Yesterday, I explored the study It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah: Intermarriage and Engagement, co-authored by demographer Leonard Saxe, as well as the response that sociologist Steven Cohen offered at the Reform rabbinical convention in March.
After writing the post, I exchanged emails with Saxe. He responded to my concern that the study appeared to underplay its finding that the adult children of intermarriage are significantly less likely to raise their children Jewish than the adult children of inmarriage–even when you control for “Jewish capital,” like their network of Jewish friends and Jewish educational experiences.