Chabad on Intermarriage, etc.

Chabad has a story on its website arguing that despite the recent studies showing the American Jewish population has grown, Steven Cohen’s recent study on intermarriage demonstrates that Jews should do everything they can to prevent intermarriage.

While many people in the organized Jewish community are suspicious of Chabad, I am quite sympathetic to their approach, if not their aims. Decades before federations and synagogues got wise to the power of outreach, they were actively seeking out and welcoming unaffiliated Jews. But there has always been a tension between their methods and their goals: on the one hand, they’ll welcome anyone into their Chabad centers, including secular Jews, intermarried Jews and children of intermarriage; on the other hand, they are firmly against intermarriage and abide by the strictest definition of Jewish identity, so that children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers are not considered Jewish. I wouldn’t argue that a deeply religious movement with a powerful reverence for the Torah should change its stripes, but I just wonder how much stronger a Jewish community we could have if there were a national movement that combined Chabad’s zeal for outreach with the Reform movement’s tolerance and open-mindedness?

In other news, our letter to the editor regarding their story on Conservative day schools liberalizing their admission policies toward the children of non-Jewish mothers was printed in The Jewish Chronicle (Pittsburgh) as well as the (New Jersey) Jewish Standard.

And there’s a nice piece in the j. about a new opera based on the Book of Ruth written by Steve Richards, a retired cantor, and performed last summer by the Israel Philharmonic:

The Book of Ruth, like Richard’s opera, is a plea for welcoming the convert into the Jewish fold.

“The book was a protest against the edict against intermarriage,” says Richards. “It was written after the Babylonian exile, when the Persians permitted the Jews to go back to Israel. A lot of intermarriage had gone on, because the Jews were in Babylon 75 years, so some of the prophets and priests put out these edicts. This book was written to show not only that intermarriage was a good thing, but that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David.”

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