Even if the Zach Braff and Mandy Moore engagement turns out to be a rumor, we need to face the facts of life in this 21st century: intermarriage is a very real trend…we may not like it or encourage it, but we need to figure out how to handle it, as an issue itself and for the family, community and educational issues it raises.

If I were in NYC the week after President’s Day instead of in California basking in the afterglow of the JTB2 conference (not too late to register!), I’d put on a sweater over my turtleneck, then a hoodie over that, and finally my winter coat…put on gloves, scarf and hat, and head to the JCC to see my Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt moderate “Mixed Marriage, Mixed Message,”a free panel discussion on outreach to the intermarried:

At the heart of the conversation will be questions about whether and how the Jewish community should reach out to intermarried families. If this is an issue you care passionately about, we encourage you to attend.

Panelists are Paul Golin, from the JOI; social psychologist Bethamie Horowitz; and Steven Bayme, a founding member of the “Jewish In-Marriage Initiative.” (Read about the In-Marriage Initiative’s “attack” on the JOI here.)

To register, click here.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.


  • Muffti is getting a spooky vision of the future. Many people will comment on this post. Some will say we will should loosen the standards of who counts as a jew. many will say that there is nothing to discuss since if we consider embracing interfaith marriages we will soon be eating shrimp encrusted fishsticks. Others will lay the blame on not educating our kids well enough in jewish education. Some will take issue with that. Perhaps an anti-semite or two will post something rude and ridiculous…

  • Any other Jewesses out there annoyed by the constant stream of films & TV shows (i.e. Braff’s own “Garden State,” which I otherwise enjoyed) featuring Jewish guys chasing after non-Jewish females? I find this trend (the Woody Allen effect, if you will) damaging to our sense of attractiveness and self-worth as Jewish females. Enough of the Jewish self-hatred already.

  • PS: the irony of “Garden State” of course is that the shiksa was played by Natalie Portman! Which begs the question: how come Jewish movie stars like Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder never play Jewish characters?

  • Many who turn jewish tend to be better jews
    and embrace the religion more.Plus it creates more jews in the world, which is good.

  • Nina, apparently you’ve never heard of the Jewess goddess Sarah Silverman. I emphathize with your issues about not being able to live up to media portrayals of what you’re supposed to be, but that is neither limited to Jewish women nor to women in general. My pecks are definitely not where Brad Pitt implies they should be. But there’s a fairly simply recommendation: Turn off the TV. You are a beautiful person. Winona Ryder is a shoplifter, she’s got nothing on you! Go out and enjoy yourself.

    Muffti, as for you… shrimp encrusted fishsticks are frickin’ delicious. Just get your tucchas to the event. Myself and your friend EV will be there, and I’ll buy you both a beer afterwards. Just make sure you root for the good guys.

  • It’s really a boring topic. We should focus on those who get Judaism, not simple minded buffoons.

    We should focus on our own singles crisis and what people are doing to improve themselves.

  • Egads….bloggers are going to be like the DJs of this decade. Anybody in the 90s with a turntable and some old records thought they suddenly had a marketable skill. Now we’re inundated with “publishers” who think that even though their friends can’t stand to listen to them ramble on and on about politics, cooking, gossip, etc. that the rest of the world really cares what they think. Now they’re getting compensation to not say what they think about anything. That may be a good thing but it’ll just encourage more lonely deskjockeys to pontificate from the local internet cafe. Isn’t there a band called Flogging Bloggers or perhaps there should be.

  • its clear the jewish people need an alternate paradigm to determine ones jewishness. the new paradigm need not displace the existing one (that of course being the jewish blood/patrilineal/matrilineal//ethnocentric/pseudo-racist paradigm). I’m involved in a hillel where the student president’s mother had a conservative conversion and therefore the orthodox students perceive her as a full-fledged goy. its a mild example but just one of thousands that tell us we all need to seriously start thinking about these issues and that the jewish establishment needs to stop right now talking about the intermarriage rate and all that crap. dont they realize young unafiliated jews just dont give a shit about intermarriage, it just isn’t a value for them and it never will be. why would someone want to participate in a program, like birthright, whos stated goal is to stem the tide of what is the basis of that young persons existence, namely their parents love for one another despite the fact that they are, teh parents that is, members of different faiths. it is insulting in such an incomprehensible existential way, its mind blowing.
    on the issue of jewish guys and goyishe girls , it seems like the goyishe girls just cant get enough of us. you jewish girls seem to be having some issues. maybe if my jewish sister would spend less time straightening her hair with that fucking hair straightner of hers and start smoking some pot she might have more success with the self-reflective, deep and caring hipster jewish males out there.

  • we need to figure out how to handle it

    The first step is understanding that intermarried families are part of that “we”.

  • “how come Jewish movie stars like Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder never play Jewish characters?”

    Natalie played Anne Frank off Broadway. Maggie Gyllenhaal played a Jew in that crapass Wellesley-based Julia Roberts vehicle. Rena Sofer has played a Jew a bunch of times…even though in real life she married a shagetz. However, all that being said, there just aren’t that many Jewish female characters being written (ever). Jerry was right, he just didn’t realize how it could be applied: shiksappeal.


  • There is a difference between accepting intermarried people and providing a place in the community etc…versus the policy and position towards “who is a jew” and to count for minyanim, marriage etc. I find that there is no relationship to how accepting a given synagague is or a given movement like reform, conservative, progressive, orthodox, hasidic… they are all the same and the said policys and beliefs have nothing to do with the level of acceptance that actually happen on a real time basis. Many who hold of the most strict Halacha definition are the most accepting of the “intermarried” Likewise, many who would like to believe how accepting they are because of thier policies, conversion practices are just the stars when it comes to retaining thier multitudes in thier memberships and retention of Jewish identity and acceptance of converts, no matter who or how converted. I don’t see what is so new about any of this. It is amazing that even some people have a doubt, “should we reach out to the intermarried?” Maybe the very people who championed themselves as the most accepting of Intermarried now are having doubts… I don’t know who else would.
    So many Hillel Houses and JCCs are run by different people who have different positions and attitudes abouts about intermarried and conversion.

    I don’t buy that any little label, orthodox, hasidic, shmorphodox, conservadox, progressive, reformly etc… has any monopoly on xenophobia when it comes to these issues.

  • Nina Beth, I know that you’re the one who lives in Hollywood or thereabouts, but are you sure Nat’s character wasn’t Jewish in Garden State? I seem to remember some monologue about Jewish prayer or the kotel or something. Or maybe it was just implied…

  • Jews of all stripes in all places need to realize that if they choose to shut intermarried couples out of the community, they are ensuring their decline.

    My wife is Jewish and I’m not. We are raising our daughter Jewish. The community in our hometown treats us (and me!) as part of the community. This has led to us being very involved.

    Slamming the doors on people just because of who they fell in love with is a dangerous practice that is doing nothing to make the world a better place.

  • in my humble secular agnostic opinion anyone who who sees intermarriage as anything other then a silent Holocaust thinks that the Sun revolves around the earth.Basically the number of Jews in the diaspora will shrink to the small orthodox communities and the whole future on Jewry will hinge on a tiny place which will soon be under the sword of Damocles.

  • Alexbmn, I can find you very similar comments written 100 years ago. I can show you article about “will there still be secular Jews in 1900?” What you are saying has been said since Jewish emancipation in Europe beginning in 1848. It was loudly repeated after the 1990 National Jewish Population Study, when much of Orthodoxy triumphantly proclaimed that only Orthodox Jewry would survive. 10 years later, a new NJPS shows that Orthodoxy remains only 10% of the Jews, the exact same percentage. What happened?

    And why do you call yourself secular agnostic, are you being sarcastic?

  • Hey, I’m the product of intermarriage. My parents raised four Jewish kids. Like Kevin, I’m raising my two kids Jewish. I’m *increasing* the Jewish population. Where’s my yasher koach?

  • The JOI are creepy… I remember meeting a rep from there when I was in NYC. They believed that trying to “recruit” people to Judaism was okay too. I found them slightly disturbing myself.

    And yes, I am going to JTB2, and helping get press. Rock on!!!

  • here’s your yasher koach, kayla, good for you. i’m 100% Jewish as far back as my family tree goes, and i find this exclusionary rhetoric really off putting. I bet intermarried Jews and their offspring do too. If anything is shrinking the Jewish population, it’s the alienation.
    the dialogue about the kotel in Garden State was such that Andrew (Zach Braff) compares Sam’s (Natalie Portman) gross blanket thing to the kotel and she responds “wow, you’re really Jewish” or something close. it’s never implied that she’s Jewish, and it’s not really implied that she’s not Jewish. Who cares, anyway? It’s probably reflective of Zach Braff’s Jewish experience. He doesn’t owe it to anybody to write a female Jewish character. As for Woody Allen, ick. Let the shiksas have him.

