He may not be “Jewish”, but he’s smart. Isn’t that close enough?

An article in Jewsweek has Tel Aviv artist Orit, praising the refreshing virtues of dating a non-Jew.

You see, the man she calls Chris was mature, genteel, and inquisitive. And thus it did not bother her that he was not Jewish.

She goes on to praise his good nature

Aside from that, he was a chivalrous mentsch, certainly more so than those secular Tel Aviv Jewish guys I dated, who were far more interested in my sexual expression than my Jewish expression. Chris’ genteel probably comes from his Southern Baptist roots, although he considers himself agnostic. Yet, we had long conversations about the state of the world, the nature of God, and the nature of man.

It’s interesting that she never draws the conclusion that dating a man raised in a religious setting of ethics and self-discipline, no matter what the religion, is likely to be a different experience that dating a man who grew up in secular Tel Aviv. But no matter.

The real fun comes in later. From the article’s half way point she begins to put the words “Jew” and “Jewish” in scare quotes, as if to make it seem ill defined or conceptual, or perhaps to distance herself from its meaning. She goes on to question what it means to be Jewish, or, I’m sorry, “Jewish” while providing no answers, except to try to correctly distance the definition from a purely racial one.

Now granted, these are certainly valid questions, and I agree with her statements that “maintaining the Jewish race for maintenance sake is not a value in and of itself” and “being born “Jewish” does not give anyone metaphysical or innate holiness or virtue”.

But then she tells us “Chris embodied many qualities we don’t discuss as Jewish values, but which should be: spiritual sensitivity, intelligence, creativity, and honesty. He treated people, particularly me, with respect and generosity” and thus, while they are no longer dating she will, “always think of Chris as a fine human being and a “good Jew” in [her] book.”

Is that not incredibly insulting to other peoples? As if the traits of other ethnicity’s are so deplorable that if you are a decent human being you must be, at least on some level, “Jewish”. While certainly spiritual sensitivity, intelligence and honesty are indeed Jewish Values, are they not also Christian Values? Buddhist Values? Pagan Values?

She then also defends her hypothetical right to marry Chris saying “That Chris wasn’t racially “Jewish” doesn’t make him less worthy to date or marry me”. First of all, Jewish isn’t a race, unless you are going by the Nazi definition. You can’t convert into a race (no matter how many white boys from the suburbs listening to gangsta rap may try). But more importantly, the fact that this defense is necessary implies that the standard thinking on why you should marry a Jew comes down to a question of worth. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a little insulting.

To recycle a comment I wrote a long long time ago:

Being Jewish affects so much of my day, what I eat, where I choose to live, my community, my value system, where I will send my kids to school, where I blog, where I will give charity to, the things I get passionate about, my sexual ethics, the news I tune into, the books I read, my daily, weekly and yearly rhythm, and my world view that I know no one but another involved and committed Jew would be able to deal with it, share in it and live it with me.

If Judaism is important to you, that may or may not dictate who you marry. If Judaism is a vital and daily part of your life, it probably will.

I, for one, never had doubts that non-Jews are good people too (gasp!). As any rational person knows, it is not at all hard to find instances of non-Jews being better people than Jews. People like Orit, who mistakenly assume that being Jewish is nothing but a racial distinction often overcompensate for their mistaken belief by being equally as shallow in equating goodness with Jewishness. Being a Jew (unfortunately) doesn’t make you a good person any more that being a good person makes you a Jew.

Personally I think Orit just needs to find a better dating pool now that she’s back in Israel. Best of luck to her.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • I think that Orit is very wrong to say that the guy is a “good Jew” just because he has good qualities. That is certainly extremely demeaning to every other religion in the world. “Hmm, he’s smart and he likes me, what an awesome Jew” is a really weird way to look at it.

    But I still fail to understand the importance placed on Jews dating only other Jews. The Temple I attend has no problem with my boyfriend being non-Jewish, yet the Hillel at my school is determined to pry into their members private lives and root out anyone who isn’t dating within the 6,000-student Jewish pool at this college.

    If “Jewish isn’t a race, unless you are going by the Nazi definition”, like Laya writes, then why does it matter who I date or marry as long as the guy is willing to help me pass the Jewish tradition along to our children?

  • Using a racial name or name of a demographic/religious group if you prefer is not new. When people say “that’s Christian of you,” they mean that you’re behaving commendably in accordance with a certain set of values. And we never mind describing someone as having a “Yiddishe kop” (Jewish head), although we should mind the pejorative of “Goyishe kop.”

    But it seems that for Orit, the Jewish guys she’s met have not been representin’ with the Jewish (or Judeo-Christian, if you prefer) values that we’re supposed to display. Which is a valid concern among secular and “religious” Jews (there are some more scare quotes for you) alike. Just because a dude goes to shul or wears a yarmulke doesn’t mean he’s a paragon of Jewish values.

