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A "Certain People" on College Campuses:

About twenty years ago, Charles Silberman wrote a controversial book called A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today. I remember the book well, because I was required to write a paper on it for a class on American Jewish sociology (hmm, if I can remember this, why can't Alito remember joining CAP?)

The book was primarily a celebration of the fact that American Jews were now able to both be high achievers and to live open and explicit Jewish lives--in contrast to prior generations of American Jews, who often found that "making it" required them to downplay or abandon their Jewish identity.

The most controversial part of the book was Silberman's prediction that intermarriage, rather than constituting a demographic threat to the Jewish community would likely wind up increasing the number of American Jews. This prediction was based solely on anecdote, and it outraged scholars who argued that this prediction flew in the face of prior data on intermarriage, and their own, more scholarly predictions. As I recall, my own paper expressed significant skepticism about Silberman's thesis.

I was reminded of this controversy when I read today in Ha'aretz:

Some 4.5 million to 6 million Jews now live in the U.S., according to various counts. According to Hillel, only about half of the 350,000 young people who define themselves as Jewish in American colleges have two Jewish parents. The number of students with one non-Jewish parent is about 47 percent, much higher than could be expected according to previous studies.

Hillel says its study shows that Jewish background is a source of pride on U.S. campuses. And it is not just the children of mixed marriages who are choosing Judaism. One surprising statistic is that 3 percent of the students who consider themselves Jewish have no Jewish parent.

When these students' parents got married, the intermarriage rate among American Jews was about 40%, lower for first marriages (now it's around 50%). Statistics are not a strength of mine, but if I'm figuring things out right, if 47% of college students who identify themselves as Jews are the products of intermarriage, that means that the majority of children of intermarriage identify as Jews, just as Silberman predicted (one caveat: this may turn out to be wrong if substantial numbers of students who have two Jewish parents don't identify as Jews, though it would still support Silberman's thesis of intermarriage being a demographic plus compared to in-marriage).

I'm not familiar with the relevant Hillel study, but assuming it's accurate, it has some very radical implications for the future of Jewish life in America:

(1) Less attachment to Israel, because both of less familial memory of persecution and because Israel clings to a Jewish-law definition of Judaism which requires the mother to be Jewish; apparently, almost 25% of the next generation of American Jews will have only a Jewish father.

(2) Jewishness will become more about religion and religious tradition, less about culture. "Bagels and lox Judaism" was already on its way out as American Jews become more distant from their (primarily) Eastern European heritage. This will accelerate the trend (as will the fact that a substantial percentage of American Jews are now of recent Israeli or Russian origin, and neither group has affinity for bagels and lox Judaism).

(3) A bias toward a further decline in anti-Semitism. The more non-Jewish Americans have close Jewish relatives, the more one can expect anti-Semitism to decline. Contrariwise, ingrained Jewish suspicion of Christianity, the product of centuries of persecution, will decline as more Jews have close Christian relatives.

(4) Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, which accept patrileneal descent, and also are more liberal about conversion, will grow at the expense of Conservative Judaism, which is in trouble for other reasons anyway (as an officially halachic movement with few halachic adherents, and as a movement that appeals primarily to traditionalists when Reform is becoming more and more traditional).

(5) A general decline in some of the attributes one typically attributes to American Jews, as Jews with a partially non-Jewish genetic and cultural heritage play an increasingly large role in the community. For example, Jews seem to have a genetic predisposition against alcoholism, but a genetic disposition in favor of depression, each the source of perhaps well-founded stereotype. Jews have a cultural disposition in favor of the Democratic Party, and that will likely weaken (though I suspect that some Jews prefer intermarriage with a Christian to "intermarriage" with a Jewish Republican, so this effect may not be as large as one might expect!)

(6) Paradoxically, the Orthodox and other traditional Jews will play an increasingly disproportionate role in American Jewish life. The half of the next generation of Jews who will have only one Jewish parent are, on average, likely to be less committed to Judaism and Jewish causes then those with two Jewish parents, for a variety of reasons that seem too obvious to go bother going into. This means that Jewish organizations--charities, JCCs, synagogues, are likely to be dominated by the more traditional of Jewish factions, whose members will more often be the progeny of two Jewish parents.

(7) Oddly, and also paradoxically, the popularity of Jewish day schools may continue to grow among the non-Orthodox. For generations, American Jews, as a cultural matter, have had a strong aversion to religious day schools of any sort, including Jewish day schools. I'm inclined to believe that the progeny of mixed marriages who embrace Judaism are less likely to inherent this aversion.

There are probably other interesting implications, but I'll leave it at that.

classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
You left out the most important detail- the birthrate among the non-orthodox is far below replacement levels. Jack Wertheimer in Commentary magazine wrote an excellent article on this subject.

Money quote:

"The cumulative effect of these demographic trends is now being felt and will only become amplified as time goes by. In a community that has long since ceased to replace its natural losses, continued low fertility rates mean that the number of children in the communal pipeline will soon drop sharply, causing a decline over the next decade in enrollments in Jewish schools and other institutions for the young. This will be further accelerated by the losses through intermarriage. Before long, as Bruce Phillips has concluded, "there will be fewer practitioners of Judaism" in the United States, and "this development will at some point become evident in the number and/or size of synagogues and other Jewish institutions."
1.11.2006 10:26pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
According to the article, 3% of the students didn't have a Jewish parent and so apparently just declared themselves Jewish.