  • alexbmn, maybe the “silent holocuast” (its an awful expression) is happening beacause nobody cares about shabbos. or maybe because jews in the west side are too busy fooling around instead of making jewish babies. i dont know why it ALL has to do come down to intermarriage. as kayla pointed out, she as part of an interfaith couple is raising her children jewish WITH a jewish education. what is a secular ashkenazi jew who marries another secular ashkenazi jew who continue to raise their children as “three-times-a year” jew, what are they doing for the jewish people? other than contiuing some sort of jewish-american socio-economic identity. instead of talking about intermarriage why dont we start talking about shabbos, which by the way is a real jewish value. shlomo hamelech married 1000 who i dont think any of them were israelites, but he did keep shabbos. since when did marrying other jews become the supreme jewish value? when did the bible die and make fiddler on the roof the guie to a good jewish life?
    btw in “garden state” its zach braff who gives the kotel shpiel, not natalie.

  • Self Loather

    As far as I know the Orthodox is the only denomination thats increasing in numbers.And yes I have very strong doubts about the existence of GOd and my affliation with Judaism is basically cultural and yet I’m dead set against intermarriage and recognize only Orthodox Judaism as valid.

    Intermarriage is how the dominant culture absorbs the minority one.Raising your “kids Jewish” dosnt postpone the inevitable.

  • Yasher koach, Kayla! If you’re in Manhattan, go to the event and tell your story to Steve Bayme. He’s basically written that you don’t exist. Or that if you do exist, there’s so few of you it’s not worth the community spending money trying to help your parents raise you, or help you raise your kids. Or that if we do help intermarried families, it sends a message that “intermarriage is okay” to unmarried Jews.

    I think there are many MANY people just like you, but are so sick of hearing those things from the Jewish community, they would never bother attending events like this, so it will be an audience full of alter cockers. Not that there’s anything wrong with alter cockers…some of my best relatives alter cockers…

  • alexbmn, the pride you seem to take in your own ignorance is pretty surprising and sad. The movement that grew the fastest in the last 10 years, in both percentage and total numbers, is Reform. According to the 1990 NJPS (and I’m only quoting that because the full analysis of the 2001 study is not available) shows that — percentage-wise — no denomination SHEDS more Jews than Orthodoxy. Yes, they have many more children than the other movements, but a larger percentage of people who are born Orthodox leave Orthodoxy than born-Conservatives leave the Conservative moment. The movement that retains the highest percentage of those born into it is, again, Reform.

    If you don’t believe in God, and therefore your objection to intermarriage is not based on the mitzvah of not intermarrying, then what is it based on? “The intermingling of the races?”

    If you don’t participate in the religious aspects of Judaism, don’t assume that Orthodoxy is the only authentic version of it. Just because you’ve never been to a truly spiritual Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, or Secular Humanistic Jewish event doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  • Actually it is specifically stated (though I don’t remember the line) in Garden State that NP’s character is Christian. My point is, isn’t the shiksa-obsessed-neurotic-short-Jewish-guy something of a tired cultural cliche at this point?

  • I’m a Jew by choice, not because my wife is Jewish – in fact she’s not. We’re both converts, so where does that leave us? We keep the sabbath, we’re involved in shul, we love Israel and we are Zionists – but is our lack of heritage “thinning” G-d’s chosen?

  • Nina Beth,

    It is a tired cliche, but so is the term “shiksa.” I don’t know anybody in my generation (okay, except the occasional Jewlicious posters) who uses that term, which originated as a mark of disdain and continues to carry seriously negative connotations. In any event, it’s not only the male gender that can be captivated by the exotic “other.” And it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with “self-hatred.” Jewish women, too, get jiggy with people from different backgrounds and cultures. More power to ’em!

    And yes, I said “get jiggy.”

  • Shlomo, some hardline people will tell you you’re not Jewish by their standards. Just ignore them.

    Any poster on Jewlicious who uses the term “shiksa” deserves a spanking.

  • Here’s a solution: women: marry whoever you love and raise Jewish babies; men: stay away from shiksas and raise jewish babies.

  • I use shiksa all the time. I’m 31. What generation are you?

  • So you have smaller communities w/ in the overall peoplehood, so what is the big hubbub?

    The only sort of line in the sand issue is if the Gentile is the female. But we’ve been over this a million times. Nothing gets resolved on a group level. On an individual level, I haven’t seen any problems, in having a Hoegarden beer w/ someone in Brooklyn.

  • Furthermore, the poster-artiste, used this event as another reason why she is not married. That is the more important issue here. Or =.

    People who have a problem often like to point fingers outside of themselves. I do it all the time myself.

  • zach braff isn’t particularly short, and i am pretty sure natalie portman’s character doesn’t have a specified religious background in Garden State, but if you’re so sure, what the hell. anyway, avi, well said. both times.

  • DeisCane, do you know the translation of the word? Do you also use “schvartze” for black people? It’s a slur, plain and simple.

    I’m 37. What generation does that make me in reference to you? I’m H.R. Puff N Stuff and you’re Transformers, or something like that? And how is that relevant? The word is still a slur.

  • This isn’t a debate in which one side’s right and the other’s wrong. On average, someone with two Jewish parents is more likely than someone with only one Jewish parent to identify strongly as a Jew. This not only makes intuitive sense, but it also happens to be supported by statistical evidence. Getting mad at Steven Bayme for pointing this out is simply shooting the messenger.

    Given this reality, one would be hard-pressed to argue that anything significantly higher than our current 50% rate of intermarriage would be good for American Jewry’s future. And, it’s safe to say, intermarriage rates would be much higher if not for the community’s traditionally strong (and, unfortunately, increasingly only residual) emphasis on the value of endogamy. (One wonders what proportion of Irish-Americans marry other Irish-Americans?)

    All that being said, in an open society, a relatively high level of intermarriage is a given (even if it’s a level that can be lowered somewhat by a communal emphasis the value of in-marriage). And many offspring of intermarried couples do feel strongly connected to their Jewish identities. It would be a real shame and a great loss for the Jewish community to simply write them off.

    The challenge, then, is how to stress the value of in-marriage without alienating or stigmatizing those in mixed marriages and their offspring. This is no easy task. And of course, we must remember: Unless someone is already sold on the notion that Jewish identity is of great importance and worth preserving, concerns about Jewish continuity aren’t likely to play much of a role in their key life decisions — whether it’s placing a high value on finding a Jewish partner, encouraging a spouse to convert, or providing a Jewish education to one’s children.

  • Wow Daniel, that was well said.

    I am the sephardim that Michael ripped a few posts back. I have a proven partial Jewish bloodline even though I didn’t know it, my parents didn’t know it and their parents did’t know it. But now that I do, I keep Shabat. I pray Shema daily. I study Torah. Jewish values are a crucial part of my life.

    So is the addition of my mixed blood to the Tribe dilution?

  • The thread made the point of referring to “my generation,” with regards to use of the word shiksa, so yes, it is relevant. I was merely continuing the string. Apparently, you’re incapable of following a topic and understanding its logic, without being preoccupied with the offensiveness of a word?

    As for shiksa, I most certainly know the connotation in its historical state; however, I also know that in the US, most of the mean-spiritedness of historical Yiddish epithets has faded. Furthermore, Shvartze is not a worthwhile analogy, as we live in a society where any racially-oriented term is more dangerous than its literal meaning.

    I’m sorry you’re so offended by the term shiksa, maybe you shouldn’t have married one???

  • Does anyone besides me think it is just rank hypocrisy to ask someone to convert or to encourage them to do so?

  • I don’t, Shira. What is wrong with saying to somebody that you value your heritage and want to raise children in that heritage with them? They can try to do the same, can’t they?

  • I do see a certain hypocracy that goes like this:

    We have a problem with intermarriage….

    We look to conversion as an answer to this problem.

    Therefore we ask people to convert

    How has promoting conversion help the problem of continual intermarriage.?

    Its like saying, “I want you to convert and become one of us and join our team;

    that will make us strong”

    Instead of saying, ” I should do something in my own world to make the Jewish

    and non-Jewish world better to actually gain real improvement”

    There is another side as well….

    Its like saying that being Non-Jewish isn’t good enough, “We need you to be

    Jewish, therefore I am asking you be Jewish and we need you on our team. Like,

    once you convert, you will be so much better…and our team is just so much

    better anyway”

    It doesn’t sound that smart to ask someone to be “Jewish” for at least those


    My understanding of the nature of a “convert” is that his or her Jewishness is

    inherent. Meaning that that a Ger is a Jewish soul in an apparent Non-Jewish

    body. If that was the case, why should such a person need to be “asked or

    invited.” My parents didn’t invite me to be thier son. I just am. I don’t need

    anybody to invite me. I am just Jewish and I don’t need an invitation to this club.

    I am sure there all kinds of other reasons as well to not ask people to convert.

    Besides, the word and concept of “convert” seems to be a misnomer anyway. I suppose if someone were to think. “I have the power to convert this non-jew into a Jew…. then maybe I could see asking somebody to convert… afterall it was the power of the Rabbi that made the convert a Jew, right?

