Cross-posted at WWPD.

Despite a string of unparalleled scholarly and professional successes, Noah Feldman has been ostracized by his former yeshiva. He decided to pair off with a non-Jewish woman (specified as Korean-American, as if race, not faith, were the issue, and Annie Hall would have been just fine) and the school’s official alumni newsletter cropped his fiancée out of a group photograph. He still has friends from his yeshiva days, but does not have the school’s blessing.

Considering that I wrote an article advocating an end to the war on intermarriage in the United States, you might expect that I would be appalled by the yeshiva’s actions. The weirdness of photo-cropping aside, I cannot say that I am. Orthodox Judaism has its interpretations of Jewish law, and no one ever claimed that they were fun to obey. Feldman’s complaint that the Orthodox establishment hasn’t welcomed his fiancée, petty matter of religion aside, is akin to someone choosing to attend a school with a core curriculum, then decrying the injustice of being forced to take certain classes. The difference, of course, is that Feldman was born into this community, and thus never chose to enter it. But while it is reasonable for Feldman to ask for his family’s acceptance, and perhaps that of his close friends, he’d be better off cutting his losses and being glad that the country in which he is thriving is not one run by Orthodox Jews. The problem is when Jewish organizations or individuals order other Jews not to intermarry, as though this in itself is all that matters, as though ethnically or halachically ‘Jewish babies’ are the end in themselves. There is nothing wrong with Orthodox Judaism making this demand in the context of so many others, so long as there are options for those who choose to disobey, as there are in contemporary America.

As Gary Rosenblatt points out on the JTA website, there’s something missing from Feldman’s tale of woe. “For all of Feldman’s candor in the essay, he has nothing to say about where he fits into the community, if at all; whether he wanted his wife to convert; whether they are raising their children as Jews or not; or his feelings about all this. He only owes us such information if he wants our understanding and empathy, which clearly he does.” This is key. Feldman never mentions how he came to having a non-Jewish fiancée in the first place. Was he open to the idea all along, or was this just the woman for him? Does he feel that in intermarrying he is doing something immoral, and if not, would he go as far as to suggest that Orthodox Judaism sanction it in all cases, not just those of law professors who’ve done their yeshiva proud?

One aspect of Feldman’s essay was predictable. Discussions of intermarriage are inevitably about non-Jewish women marrying (or ‘taking’) Jewish men. From “Knocked Up” to “Meet the Parents” to “Seinfeld,” the notion that Jewish men lust after ‘shiksas’ has outlived the finer creative days of Philip Roth and Woody Allen. Yet there is not much of a difference in America today in the number of Jewish women and Jewish men marrying out. According to a United Jewish Communities survey from 2000-2001:

Overall the intermarriage rate among men (33%) is slightly higher than among women (29%), but the gender composition of intermarriage fluctuates with age. Men above the age of 55 are more likely to be intermarried than women. In the 35-54 year age group, equal proportions of men and women are intermarried. The gender gap in intermarriage has widened among those under the age of 35, with men again more likely than women to be intermarried.

The shocking truth is that Jewish women are not all at home with our collective cat, pining over the ‘successful, professional’ Jewish men we are not gentile enough to attract. I have several ideas as to why the Jewish man and non-Jewish woman pairing appears the far more common than vice versa, but this post is too long as it is, so for another time.

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  • “I have several ideas as to why the Jewish man and non-Jewish woman pairing appears the far more common than vice versa, but this post is too long as it is, so for another time.”

    Well, I think this would have been more interested to everyone than yet another essay on Noah Feldman.

  • Um….excuse me Phoebe, but I happen to be at home with my cat right this very minute pining over the successful, professional Jewish men that I am not gentile enough to attract, and both my cat and I love shrimp.

    Guess I really don’t fit into any collective now. Maybe I can get assimilated by the Borg if I’m lucky, I hear resistance is futile.

  • A picture taken at a reunion is intended to indicate who attended an event. To be cropping people out of an event they attended is to portray an event as something that it wasn’t. Regardless of who it was, what her race was, what her religion was, that’s inappropriate and unethical.

    And, it shows what losers they are that they can’t even deal with the reality that one of their people married out — that they have to whitewash the reality and pretend it doesn’t exist, as opposed to simply saying “Noah Feldman and his wife, Soo-Yee Shiksa, attended the festivities.”

  • As tacky as the yeshiva’s behavior was, I simply cannot find it within myself to fault them for this. While I am sure that Felmdan loves his wife very much and while she is, of course, completely blameless in this matter, a person like Feldman, as smart as he is and with the background that he has, simply could not have been unaware of what his actions meant. He was, in short, giving his old school the finger, and he knew it. So they gave him one back. The school’s reaction is, pretty much, what he should have expected.

    So, naturally, like anyone else in his situation, he decides to get his revenge by publishing an article in only the most widely-read and well-respected newspapers in the country telling everybody what a bunch of narrow-minded racists we are.

    Combining the maturity and sound judgment of a Bar Kamtza with the strength of character of a Zimri seems a pretty hard thing to do, but Feldman seems to have managed it.

    I have, however, seen a picture of his wife. Hard on the eyes she’s not. So I can sympathize, but only up to a point. I’m sure Cozbi was hot too.

    In any case, his complaints are all bullshit. As I have said here before, my wife is ethnically Japanese, so if I can convert her, Feldman can too. He obviously didn’t care about it enough to do so. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

    He also offered his legal service free of charge to the opponents of an eruv in his area. So we can conclude he’s lying, pretty much, when he tries to pretend that he values Jewish traditions.

