The Blame Game


Back in April, I read “The Missing” in the World Jewish Digest, and found it absolutely amazing. (The title has been changed: it was “A Jewish Man is Hard to Find.”)

The article was advocating that single Jewish women should “panic” if they hadn’t found a Jewish man to marry. (Click the link, I’m not Ubiquitous t-shirtexaggerating!) One problem, the article asserted, was that Jewish women were too dominant in Jewish religious life, leaving Jewish men feeling sidelined. This was based on a recent sociological study from Brandeis on intermarriage and involvement in Jewish life.

Astonishing, eh? An anti-intermarriage article was effectively blaming Jewish women for being too involved in the Jewish community. Katha Pollitt, the feminist columnist for The Nation, and herself the daughter of an interfaith marriage, just came out with a response to the idea that maybe Jewish men were intermarrying because Jewish women outnumber them in Jewish institutional life.  Her pithy analysis:

The study is full of unusually frank references to Jewish men’s dislike of Jewish women—too aggressive, demanding, ethnic—but instead of challenging this as sexist and anti-Semitic, it accepts it as a fact of life that women must accommodate for the sake of the community: “For those who find the synagogue’s world of our mothers too overwhelming, it is possible that dating non-Jews becomes a way to escape from the ubiquitous Jewish woman.”

I know that a single anecdote does not constitute data, but I’m Jewish, I’m aggressive, I’m demanding and I’m ethnic, and I met my Jewish husband at Saturday morning services.

I really don’t think that it makes sense to discourage young single Jewish people, even if they happen to be, ew, women, from participating in Jewish life on the grounds that it’s making potential spouses queasy. Because oh yeah, we should be trying harder to attract people to synagogue who can’t stand Jewish women. Let’s stay home in droves.

I am going to start wearing a t-shirt that says “The Ubiquitous Jewish Woman.” Want one?

Today, the Jerusalem Post ran a pro-intermarriage opinion piece by Larry Derfner that also blames Jews (by implication Jewish women) for other Jews deciding to marry non-Jews. In his article, Derfner explains why he thinks his friends’ nice, secular Jewish boys had chosen nice, secular Asian women to marry.

Whatever works, whatever keeps that humble, heimishe quality alive, is all to the good. And when I look at some of these shallow, starry-eyed, spoiled, smug young American Jews, somehow I don’t see that quality–yet when I look at some of these earnest, academic, family-centered Asian-Americans, I do.

I can’t even… just the stereotyping of Asian-American women is gross. You’ve never heard the phrase “model minority”? I’m guessing not.

You folks have it all wrong. The reason Jews marry non-Jews is that non-Jews want to marry us. The meaning of marriage has changed, people from all ethnic and religious groups are intermarrying at a higher rate, and we are living in an increasingly accepting society. Instead of Jews panicking and blaming each other, shouldn’t we be reaching out to all Jews and to their partners, no matter who they are, with kindness, and maybe even, don’t hyperventilate, calmness? I thought the classic Jewish congratulation was meant to be “from strength to strength” not “from crisis to crisis.”

We don’t pick our life partners to spite other people, or because we don’t like someone else. We pick them because we love them.

(I can’t believe we still have to say this.)

We don’t pick our spouse’s entire ethnicity or religion–we pick one person, and if we’re smart we might go so far as to think about their family, to whom we’ll also be related.

The Jewish community has just as good a shot at attracting the Jewish people who intermarry as the Jewish people who in-marry. Actually, maybe a better shot, if the Brandeis study is right and non-Jews like Jewish women better than Jewish men like Jewish women.

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