Why It Matters

We spend a lot of time talking, writing, thinking about the whole “who is a Jew” debate around here. 

It’s important, in the context of an organization that welcomes and advocates for interfaith families in the Jewish community, to encourage inclusivity in the definition. 

Why?

Because when a Jewish person chooses to marry someone who is not Jewish, it does not mean they are less of a Jew. Let me repeat that: who we marry does not add or detract from our Jewishness. Converting to Catholicism detracts from one’s Jewishness. Marrying a Catholic does not. 

So when I read in publications that I like (did you see  The Unlikely Emissary or The Other Rosenbergs? They were really good!), a comment that is hateful, exclusionary and promulgating of the view that doing something can make one less of (or not at all) a Jew, it annoys me. 

In the most recent issue of Moment Magazine, they published a comment about a previous article. The article, “The Best Jewish TV Shows of All Time,” January/February 2011, included The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Should The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have made the list? He is married to a non-Jew, doesn’t belong to a synagogue and doesn’t affiliate with the Jewish community or any Jewish organization. And, as I’m given to understand, his children are not being raised as Jews.

Last time I checked, belonging to a synagogue wasn’t criteria for being a Jew. (If it were, we’d hardly have any Jews in our midst under the age of 40.) And how does the writer know with whom Stewart affiliates?

Allow me to fully own my bias: I’ve been a regular viewer since the early double naughts; there are few episodes I’ve missed. And one of the things I enjoy are Stewart’s Yiddishisms, Jewish jokes and occasional confessions that he doesn’t know much about his religion. (Though his writers clearly do.) His made up Hebrew is fantastic and uber-gutteral. Regardless of the choices he and his wife have made, he is still as much a Jew as any other Jew. And his show certainly deserves to be on a list of great Jewish shows. 

But that’s not really the point (or, at least, the main point). My main point is this: The Jewish community owes it to all of us to be welcoming and inclusive, not to belittle or shame another for how they’ve chosen to practice their religion, and certainly not to claim that folks lose their Jew card if they’re “bad.”

I’d like to see the community working together to squash these views, educating one another on just “who is a Jew,” rather than publishing them. 

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5 thoughts on “Why It Matters

  1. Converting to Catholicism would only detract from one’s observance of Judaism if they stopped observing Judaism. The key word being “converting”. What if a Jew “branched out” to Catholicism? I see no problem with a Jew celebrating Pesach and Easter (the celebration of a Jewish martyr), for example.

  2. “I’d like to see the community working together to squash these views, educating one another on just “who is a Jew,” rather than publishing them.”

    If we are going to have this conversation, then with it must be the acceptance of those that perhaps have an appreciation for the Jewish heritage but choose, for whatever reason, not to convert.  Or, if you yourself are far from observant and your only connection to the community in years is being born into the tribe, then you are in no position to dictate that someone that he/she should convert.

    I didn’t met my (now) husband’s grandmother almost a full year into our relationship because I wasn’t Jewish (though I also think there was some general bias because if I was white, it may not have been “obvious” that perhaps I wasn’t a Jew).  It wasn’t until I showed some seriousness in considering Judaism was I “privileged” to be included in family gathers. 

    I still have feelings of regret in not being appreciated for who I was before, so while I have embraced Judaism and continue to try my best to become more involved in the community (even when others make it difficult), my initial rejection into the family has caused a strain that will never be healed.  I will always be civil, but I will never view his grandmother, or other unwelcoming individuals, as family.

    The community is too small to continue to discount folks that either want to be a part of the community, or engage in some meaningful way with the community.  And the finger is always pointed at the non-Jew as somehow being the bad influence, when more often than not, that’s far from reality…

  3. Both as a rabbi and as one who loves and appreciates Jewish humor, I have to agree withthese comments. Whether or not Jon Stewart “practices” Judaism in his personal and/or family life, he is still, as we used to say “good for the Jews.”His approach to the political zoo around us, his very Jewish “menschlichkeit,” and, above all, his (and his writers’) genius in honing in on the issues of the day in a very Jewish way make him one of the most important figures in Jewish life in many a day.When Jon Stewart can shame the  Congress into funding for the 9/11 people, as he did, that’s power, menschlichket and Jewishness!

  4. Stephanie B wrote,

    [quote]If we are going to have this conversation, then with it must be the acceptance of those that perhaps have an appreciation for the Jewish heritage but choose, for whatever reason, not to convert.[/quote]

    I fully agree. To clarify, I wasn’t commenting on the Jewishness of one who converts (or chooses not to), but on the Jewishness of a Jew who intermarries. A Jew who intermarries (whether their partner converts to Judaism or not) is just as Jewish as any other Jew.

    [quote]I still have feelings of regret in not being appreciated for who I was before…[/quote]

    Sorry to hear that! I hope you’ve found support and appreciation in your family and community now, even if it wasn’t shown to you earlier.

    [quote]the finger is always pointed at the non-Jew as somehow being the bad influence, when more often than not, that’s far from reality…[/quote]

    Agreed again. From personal experience, as well as many of the narratives found on this website, I know folks who became more involved in Judaism after their non-Jewish partners wanted to learn more, started asking questions and encouraging their Jewish partners to get involved.

  5. Just nitpicking…  In the 2nd last paragraph, you said “and certainly not to claim that folks loose their Jew card if they’re “bad.”".  “Loose” should be “lose” in this context.

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