    If Jews are obsessed with dating, it’s because we have people constantly yelling at us to produce the next generation of Jews. Finding a better dating pool is easier said than done, as most of us who are actually in it, know.

    And if babies are the concern, I don’t ever have to worry, because mine, “fricken” or not, will always be Jewish, even if I select as baby-daddy an ultra-Reform shrimp-encrusted-fish-stick-eating Jew. The variable is, how Jewish a home would we actually have if I did that, and how important is it educationally. I know my answer. I literally just wrote a chapter on this for my book, so I’ve given it a lot of thought.

  • Laya – you are absolutely right and I often say very similiar. However, in secular Israel and America, Judaism is seen of as an ethnic (or, in Israel, national) identity and not a system in which there is a nation, a legal system and a language – all of which are essential components. But excellent post laya – this is why I love Jewlicious (heh, because bloggers post things that I think are right on target but not often said).

    esther is also right and, along with laya’s comment, this is why one can not — can not — in practice have a Jewish home in which one acts in a way like laya describes in which every action one does is influenced by Judaism in which one spouse is a non-Jew. This is the failure of Reform.

  • I’d love to come back in my next life as a strong black woman (to quote Kathy Griffin) who is a Southern Baptist…they whoop it up in Church, the music and food rock and we’ll, I’ve heard Black men have other endearing features. You know, if Jewish men are not stepping up to the plate with commitments and testosterone, then Jewish women just gotta swim in different dating pools, because life is too short too be alone in the name of preserving all of Judiasm for all eternity. That’s G-d’s job.

  • I’ll echo Esther’s suggestion that Orit’s not hangin’ with the right brothers. She mentions “spiritual sensitivity, intelligence, creativity, and honesty”- traits that should be embodied as “Jewish.” I thought about the guys I know, and all of them possess these traits. But oops, they’re already married- and surprisingly, not to women who describe themselves as painters of “racy biblical scenes”. Sorry to sound judgmental, but when you go fishing you gotta make sure you bring the right bait.

  • I can see from observing people that it can be tough to have two heritages pulling at each other inside you. Life is tough enough with one.

    When you consider that you have hundreds of ancestors on each side, mom and dad, it can matter if they were not from the same heritage. Heritages are real things.

    Anybody who wants to really examine this could look into studies of identical twins raised apart from birth. They are eerily alike. It seems to mean that blood does matter, some. There has been a lot of study. There seems to be, speaking very approximately, about a third of you that is ‘blood’ and two thirds that is not. That is still a lot, a third.

    That is the point, Red Headed Jewish Girl.

    The kids I see who have a non-Jewish Mom and a Jewish dad just aren’t Jews. The ones I see with a Jewish Mom and a non-Jewish dad are Jews, but they have a lost, orphaned quality – and they seem so far quite lost to the tribe.

    People are who they are. As for virtue, of COURSE there are WONDERFUL non-Jews, righteous of nations, all honor to them.

    What does that have to do with whom you are marrying?

    Leave Judaism if you want. But don’t kid yourself. That is what happens, usually.

    I pray everybody finds someone worth plugging in the crockpot for. It smells good when you come home after work.

  • If you plug in the crock pot anyway, someone may show up. It just smells so good.

    I like the kind of pot that turns itself down after a few hours, I think it is called a Smart Pot.

    A jar of Barillo Marinara sauce and a little dill, some barley, possibly stewing beef pieces, a bad of mixed dried beans, and away we go, if you have a potato. Cut with water to an inch form the top of the pot.

  • having been there , done it, i can not really say marrying a nonjew is such a bad thing, though in my case it was a catastrophical event that brought lots of sorrow to all of us, but i think you can not generalize ..
    i don’t think that having both parents jewish means you will fit in.
    The reform movement has this important job to reach out to those jews that are on the border and pull them in. the judgemental part of judism seems to me to have little to do with judism and much to do with stettel mentality.
    I can imagine marrying a wonderful goy at the same time i married a horrible one..
    but the bottom line is that intermarriage is costing jewish people numbers..it is harder to give a good jewish home to children in a mixed marriage, i know i work my socks off, but let us not forget many couples have differences anyway even though they are both jewish..
    some secular men i dated in the past were very anti judism much more than a goy would have been for fear of offensing the religion. let us not forget that

  • but let us not forget many couples have differences anyway even though they are both jewish..

    I haven’t been there yet myself, but yes, and I think that’s all the more reason to talk before marriage about what you expect…

    Getting married by a rabbi (or priest or imam I would guess) means agreeing to certain terms, not just selecting a building you your parents (etc.) find visually & traditionally appealing. If one or both of you thinks the religious parts of the service are worthless, maybe a justice of the peace instead? (An option I completely respect. Just trying to say, it’s not just for the kids, it’s worth thinking about for your spousal communication…)

    My extended family includes, hmmmm, five religions (incl atheism) once you get to cousins. So I have no standing to advise here, but I find it sad that the author (Orit) thinks this question is about whether people outside your ethnic group are
    “less worthy to date or marry”!

