An Orthodox Rabbi Who Does Not Think Intermarriage is the End of the Jewish World

Nearly three years ago I moved to St. Louis. A friend of ours insisted that we join a local synagogue with a rabbi he described as the most thoughtful and knowledgeable he had ever met. It sounded like a plan–the synagogue was a quick walk from our home. The next day was Shavuot, when we celebrate revelation, and I was eager to see why my friend was so enthusiastic. I was shocked. There were Jews from every denomination attending classes taught by rabbis and teachers from every denomination. (This is really unusual in an Orthodox synagogue.)

Over the next two years, I got to know the synagogue’s rabbi, Hyim Shafner, who insisted I call him Hyim and not rabbi, which is also unusual. I was always struck by his spirituality and how he helped everyone who walked into Bais Abe to connect with their Judaism and spirituality. He just concentrated on helping those around him and developing a community of like-minded individuals. He never judged and I rarely saw him criticize. He is also a great counselor.

Rabbi Shafner just finished writing The Everything Jewish Wedding Book . A wedding blogger who reviewed the book interviews Hyim about intermarriage in the context of being an Orthodox rabbi. When asked how he feels about interfaith weddings, Rabbi Shafner puts interfaith weddings into both a historical and spiritual context:

Half the Jews today marry someone who isn’t Jewish. Fifty years ago, people married non-Jews as a way of leaving Judaism and becoming more American. Today, it’s almost the opposite. For some people, the first time they start to think about Judaism is their wedding. For some Jews, intermarriage is a gateway into Judaism.
The goal of Judaism shouldn’t be to have Jews marry other Jews. The goal of Judaism should be to get something out of Judaism. To have a connection with God and to live a spiritual life.
An interfaith wedding can be useful, it can help people re-engage with their religion.

Rabbi Shafner is certainly not advocating interdating or intermarriage, but does not discount the impact a wedding can have on one’s spirituality and connection to their heritage.

Coming Out of the Closet… As Interdating

Holy CannoliIn yesterday’s Huffington Post, one of the original plantiffs in the California Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, Robin Tyler, wrote about the one thing more shocking than her pending marriage to a woman: her pending marriage to a non-Jew.

Tyler (original last name: Chernick) and her partner Diane Olson plan on being married by Rabbi Denise Eger of Kol Ami, an LGBT-friendly Reform synagogue in West Hollywood, Calif. However, the wedding itself will be held on the steps of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, where Tyler fully expects a mix of drag queens and protesters.

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Bush on Intermarriage

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.”

A Tale of Three Cities

Earlier this year, JDate began offering bulk-rate discounts on JDate subscriptions for rabbis interested in promoting Jewish dating among younger, unmarried members of their congregations. Nothing wrong with that, although the measure is more symbolic than practical, given the small number of young, unmarried people in most synagogues. And the kind of young, unmarried Jews who join synagogues are the type of people who are already dedicated to marrying another Jew. But kudos to anyone who wants to help someone find their beshert–whether he or she is Jewish or not.

Less encouraging have been the explanations that rabbis have given for offering the JDate memberships. From the aforeblogged Newsweek article:

The rabbis say they felt compelled to act because of the gradual dilution of the faith through marriage. Almost half of American Jews marry non-Jews, a rate of exodus that has more than tripled since 1970.

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Reaction to Rob Eshman’s Column

Three weeks ago, Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, wrote a provocative editorial arguing that the Jewish community should encourage single women in their 30s and 40s to interdate–better to intermarry and be happy than be Jewishly pure and miserable.

Predictably, it inspired a lot of response. Unpredictably, an equivalent number of the letters printed in the Jewish Journal supported his proposal as opposed it. One of the endorsements came from us:
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It’s Raining Men… As If

Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, has written an op-ed that is sure to generate controversy. In “Hindu Widows,” he argues that the Jewish community should encourage single women in their 30s and 40s to interdate. Why, his article ask, should Jewish women sacrifice their happiness and their child-bearing years at the altar of endogamy?

I talked with four of these women over the space of three days last week, all wondering if I had come across any single Jewish men. I mentioned a name. Here’s what happened: They had already dated the guy. I mentioned another name. Already dated him, too: At 41, he was not quite ready to settle down. A straight, eligible Jewish man in his 40s gets around this town faster than the weekend box office numbers.

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The Link Sink

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Catching up on some notable articles from the last few weeks:

  • Adam Wills, a fine writer at the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, has written a singles piece unlike anything you’ve seen before in a Jewish paper. He’s been giving his brother dating advice since his divorce, the only difference is that while Adam is a devoted Jew, his brother converted to Catholicism–but is slowly crawling his way back to Judaism.
  • I’m interviewed as part of a story on a Jewish dating service in The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier. For a piece written by a (presumably) non-Jewish reporter on an issue that I doubt he had much prior knowledge of, it’s quite well-done, sensitively handling those who promote Jewish in-dating and those who are friendly to interfaith couples.
  • The Forward recently reported on the push by a small group of activists to take circumcision out of the bris ritual. The article itself is interesting enough, but check out the comments–in print form, there are more than 60 pages worth of comments.
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The Appeal of the Other

Everyone who’s dated–that is to say, everyone–knows that figuring out why you are attracted to someone is often the greatest mystery in your life. Are you interested because the other person is interested? Is it physical attraction? Does the person laugh at your jokes? Is there a chemistry that can’t be explained?

One factor that is particularly difficult to untangle is the cultural factor. Are you attracted to someone because they come from a similar background–or because they come from a different one? In Elizabeth Rosner’s “Everything I Know About Being Bad I Learned in Hebrew School,” an excerpt from Bad Girls: 26 Writers Behave published in The Forward, a girl who grew up with a stringent Orthodox upbringing rebels against Judaism and dates every non-Jewish boy she can find:
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Love in the Time of War

Joshua Gross, a public affairs consultant in Washington, D.C., wrote a poignant story in last week’s Forward about how his relationship with a Lebanese woman was threatened by last summer’s war between Israel and Lebanon.

As is the case with many Arab-Jewish or Muslim-Jewish relationships, politics was a topic typically avoided in their relationship:

Together, Helen and I had tried to create a tidy little universe with a population of two. In this universe, it didn’t matter that I was a Jew and Helen was an Arab. We were beyond the politics.

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The S-Word: A Response to More Than a Succubus

A response to More Than a Succubus: Confessions of a Shiksa, published in our Web Magazine on Feb. 13, by Ellen Jaffe-Gill:

I had taken a stand on the Yiddish word shiksa long before the afternoon I visited my husband’s Hebrew class. Having learned, while researching a book on intermarriage, that it (and its male form, shaygetz, and the plural shkotzim) derived from a Hebrew word meaning “abomination,” I was already gently correcting people who used it, asking them questions like “An abomination — is that really how you think of your daughter-in-law?”

Then one day I celebrated the meeting of a major deadline with a day off, a nice lunch, and a little text study at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, where my husband had been enriching his life studying classical Hebrew on Wednesday afternoons. The class was looking at I Kings, chapter 11, in which Solomon wrong-headedly builds altars to pagan gods for his foreign wives.

Most Hebrew vocabulary is organized into families of three-letter roots, and I recognized the Hebrew root shin-kof-tzadi spelling the word shikutz before I looked at the translation.

“Hey, there’s the root for shiksa,” I said. “Is ‘abomination’ an accurate translation of shikutz?” I asked the teacher, a native Israeli.
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