So in 10 years, Jewish is the new Episcopalian?
1.11.2006 11:28pm
Richard Samuelson (mail):
Cal might be more right that he suspects. If the definition of who is a Jew ceases to be the same for Jews in Israel and for (liberal) Jews in the US for a few generations there will be a serious problem. There then would be two groups with irreconcilable understandings of who is a Jew and what makes a Jew. When combined with the comment above about demographic trends in American Judaism it is quite possible that the liberal American Jews will lose the fight, abd be orphaned. Is that how Christianity started?
1.11.2006 11:58pm
von (mail) (www):
I'll leave the implications and speculations to others, but I will offer anecdotal support for the study cited by Professor Berstein: Historically speaking, my family is about as WASPy as you can get. Yet, every child of an interfaith (Jewish-Protestant) marriage identifies as Jewish. If the rate of intermarriage keeps up and everyone keeps producin', it's possible that the family will go from mostly WASP to mostly Jewish (WASJ?) in a couple generations.
1.12.2006 12:16am
VC Reader:
Another interesting aspect of intermarriage is the right of return. I believe the current rule in Israel is that anyone married to a Jew or who has at least one Jewish grandparent may make aliyah to Israel. A large number of intermarriages could increase the number of non-Jews in Israel, although I doubt making aliyah would appeal to very many people who are not Jewish. I know that it is somewhat controversial that approximately 300,000 Russians who are not Jewish used this liberal definition of "who is a Jew" to escape Communist Russia, but in light of current political tensions in the Middle East and somewhat improved conditions in Russia I doubt many non-Jewish Russians are still emigrating to Israel.
1.12.2006 12:20am
VC Reader:
Von,

I too am the product of a WASP (my paternal grandmother was an active member of DAR!) and a Jew, as are my two brothers and 7 of my cousins. Of the 10 of us, only one does not identify as a Jew. Interestingly, the sole cousin who is a product of two Jewish parents does not consider himself Jewish. Additionally, one aunt and one uncle converted to Judaism after marrying into my family. Both of my husband's parents are Jewish and yet he is the only one of his brothers to still practice Judaism. All of my in-law's grandchildren are being actively raised as Christians.
1.12.2006 12:28am
crane (mail):
Ironically, I was once dumped by a not-particularly-religious Jewish boyfriend for reasons that included his desire for the mother of his potential children to be culturally Jewish. I mean, if it had been religion that was important to him, conversion might have been an option, but there's nothing I can do about having been raised by a non-bagels-and-lox family.
1.12.2006 12:34am
subpatre (mail):
As late as the '60s, many --possibly even most-- suburban NY Jewish families kept separate plates for non-Jewish guests. Handkerchiefs or gloves were the rule for mixed dances, and other customs enforced to discourage friendship or intimacy across the religious divide. By the early '70s that was crumbling.

Ironically, there's cultural Jews and religious Jews, sets that may or may not coincide. Either can qualify as Judaism, once described as a 'floating nation'. What are, if there are, the Christian equivalents?
1.12.2006 1:28am
CrazyTrain (mail):
Less attachment to Israel, because both of less familial memory of persecution and because Israel clings to a Jewish-law definition of Judaism which requires the mother to be Jewish; apparently, almost 25% of the next generation of American Jews will have only a Jewish father.

Not really right David ---- Israel allows any person with one Jewish grandparent, regardless of whether from the mother's or father's side, to make Aliyah. Whether they will be id'd as Jews on their Teoodat Zehoot is inconsistent. POST A CORRECTION.
1.12.2006 2:33am
VC Reader 2:
You missed another implication--Reform Judaism is becoming more serious about the Judaism part of its name. Before the Reform rabbi married us (I am Christian, my wife is Jewish), we both had to go through a ten-week class in the basics of Judaism.

We also had to have three to four meetings with the rabbi to, in part, assure him that we were sincere about keeping a Jewish house and raising children as Jews. (Although the Orthodox would not recognize his definition of "Jewish house.") Finally, we had to become members
of the synagogue.

Reform synagogues treat interfaith couples as an opportunity to 1) keep the Jewish member in the community; 2) keep any children in the community; and 3) make the non-Jewish spouse part of the community (even if we do not convert).

Your comment about the risk to Conservative Judaism is spot on. I agree with our rabbi's prediction that Conservative Judaism will be squeezed out of their untenable middle ground.

I see part of the reason--I don't want my family to be part of any synagogue if that synagogue treats me and my marriage as a threat to Judaism. In some Jewish circles, interfaith marriage is considered more of a threat to Judaism than the Holocaust. See this quote from Chabad.org:
This is all the more true after the Holocaust. Intermarriage is, in a sense, an act of treason to our people for, instead of bringing new Jews into the world by marrying a Jewish wife, one would be contributing to the decimation of our people and the "Final Solution" that Hitler and his followers began and nearly accomplished. The horrific rates of intermarriage today constitute a silent annihilation of our people.
(Yes, I know this is a Lubavitch web site, but do a Google search of "intermarriage holocaust" and you will get plenty of similar examples.)

While most Conservatives wouldn't use such offensive language, it's hypocritical and ineffective for Conservative synagogues to treat interfaith couples like dirt when we are looking to get married, but then think they can welcome us (and our dues) the next day.

Bernstein talks about the increased role of the Orthodox in religious life. I think he's correct for the short term. But as more interfaith couples discover that intermarriage is so frequently compared to the Holocaust, that position may weaken.

All that said, I respect the absolute right of both Orthodox and Conservative rabbis not to sanction my marriage. But my wife and I do not want to be part of an organization that thinks we are worse than the Nazis. Go figure.

As to attachment to the faith, we are members of a Reform synagogue. I'm more interested in Israel than my wife ever was. She tells me that I have pushed her to be more engaged in her faith than she was before we met. And when we are blessed with a child, she will be raised Jewish.
1.12.2006 5:38am
VC Reader 2:
I should not have said that you "missed" that Reform was becoming more traditional. You said exactly that. Sorry.
1.12.2006 7:05am
rbj:
Interesting. In my own life I know of four interfaith couples - sister, female cousin, and two sisters of friends (one Jewish, the other not.) In each case the woman converted, increasing the number of Jewish households from one to three. In my Jewish friend's case, even though his family was not religious at all (did keep the Holy Days similar to the way I keep Christmas, as a tradition) they were upset when his sister converted to Christianity -- Baptist no less.
My brother-in-law is a conservative Jew (politically liberal though, his only flaw :-)) yet his synagogue has readily accepted my sister and their children as Jews. In fact we recently celebrated my niece's bat mitzvah. (I missed the Friday night part, but was there for the 2.5 hour Saturday ceremony, whew). My sister &b-i-l did have trouble gettting a rabbi to perform their wedding though.
1.12.2006 8:20am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Subpatre, unless you have a respectable source, I think you've been done in by anti-Semitic propaganda. Normative Judaism does have some rules to discourage mingling--most prominently, at some point in the diaspora hundreds of years ago, the rabbis simply made up new rules for "kosher" wine, to discourage Jews from drinking with non-Jews--but I've never, ever heard of the "customs" you mentioned. The only thing that sounds vaguely familiar is that some families kept separate plates and silverware for religious JEWISH guests, such as their rabbi, who could only eat from plates and silverware that had not been used for non-kosher food.

