And they all lived Jewishly ever after…


A New York Times article on the new president of the New York Board of Rabbis had us shaking our heads here in the office. It’s kind of funny that the Orthodox and Conservative rabbis can handle female or gay rabbis on the 700-rabbi board, but heaven forbid they should include anyone who would officiate at an intermarriage! (Which is in one way incredibly cool and exciting–women were first ordained as rabbis by the major movements in my lifetime, and wow, did you ever think you would be reading that about gay rabbis–but still.) How does intermarriage, something that apparently over 30% of Jews are doing, get to be the one thing that’s so far beyond the Pale?

Check this out:

In Suffolk County, which has 90,000 Jews, 8 out of 10 are not affiliated with a Jewish institution, partly because of the cost of synagogue membership and the rise in intermarriage, Rabbi Gellman said.

The fallout is especially notable among single, post-college adults, who are “very, very disconnected and unconnected from Jewish life,” Rabbi Klein said. “The only thing they know about the Jewish community is JDate,” the online Jewish dating service.

Oy. So intermarriage is why people are unaffiliated, which is why we shouldn’t include rabbis who perform interfaith ceremonies on the board of rabbis, and young people are all so disconnected. Why, the only Jewish thing those terribly disconnected young people care about is–trying to find Jews to marry! Well, it doesn’t sound to me like young people are so disconnected from the Jewish community’s priorities, at all. We’re all incredible romantics, aren’t we? We assume that in-marriage is going to make young people Jewish.

The problem with marriage, whether you marry a Jew or a non-Jew, is that in real life, that’s not the end of the story. Just marrying a Jew isn’t enough to make you affiliate, and on the flip side, just marrying a non-Jew isn’t the single thing that would make you decide not to affiliate. “Happily ever after” is only in fairy tales. In real life, we have to keep getting up in the morning and going to minyan–and encouraging other people to do so, even if they have married someone who isn’t Jewish.

It’s time to stop writing off people who still count.

6 thoughts on “And they all lived Jewishly ever after…”

  • as for the Conservative movement, the Jewish Thelogical Seminary dropped the ban on admitting gay and lesbian rabbinical students in late 2006

    Gosh, I should have looked that up! here is the story. I cannot imagine how I missed this, since I remember the previous decisions around this in the 1980s. I should also say that I’m aware that even though there is no consensus among Orthodox authorities in favor of Orthodox smicha for women, that there are a lot of Orthodox Jewish women who have found intermediate roles that are quasi-rabbinic, and there are also traditional roles for Jewish women that require teaching, authority or leadership.

    It still leaves us with this weird paradoxical consensus about intermarriage though, doesn’t it?

  • perhaps my wording was wrong, but the sentiments are still there that the Orthodox should not restrict women from participating more in Jewish communal life. as for the Conservative movement, the Jewish Thelogical Seminary dropped the ban on admitting gay and lesbian rabbinical students in late 2006. and i disagree about omitting Rabbis who officiate at intermarriages from the list. the fact that intermarrying Jews want (often solely) Rabbis at their weddings says a lot and those who officiate at their unions should still count in all this. we may not like intermarriage, but if we continue to exclude those who have intermarried (and those Rabbis who officiate at intermarriages) then we’re going to wind up with more problems than we already have.

  • Oh wow! You commented on my work blog! That’s so cool.

    You’re right that I should have corrected h.’s impression that Orthodox rabbis were accepting the idea of smicha for women, and also as far as I know the Conservative movement still doesn’t ordain out gay men or women as rabbis. The issue was more that there was political consensus to accept each other’s definitions, and an equally strong consensus not to allow officiants at intermarriages. That’s the thing we can all agree about? Yikes. I bet they don’t have that level of equanimity about the food at the meetings, you know?

  • Ruthie,

    I finally explored this website and found some of your jazzy writing. I’m finding the subjects you are dealing with engaging.

    I think you meant Reform and not Orthodox in the following fragment: “I think it’s wonderful that the Orthodox and Conservative movements have finally recognized the”

    Love, E.

  • I think they haven’t recognized female rabbis or out gay rabbis, so much as agreed to participate in the same board of rabbis organization with them. But hey, that sure looks new and exciting to me. I’m old enough to remember the first ordination of a woman as a rabbi in the Reform movement–true, I was eight years old, but still–and it feels kind of wild to be kvetching about the inclusion of these two groups of rabbis.

    I wouldn’t say that lesbianism is permitted in the Torah, so much as ignored. I’m not the best authority on sexuality and halachah, a fascinating topic and one worth reading about. I should probably make a links list for that, since it’s a tangentially-related topic and sure to come up sometimes. You could try this FAQ from the Orthodykes group or this bibliography with links of halachic perspectives on homosexuality from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

    I strongly doubt that the rabbi in this article intended to sound quite this judgmental of Jewish young adults for their lack of affiliation. It’s a problem with being quoted in journalistic articles–there’s always some distortion. It’s just that from the perspective of working here, we know that Jews who have intermarried, and their non-Jewish partners, are often willing or even eager to be connected to the Jewish community.

    People from my Jewish community saw this post and asked me whether it implied that I was committing to getting to minyan on time. Um.

  • i think it’s wonderful that the Orthodox and Conservative movements have finally recognized the ordination of women and gays into the rabbinical field. prior to these changes, it was assumed that Judaism was sexist and/or uncomfortable with gays (correct me if i’m wrong, but doesn’t the Torah permit lesbianism?). that is clearly not the case. but for every step forward these two movements take, they also take a step backward and that is preventing the Jewish community from improving itself and increasing its member affiliation. as Jews continue to marry non-Jews, more Rabbis are being called upon to officiate at their marriages and these Rabbis must be recognized for their efforts to both retain the Jewish partner and to show the non-Jewish partner what their options are in the Jewish community.

    i am a regular reader of Rabbi Gellman’s The Spiritual State column in Newsweek. as he noted above, personal issues are not the sole cause of affiliation decline. financial ones play a huge portion in that as well. even committed in-married Jews sometimes feel that the cost of Jewish life is too high. while i don’t know Gellman’s direct stance on intermarriage, it sounds as though he is saying that it should not be entirely to blame on all our problems. it goes back to what Micah said about how people assume that in-marriage makes us Jewish. what makes us Jewish is ourselves, not other people. marrying a Jew doesn’t always translate to success and marrying a non-Jew doesn’t always translate to failure. there are in-married Jews who don’t attend shul ever (except on High Holidays) and there are intermarried Jews who serve on the board committees of their shuls. we don’t live in a perfect world, and we need to realize that if we want to make the Jewish community a thriving one.

    as far as the idea that single post-college age adults are disconnected from Judaism, that is only partially true. many do participate in activities at JCC’s and Y’s as well as Birthright trips, study groups, and social action events while others read Jewish publications and attend concerts of Jewish musicians. what tends to disconnect them is not only the cost of programming, but also the singles events and how frustrating it can be to find Jews to date and marry. JDate costs money, and not everyone is going to want to pay the fees especially if the end results are unsuccessful. while i can’t speak for all Jews in their 20’s and 30’s, i can speak for myself: i am part of the community, regardless of whether i’m affiliated or not or whether i’m dating or married to a Jew or a non-Jew.

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