  • I’ve also been there, done that and continue to do that. My father is a (born) Jew, and my mother had three Jewish grandparents. I have more Jewish ancestors than many ‘born’ Jews but have to undergo a halachic conversion to be accepted by my boyfriend’s (non-observant) family (although that’s not why I am converting anyway). To top it off, my family were Soviet Jews, so we weren’t particularly Jewishly literate anyway, and I would have been no different even if I my mother was halachically Jewish. I understand there are many thousands like me in Israel, but it is pretty rare in my neck of the woods. Anyway, one thing that has been striking is how people (i.e. members of the tribe) who have been told that I’m not a ‘real’ Jew treat me as though I have lost a few IQ points compared with those who assumed I was halachically Jewish. They are even uncomfortable about whether to wish me good Shabbos! It’s all about their warped perceptions and prejudices.

  • laya’s point that the real distinction is religious v. secular, as opposed to ‘Jewish’ v. ‘Christian’, is a good one. People of faith have a lot in common, which, while no infalliable predictor of goodness, places their worldview at some remove from highly secular folks.

    I read this with some bemusement, as ol’ Orit seems to be learning that Jews and Christians are both, uh, . . . human. Her use of quotes around Jewish perhaps reflects this insight. It’s good to peek one’s head outside the trench of our tribal identities.

  • Yes, “like a good Jew” in this context is offensive. When my mom was growing up, in a mostly-Christian, Midwestern town, one of the things she hated was always being told “You’re just like a Christian!” and being expected to take it as a compliment. But it was the 1930s, and she was a kid, so there was nothing she could do about it.

    My dad’s Christian, and I wasn’t raised Jewishly. My mom just had so many bad experiences with other Jews that she gave up on dating them after a while. She was 30 when she married — old maid status! — and all she cared about was marrying a nice, stable man who wouldn’t cheat on her. Her mother rather ashamedly admitted that of the three girls in the family, she, the one who married the non-Jew, got the best husband.

    Now, I married a Jew — one who only wanted to marry another Jew — and the majority of the people I dated were Jewish, especially once I was a bit more mature and wouldn’t date someone just because they wanted to date me. We have no children, and won’t have any, but it’s nice to have a Jewishly-inclined household.

  • Dear Friends:

    I am replying to “Jewish Mother” and her comments: “The kids I see who have a non-Jewish Mom and a Jewish dad just aren’t Jews. The ones I see with a Jewish Mom and a non-Jewish dad are Jews, but they have a lost, orphaned quality – and they seem so far quite lost to the tribe.”

    As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, so far the only organization for adult children and other descendants of intermarriage in the world, I would like to state that “Jewish Mother” is wrong.

    “Jewish Mother” appears unaware that an estimated 45% of all current Jewish-identified college students (some patrilineal, some matrilineal) are adult children of intermarriage.

    That’s not exactly “lost to the tribe.”

    I have met and corresponded with hundreds of adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage.

    Contrary to “Jewish Mother’s” view of us, there are many patrilineal (Jewish father) adult children of intermarriage who identify and live as Jews — and some matrilineal (Jewish mother) adult children of intermarriage who identify and live as members of other faiths.

    One of the most important factors in the decisions of adult children of intermarriage to affiliate as Jews, once they are fully grown, is not whether it is their father or their mother who is Jewish, but whether they are able to find Jewish friends and welcoming Jewish communities where they live.

    Some adult children of intermarriage who currently belong to non-Jewish faith communities have told me that they would have been glad to live as Jews, but when they were repeatedly confronted by hostility and negative stereotypes from Jewish groups and individuals in their geographic area, they were very turned off to Judaism, and opted to join other more kindly non-Jewish faith communities.

    While there are many Jewish outreach programs for interfaith couples, there are almost no Jewish outreach programs for adult children of intermarriage, who consequently are often poorly treated or ignored by Jewish institutions.

    I hope any Jew with two Jewish parents who is reading this will take it as a personal mitzvah to make nice to the next adult child or grandchild of intermarriage they run into, and encourage them to identify as Jews.

    Robin Margolis

  • Watch subject. Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? What is he doing to us, and what is he doing to the world?
    Are we safer today than we were before?
    We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!

  • 01)Jews w/non-Jewish fathers have only a 25% probability that they will marry Jewish.

    02) How many times have intermarried couples “changed” later on the relationship specifically on religious issues & how much heartache has this caused both & even more so to their children?

    03) I can certainly understand that a lack of clarity on what Judaism & Jewishness are definitely can & probably will lead to intermarriage.

    04) The whole issue comes down to one thing & that’s COMFORT. But if people are too comfortable NOT investigating what their own Jewishness is really about, wait til they hate the BIG discomfort some 20 yrs down the line.

    05) Is Judaism true & good? Or is it really just some other type of comfort (like a pair of warm slippers)? Does/Has Judaism saved humanity w/value shifts? Or should I just give you the remote so we don’t have to even think about it?