And CrazyTrain, you are simply confusing apples and oranges. The Law of Return allows anyone with a Jewish grandparent automatic citizenship. However, to be registered as a "Jew," and to be able to get married to a Jew in Israel, to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, etc., the Orthodox rabbinate is in control, and you have to be Jewish according to Jewish law.
1.12.2006 8:21am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Oh, and I should add that my anecdotal experience with "secular" (non-Orthodox) Israelis is that they implicitly accept the Orthodox definition of "who is a Jew." This may change over time as the Russian community (which has many halachic non-Jews who consider themselves Jewish, and who serve in the army, celebrate holidays, etc.) becomes more influential, but it hasn't yet.
1.12.2006 8:27am
Stormwarning (www):
Subpatre wrote: As late as the '60s, many --possibly even most-- suburban NY Jewish families kept separate plates for non-Jewish guests. Handkerchiefs or gloves were the rule for mixed dances, and other customs enforced to discourage friendship or intimacy across the religious divide. By the early '70s that was crumbling.

As a lifelong "bagels-and-lox" plus religious schooled, bar mitzvahed, go to synagogue (Conservative) on the Holidays Jews, I have no knowledge of any such practices such as "separate plates," "handkerchiefs/gloves for mixed dances" and discouraging cross religious friendship/intimacy.

Now, if you are referring to Orthodox Jews, that may be correct...perhaps you aren't referring to Long Island at all where assimilation with non-Jews was only discouraged by certain elements of non-Jews.

Of course when my grandmother met one of my girlfriends at a function (my gf was wearing her crucifix), I was immediately disowned. When I married my first wife in a Sephardic Temple, my father-in-law's Hassidic rabbi cousins insisted on re-marrying us because they wouldn't accept the Sephardic ceremony. And when my brother married a non-Jew, my brother was unceremoniously disowned forever.

BTW, this is a great subject! I think the perspective someone brings to this thread and the initial post by David Bernstein is quite alot influenced by your age along with other factors.
1.12.2006 8:43am
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
It's nice to hear that many of the children of interfaith marraige identify as Jews, but I wonder how long it will last?

Will the grandchildren of these marriages still identify as Jews? The great-grandchildren?

And what exactly does identify as a Jews mean?

What does their identification matter in terms of their lives? Are they members of a synagogue? Are they active in Jewish orginizations? Have they ever been to Israel?

Or is identifying as a Jew no more than identifying as a Yankee fan?
1.12.2006 8:55am
German-American:
One wonders whether the some of the progeny of mixed marriages who identify themselves as Jewish are "Jewish" in ways that go beyond an easily assumed self-identification. Perhaps the renewed identification is a product of both greatly reduced anti-Semitism in America and the historic pattern of generational assimilation. Historian John Bodnar noted in "Transplanted" that first generation immigrants tend to maintain their cultural identity as a shield against nativist hostility and lament the Americanization of their children, their children drop their parents' heritage and identification with the homeland to avoid prejudice, and their thoroughly assimilated grandchildren become nostalgic for the loss of their "heritage" at a time when prejudice against their group is dropping and nativists are targeting the next wave of immigrants.

I can see this in my own family. My grandmother was part of a German enclave in Wisconsin and only began speaking English when her children were having a hard time in school. My father identifies himself as an American. I proudly call myself a German-American. But other than recognizing my genetic paternity, how German am I really? My faith isn't Lutheran, my outlook is American, and feel no kinship to Germany as a country. I'm American "plus" -- a psychologist might explain that I want to feel that my Germanic roots make me special without making me different. Another analogy might be people who wear green on Saint Patrick's day but don't know the first thing about Irish history.

Perhaps the three-generation pattern was lengthened by the pernicious persistence of anti-Semitism, but now that most people no longer hold Jewish heritage against a person -- particularly amongst the educated classes and on college campuses where the survey in question was conducted -- the nostalgic desire to differentiate oneself from the general public might be coming to the fore. Maybe Jews critical of the intermarriage trend are fearful that the cultural "essence" of Jewishness is being diluted by American "plus"ers who are assimilated in outlook and lifestyle and simply and safely celebrating an ethnic identity that they do not fully understand.
1.12.2006 9:22am
VC Reader 2:
One other impact of the increasing number of interfaith couples is that it makes it harder for Jewish organizations to take a stand against interfaith couples.

The AJC clearly doesn't approve of intermarriage, calling it a serious risk to the vitality of the Jewish community. But based on the web site, it looks like they haven't issued a statement on the subject since 1997. Is it because they would lose support from Jews who have intermarried?

I think Bernstein's comments on the Orthodox legal monopoly on the definition of "Jewish" in Israel show that the US gives Jews far more freedom to be Jewish than Israel does.

In any legal matter, Israel only gives Jews the right to be Jewish if they meet the tests of some of the most extreme members of the Orthodox community. By contrast, the US gives Jews the right to marry, inherit, die, and be buried according to whatever Jewish strand of Judaism they belong.

I remember reading a few years ago that some American Reform Jews suggested that Reform Judaism should refrain from giving general support to the State of Israel. Instead, they argued, American Reform Jews should direct all their support to the tiny Israeli Reform community. I don't know whatever came of that, but I understand why Reform Jews would not want to subsidize a government that enforces legal discrimination against Reform Jews.

