lavendersparkle: (bride and groom)
I'd really recommend a documentary I heard on the radio today: Twin Sisters, Two Faiths. It follows a pair of identical twin sisters who are both converts: one to Islam and one to Christianity. The documentary follows them as they both have their second children and their agnostic mother dies of lung cancer.

A lot on this struck a cord. It's wonderful to hear the experiences of people who love each other deeply and believe very different things.

Here's a quote from the program: "There is sometimes a sense when you talk to people about inter religious dialogue that it's about us sort of trying to find some common ground that we all agree with but I think as grown ups we can disagree violently without being violent."

It's available on iPlayer. Go and have a listen.
lavendersparkle: (bride and groom)
Sometimes I'm a bit of a masochist. So, when I saw an essay on My Jewish Learning entitled Inmarriage I couldn't help but click. It's a reprint of an essay by Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, the Executive Vice-President of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

It's much the usual fair: Intermarriage is Bad. If you keep telling people that it is Bad they will stop doing it. Look how much we have spent on keruv. This is Good because it migth encourage inmarriage. The thing which really struck me though is the way in which, in an essay to call Jews to advocate for in-marriage, he doesn't actually give any reasons for inmarriage. I read it a couple of times to make sure. The closest he gets is "We must find sensitive and appropriate language to convince Jews that their lives will be enriched when two Jews -- by birth or by choice -- join to create a home shaped by Jewish values." However, he doesn't seem to do any of that convincing in the essay itself, particularly to someone whose life has been enriched by joining with a non-Jew to create a home shaped by Jewish values. I also think he's being a bit naive if he thinks that repeatedly telling people "until it is learned" that their marriage is "not the ideal" is going to make them more likely to "permit their spouse to raise Jewish children". Who doesn't want their children to be involved in institutions which will tell them that it would have been better if their parents had never married?

On the other hand I can tell you three advantages to intermarriages off the top of my head.

1. Intermarriages help you to understand your own views and traditions better. One of the best ways to understand something is to try to explain it to someone else, so having in your life to say "Wait, why do you need this very expensive deformed lemon?" or "But chickens don't produce milk" can be the spur to get you to actually understand what you're doing and why.

2. Intermarriages teach children how to be Jewish in a non-Jewish world. Judaism does not teach that all people have the same obligations. Cohens, Levites, men, women, Jews, non-Jews, all have slightly different commandments which apply to them. What better way to learn about this than to see that Daddy is allowed to eat pork, drive on Saturday and worship Jesus? It also teaches them a valuable lesson for our time: you can disagree with someone about something as important as the nature of G@d and still love them and build a future together.

3. Intermarriages create allies. I think some of the most fervent opposers of antisemitism are non-Jews married to Jews. They have the visceral reaction of seeing it as a threat to their family without a lifetime of conditioning to have gotten used to it.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I'm being a bit inspired by the blog On Being Both as I've just started reading through it over the last few days. I have quite different approaches to the author to Judaism and interfaith marriage. I hope she doesn't take these posts as attacks, it's more that her posts have inspired me to articulate some of my views on the things she writes about.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I dislike the way that interfaith dialogue often relies upon manufacturing superficial levels of agreement and papering over differences. One of the ways that this happens in relation to Jesus. The general party line is to describe him as a wise teacher and good man, if you're a non-Christian (Muslims have this easy because he's a prophet to them).

I thought about this when I read the post:
But go and ask ten of your Christian-born friends if they believe that Jesus is their personal savior. If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to make an educated guess that most of you born or raised Christian think of Jesus as a role model, an important historical figure, a revolutionary rabbi, an inexplicable mystery, or even an inspiring myth. Or as the son of God, in the sense that we are all sons and daughters of God. All of which works for me just fine.

Actually the first thing which struck me in the post was the idea of Christians not really believing that Jesus is their personal saviour. Alec dislikes the term 'personal saviour' because it's the kind of term used by people who seem to think that Jesus is their boyfriend. However, Alec, and almost everyone I know who describes themselves as Christian, would say that they thought Jesus was the Messiah and G@d incarnate. I didn't think that that was such an unusual view for Christians married to non-Jews to have.

So what do I think about Jesus? I don't really know what to think. I think it's a good bet that he existed. It would be odd for such a large sect to grow so quickly based upon the teaching of someone who was entirely fictional. I don't think that he was G@d or the Messiah. As a child I read the prophesies of Isaiah and came to the conclusion that the Messiah promised in them had not yet come. The problem with coming to any further conclusions is that all that we have to go on are the writings of the builders of a religious sect, written decades after he died. Trying to work out what Jesus was like based upon the Gospels is like trying to work out what Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson was like based upon the writings of Messianic Lubervitchers. It's not going to be a balanced historical picture. So maybe he was a good teacher or a wise rabbi who was just a bit misunderstood by some of his followers. On the other hand, he could equally have been a charlatan or a lunatic. There's no way of knowing. There's no way of knowing how much the Gospels even bear any resemblance to what he actually said or did.*