  • Isn’t becoming an actual JEW something that’s strictly between the person and God? You can’t ask someone, in good conscience, to pretend to have religious feelings they don’t have. And isn’t it bad for a kid to grow up seeing a parent going through the motions of the religion, rather than faithfully pursuing what they really believe? I just adamantly am of the opinion that a person’s faith is up to them and God. Nobody else has a say in it. Coerced conversion is coerced conversion.

  • Shebe,
    you missing the point, when someone loves and respects you and learns about a new wonderful religion they will want to benefit from that.They will seek to change on their own. Alcoholics can only change when they admit it too.

  • Coerced conversion?

    Coerced conversion is when somebody holds a gun to your head or a knife to your throat and then continually threatens you in some way if you return to your old ways.

    Being in a relationship with someone and saying to them that it would be very challenging to impart Jewish traditions in a house where one of the parents in of a different faith is not coercion. It’s not even close. Either party can decide not to pursue the relationship further or otherwise to pursue it further without the conversion. Every person considers where their value system takes them.

    And no, Netsach, there isn’t an element of superiority here, just a desire not to lose any more Jews. I think there would be some element of superiority if we were proselytizing, but we don’t. Since we don’t, having intermarried couples live a Jewish life becomes even more critical to survival of Jewish life and community.

  • Chutzpah, I agree with you. My sister married a Gentile (fine, I won’t use the “s” word, but note to self-appointed political correctness police: lighten up)and nobody really cared, but my husband’s brother married a Gentile and six years later it continues to be a major family issue. The reason is simple: women know their kids will be Jewish no matter what, men don’t.
    As for the conversion issue, I’ve always said that the cure for anti-semetism is for Judaism to go on a recruitment drive (I’m being somewhat facetious, but not entirely). If we were perceived as being welcoming as opposed to elitist, people would certainly like us more.

  • PS: and my sister-in-law did convert, but because she did it under coersion,it didn’t really “take” in her heart and mind, only on paper.

  • Self Loather (comment 24): you misrepresent the study you “quote” – and have the chutzpah to tweak someone else for their ignorance?

    The dirty secret of the NJPS – since echoed ad infinitum – is that the majority of people who described themselves as “Reform” were in fact completely unaffiliated. They didn’t belong to a Reform Temple – or even to a JCC. They were using the word “Reform” as a fig leaf to avoid the more unpleasant, but more accurate reply “nothing”.

    This kind of shoddy info is the basis for the claim that “The overwhelming majority of American Jews are Reform”. Nope. The majority are completely unaffiliated.

    This “phantom membership” is clearly described by Elliot Abrams in his book Faith Or Fear.

    When one counts those American Jews who bother to join a synagogue – the data from the 1990s splits roughly into thirds – 1/3 reform and recon, 1/3 conservative, 1/3 Orthodox – with the Orthodox the only group growing in actual numbers.

    The notion that the Orthodox are losing their kids at a higher rate than the Reform or Conservative is laughable when surveys confirm a 50-70 percent intermarriage rate for non-Orthodox Jews, and not more than 20 percent of those born Orthodox leave it – most of those “failures” still remaining Jewishly identified.

    … but you don’t cite those more recent studies – with the lame claim that “the analysis hasn’t been done yet”. On a study done in 2001? Give us all a f-cking break!

    Perhaps you don’t want to cite the more recent data because they show conclusively that outreach and ‘inclusiveness’ to intermarried couples has failed mightily. The recent studies now talk about “single-generation Jews”: Non-Jews who were “welcomed” into watered-down, standardless Judaism – and whose mixed-culture kids concluded that all this “inclusiveness” meant they could do whatever they wanted, since the Judaism they were exposed to had no content and no obligations. So most of these kids drift away from Judaism – or to be more precise: they continue the drift out of Judaism that their Jewish parent set in motion by intermarrying (and that their Jewish grandparents set in motion by not providing a Jewish education).

    People join religious communities for the content. Religions are *supposed* to have a core of unchanging beliefs, a relatively stable code of moral conduct. This isn’t something that needs to be “fixed” so the Judaism is more “open”. This does not work to shore up Jewish population numbers – it’s just more of the enervating dilution of Jewish content that is the cause of Reform Judaism’s problem.

    The Ba’al Teshuva movement is the only phenomenon that even approaches the scale of American Jewish intermarriage – and it clearly demonstrates that Orthodox Judaism’s demanding program can more than hold its own in the marketplace of ideas – because it has real substance to offer both Jew and interested gentile.

  • Shavua Tov themiddle,

    Who says there is any connection between emphasizing bringing Jewish

    tradition in the house and conversion? I see that kind of connection as fraught with problems.

    Why has does there have to be a connection?

    I do see an element of coercion.

    It goes like this….

    I won’t love unless you convert

    and as a Non-Jew, I won’t love you.

    The thinking may go like this:

    As some given lover, spouse, concerned indivudual or group, community or

    synagague or Rabbi, whatever, will say,

    “We wont welcome you in our community or synagague unless you convert…

    The question really is then,

    Who in heck is talking like that?

    I bet you would find people guilty of this form coercion in a lot of places.

    Even, “orthodox”, I bet reform, conservative, progresive etc….

    What of the Non-Jew mated to some way to a Jew who loves what they are and doesn’t want to convert, yet likes Jewishness….

    Why pressure, why expect or seek change.
    And why try to ask them to convert?

    And why not let them bring Jewishness into the house of such a situation

    without even expecting conversion?

    And who is talking about doing otherwise?

    Again, how many do indeed have thier issues with this?

    Again, I bet the answer is many…..

    Hi xtian,

    I just read the NY times article,
    Nice article, doesn’t sound new, but nice.
    I don’t believe that just exposing people to Jewish shtick will have this
    miraculous effect of converting people nor providing solutions to thier
    problems. I don’t see the harm in it really. It is funny that there are those
    who are working very hard to appear “not Lubavitch” like those mentioned in
    that article I am not really sure what the heck that means or if that is a compliment or an insult to Lubavitch… However nice such efforts may appear, they are not free of coercion of the afforementioned kind.

    Hi Thomaos Franz,

    What are you saying?
    Are you somehow connecting the idea of being an alcoholic to being like Not-Jewish? It kind of sounds that way. Maybe I am not understanding youre statement.

  • Netsach, I don’t think anybody says “I won’t love you if you won’t convert.” Okay? If anybody marries another person after that person has threatened to leave the relationship unless the person changes religions or gets a new hair-do or firms up their abs, that person needs to have their head examined. This isn’t coercion and I still have no clue what you are talking about. Couples have talks about which school they’re going to send their kid. Other couples have serious discussions about their plans over the next several years. Some couples discuss which faith they want to have in their house and which faith(s) will be the one in which the children are raised. They agree or disagree like in any other matter and then they follow through or they don’t and when they follow through they are successful or they fail. Really, there isn’t a component of anything along the lines you mention.

  • What I am saying is that people use all kinds of devices thant can be called coercion. Many of those devices are a lot more extreme then even using a knife or something like that.


    You see Netsach, that’s coercion.


  • Yeah, really….

    Head examinationation and Jewish guilt are the least of the sick stuff that happens. Over each mikvah there lies a plank with a bunch wild bearded neked chasidim spectators and one with a pitchfork poking the poor victim in the butt and yelling, “WALK THE PLANK….

  • One thing I’ve always wondered is why Judaism still allows conversions. I mean, they aren’t necessary at this point. Look at every other small Middle Eastern sect/ethnicity living among a larger, dominant people with their own culture and religion. Neither Druze, Zoroastrians or Gnostics still allow converts.

    Jews stopped proselytizing around 300 CE. What do converts, who can easily become Noahides, add to Judaism?

  • Oops: Neither Druze, Zoroastrians or _any other_ Gnostics still allow converts.*

  • Still no one has come up w/ a new formulae since the Birthright success. Until Birthright, the Orthodox could say, my way or the highway, only the dogma works at for the most part, keeping the youth real.

    Now Birthright has shown that to be a sham. The ability of this program to create passion where none existed is nothing short of miraculous.

    However, they are still only reaching the tip of the iceberg. So many youths, have no interest in such a trip, (maybe if you paid them in some way?), so they intermarry at the same alarming rate as before.

    The challenge, for our generation, is to create a new Birthright program that will reach those who don’t choose door A or B. Being as I work for several such families at their parties, I can tell you that Judaism is dead for these people.

    So how to kindle their interest?

  • Ben-David (comment 48): why do you bitch at me for quoting the 1990 study and then you go and quote the same study instead of the newer study?! What new data are YOU talking about? The sub-report on intermarriage from the 2001 study has still not been released. Go ask the NJPS people why that is.

    You are correct that only 35% of Jews are affiliated with synagogues—at any given time. However, over 70% of Jews affiliate with synagogues at some time. If they call themselves Reform, it’s true that they might not be currently affiliated with a synagogue, but odds are strong that they have been at some point.