My wife and I are in the process of adopting a daughter. She will not be born to a Jewish woman or a Jewish man. But she will go to Hebrew School, participate in a synagogue, and will become a Bat Mitzvah.

That brings me back to the topic of this thread--the effects of intermarriage. If my daughter isn't Jewish enough to legally marry a Jewish man in Israel, then the people who make that decision can't expect my enthusiastic support.

What am I supposed to tell my daughter? "You should support the State of Israel because it is the Jewish State even though it thinks you are a non-Jew and will systematically discriminate against you if you ever move there"?

As more and more American Jews become "halachally irregular," Israel may have to chose between maintaining the corrupt Orthodox monopoly on family matters and maintaining good relations with American Jews.

To be fair, I see one valid criticism of intermarriage--It gives non-Jews like me a voice in Jewish affairs.

For example, I have an equal vote in all of my synagogue's elections. I would abstain from any matter of religious doctrine, but I (and many other interfaith couples) would leave the synagogue if it took a stand against intermarriage. That won't happen because interfaith couples are such a large percentage (I think 30%) of members that making such a decision would rip the synagogue apart.

Another example is what I discussed above--non-Jews like me participate in deciding where our families' resources are devoted. Organizations like the JCC and the AJC know they risk losing support if they speak out too strongly against intermarriage. Likewise, Israel risks losing some support (or at least affection) by enforcing legal discrimination that is at odds with the views of interfaith couples and our Reform synagogues.
1.12.2006 9:27am
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
VC- While the Orthodox do control "who is a jew", it's not decided by the "most extreme members of the Orthodox community", it's decided by the Rabbinate of the State, of which the most of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel don't even recognize.
1.12.2006 9:58am
Bob Bobstein (mail):
Thanks for this thoughtful and engaging post! Let me quibble with one assertion in it.

David Bernstein wrote: Jewishness will become more about religion and religious tradition, less about culture.

I disagree, for the reasons that German-American pointed out above. With assimilation, appreciation of one's roots tends to become more about cultural symbols (bratwurst, Guiness, lasagna, playing go, wearing a sari on occasion, etc.) and less about the cultural moors of the old country. That's a generalization, of course, it doesn't work that way for everyone.

I think German-American is smart, so I'll quote him at length:

But other than recognizing my genetic paternity, how German am I really? My faith isn't Lutheran, my outlook is American, and feel no kinship to Germany as a country. I'm American "plus" -- a psychologist might explain that I want to feel that my Germanic roots make me special without making me different. Another analogy might be people who wear green on Saint Patrick's day but don't know the first thing about Irish history.
1.12.2006 10:13am
Nicole Black (mail) (www):
Very interesting post and subsequent comments. It hits close to home for me. My parents are intermarried, my mom converted to Judaism, and I was raised Jewish. All of my father's brothers married non-Jewish women and 2 of my parent's closest friends are intermarried couples. All of the children from the aforementioned marriages were raised Jewish (total of 14 kids).

My 2 siblings married Jewish people. My sister's husband is also from an intermarried family, and was raised Jewish, and he and my siser plan to raise their children Jewish.
I married a non-Jew and we are raising our 2 children Jewish.

Thus, in my experience Silberman's prediction that intermarriage will increase the number of Jews is correct and is ocurring in our country as we speak. Intermarriage is not reducing the number of Jews, but increasing it.

That some Jews may not consider other Jews to be "Jewish enough" is problematic, in my opinion. The last thing that we need in light of the increasing anti-semitism in our country and abroad, is in-fighting. I will never understand why some feel the need to pick apart and point out the failures of others as Jews. If someone chooses to identify oneself with a minority religion that is subject to increasing amounts of hostility, why would you do anything to alienate them? There's strength in numbers and we need all that we can get.

Bottom line, in my opinion, is that if you choose to identify yourself as Jewish, then you're Jewish. Hitler made no distinction, so as Jews, why should we?
1.12.2006 10:28am
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
Bottom line, in my opinion, is that if you choose to identify yourself as Jewish, then you're Jewish. Hitler made no distinction, so as Jews, why should we?

Two problems with that statement:
1- If delf-identification as Jewish is the only standard in Judaism, then you've rendered Juduaism meaningless. If someone from a 100% Gentile family announces that he's Jewish- does that make him Jewish?
2- Why should we allow Hitler to have the final word on who is and isn't a Jew?
1.12.2006 10:39am
Richard Bellamy (mail):

Jews have a cultural disposition in favor of the Democratic Party, and that will likely weaken


Prof. Bernstein continues to question why more Jews are not Republicans. The answer is that for American Jews, the Democratic Party IS their Republican Party. We already moved to the right when we stopped voting for the Socialists or Communists.

It would be like running as a "Republican" is a European country that has a "Social Democrat" running against a "Christian Democrat" and wonder why more of the Christian Democratic supporters won't vote for the Republican.
1.12.2006 10:45am
Nicole Black (mail) (www):
classmatewearingyarmulka--why would someone who has no interest in being Jewish declare that s/he's Jewish? Just to water down our supposedly pure bloddline? I highly doubt it.

Jews can't even come to an agreement as to what makes someone a Jew. Each demonination has it's own concept of Jewishness. Who's to say who is correct?

It's pointless to point fingers and alienate those who choose to identify themselves as Jewish. That attitude is a large reason that many choose to no longer identify with Judaism, and is a large part of why I left a Conservative congregation with which I was very involved. I was even on the board, chaired one committee and was on another.

But the holier-than-thou attitude from some members, the hostility from some to interfaith marriages and the constant in-fighting were the exact opposite of what I seek from Judaism. I plan to join a reform congregtion in the near future, even though I was raised in a Conservative congregation and prefer that environment.

My former congregation, along with many other Conservatvie congregations, is struggling with low membership and recruitment as a direct result of the attitude that some Jews aren't Jewish enough.

