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Why Non-Jewish Spouses Sometimes Think That Jews Are Weird

My non-Jewish wife of twenty-five years, the co-chair of the synagogue Social Action committee, regular Shabbat, Sabbath, service-goer, after a recent discussion with me announced that "Jews are weird." She had good reason to say so.

Wendy was looking for a speaker for the Social Action Shabbat, and someone had suggested a Christian clergy person who had founded an organization that promoted faith-based social justice efforts. The fact that the proposed speaker was a Christian, even a Christian clergy person, wasn't a problem--we've had several Social Action Shabbat speakers like that in the past. But this one had a Jewish sounding name and had converted from Judaism to Christianity.

By the time Wendy asked me what I thought, I had already shivered. I'll admit it, the notion of a Jew converting "out" makes me very uncomfortable. Wendy had already discussed this with the Jewish co-chair of the committee, who had the same reaction as I did. Wendy thought this person would make a great speaker and couldn't understand the reactions she was getting.

I explained what Wendy already knew--that Jews have historically experienced persecution; that the Spanish Inquisition involved the forced conversion of Jews to Christianity; that many Jews who were raised like I was were likely to have the same uncomfortable reaction when confronted with a Jew who had converted "out." Wendy already knew all of this--but it wasn't the first thing she thought of, which is one of the differences between us.

We've been talking a lot recently about the boundaries in synagogues between Jews and non-Jews, and about conversion into Judaism. We each often encounter Jews who say that if a non-Jew wants to be active in the synagogue, why doesn't he or she just convert?

Wendy has got a good point --isn't it inconsistent to, on the one hand, recoil at the notion of a Jew converting "out," but, on the other hand, be cavalier about the significance of a non-Jew's decision to convert "in"?

Ed Case is publisher of this magazine and a regular contributor to the "Interfaith Musings" column in He and his wife Wendy have two children.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday.
Edmund Case

Edmund Case, the founder of InterfaithFamily and co-editor of The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An Handbook (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001), frequently writes on intermarriage issues. Recent pieces include "Can the Jewish Community Encourage In-marriage AND Welcome Interfaith Families?," from a presentation at the November 2010 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America; "The Missing 'Mazel Tov'," an August 2010 op-ed in The Forward; and "Chelsea Clinton's Interfaith Marriage: What Comes Next?," an August 2010 blog post on The Huffington Post.

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