    I don’t see paying membership as the ultimate definition of Jewish identity, not do I see wrapping teffilin or praying every day. But that’s why we may not be able to converse. If the only legitimate expression of Judaism for you is religious Judaism through Orthodox observance, nothing I say is relevant to you anyway. And that’s fine. But I will continue to disagree that Orthodoxy is the only future for Judaism. The “dirty little secret” is that there is lots more movement out of Orthodox Judaism that is ever discussed, and that’s what I was trying to suggest. Orthodoxy is not the choice of 90% of American Jews. Ba’al Teshuva is great for the tiny minority that accept it. It’s not the answer for the vast majority, or they’d already be there.

  • DeisCane (#39), until someone pointed it out to me, I didn’t know the word “gypped” was derived from the word Gypsy and could by terribly insulting to a person of Gypsy descent. I now simply try to say “ripped off.” Does that make me overly politically correct, or just sensitive? I’m telling you that shiksa is an insult to me and many Jews and non-Jews I know, including some who have posted to this string. Why is it so important to you to be able to continue using the word? What am I trying to take away from you, other than one of the five Yiddish words you know (all the rest probably also being insults)? Words like these turn people away from wanting to associate with the Jewish community. That’s less Jews for your kids to play with and potentially marry. Keep up the good work.

    And your posts certainly make me believe that you’re not using the term in mean-spiritedness. Right.

  • Proud Self-Loather,

    I personally want to have my own cake of religious intolerance while eating it too. I don’t see why I can’t accept traditional (read Orthodox) definition of “Who is a Convert” while not condemning either the intermarried person and certainly not the non-Jewish spouse at the same time.

    Jewish continuity just isn’t for everyone. It never was. It’s not my business to judge those who don’t make it a priority, nor to ostracize them.

    But so too, I don’t have to accept a less rigorous Reform (I would say revisionist) definition of who is a convert.

  • Chag Samaich, at least for the trees…


    Does DK here sound like one of those “Hardliners?”

    Like you said in #28,

    some hardline people will tell you you’re not Jewish by their standards.

  • Yes, exactly, using the word, “shiksa” on this thread is going to turn people away from associating with the Jewish community. You’re delusional.

  • Right, DeisCane, and using the word nigger is okay as long as there are no black people around. I’m sure you limit your use of shiksa just to Jewlicious threads — where of course nobody but the most Jewishly engaged could ever stumble across it. You’re a wonderful ambassador for the Jewish community.

  • David Kelsey wrote: “I don’t see why I can’t accept traditional (read Orthodox) definition of ‘Who is a Convert’ while not condemning either the intermarried person and certainly not the non-Jewish spouse at the same time. Jewish continuity just isn’t for everyone. It never was.”

    Okay, that’s fine — though I never actually mentioned conversion during this string.

    I appreciate you not condemning people, and would hope your attitude becomes contagious. I’d like to try to understand who exactly you’re talking about when you write “continuity isn’t for everyone.” All intermarried people? Just intermarriages where the non-Jew is the woman? All non-Orthodox Jews, period? Seems like it becomes a slippery slope. Or is it on a case-by-case basis?

    Not to mention what your definition of “continuity” is…again, do matrilineal intermarriages count? Or is it only continuity of (Orthodox) Jewish religion that is of concern?

    If it has to do with making it a “priority” (your word), again, what’s the definition? Does the intermarried secular Jew who runs a 50-person staff at your local JCC make their Judaism less of a priority than the electronics salesman who wraps teffilin every morning and keeps Kosher? [I’m not trying to be obnoxious with these questions, I hope they don’t read that way; I’m just trying to get at it from a variety of angles.]

    I agree with some of the previous posters about keeping the issues of conversion separate from intermarriage. I know that for many, it’s inseparable because conversion is seen as “the cure” for intermarriage. However, conversion doesn’t always “end” an intermarriage; what about those many intermarried folks who have an Orthodox rabbi convert their kids? Do you accept it? After all, it’s an Orthodox conversion. Of course, they will then be raised by intermarried parents, and some might suggest that the mere act of the parents’ intermarriage means Judaism is not their priority. From what I understand (and I am interested in learning more about this), Orthodox conversion of infants are really simple conversions, often happening at the time of bris, and it is even done for parents who seem unlikely candidates to take on Orthodoxy. Do you frown on a rabbi who would perform such a conversion?

    Thanks David, I appreciate the opportunity for this inter/post-denominational dialog.

  • Daniel (#36), great comment, however, Bayme calls for much more than simply pointing out the descrpencies between Jewish childrearing among in- and intermarried parents. He calls for an end to intermarried outreach, lest it send the message to unmarried Jews that it’s “okay” to intermarry. He expresses great discomfort at the inclusing of intermarried families in the organized Jewish community, for similar reasons. He contests your very statement that “in an open society, a relatively high level of intermarriage is a given.” And so on.

    You come close to nailing it when you write “The challenge, then, is how to stress the value of in-marriage without alienating or stigmatizing those in mixed marriages and their offspring.”

    I personally believe this is doable but very difficult to achieve. I think that in the context of discussing the challenges of raising strongly identifying Jewish children, it comes up as one of the factors. But so should the high cost of Jewish education, and the difficulty of affiliating with a community if you live far from the larger Jewish population centers, and lots of other things.

    But why do we need to “stress” that value? I think the bigger question is, WHAT’S THE GOAL?! Is it “mission accomplished” if we get Jews to marry other Jews, even if they don’t educate their children Jewishly?

    I think the ultimate goal the Jewish community should be pushing — for both intermarried and in-married households — is the Jewish education of our children. If that is the ultimate goal, why not make THAT the focus, for ALL households? The challenge then is that we’d have to admit, as a community, that intermarried households are capable of raising Jewish children. Which they are. But that’s something the organized community has not yet admitted. Granted, it doesn’t happen in the numbers we want it to, but that’s exactly why we need to shift the focus away from the marriage, and onto what the married do with their kids.

  • Proud Self-Loather,

    You wrote,

    “I’d like to try to understand who exactly you’re talking about when you write “continuity isn’t for everyone.” All intermarried people? Just intermarriages where the non-Jew is the woman? All non-Orthodox Jews, period? Seems like it becomes a slippery slope. Or is it on a case-by-case basis?.”

    Well, I’d say a lot of case by case basis. But sure, intermarriage would suggest that there are, at least, competing interests at play. I can understand that. I would say that generally, if both parents are Jewish, the kid is more likely to have a strong Jewish identity than if only one parent is. I don’t see this as controversial. There are certainly exceptions on both sides. That’s not really the point, though, and that’s partially why Jewish parents traditionally are distressed when their daughter marries out, even though the children will be Jews.

    You wrote,

    “Does the intermarried secular Jew who runs a 50-person staff at your local JCC make their Judaism less of a priority than the electronics salesman who wraps teffilin every morning and keeps Kosher?”

    I guess it depends on the intermarried JCC worker and the Tefillin laying electronics worker. I would say that the Orthodox electronics worker (presuming he is married) is at least more actively involved with Jewish continuity in his personal family life. How they are committed to Judaism in other ways is a diffferent issue.

    You wrote,

    “…what about those many intermarried folks who have an Orthodox rabbi convert their kids? Do you accept it? After all, it’s an Orthodox conversion. Of course, they will then be raised by intermarried parents, and some might suggest that the mere act of the parents’ intermarriage means Judaism is not their priority. From what I understand (and I am interested in learning more about this), Orthodox conversion of infants are really simple conversions, often happening at the time of bris, and it is even done for parents who seem unlikely candidates to take on Orthodoxy. Do you frown on a rabbi who would perform such a conversion?”

    It doesn’t sound like an approach I would be comfortable with, no, because it doesn’t sound real to me in terms of what converts are expected to accept upon themselves.

    In general, I would prefer not pressuring people to convert. I think this is in line with Jewish practice and history. I think this was discouraged for good reasons.

  • There is no continuity without content.

    The movements that have most diluted Judaism’s unique content – have continuity problems, and must tiptoe around their (remaining) membership’s laziness before demanding even minimal committment to “Jewish continuity” or making any other inconveniencing demand.

    The movments that have preserved the full richness of Judaism’s moral, ethical, spiritual, and communal content – have no problems with continuity, despite the demanding nature of the traditional program.

    Self-Loather: I sure would like to see hard data about how the Orthos are hemorraging young people. Every major study I have seen indicates steady growth, at least 80 percent retenetion of Orthodox youth, and the continued influx of assimilated “returnees to Judaism”. As a friend who’s a social worker put i to me, the Orthodox community is up in arms over rates of teen disaffection and substance abuse that would be viewed as success in most other sectors of the American population.

  • Yes, I believe I am a wonderful ambassador for the Jewish community. I’ve worked in outreach for many years, and I’m good at it. Thanks for noticing!

    You, however, are a self-described “self-loather,” which is a truly wonderful trait. Yasher koach! Plus, based on your posts here and the responses they’ve provoked, self-loathing is not your only beautiful quality.

    Oh yeah, your analogies suck. Please, oh please, imply I’m a racist again with another word of choice!

  • Ben-David, I did not say hemorrhaging, nor do I deny the strength of the Orthodox community. Nor do I have time to go dig up the research that I know exists. A huge number of non-Orthodox Jews will tell you that their parents or grandparents grew up in Orthodox homes. American Orthodoxy has changed over the last half-century, so the Orthodox community that our grandparents left may indeed not have been a strong as today, and perhaps those statistics will change, but it is still not the lifestyle that 90% of American Jews are currently accepting according to the 2001 NJPS, and I feel there are valid alternatives.