Conservative and Orthodox Jews had best end their judgmental condescension, or they'll soon find themselves with a dwindling membership.

Who wants to try to worship while being judged and criticized? Who wants to be a part of a congregation when you're excluded by many as a result of your personal choices, such as who you fell in love w/?

Not I. And, apparently, I'm not alone.

Jews need to unite and stop the in-fighting. It separates and divides us when unity is what is truly needed right now.
1.12.2006 11:13am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Interesting slice of Jewish life for one who is not.

Looking at it from the outside, I think the point on a significantly reduced anti-semitism is important. Things have changed so much in my lifetime. My father has never had any Jewish friends - most of his friends are Presbyterian like him. My mother only got some later in life as a result of her volunteer efforts. When I was in high school in the late 1960s, we were invited to have steaks with a Jewish family with kids on our ski team. My father declined, telling us they were pushy. We knew them, and they weren't nearly as pushy as the family down the block who were Catholic.

Then I ended up in a fraternity with about 1/3 Jews. And after that, Jewish celebrations, etc. have been a way of life for me, as well as coming somewhat close to marrying a very smart passionate Jewish woman.

So, I am very glad that things have gone as they have in this country. I find this sort of multiculteralism very beneficial for our country. In my daughter's class at school, they all know who is Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Buddist, and, now, Muslim. But this doesn't get in the way of any of their friendships. For them, it is mostly a non-issue. A friend is a friend, regardless of religion, ethnicity, etc., and not because of it. (Raised Protestant, she has no close Protestant friends).

But I can also see how this would seriously impact esp. the Jewish community. For almost 2,000 Jews have pretty much defined themselves as separate, and as a result have kept their identity as a people surrounded by huge numbers of gentiles. The present trend is good in that Jews, for the first time in recent history are able to get ahead on their own merits, which, on average, are substantial. But maybe bad because that cliquiness that so identified Jews of a previous generation reinforced Jewishness to a degree that may not be present now.

Final thought. I think that the real test of Jewish integration is going to be when a substantial number come over to the Dark Side, the Republican Party, and quit voting based on religion and ethnicity, and start voting like their gentile brethern at the workplace. The Catholics have done this in the last couple of decades, and now it is the turn of the Jews. After all, how can a group who, left to their own devices, dominates almost any business or intellectual field they enter well beyond their percentage of the population, happy with a political party that extolls racial and ethnic quotas? (And, has, to me, many more people voicing rabid anti-Semitism - though Eugene seems to differ with me on this, being much slower to claim such than I).
1.12.2006 11:15am
VC Reader 2:
classmatewearingyarmulka, thanks for the correction about who decides who is a Jew for the State of Israel. You are also right that Hitler is the last person anyone should look to for the defintion of who is a Jew.

But I stand by the argument that Israel's who-is-a-Jew rule (as well as the systematic discrimination against the Reform and Conservative movements) can and should influence the affection of American Jews towards Israel.

Further, American intermarriage means that more and more American Jews in the US will find Israeli attitudes towards the non-Orthodox offensive.
1.12.2006 11:19am
VC Reader 2:
Bruce Hayden writes:

I think that the real test of Jewish integration is going to be when a substantial number come over to the Dark Side, the Republican Party. . . .
Actually, I thought the Republicans were making inroads into the American Orthodox community, which is interested in government subsidies (vouchers) for its religous schools. The Republicans are also using anti-abortion and anti-gay arguments to appeal to the Orthodox.
1.12.2006 11:36am
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
Nicole- See the original post. 3% of kids on campus who consider themselves Jewish have no Jewish parents. What exactly makes these kids Jewish? If I announce that I'm Irish, does that make me Irish?

As for dwindling membership, I can't speak for Conservative congregations, but as for Orthodox, their "judgmental condescension" has no effect within their community. People don't leave the Orthodox community because of any condescension towards Conservative and Reform Jews. It's just not an issue.
1.12.2006 11:39am
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
VC Reader 2 - Outside of NYC, the Orthodox voting block isn't large enough to encourage the GOP to "appeal" to them. Many of their policies are simply in-tune with them, though they don't align perfectly. Vouchers and gay marraige line up pretty well, but Orthodox views on abortion are more nuanced then the GOP's abortion is murder platform.
1.12.2006 11:45am
Anon E Moose:
Can I quote the fictional Senator Bulworth: "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep [...] everybody 'til they're all the same color."
1.12.2006 11:47am
John Lederer (mail):
"being Jewish" seems to have a religious, cultural (several), and genetic basis. All these become attenuated through intermarriage, increased absorption into American culture (whatever that is), and yes, increasingly a sort of generic religion.

What is the grand child of a Norwegian x Jewish marriage and child of ScotsxGerman x Jewish-Norwegian marriage?
1.12.2006 11:52am
Nicole Black (mail) (www):
Ok, first of all, I was not implying that if Hitler said that one is Jewish, than one is. My point is that there are so many ways to define what consitutes "Jewish", and Hitler's definition is certainly one way of doing so, but many obviously and understandably find his way to be objectionable. But who is to say what defintion is correct? If someone says they're Jewish, why quibble with them? What purpose does that serve? Why alienate them by disagreeing?

And, as for m comment re: in-fighting, that particular comment did not reference in-fighting between Conservative and Reform Jews, but rather in-fighting *within* the Congregation. That happens at every synagogue--both amongst the clergy, Exec. Board, etc., and amongst the members, in terms of who's a "better" Jew, etc.
1.12.2006 11:59am
Nicole Black (mail) (www):
Ok, first of all, I was not implying that if Hitler said that one is Jewish, than one is. My point is that there are so many ways to define what consitutes "Jewish", and Hitler's definition is certainly one way of doing so, but many obviously and understandably find his way to be objectionable. But who is to say what defintion is correct? If someone says they're Jewish, why quibble with them? What purpose does that serve? Why alienate them by disagreeing?