  • Feldman’s complaint that the Orthodox establishment hasn’t welcomed his fiancée, petty matter of religion aside, is akin to someone choosing to attend a school with a core curriculum, then decrying the injustice of being forced to take certain classes.

    If you wanted to twist the facts a little more artlessly, you could always start the sentence as follows: “Feldman’s complaint that the Orthodox establishment hasn’t designated him alumnus of the year and organized a parade down Fifth Avenue to celebrate his marriage to his non-Jewish wife . . . .” Feldman’s article had nothing to do with an objection that his school “hasn’t welcomed his fiancée,” but, as Stephanie points out, the fanaticism and arrogance of denying the fact of her very existence. It appears to be morally deformed on the surface, and, on closer examination, that’s because it is.

    So, naturally, like anyone else in his situation, he decides to get his revenge by publishing an article in only the most widely-read and well-respected newspapers in the country telling everybody what a bunch of narrow-minded racists we are.

    Nope; not “we.”

    In any case, it’s always instructive to see the fruits of an education at the Rush Limbaugh Academy of Intellectual Discourse. No facts to contribute to the argument? Nothing of substance with which to disprove the claims of one’s enemy? No problem. Just attack his motivation for raising the issue in the first place! You know: “Why do liberals hate America? Why do the Democrats want the terrorists to win?” Then when everyone with a brain ignores you, all you need do is pretend that they’re intimidated into paralysis by your imposing intellectual gifts.

    In any case, his complaints are all bullshit. As I have said here before, my wife is ethnically Japanese, so if I can convert her, Feldman can too.

    Naahh. Trust me; Feldman wouldn’t use a ten-foot pole to touch a woman he “could convert.” Even some Asian women embrace religious beliefs according to the dictates of their individual conscience, not the ones they’re instructed to adopt by their husbands.

    He also offered his legal service free of charge to the opponents of an eruv in his area. So we can conclude he’s lying, pretty much, when he tries to pretend that he values Jewish traditions.

    Phew! Good thing he wasn’t alive during the War; he almost certainly would have been a kapo.

  • I agree that photo-cropping in itself is a bad approach. Some form of disapproval, however, is to be expected. Feldman’s complaint does not end at pointing out that removing a person from a photo is creepy, rude, or what have you. He wants approval. Or else why send in updates to this newsletter every time his wife gives birth?

  • Some people no longer read The New York Times. Those people, whoever they may be, have no reaction at all to what Mr. Feldman wrote, one way or the other.

  • Feldman is/was free to do as he feels. That is one of the basic principles of Judaism: FREE WILL.

    But it is pathetic to see how he now wants some sort of approval from the Orthodox world for his intermarriage.

    C’mon Noah…why not ask us to give up Shabbat while you are at it?

    Do as you please. But don’t ask us to give up our basic, most essential beliefs (one of them being….shocker that it is: Don’t marry non Jews.

    It is simple. you chose to do it. Now go live in peace as you see fit. But why spill your guts and angst out for the world to see?

    spare us.

  • Exactly. Feldman’s article is pathetic. He presented arguments that questioned the very essence of Modern Orthodoxy, but it was clear that the whole thing was motivated by his own hurt feelings.

    By the way, unlike some of the other posters here, I was unaware that there is an ethics of reunion picture cropping. Because there isn’t!

  • E- start with a hamster and work your way up to a cat. Hamsters can be left alone for longer periods of time and they don’t eat you if you you die alone in your apartment with no professional Jewish man to call 911. A cat will just eat you until somebody smells rotting corpse and comes to rescue it.

  • Jews have been intermarrying since there have been Jews. Just look at the sea of Jewish faces in Israel: Russian-looking, Ethiopian-looking, Arab-looking, Persian-looking, Indian-looking, ect. It’s human nature to seek mates of all types. Orthodox Jews are hypocrites of the highest order and are sanctimoniously hypocritical. One told my college aged daughter that she wasn’t Jewish because she didn’t look Jewish. Of course, the orthodox rabbi that spewed out this comment was freckle-faced and pale as a ghost. Who knows what gene pool is floating in his DNA? Maspeak.

  • Come ON. No WAY.

    No offense, but I prefer the hamster story. That is the best piece of wisdom of the day, so far.

  • Abe#14
    You mean Russian rapes, german rapes , mongol rapes , polish rapes etc.

    The fact is Jewish Jews don’t intermarry. JINO’s of fair weather Jews do.

  • Abraham of #14

    You write “Orthodox Jews are hypocrites of the highest order and are sanctimoniously hypocritical.”

    There are hypocrites under every rock and behind every corner. Do you think we have a monopoly on it? Or are you just interested in ortho-bashing?

    Sorry your daughter got that comment. No one deserves any comment like that.

  • -to Avraham #14. Conversion has always existed, and at times been practiced on a large scale. Over a couple of thousand years, that’s more than enough to explain the varied ‘racial’ features of Jews from around the world (not to mention what happened in times of war, pogroms, massacre, etc., back when rape was a commonly used ‘weapon’). Traditionally, people who married non-Jews were not just cropped out of photos, they were physically/spiritually/financially/familially cut off from the Jewish people (put in cherem).

    -Even if people have been doing it for a long time, that doesn’t make it legitimate. Age does not necessarily equal virtue. That’s a plain logical fallacy.

    -The rabbi you quoted was obviously an idiot. For your convenience, they can now be found at every level of the Jewish-religious spectrum.

  • Jewish dilemma. And no, not ham on sale.

    What if Noah Feldman had shown up to the reunion with a male life partner, and this man was halachically Jewish? Would it have been acceptable to crop this man out of the picture?

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