    Again, I would not be surprised if you believe your lifestyle to be the only valid Judaism; maybe I could find someone who feels even more valid than you! 🙂 But there are also Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal communities of great strength, which is why those denominations are still around, and (except for Conservative) growing. This is not at all a bash on the Orthodox, which I of course believe is a valid form of Judaism, it’s a bash on anyone in the the non-Orthodox Jewish communities who does not more clearly promote their own vision of Judaism as valid, or on people like poster #22 who don’t participate in Judaism at all but still sees Orthodoxy as the only authentic Judaism. (Which is how this whole conversation got started.)

    It’s been well over 100 years since the first predictions that non-Orthodox forms of Judaism would fade from the earth. Meanwhile, both American Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox Judaism have continued to evolve over that time, to the point where many aspects would seem unrecognizable within their own movements. The same will happen over the course of the next 100 years. And Jews will probably, unfortunately, continue to write each other off that whole time…

  • The biggest problem we have is aish hatorah, taking away much needed funds, that would endow hundreds more busses for Birthright, instead diverting into the pockets of their managers and employees.

    They are geniuses at marketing, they seek and find, like an RPG, those rich and successful, and upcoming secular Jews. They feed them sushi and their dopey programs, for a lot of dough, then they hit them up for contribs.

    If only we could remove the aish disease!

  • Ben-David, I did not say hemorrhaging, nor do I deny the strength of the Orthodox community. Nor do I have time to go dig up the research that I know exists. A huge number of non-Orthodox Jews will tell you that their parents or grandparents grew up in Orthodox homes. American Orthodoxy has changed over the last half-century, so the Orthodox community that our grandparents left may indeed not have been a strong as today, and perhaps those statistics will change, but it is still not the lifestyle that 90% of American Jews are currently accepting according to the 2001 NJPS, and I feel there are valid alternatives.

    Again, I would not be surprised if you believe your lifestyle to be the only valid Judaism; maybe I could find someone who feels even more valid than you! 🙂 But there are also Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal communities of great strength, which is why those denominations are still around, and (except for Conservative) growing. This is not at all a bash on the Orthodox, which I of course believe is a valid form of Judaism, it’s a bash on anyone in the the non-Orthodox Jewish communities who does not more clearly promote their own vision of Judaism as valid, or on people like poster #22 who don’t participate in Judaism at all but still sees Orthodoxy as the only authentic Judaism. (Which is how this whole conversation got started.)

    It’s been well over 100 years since the first predictions that non-Orthodox forms of Judaism would fade from the earth. Meanwhile, both American Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox Judaism have continued to evolve over that time, to the point where many aspects would seem unrecognizable within their own movements. The same will happen over the course of the next 100 years. And Jews will probably, unfortunately, continue to write each other off that whole time…

  • Hi Ben David,

    I see youre point in what you are saying.
    What you are getting at seems to me just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the issues.

    One of the big Yetzers – evil urges I feel a lot of folks use to justify a “progressive” position like you described, like those movements…..

    Goes like this:

    The intermarriage, assimulation rate, membership retention, whatever value or stat used is
    much, much better with conservative then reform,

    reform is much better then the vast unaffiliated.

    All that can be said without comparing the stats to those “orthos.”

    Much of the thinking then becomes like this:

    It is much better then nothing, right?

    “And our doors are much more open to those unaffiliated because we are so accommodating with our conversion policies.

    This same thinking goes towards the Intermarried:

    “We, as the progressive branches of Judiaica, offer so much more for the intermarried. We strive to distinguish ourselves from those
    “ortho hardliners” who wont even recognize our converts.

    From my point of view of going through reform and conservative hebrew schools, reform Bar Mitsvah, active affiliation with mostly reform directed
    Hillel Houses in Universities I went to for a couple of years , then finally going outgrowing all that to Chozer- Return to my Jewish roots.

    There is the Key….

    Chozer Betchuva

    or even Baal Tchuva

    The “movements,” “progressives” or whatever funky term, don’t use those concepts much. How often do you hear such language amongst them, the so
    called “progressives….movements…..
    Instead, they just seek to bring people in thier doors and pat themselves on the back for doing so. That is thier idea of stemming the flow of the unaffliiliated. They think they have a special way of doing so based on accommodation. The Intermarried are one of the issues that those so called “progressives” really like to brag about. They think they are so accommodating.

    After more then 4 years of reform and conservative hebrew school and the Hillel houses I don’t recall that term “Chozer Betchuva” or
    “Baal Tchuva” used. I didn’t know what those terms meant. It apparently doesn’t seem to be a goal that is valued. There must be other values.

    The question is what are those other values? What is the goals?

    And more questions:

    Is this attitude of not being so much of a “hardliner” is what really brings
    people in and keeps them comming back? Especially to the Intermarried.

    In other words:

    Apparently, there or those who value just adding people to thier congregations without much care as to how. The Intermarried are a piece of
    what goes on with those issues.

    Other people are more concerned with “How” people get involved in their groups and are more likely to effectively seek change. The Chozer Betchuva –
    Baal Tchuva are an important part of those values and are often expressed that way to the intermarried. The values are often displayed to the intermarried without emphasizing such things as membership so much.

    I have heard the term “Baal Tchuva Movement” used. Ok, such terms I suppose can be used. One reason is there is value given to the concept.

    What are other “movements” emphasizing?
    conservation…. reform….reconstruction….

  • Netsach, I just don’t think blanket statements are helpful. I had similar crappy experiences as you with both those “progressive” movements. I’ve also have amazingly beautiful spiritual experiences with them. I’ve known of welcoming and unwelcoming rabbis in all denominations. I’ve seen totally uninspired Orthodox religious services, where the prayers are mumbled at top speeds and the whole exercize felt like a chore, and amazingly spiritual and spirit-filled services. Blanket statements simply aren’t helpful. Just because you haven’t experienced something within one of the other denominations doesn’t mean it can’t exist.

    Unfortunately, to validate your own choices, you may feel the need to invalidate the choices of others.

    Ben-David used the phrase “laziness” to describe non-observant Jews. That’s simply not what’s going on. If I eat lobster, it’s not because I’m too lazy to go find some cod. I may know full well that I am discarding one of the mitzvot, and still do it, and still believe I can fulfill my mission as a Jew. If Jews were disqualified from being Jewish because they did not maintain all the mitzvot, there wouldn’t be a minyan on the planet, Orthodox included. If keeping Kosher connects you to Gd and people, that’s great. If my not keeping Kosher disqualifies me from your Orthodox community, so be it. But it’s a lot more complex than laziness that formed the “progressive” movements. It relates to the emancipation, age of reason, “death of Gd” after the Holocaust, and many, many other factors. I hope that one day you can find some sincere non-Orthodox Jews, maybe even intermarried Jews, and realize that there might actually be a plan for all us non-Orthodox Jews after all.

  • DeisCane (#70), I’m sure that as an “outreach” worker, your intermarried clients appreciate that you don’t call them an abomination to their faces, just behind their backs.

    And I do have yet another analogy for you, even though the ones I’ve already given are more than sufficient: JAP. Innocent enough, right? Playful even. Yet it can be incredibly hurtful and even bordering on anti-Semitic depending on who’s using it. I believe JAP should be striken from our collective vocabularies, along with shiksa, shagetz, goyim, and any other code words we use to make us feel more superior than “the other.”

    If someone tells me I should say “Asian people” instead of “Oriental people,” I say “Asian people.” Is it politically correct? Maybe. But what difference does it make?! If it prevents me from making someone feel like a rug, I’ll do it.

    You’ve still never answered what is so important or joyous about using the work “shiksa” that you simply can’t give it up when I tell you I find it insulting.

  • Proud Self-Loather,

    I think it is important to distinguish between not following The Rules and attempting to change The Rules. Why someone would choose not to eat kosher only makes sense to me. Why anyone would claim Judaism doesn’t require kashrut makes nosense to me, at least if the food is forbidden by the Torah, and not on a non-Rabbinic level, say lobster.

    Also, In order to help create nuance between myself and the practicing Orthodox BT Jews on this thread, I would just like to state my firm belief that CHICKEN IS PARVE.

  • And veal and foie gras is NOT KOSHER. Anybody who eats it, they might as well be eating a ham sandwich dipped in fondue.

