Real, Not Ideal


I wish life was perfect.

I think we can all agree on that! For example, I wish I were size 2, a lottery winner and that all the world’s Celtics lottery tickettroubles were solved. But life is not perfect.

In the November 28 edition of the Jewish Advocate, Rebbetzin Korff, the wife of the the Rebbe of Zvhil-Mezhbizh and a descendent of the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century founder of the Hasidic movement, responded to a question in her column ,“Why is Judaism concerned when a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man?”

Rebbetzin Korff does a wonderful job of explaining how complicated it can be to raise a Jewishly observant child when one parent is not Jewish. (A sentiment many of our readers can agree with.) Remarkably, in the end, Rebbetzin Korff does concede that is possible to raise a well-educated, Jewishly-oriented and responsible observant child when one parent is not Jewish. She then stresses it is not a Torah ideal.

One could hardly read Rebbetzin Korff’s column as a ringing endorsement of interfaith marriage, nor even a lukewarm one, but I hope she does agree with’s mission of encouraging families to make Jewish choices. Like Rebbetzin Korff, I agree that interfaith marriages are not always perfect. For that matter, nor are many marriages between Jews. Life is not ideal. After all, I am still not a size 2 or a lottery winner. Based on my morning check on Google News, there is still a lot of trouble in the world.

Every day interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life and we are all enriched by the richness interfaith families bring to the Jewish community. After work today, I am going to the gym and will be buying a lottery ticket.

Breaking New Ground with Jewish Leaders


Last week the United Jewish Communities (UJC) held its annual convention, called the General Assembly (GA). Something different and potentially very significant happened: there was talk about intermarriage, in a positive way.

Adam BronfmanSince I got involved in the professional Jewish world nine years ago, I think I’ve been to every GA except for two that were held in Israel, including last week’s. There are probably more Jewish leaders gathered at the annual GA than at any other time or place.

For many years I have lobbied the UJC, usually  unsuccessfully, to devote  convention sessions to the subject of outreach to the intermarried. (Like most conventions, there are big “plenary” sessions where most participants attend, and then there are multiple competing sessions over many time slots that attract smaller groups.)

I’ve actually spoken on panels at at least two GA’s, but the sessions were always about inclusivity generally, not outreach to interfaith families in particular. At last year’s GA in Nashville, there was nothing about intermarriage on the program. A GA visitor who didn’t know better, based on the absence of discussion at GA’s, wouldn’t be aware that outreach to interfaith families was the biggest challenge and opportunity the Jewish community faces.

I’m sorry I couldn’t go to Jerusalem this year, because finally things changed. I urge you to watch a video blog posted by Jacob Berkman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which is embedded below. Berkman reports that Edgar Bronfman and Adam Bronfman broke new ground by bringing the subject of welcoming interfaith families to the front stage of the Jewish world. Continue reading

Civil Marriage to Arrive in Israel?


Civil marriage in Israel may have a new (sort-of) champion in Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, one of the two leading candidates for prime minister of Israel.

Last week, The Forward reported that Livni promised that if she wins in February, she will allow civil marriage for the 350,000 Russian-speaking immigrants and their children who are caught in the so-called “marriage trap.” In Israel, only the religious authorities have the legal authority to solemnize marriages. Because so many Russian Jews are unable to prove they have Jewish mothers, the chief rabbinate will not marry them.

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Meet the “New Jews,” Same As the Old Jews


In The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago, Larry Derfner wrote about how both of his friend’s sons are marrying children of Asian immigrants. Part elegy, part rant, the piece explores why “old-fashioned, secular unrich” Jews like his friend’s sons are coupling with Asian women rather than Jewish ones.

His answer?

The simplest reason … is that both couples met at UCLA, a gigantic university loaded with Jewish and Asian students. The less simple reason is that my friend’s two sons received an old-fashioned, secular, unrich Jewish upbringing in America, and for people like them, there aren’t many American Jews of similar background and outlook to marry anymore. For people like them, there are more opportunities to find suitable spouses among Asians and other studious, hard-working, family-oriented American immigrants than there are among American Jews.

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The Blame Game


Back in April, I read “The Missing” in the World Jewish Digest, and found it absolutely amazing. (The title has been changed: it was “A Jewish Man is Hard to Find.”)