And, as for m comment re: in-fighting, that particular comment did not reference in-fighting between Conservative and Reform Jews, but rather in-fighting *within* the Congregation. That happens at every synagogue--both amongst the clergy, Exec. Board, etc., and amongst the members, in terms of who's a "better" Jew, etc.
1.12.2006 11:59am
Nicole Black (mail) (www):
than = then m=my

And sorry for the double post--not sure how that happened.
1.12.2006 12:01pm
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
Jews have been in-fighting since Abraham. Two Jews, three opinions.
1.12.2006 12:26pm
VC Reader 2:
Nicole,

The problem with saying that anyone who says they are a Jew is a Jew is that many Christians call themselves "Messianic Jews." So there always has to be one negative--if you believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that he will return, you are a Christian, not a Jew.

Unlike the "Messianic Jews" who look at the Torah but not the post-Jesus Jewish religious traditions, the Reform and Conservative movements still to both the Torah and subsequent teachings as the source of their religious faith. They disagree about the interpretation of the Torah and the interpretation and weight of certain subsequent teachings. (I know I am making a HUGE generalization here.)

In my pre-marital class, I was struck by the reverence that the Reform Rabbi had toward the text of the Torah. And while he disagreed with some of the subsequent teachings, with a couple of exceptions (there are always a couple of exception), he treated them with tremendous respect.
1.12.2006 12:38pm
rbj:
So Sammy Davis Jr. wasn't Jewish? Was he Jewish but not a Jew (or visa versa).
1.12.2006 12:45pm
Somewhat Anonymous:
VC Reader 2, you make a good point, but doesn't take it far enough. I read you to be saying that anyone who says he is a Jew is a Jew, as long as they don't believe in Jesus.

Shouldn't there be (isn't there?) some defining characteristics that make Judaism Judaism, aside from saying that Christianity is not Judaism? If Judaim is whatever someone wants it to be (sans Jesus) then is it really anything at all aside from a sort of mushy cultural identification?

And of course once we start defining what Judaism is or is not, we start excluding people who claim to be Jews from Judaism - but I don't see how you can have it any other way.
1.12.2006 12:59pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
It's really a rather interesting cultural conflict.

Religion is important in America, but that's because we create our own--we invented 4 religions in the 19th century alone (Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, Christian Scientist). If someone wants to start a new church, by golly, they just do. The upside--everyone gets a religion they care passionately about, and we have high church attendance. The downside--religions are competing in a ferocious marketplace. So naturally, American synagogues have a strong incentive to be flexible on intermarriage. If they hadn't been, no doubt by now there'd be a new sect for intermarried Jews. Or maybe they'd all join UU. (Christians got very flexible on divorce for the same reason.)

Israel holds a monopoly of sorts and is consequently very inflexible. I can see why American Jews would be crushed at the rejection. But ultimately, Israel makes the rules.

Of course, with the Palestinian birth rate a constant threat, maybe Israel will decide to be flexible, too.
1.12.2006 1:04pm
Nicole Black (mail) (www):
Obviously you've got to have a working definiton of sorts in terms of the basic beliefs that you must have to be Jewish. But it should be very broad, IMO. Basically if you believe that Jesus is not the Messiah, and call yourself Jewish, then, wonderful, you're Jewish for purposes of *that* sruvey. Then each denomination can decide what it requires of its memebers. But when one denomination sneers at the others and declares that they're not Jew because-- they're not kosher, don't wear yarmulkes 24/7, women allowed on the bimah, non-Jewish parents allowed on the Bimah for certain ceremonies, etc.--then it's just in-fighitng and serves no purpose and certainly does not serve the greater good for Jews as a whole.

And, as for the comment re: what makes the 3% of kids Jewish who don't have Jewish parents, it depends on the situation. More likely than not, they stumbled upon Judaism, liked it, and either converted or are in the process of converting. Why else would they say that they're Jewish? Just to skew the statistics? My husband is married to me, a Jew, and we're raising our kids Jewish, but he doesn't tell people that he's Jewish since he chose not to convert. People onyl say that they're Jewish if they have an interest in being Jewish, and presumably, are on the road to converting or have already have done so.

We should *welcome* them with open arms. They, along with my mother, are replacements for the 6 million lost in the Holocaust. It's a good, positive thing for Judaism when someone chooses to be part of our minority religion.
1.12.2006 1:04pm
Josh Wexler (mail) (www):
Just from my experience, it seems to me that among Jews my age (I am 27) and younger, quite the opposite trend from that which is asserted in point 2 is taking place. I see Jews of my generation(both those with one Jewish parent and those with two): 1)Disavowing the idea that American Jews have (or ought to have) a congenital sympathy for Israel; 2)Placing less importance on Judaism as a religion (than even the reform Jews of their parents generation), often describing themselves as "atheist Jews"; 3) Proudly embracing Jewish culture- Eastern European cultural traditions in particular- albeit with a twist of hipness (witness Heeb Magazine and JewishFashionConspiracy.com).

Now, all of the above describes me. So, perhaps I'm only responding to the feedback loop of likeminded friends with which I've surrounded myself.
1.12.2006 1:06pm
Richard S (mail):
Two quick questions. Is it reasonable to class Judaism as a religion? Or would it be more accurate to say that the Jewish people have their own "way." As I understand it, that's the traditional understanding of things. Religion implies that confession is central—as in Christianity. Does thinking of Judaism as a religion distort it conceptually?

What is conversation in Reform Judaism? Can one become a Jew unless there is Jewish law? If there is Jewish law, then becoming a Jew is like becoming an American citizen. It is a legal process of joining the community. The day one converts, one is no less Jewish than any other Jew. Similarly, the day one becomes a citizen, one is no less American than any other American. Both entail joining a community or perhaps a people. Absent binding law, how does one join the community? Or is this the liminal case—the one place where Reform accepts a (modified) Jewish law?