  • Hi Self Loather,

    Alot of my experience with “Progressive” wasn’t bad really. In fact, I learned to really love Shabat through one of the Hillel Houses I went to. I loved the Rabbi there. He was conservative at the time. It was great going to the Hillel
    House for Shabat and then for kiddush at that Rabbis house. Something I didn’t know of in Hebrew School or with those temples and synagagues. That was really where I Chozer betchuva a couple years before I started in with
    the “orthos.” That is related to one of my points. I really did Chozer betchuvah in that Hillel House in Indiana University, Bloomington where I was for a year. I transferred to UCLA and went to several Hillel Houses in other
    campus’s as well . The Rabbi at Indiana was a great guy and did a lot to help me Chozer Betchuva. On a personal level the Rabbi cared. On a level outside his Hillel house He either didn’t care or had other issues apparently.
    The thing is that term, Chozer betchuva wasn’t used. I didn’t feel that the progress I was making in my observance was valued that much. It was incidental and not the focus of the activity with the Rabbi and the Hillel House. It was my thing. To get really moving with my newfound observance at a certain point I had to really go elsewhere. The Hilllel people, especially in
    LA, didn’t care about that.

    That attitude is a limitation. To just blow off most of the greatness about Jewish life because of some other priority.

    I am asking what is that priority?

    The thought that in order to keep people in the doors we have to re- prioritize Jewish observance….? What is that the priority?

    Likewise what I am saying about the Intermarried.

    That attitude is purveyed

    The priority at Hillel Houses was for fellows Jews to meet up and

    shtup a rien

    with each other like we did. Which is good in many ways. The problem is that attitude pops up where you get an indifference to much of observance, just to keep up shtupping up. That to keep the shtupping within the Jew tribe, we
    need to water down the observance.

    It seems that is fear of “extremist” jewish observance because we will lose
    people. That is the irrational fear I am getting at.

    Likewise many fear that we will lose Intermarried people by emphasizing “extremist” or “ortho” Practices.

    If you look at many of the Hardest of hardcore “ortho” many of those folk are
    really good at relating to the Intermarried and good at keeping them connected.

  • Netsach, I think we are basically in agreement. You yourself seem to be a fine example of someone who learned to love Shabbat under the tutalage of a Conservative rabbi. You decided that you wanted more observance, and shifted accordingly. Some might decide that the level of observance they found through that particular doorway is just right. I think there is an “in between” from the Jewish Campus Schtupping Corps that are devoid of content and just trying to get Jews to meet other Jews, and Orthodoxy.

  • DK, here we might veer off into a direction in which I am a novice. For a change. 🙂 Correct me if I’m wrong, but The Rules HAVE changed in the past, yes? Or, I should say, “have been interpreted differently.” After all, when did matrilineal descent begin? And when did Jewish history begin? And what it the discrepancy between those two dates?!

    I believe I have also read that the losing arguments in the Talmud were recorded because one day they may be right. Is that just an old (Jewish) wives tale? I would love to hear some examples of how the Orthodox understanding of halacha has changed recently. I believe the Orthodox stances on organ donation changed during the later half of the 20th century, if anyone knows more I’d be curious. But my point is, The Rules are open for interpretation and always have been.

    Even something as cut-and-dry as “Thou Shall Not Kill” has volumes (or at least pages) of amendments, right? That’s why Jews make such good lawyers. 🙂

    While nobody here may want to acknowledge it, the Reform movement based their decision about patrilineal descent on an interpretation of halacha. The responsa is right here. Looks good to me! Granted, I choose not to justify my actions according to halacha, but I know a LOT of Reform rabbis who do, and they genuinely believe in this decision.

    What I would like to see is some Orthodox rabbis grapple with the issue of patrilineal descent. Maybe the losing argument is now the correct argument, considering we have DNA testing and the like…we can now know with certainty who the father is. I understand why, politically, this probably won’t happen anytime soon, but considering we’re at least 4,000 years old, why can’t we revisit something that’s “only” 2,000 years old or less?! The answer of “that’s how we’ve always done it” doesn’t fly with this example. Unless you believe that the Oral Law was given at Sinai, complete, along with the Written Law, which some Orthodox certainly do believe…I’m not sure if it’s all of Orthodoxy though. Again, I’m very interested to learn more. Thanks!

  • Yeah PSL,

    I have been hearing that many Hillel Houses are cranking up the observance these days, despite the shtuplach, and are directed by really cool Torah people. As Hillel Houses go, I love the concept as I loved the Hillel Houses that I went to no matter what the Label – conservative, reform who cares?.
    My folks were in Hillel houses when they were in College. In fact my Dad lived in the USC Hillel House in those days and is still buddies with those folk and still get together for parties. My worldview of Jewishness evolved through those people. We used to have some of our USC Hillel parties at the 4th of July at Venice Beach when fireworks were legal then in the 60’s and 70’s. It was fun with so many funky people there doing all kinds of dangerous and wild things. One of the Hillel club guys lived in Venice. They just got older and bragged about where there kids went to college… not as exciting.

  • Regarding the usage of politically correct terminology to describe an ethnic group: one of the most popular terms among the PC police is “Native American.” Well, I knew somebody who grew up on a reservation, and he called himself “Indian” (as do most, if not all, Indians). So I say just relax folks. Certainly one should not use the “N” word because it has such hateful connotations, but frankly if somebody wants to call me a Jap or a Spic (my family is South American), I really don’t give a s-.

  • Nina Beth,

    i would prefer to just call you Nina Beth 😉


    The issue isn’t that the rules changed for the Orthodox, they certainly have, but for the Reform Movmement specifically, they are ONLY motivated by political considerations, with absolutely no interest in what the Torah itself says. That’s not Oral Law, my friend, that’s The Primary Document. You endorse gay marriage, it’s all over. You chuck Kashrut in its entirety on principal — same thing. It’s is no longer Judaism in any meaningful way.

    I would say that this is all too common in the Conservative Movement as well, and would point to the acceptance decades ago for driving on Shabbat.

    Oral Law is one thing, but lighting fires on Shabbbat to allow for membership dues is pretty discrediting. The fact that the Orthodox have changed is a different issue. They still are bound by the Torah. This is not to say that the Orthodox are without major problems. But that is a different issue.

  • Jobber,
    What is the evidence that Birthright Israel has any long-term impact on Jewish committment?
    It may be very exciting for those Jews hoping to find a formula of retention that doesn’t involve incorporating religion to think that it is working, but, it really has not been around long enough to show that it is working.
    In my experience, (as a staffer for a Jewish campus organization) those students that go on birthright and then engage religiously tend to remain involved, while those who do not enage religiously tend to forget about it within a couple years of their trip.
    Sure, it has a short term impact, which can be leveraged into a long-term impact through engaging the student religiously, after they are already excited about birthright, but, not much long-term impact on its own.

  • DK, this can be an endless conversation, but I simply disagree that the “people on the ground” who engage seriously in Reform Judaism are doing so out of any political considerations. Rather, I believe it is an attempt to merge their Jewish identity with their understanding of their place in the modern world, something that’s been going on among Jews for 200 years now.

    There were no cars or electricity (or gay marriage, that I know of) when “The Primary Document” was written, er, I mean given. Back then, creating a fire was a real pain in the ass. I don’t see flicking a light switch as “starting a fire” when all you’re doing is opening a tiny gate for a flow of electrons that are already there. It’s an interpretation, and I reject it. So I feel it does not disqualify me from making Shabbat holy in my own life.

    And this extends to any issue. There’s a list of do’s and don’ts. As I said, there’s probably no adult Jew who is able to (or chooses to) maintain all 613, right? So the question becomes, do we kick them out of Judaism if they break one and, say, lie down with a man as if he is a woman? Reform says no. Instead, the Reform movement asks, what are the mitzvot we can help them KEEP? And how do we do so? By welcoming and supporting them.

    Am I 100% comfortable with all of it? No. There are compromises in every movement. I was at a wedding in a Reform synagogue this weekend. It’s one thing for the food not to be kosher, but it’s another thing altogether to serve shrimp. Of course it’s not a “Jewish” thing to do. But it was frickin’ delicious. So it’s a decision Reform Jews have made: I’m going to serve Gd and/or peoplehood in the ways I feel I was meant to serve.

    I can understand how Orthodox Jews might feel that this is not good enough. And that’s the rift. I accept the way you do it AND the way I do it, but you only accept the way you do it. You have a particularly sensitive way of telling me so, which I very much appreciate. You haven’t used the phrase “my way or the highway” yet. 🙂

    By being around traditionally observant Jews, I’ve come to see what they get out of it, and I respect it tremendously and at times even envy it, but I know, in my gut, that it’s simply not for me, and that my Jewish mission is something else. But “Jewish continuity” is definitely part of that mission, and I don’t believe it can only be done by Orthodox Jews or by in-married Jews or even by believing Jews, or any other blanket-statement generalizations. Yes, as you said, “Jewish continuity is not for everyone,” but you can’t peg that “everyone” based on just one (or even a couple of) criteria.

    As for the Conservative movement ruling about driving to synagogue, I haven’t read the responsa but I don’t disagree that it was politically motivated: people were already doing it, and the movement wanted to keep them affiliated with their own institutions. But again, the political motivation of movement leadership doesn’t have much to do with the “people on the ground.” After all, why are they bothering to drive to synagogue in the first place? (I mean, besides the free cookies…) Because this is their Judaism. If you separate out the ritual practice from the values, I think the values are still very strongly represented.

    Ideally, we can find ways to all be Jewish together. Kumbaya, my lord. Kumbaya.