The article was advocating that single Jewish women should “panic” if they hadn’t found a Jewish man to marry. (Click the link, I’m not Ubiquitous t-shirtexaggerating!) One problem, the article asserted, was that Jewish women were too dominant in Jewish religious life, leaving Jewish men feeling sidelined. This was based on a recent sociological study from Brandeis on intermarriage and involvement in Jewish life.

Astonishing, eh? An anti-intermarriage article was effectively blaming Jewish women for being too involved in the Jewish community. Katha Pollitt, the feminist columnist for The Nation, and herself the daughter of an interfaith marriage, just came out with a response to the idea that maybe Jewish men were intermarrying because Jewish women outnumber them in Jewish institutional life.  Her pithy analysis:

The study is full of unusually frank references to Jewish men’s dislike of Jewish women—too aggressive, demanding, ethnic—but instead of challenging this as sexist and anti-Semitic, it accepts it as a fact of life that women must accommodate for the sake of the community: “For those who find the synagogue’s world of our mothers too overwhelming, it is possible that dating non-Jews becomes a way to escape from the ubiquitous Jewish woman.”

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Slate on the Intermarriage Debate

Lock and load

The prolific Shmuel Rosner gives Slate an overview of the latest exchanges of fire in the Jewish intermarriage wars. It’s nothing earth-shattering, covering studies that have been reported on elsewhere, but the opening anecdote nearly made my head explode. Rosner relays the story of a 30-something Jewish woman married to a Catholic man who walks into a Maryland synagogue:

Maybe, she asked the executive director of this temple, you have a Seder to which I can come with the kids, so that they’ll have a first positive exposure to Judaism?

But the executive director gave her advice she didn’t expect: If this is your children’s first encounter with Judaism, don’t start by bringing them to a Seder. It is long, can be boring at times, and requires a lot of reading. Better start their schooling in Judaism with a lighter practice.

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Papal Visit


The Pope is coming to the U.S. for the first time next week, making stops in Washington, D.C., and New York on his five-day trip. What does this mean for interfaith families?

Like his predecessor John Paul II (and really, like any mainstream Catholic official), Benedict XVI is pro-life, anti-death penalty, anti-birth control and anti-homosexuality. He also follows the recent trend in papal politics of decrying the excesses and abuses of capitalism and protesting American use of force. Also like his predecessor, he sees moral relativism as an insidious force that sustains evil in secular society. In terms of substance, his views are little different than that of John Paul II–why then is John Paul II viewed as the lovable uniter and Benedict XVI as the reactionary divider?

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Unsilencing the Intermarried


The Conservative movement’s rabbinical organization may rethink its ban on intermarried speakers at its conventions, according to Ben Harris of JTA.

“The policy is we will only invite speakers who are either single or, if they are married, are not intermarried,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, the R[abbinical] A[ssembly]’s vice president.

Which is proving to be a problem given the prevalence of intermarriage. Organizers of the R.A.’s convention in Washington Feb. 10-14 discussed inviting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to speak, but nixed it when they realized it violated the R.A.’s long-standing, but little known, policy. The policy even extends to the non-Jewish spouses of Jews, such as Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

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When the Devout Marry


R.R. Reno, a practicing Christian and theology professor at Creighton University, wrote a wonderful essay in Commentary on his intermarriage to a religiously observant Jewish woman. Unfortunately, it’s available for subscribers only.

The story of his interfaith relationship begins typically. He met Juliana when they were both graduate students at Yale in the ’80s:

Make no mistake. There was nothing about Yale University in 1985 that made such a love difficult or even noteworthy. Our lives as students were full of common experiences and common aspirations, and in that bastion of American liberalism, one could easily imagine a Jew marrying a Christian—after all, religion is a “life-style choice,” is it not?

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Progressive Conservatives


Arnold Eisen’s inauguration as the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary last fall has generated a fair amount of excitement in the Jewish world. As the first non-rabbi to serve in the role in more than 65 years and one of the leading sociologists of American Jewry, he is widely seen as bringing a fresh perspective to his leadership of the Conservative movement’s flagship institution.

So far, his statements about intermarriage have been encouraging, but I’m really enthused about what he said in this recent Q&A with the St. Petersburg Times. His response to a question about intermarriage is so positive that I want to share its entire text: Continue reading