There is an interesting piece on conversion in the latest Commentary, by the way.
1.12.2006 1:14pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Nicole- See the original post. 3% of kids on campus who consider themselves Jewish have no Jewish parents. What exactly makes these kids Jewish? If I announce that I'm Irish, does that make me Irish?
Hey, it works for Ward Churchill, who claims to be an American Indian--with no Indian ancestors, at least for five or six generations.
1.12.2006 1:15pm
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
The Commentary article that Richard S is refering to is
"How Not to Become a Jew" by Meir Soloveichik. It's too bad that its not available for free online. It's a great read.
1.12.2006 1:21pm
VC Reader 2:
anonymous coward, I did not say that every non-Christian who claims to be Jewish is Jewish. I wrote about people who based their faith on the Torah and the subsequent teachings.

Cal, Israel gets to make rules for itself, but it can't impose them on Jews worldwide. And Jews outside Israel can decide how much to support the state based on which policies Israel chooses.

Nicole, I would agree with you that the definition of "Jewish" should be as broad as possible. I was just responding to your early post which (indavertantly, I'm sure) stated that anyone who called themselves Jewish was Jewish.

As the non-Jewish husband of a Jewish woman, and (hopefully) soon-to-be father of an adopted child that we will raise Jewish, I would push for a definition of the faith that would include my daughter. After all, it would be cruel to raise her in a faith only to have that faith's adherents turn their backs on her.

But this brings us back to the original topic of the post. One aspect of interfaith marriage that troubles even me is that I (a non-Jew) now have a voice and a stake in Jewish affairs.
1.12.2006 1:26pm
Somewhat Anonymous:
VC Reader 2, - no need to get testy (and would my moniker be any less anonymous if I called myself VC Reader 3?). I took care to say that this was the way I was reading what you said (that I may be misunderstanding you).

Anyhow, you agree with Nicole that the definition of Jew should be as broad as possible. But you also say to me, quite indignantly, that the definition must include faith based on the Torah and subsequent teachings (Which subsequent teachings? By who? Can I make my own?). My proposition is simply that you cannot simply claim that the detail of Judaism don't matter as to who is a Jew. (Note that there are two issues here - who is a Jew, and what is Judaism).

The State of Israel chooses which religious rules it wants to go by - it does not in and of itself make those rules. I don't think any Jewish religious branch looks to the Israeli government's pronouncements on religion as controlling.
1.12.2006 1:52pm
VC Reader 2:
Somewhat Anonymous, I'm sorry if my post appeared "testy." That wasn't my intention. But arguing that people are not Jews when they in good faith practice maintream American Judaism is pretty "testy" to start off with.

I agree with you that the details matter. But the problem is that there are a whole lot of different ways to honestly interpret Jewish teachings. The Orthodox (and Israel) have the right to respect only people who fit their own very detailed views.

But if the Orthodox and Israel want to argue that my daughter isn't Jewish enough for them because she was adopted and then trained in a Reform synagogue, the Orthodox and Israel can't expect a lot of respect back from my family. Can they?

Maybe another way to put it is this. If the Orthodox and Israel want to exclude people who practice mainsteam American Judaism from their club, that is their right. But they shouldn't expect affection and respect in return.
1.12.2006 2:20pm
MOT:
Intermarriage + Orthodox Rule = More Jews?

As a Jew who married a Catholic woman, the 'controlling rules' that denote who is Jewish (i.e. if your mother is) played a critical role in our decision for her to formally convert. Incidentally, I appreciate that the conversion process assures the Jewish population that one who 'properly' identifies themselves as Jewish possesses the requisite knowledge and sense of history regarding the tribe that one should possess. Not unlike a Bar exam for those who claim that they are lawyers.

As a reuslt, I will not be the only authority on Jewish religion and culture for our future children. I beleive this will strengthen their Jewish identity beyond what would have transpired had we merely 'raised them in a Jewish household' (a weak and cliched response, in my opinion)
1.12.2006 4:35pm
AlexM:
People onyl say that they're Jewish if they have an interest in being Jewish, and presumably, are on the road to converting or have already have done so.


Well, I am neither culturally Jewish nor religiously Jewish, but I might answer "Jewish" depending on how the question is asked since I identify with my Jewish ancestors slightly more than with my Catholic ancestors. Both branches of the family became completely secular almost 100 years ago, so there is really not much to choose from.

There was a palpable "learning and books are good" meme lingering on the Jewish side of the family when I was growing up and I am grateful for it. But other than that I know as much (or as little) about Purim as I know about the Day of Pentecost. Still, if I were given a multiple choice questionnaire with "Jewish", "Catholic", "Protestant", "Orthodox" and similar boxes, I may very well shrug and check the "Jewish" one. Or perhaps "None of the above", if available.
1.12.2006 4:48pm
VC Reader 2:
Of course, if one spouse converts, you don't have an interfaith marriage anymore. The Orthodox rules also don't increase the number of Jews when (as is usually the case) the non-Jewish spouse cannot make an honest conversion to Judaism.

The Orthodox rules might also encourage the Jewish spouse to consider converting to the non-Jewish spouse's religion. After all, why stay a part of an Orthodox community that thinks you're worse than the Nazis merely for intermarrying?
1.12.2006 4:50pm
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
Let's be frank. If you're Orthodox and and marry a non-Jew, you can't really call yourself Orthodox anymore. (And honestly, if you find yourself marring a non-Jew it's very likely that you're no longer a practicing Orthodox Jew either)

And no, you're not considered worse that the Nazis, despite what Chabad says.
1.12.2006 5:24pm
For the Sake of Unpleasent Truths:
As far as the Orthodox are concerned, Judaism is a religon that is determined by religous law. Not by cultural or self identification, not 'bloodlines' which are only part of the accounting because they are part of the law.

And if you want the real authentic and genuine Jewish approach to intermarriage open deuteromnomy or ezra or joshua and start reading. Unless you only have a censored, [cough] re-interperted copy.