  • Nina Beth, I’m not trying to be the PC police. I’m telling you that I am personally insulted when I see certain words that translate to “abomination” used to describe some of my family members. You can do with that knowledge whatever you’d like, including continuing to insult me.

    I am, quite frankly, astonished to learn you would not be insulted if someone called you a spic. You’re telling me that if you went to some event with a friend and overheard someone whisper, “look, he brought his spic with him,” you wouldn’t be offended?! Is there any word at all that would insult you? Whatever it is, imagine me calling you and/or your family that, then you’ll have some idea of how I feel. Thanks.

  • PSL,

    I just want to make it clear that I am not “kicking out” anyone for not personally keeping all 613 mitzvot. What I am saying is that actually advocating a disregard for a Torah mitzvah by accepted and certified clergy members and leaders of the movement and calling that Judaism is problematic.

    I understand that this is still not acceptable to you, but it is important that you recognize that this can be perceived as a very different thing by those of us who restrict our intolerance to that which is presented as Judaism as opposed to that which Jews happen or choose to do.

  • Totally understood. For many of us, if we disagree with certain aspects of our religion, we have to choose to either reject the whole religion or reject pieces of it. There are certainly plenty of Jews out there who have rejected the whole religion. I choose to reject it in pieces. 😉 But I’m still Jewish. I happily acknowledge that my shrimp-eating is not “Judaism.”

    On the other hand, I’ve seen a Jewish “commitment ceremony” and felt that it was indeed Jewish — though maybe not traditional “Judaism.” But I think we’ve identified our differences sufficiently enough for one blog entry, and I don’t know about you but this page takes an incredibly long time for my browser to load, so I’m hoping we can give up now! ;0

  • as with all words that can be perceived as offensive, it completely depends on the speaker of that word. if a Jewish friend called me a JAP, even though I’m not one, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. however, once i discovered that a non Jewish friend of mine was referring to me as a JAP unbeknownst to me and I wasn’t thrilled about it. As for “Indians,” the only people I call Indians are people from India. It’s not a PC thing, it’s a common sense thing.

  • Loathaleh: Your recitation of Halacha’s shortcomings and backwardness are a direct rehash of your grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ pronouncements from the early 20th century – and for some of use with western european roots, this line goes back even earlier. With little variation, the same lines have been repeated over and over by post-Enlightenment european Jewry.

    Repeated attempts to do away with halachic structure (“we don’t rub sticks to kindle fire anymore, snicker-snicker”) while preserving some way to “make Shabbat holy” – have all failed. not just at preserving the holiness of the Sabbath – but at preserving any meaningful, motivating reason for staying Jewish.

    Without exception.

    In the most free, philosemitic period in Western history.

    In the most free, philosemitic republics.

    On 2 continents (counting the post-WWII communities of South Africa, South America, and Australia, it’s more – but I’m focusing on Europe and North America).

    Sorry, Loathaleh –
    It’s not 1906, when progressives mouthed similar lines while urging their ortho brethren to get with the socialist program (after all, it preserves the “core values” of Judaism).

    Nor is it 1956, when a generation of American Jews used palaver identical to your posts to justify their suburban assimilation, facilitated by the platitudes of Reform Judaism.

    It’s 2006.

    Every post-Englightenment “substitute Judaism” has failed:

    Socialism is dead – after it caused the death of countless innocents.

    Liberalism? When our grandparents equated being liberal with “Jewish values”, being a liberal meant standing beside Martin Luther King and all he represented.

    Now it means standing beside RuPaul and all s/he represents… to say nothing of the painfully contorted pose left-wing doctrine now forces liberal Jews to assume on the Arab-Israeli conflict, viewing the killers of Jews as “victims”.

    Secular Zionism? A caustic mix of classic diaspora self-negation and shell-shock has secular Israel turning in on itself – and lashing out furiously at the Orthodox and the settlers, two groups with a far more solid, grounded Jewish identity (this is exactly paralleled by the venom of many non-Orthodox American Jewish groups towards the Orthodox – a recent example being the protest of secular JEWS against construction of an eruv in their community – AFTER the non-Jewish local government has approved the measure. This sad and bitter story has already played out in several NY suburbs.).

    The Rest of Us have already seen several generations of our brethren try to do away with the sense of covenantal obligation, try to translate Judaism into universal values.

    And it’s clear that

    (a) their motives are not pure – their subsequent actions betray a strong urge to smooth the way OUT of Jewish community and specificity, despite their claims that they wish to “preserve” Judaism and “make it relevant”.

    and most important:
    (b) all their attempts have failed to maintain even the most basic sense of allegiance among the vast majority of young Jews – the freest, least persecuted Jews ever – who have passed through their institutions (however briefly!)

    Loathaleh – I have repeatedly asked you to corroborate your statistical claims. You’ve responded that you can’t put you finger on the exact studies – while spouting ever more incredible pseudo-statistics (no, reform Jews are not 90 percent of North American Jewry…).

    History and actual events have overtaken your claims. Yet you – like many other “progressives” still petulantly urge The Rest of Us to get with the program.

    The authentic Judaism of the ages is doing just fine – and attracting many Jews thirsty for a Judaism with real content. The Judaism of the binding covenant and Halachic system is the ONLY sector of Judaism that is growing in numbers – around the world, and in Israel – and not least among its swelling numbers are the large number of Jews who’ve despaired of come-as-you-are, let’s-have-a-drum-circle, Moses-votes-Democrat recreations of Judaism in the idolatrous image of other cultures and belief systems.

    There is no continuity without content – without a reason for standing apart. The “progressive” attempts to finagle the cultural dichotomy have led in one direction – towards assimilation.

    Spare us the dusty tap-dance about “preserving the Sabbath” while violating it. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.

  • Yes, and yet…I’m still here. All your righteous venom has likewise been repeated throughout your little hundred-year history lesson, and yet…I’m still here.

    And if you re-read my comments, I’m not trying to change the way you do Judaism whatsoever. I’m not telling you to “get with the program.” I’m not saying that I’m right and you’re wrong. In fact, you’re the one saying you’re right and I’m wrong. Which is fine and predictable. I’m sure my labor-movement, MLK-loving grandparents that you imagine I have were hearing the exact same things from the black-hatted grandparents that I imagine you have. And yet…I’m still here.

    What I’m saying is there’s more than one way to do it. You think that’s a wrong statement. But don’t tie it in with Jewish continuity, because…I’m still here.

    And I never said Reform Jews are 90% of the population. I said Orthodox is only 10% of the population. Here’s your stats, and they’re recent too, because you seem to be such a stickler about that:
    Slide 5 of 23: “Ten percent of American Jews consider themselves to be Orthodox.”

    (Now, if you read slide 2 of 23, you’ll begin to understand the methodological mess that is the NJPS, but basically, that 10% is only among the 4.3 million most affiliated Jews, it does not bother to count all 5.2 million individuals in the US who THE NJPS DECIDED were less Jewishly affiliated. If you were to measure the Orthodox among all 5.2 million US Jews, their numbers would be closer to 8%. But hey, I won’t sqabble.)


    “Among current Jews who were raised Jewish, identification with Orthodoxy has declined over time.”

    587,000 Jews were raised Orthodox and are currently Jewish. Of those, only 240,000 are currently Orthodox!!!! Meaning… (see slide 10 of 23)…



    Why was this not front-page news in every Jewish newspaper in the country? Why do we still live under this oppressive myth that the Orthodox are the only ones who know how to do “Jewish continuity”?!

    Okay, sure, the born-Orthodox who leave Orthodoxy are still strongly-identifying Jews, but according to everything you’ve been saying, it’s just one more generation until they’re out the door too, right?!

    MORE THAN HALF. WOW. That’s even worse than I thought when I wrote my initial comments.

    On the bright side, 57,000 Jews who were not born Orthodox now consider themselves Orthodox. That’s nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it is quite a remarkable feat, something to be proud of. But in comparison to all the born-Orthodox who leave Orthodoxy, it puts lie to your statement that it is the only sector of Judaism growing in numbers. In fact, it’s maintaining it’s numbers mainly through high birth rates, because so many more leave than come in.

    Ben-David, I need to thank you for making me look up these numbers. They are truly stunning. I can’t believe they haven’t been widely circulated, but I will make sure they will be in the future.

  • Yeah PSL,

    I can see how stats like that are conjured up. The truth is if you go back in history, like 50 years, there wasn’t really a conservative that had a lot of people. Wasn’t that so?
    If we look at a lot of our parents generation, for those of us 40 or older, there was mostly orthtodox out of default. Maybe a little reform. After WW2 in this country you can say orthodoxy lost most of its people because of “denomination” switching. It is well known that the suburban life in the US caused many affiliated Jews to lose thier affiliations, especially outside the borsht belt at that time. The new conservative and reform movements could be said to pick up the that slack to a large extent. It is also a question whether that was because the “progressives” offered so much of an alternative or thats all there was. From what I understand, the Jewish world in general took a beating in that war and “orthodoxy” didn’t really recover even in the US. To me, those stats focus in on older people that can say they used to have an “orthodox” background like in cheder or something. There was a vast generation of Jewish boys that went through cheders that were taught by out of touch old teachers that often couldn’t speak english, only yiddish. For girls it was even more extreme I would think.