Cultural consideratons are much less significant to the Orthodox because they have a concrete legal defination, so that the Yemminite and the Chassidshe communities as different and foriegn they are cultrally can intermary and live and learn together because they both operate under the same basic premise of religous law.

The Orthodox community is wary of those who have chosen to set aside religous law for the simple and straightforward reason, that we are no Christians and when one violates religous law no number of pslams will remove the concrete consequences for oneself and one's children.
1.12.2006 5:53pm
VC Reader 2:
classmatewearingyarmulka, I respect that you wouldn't use that phrase, but it is all too common in Orthodox circles. Do a Google search for intermarriage and holocaust and you will see that the reference is not rare. You can also look at this wiki page for example.

Also, my Jewish wife heard the Nazi statements from fellow students at Yeshiva University in New York when she made the mistake of telling them that her boyfriend (me) wasn't Jewish. That's some welcome mat.

"For the Sake of Unpleasent Truths:", I would lose a Torah quoting match with you, but the Reform Rabbis I have spoken with always justify their opinions with cites to religious authority. Most of the time, they would point to the critical Torah passages, and then show why they thought some Orthodox authorities had misinterpreted the text or ignored inconvenient passages.
1.12.2006 6:32pm
classmatewearingyarmulka (mail) (www):
I wish they would choose a different term, but it's still a very serious issue.
1.12.2006 6:42pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"I don't think any Jewish religious branch looks to the Israeli government's pronouncements on religion as controlling."

Pull the other one. We wouldn't be having this discussion if it weren't at least extremely important to all the Jewish religious branches. You think anyone cares whether Africans radically redefine Christianity?

"Jewish religious branches" is strongly influenced, if not controlled, by Israel's pronouncement on what constitutes a Jew. And the day anyone can become a Jew, what need is there for an Israel?

"As a Jew who married a Catholic woman, the 'controlling rules' that denote who is Jewish (i.e. if your mother is) played a critical role in our decision for her to formally convert."

I'd bet that a significant percentage of conversions are women converting for marriage. When you figure that these women would never have converted except to marry, it's hard not to wonder about the sincerity of the belief.
1.12.2006 7:41pm
Somewhat Anonymous:
On Intermarriage/Holocaust comparisons-

The line I usually heard was that intermarriage is worse than the Holocaust in its effects on Judaism on a global scale, as it not only reduces the number of Jews (The children of intermarried men are not Jewish, and the the children of intermarried women have less of a chance of considering themselves so), but also spiritually destroys those who are intermarrying (those who died in the Holocaust were holy martyrs, whereas those who intermarry are fairly egregious sinners in the Orthodox view). I have never taken this to mean that the individuals doing the intermarrying were worse than the Nazis - although I'm sure its uncomfortable to be thought of as part of something "worse than the Holocaust" in any case. Basically, it is "worse than the Holocaust" in a way that, God forbid, mass conversions to another religion would be. The effect would certainly be described as "worse than the Holocaust" (which after all was only physical destruction, and frankly, differed from much of prior Jewish history only in scope), but I don't think you would think that thaat statement was calling those doing the conversions, Nazis.

On Israeli definitions of Jewishness -

Its important to people what definition the government uses, because Israel is the Jewish Homeland, and som 5 Million or so Jews are citizens there. My point was simply that the Israeli Governemnt subscribes to religiou rules made by others - it does not claim to rule on those matters itself.
1.12.2006 9:12pm
VC Reader (the original!):

Prof. Bernstein continues to question why more Jews are not Republicans. The answer is that for American Jews, the Democratic Party IS their Republican Party. We already moved to the right when we stopped voting for the Socialists or Communists.

Actually, most American Jews were Republicans in the pre-Roosevelt era. I think there is a correllation between the rise of the more liberal Jewish movements and the rise of Jews as Liberals. Many modern American Jews heavily associate Judaism and Jewishness with tikun olam (repair the world) and then make the leap to supporting social welfare programs as some sort of large scale tikun olam.
1.12.2006 11:53pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):

If I announce that I'm Irish, does that make me Irish?


I don't know. What's the formal conversion process to become Irish, and how close to it is this declaration?

(That is, there is well-recognized process by which non-Jews may become Jews [the religious definition]; they can never become Jews [the ethnic definition]; anybody can become a Jew [the cultural definition].)

As for using the definition of the anti-Semites, the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother may decide that since others are already considering him Jewish, and since it's his cultural identity, he may as well make it formal.





Let's be frank. If you're Orthodox and and marry a non-Jew, you can't really call yourself Orthodox anymore. (And honestly, if you find yourself marring a non-Jew it's very likely that you're no longer a practicing Orthodox Jew either)


What does that mean? Marriage is a bigger decision than what to have for lunch, but I didn't realize that there was a threshhold where one ceased to be Orthodox. Is such a person released from the obligations? (In some circles, such a person would be advised that he is not married and owes nothing to the woman he's been living with and the children he fathered; other members of that circle point out that this is not at all practical and is likely to drive him further from Judaism.)

Such a person certainly will find himself religiously homeless if he is still stuck with his background that Orthodox (and whatever flavor of Orthodox he grew up with, whether it was black hat or assimilated NY modern) is the "right" way to do Judaism, and that the local, much-more-welcoming Reform synagogue is just not right. Being non-practicing Orthodox no more makes one Reform than it makes one Protestant (although it can leave one confused!) Stated theoretical intentions as to children and household made during the pre-nuptial period might not be carried out in practice.

Anecdotal evidence: In my circle of friends the most assimilated Jew married another Jew and is raising a Jewish family. Two more-identified Jews married gentiles and are raising ambiguous families ("we'll expose the children to both and let them decide"). One observant Jew would not marry a non-Jew, and conveniently his girlfriend found a home in Judaism, and they are raising many children strictly observant Orthodox. One son of a Jewish father (everyone assumed he was Jewish, he was seen at Hillel because he liked bagels) converted around when he married a Jewish woman, and their children are raised as observant Conservative Jews.
1.15.2006 12:06pm