  • Ben-David, you wrote,

    “Socialism is dead – after it caused the death of countless innocents.”

    Let’s be clear about this — countless innocents dies because of Communism, NOT Socialism. They are, in fact, not the same thing. Not the same thing at all. And it is beneath you to pretend that they are. You know better.

  • Netsach, there’s no question that these statistics take into account the entire age spectrum. They do not break these numbers down by generation, though it is certainly possible to do, and perhaps some kind sociologist listening in who knows how to use SPSS and wants to download the NJPS data-set can do that breakdown for us. I think it’s certainly plausible that the Orthodox movements have grown in strength and vitality over the last decades; anecdotal evidence certainly points to that. The rise of Chabad alone is amazing. And like I said, those 57,000 adult newcomers to Orthodoxy is an achievement. But my point all along has been: don’t tell me the only way the Jewish people can survive is by embracing Orthodoxy and try to back it up with statistics. If you want to tell me that ideologically, FINE. I know where you’re coming from. You believe in it, and that’s great. [I’m using the general “you,” not you in particular Netsach.] But the Orthodox were 8-10% in 1990 and they were still 8-10% in 2000, and my strong guess is that they will still be 8-10% in 2010 (not that they’ll ever do another NJPS!). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The strength and vitality of the Orthodox community is an essential part of American Judaism. But it’s not the only part. For the rest of us, we need better alternatives than much of what our current organizations are offering. THAT’S what I’m interested in getting at.

    DK, I would suggest that it wasn’t communism either, but dictatorship hiding behind the label.

  • PSL,

    No, it was Communism. Communism embraces bloody revolution and an ends justifies the means approach. Additionally, a “dictarship” of the proletariat is already a point of entry for dicatorship generally. In fact, there is no Communism without dictorship, and there is no reason to attempt to separate the two.

    And I hardly think I am hair-splitting when demanding that latter 20th century socialist models such as France and Canada (though I wouldn’t wish the latter even on TM) be put in the same category in any way shape as China, Cambodia, or the U.S.S.R. That is just rediculous. (Note: PSL did no such thing, someone else did.)

  • I was saying I wouldn’t wish living in Canada upon any man, even you.

    I am trying to hate less.

  • Yeah PSL,

    There is a concept called, translitterated, “Lechatchilla” meaning from the begining. Often stated as “in ideal circumstances”
    So much of history, especially Jewish, happens because things just didn’t happen in an ideal way. You know the old line,

    Shit happens…

    Why does shit always happen to us?

    That is true due to war, poverty, powerfull social changes…..
    I, personnally, look at how things seem to happen and the choices Jews continually make from the aspect of “Kav Zchut” – meaning the point of view of merit in other words: for the benefit of doubt.

    I look at a lot of what has happened,at least in my experience that way. Lechchilla, things didn’t go the way they should have in a Jewish sense.
    I am not interesed in putting the various “progressive” places and people on trial. There is a really good chance that for once and for all we could all do without those flippen labels….fucking “progressive” “orthodox” and all that bullshit…
    That eventually, eventually we will learn to get our act together so we don’t need all that.

    The only label I want to see is the one that says Kosher…

    To me “unkosher” is not an alternative that is in the “lechatchilla” range of possibilities. You can argue how people may need that. I could say, “kav Zchut” what do you expect?

    Many new flavours of Kosher operations provide all kinds of alternatives, especially to the Intermarried, that accomodate whatever level observance presented.

    Shabat Shalom,
    Have a good there

  • TM,

    I wasn’t being serious. I have visited Canada, and liked Toronto, and though it was a nice city. Vibrant and large, if a bit spread out and sterile. It made me miss New York. I moved back within a few months.

  • Loather – your own post shows the problematic nature of the study you quote – exactly who is considered “Jewish enough” to be counted? The slide show starts off telling us we are focused on “more strongly connected” Jews – but never tells us the criterion for that definition.

    More to the point – you’re rather slippery in your selection of slides!

    For example, slide 7 analyzes those American Jews who bother to join a synagogue – a much more solid definition of Jewish affiliation – and comes up with the same breakdown I cited from the 1991 study: the Orthodox make up between 1/4 and 1/3 of AFFILIATED Jews (depending on how affiliation is counted and other survey methodology – is joining a JCC considered “synagogue affiliation”? In some surveys it is).

    Yet you pushed the slide with the 10 percent figure – while admitting that it’s the result of an imprecise, subjective statistical fudge.

    Take a look, as well, at the slide showing the very large number of people under 18 in Orthodox homes – it would be instructive to compare that to the number of kids in less affiliated homes – but (a) that information is not given, and (b) it begs the unanswerable question: how do you gauge the Jewish affinity of such a child – who is often being raised in a home with just one Jewish parent, with little institutional contact?

    I’m glad you are proud to be “still here” – but the evidence is clear, and in my own family as well: non-orthodox Jews don’t hang around much longer than 2-3 generations.

    Here’s a little surprise for you – my grandparents were liberal/socialist types, not black-hatted Orthos. The statistics have played out very cleanly in my family – almost all my cousins have intermarried, and those that married Jews did so “by accident” – it wasn’t a matter of principle or (religious/ethnic) identity for them.

    This holds true not only for the majority of boomers who did not continue their parents’ Reform temple membership – but also for the Reconstructionists who were deeply invested in their cultural/ethnic Jewish identity.

    Without some connection to the core content of Judaism, none of this stemmed assimilation and intermarriage.

    The only exception to the rule of assimilation is my parents – who became orthodox – and their children.

    Sorry – previous generations have created “ethnically, culturally” Jewish identities based on funkdelic cultural fusion – and these identities did not provide sufficient justification for continued Jewish identity. You may still be here arguing with us – but the landscape is dotted with the smoldering, dying embers of American Jews who have ditched our camp, and moved on.

    That is the reality against which this discussion takes place.

  • It must be very comforting to create your own reality. It is clear that you are not interested in actually understanding the numbers. You asked me to back up my assertations with numbers, and I did. When they don’t match up with your worldview, you write them off. That’s fine. But again, don’t argue your case based on facts, because you can’t.

    So what if the Orthodox have more kids? If more than half leave Orthodoxy as adults, they need to AVERAGE 5 kids per household just to maintain their numbers. So what if they are disproportionately represented in synagogues? Of course they are. But you’re saying their message is the only answer for American Jewry, and I’m saying that not only is that false, it’s not even true for MORE THAN HALF of the born-Orthodox themselves.

    More imporantly, you disprove your own theory. You say “non-Orthodox Jews don’t hang around much longer than 2-3 generations.” Then you say that your grandparents were non-Orthodox Jews. So somehow, they got Judaism to you (3rd generation) and you got even deeper into Judaism than they were. I.e., you’re still Jewish, and your kids probably will be too. So it looks like the 4th generation of Jews begotten by your secular grandparents will indeed be Jewish. And your secular relatives of your own generation that married Jews “by accident” (and even some that intermarried, perhaps) will also raise Jewish children. If you didn’t find Orthodoxy, and instead were “just” a Conservative Jew, wouldn’t you still raise your kids Jewish? Probably. So what are you talking about? That’s 4th Generation. I’m at least 5th Generation secular Jew, and my kids are Jews, so that’s 6 generations. And I’m not the exception, I’m THE RULE, at least according to the statistics based here in the real world — from which you seem to so comfortably disengage.

    But whatever, I’m done corresponding with you. You create your own worldview, so nothing I say can change that. Goodbye and good luck.

  • Flash-and-dump, eh? The favored MO for left-leaning folks who can’t argue on the facts. Thanks for dismissing me, but I think I’ll stay around and point out a few objective facts that you seem to have missed:

    1) My parents only remained Jewish because they became Orthodox. The rest of the family didn’t. I think the logical conclusion of that story – which reflects statistical reality – is pretty clear to most people (or we could say – more people share my “worldview” than yours. So who’s livin’ in a bubble?).

    2) Over 30 years of statistical surveys indicate that the Orthdox are growing – both through natural increase and the BT movement – and are NOT losing half their children to assimilation – not even the study you quoted says that. Again, who’s creating “their own worldview” here?

    Previous generations tried various attempts to recast/nosejob/personalize Judaism, or to find Big Secular Ideas that could function as substitute Judaisms.

    All those attempts have failed.

    Young mods who think their own funkalicious ethical/cultural olio is somehow different from those earlier attempts – that it will somehow have more staying power – have yet to explain why that is so, why their culturally comprised Jewish pastiche will not fade and be irrelevant to their own kids.

    The experiments have been run, the results are in. The only Judaism that provides enough beefy content to survive is the Judaism of G-d, Torah, and binding covenant.

    The burden of proof lies with the innovators.

  • Hellooooo…. Zach Braff’s mother was born into an uber-WASP family in New England, and converted to Judaism. It’s a little silly to talk about intermarriage in relation to Braff.