The thing which really annoys me is the reason for the adoption of the 'Jesus was a wise teacher' approach, which is basically to avoid pogroms. I object to having to adopt positions to placate the religious privilege of others and to avoid the threat of physical violence. That's not a paranoid view, it's the reality of over a thousand years of Jewish-Christian relations. For centuries Jews kept their less complimentary views on Jesus hidden from Christians in Hebrew religious texts. When European Christians became aware of these texts it led to book burnings, blood libels, host desecration allegations and massacres. No wonder today most Jews aren't even aware of the Talmudic passages which describe Jesus in Hell in a pit of boiling excrement and it's only mentioned in antisemitic websites and academic papers.

I am a stubborn, stiff necked person. I can't bear to be blackmailed or threatened. I can't bring myself to tell you sweet nothings about your Messiah, whilst I feel that there's a gun to my head. Talk of Jesus the role model makes me think of accounts of his actions in the Gospels which I find morally objectionable. Talk of Jesus the important historical figure makes me think of the thousands of my co-religionists killed in his name. Talk of Jesus the revolutionary rabbi makes me think of the German feminist Christian theologian who equated Judaism with patriarchy and Fascism. Talk of Jesus the inspiring myth makes me think of how often I bang against people who don't even realise the extent to which their views are dependent upon a Christian world view.

I'm not as angry and bitter all that sounds. I have lots of Christian friends and relatives and, of course, a Christian husband, and we can all get along and love each other whilst acknowledging that we believe different things. I love my husband, who has dedicated his life to Jesus, so much. Even more amazingly he loves me, even though I don't accept his Messiah and even though it means that he can't avoid confronting the ways in which his religion has created the antisemitism which now endangers his wife and future children. I think that it's more worthwhile to stare into these ravines together, rather than try to paper over the cracks.

*For example, I'm rather suspicious about whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem. There doesn't seem to be any other historical documents backing up the census and mass movement of people which is supposed to have resulted. On the other hand there are prophesies that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, which are a bit awkward if your Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. It all seems a bit too much like a convenient plot devise to get Jesus born in the right place.
lavendersparkle: (bride and groom)
Those of you who follow the Jewish interfaith family blogosphere (isn't that everyone) will be aware of of a bit of a brouhaha which has been bouncing between various blogs.

It all started with a rather flippant article by Kate Fridkis in the Huffington Post about Interfaith Community. It basically argued that most intermarried people aren't that religious and IFC allowed them to raise their children 'both' and make a decision when they grow up. This in turn led to a counter post on Interfaith Family Blog which managed to offend a whole bunch of people including myself. This counter post was in turn countered by a post on fifty percenters defending the decision to raise children with one Christian and one Jewish parent as both.

I find that I don't quite fit into one camp nor t'other. On the one hand, I'm rather conservative and frum; on the other, I'm militantly unapologetic about my marriage to a non-Jew. Maybe this makes me a horrible hypocrite, only concerned with Jewish practice which fits into my own preferences. I've always been a bit confused about what it meant to raise children as both and how that might work. Raising any children we are blessed with as both was never an option for Alec and me. Partly this was because I made raising our children as Jews a condition of us first dating. Another reason was that neither of us was happy with the idea of raising them both. Before we even got into the theology, there'd be the scheduling issues. Church and cheder would clash. Between learning Hebrew and attending Christian youth groups they'd have no time for non-religion based activities in their free time.

Then I read more about what people do who raise their children as both, particularly on the blog On Being Both. I haven't read all of it, so maybe I'm misunderstanding, but raising children as both seems to mainly consist of teaching the children about both religions. By that definition I will raise my hypothetical clutch of little frumniks as both. Even if I wanted to, I don't think even I could shield children from all knowledge of Christianity when their father is a priest. I also wouldn't want to. I live in a Christian society and a knowledge of Christianity makes it more comprehensible. I'm also a bit of a religion geek and like to learn about different practices and beliefs. I mention Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices every so often to my cheder class if it comes up in conversation (as it will if you have to answer questions like what's now where the Temple used to be). Furthermore, I think Jews get scared that if they mention Christianity their children will run off to join the convent. I think that it's much better to be open with them about Christianity and why Jews don't believe what they believe. Over a decade of church and Sunday school didn't convince me that Jesus was the Messiah.

I think that raising a child as a Jew isn't just about them having factual knowledge about Judaism. I believe that until the age of 13 I will have a responsibility for my children's observation of the mitzvot: giving them kosher food to eat, dressing them modestly, finding shomer shabbat activities for Saturday afternoons. I want to raise children whose every day is imbued with Judaism. They'll probably feel very comfortable in church and may well spend more time in church than many Christian children, but I want them to understand it as the religion of their friends and relatives and not participate in the prayers and creeds any more than they'd eat pork.

I wonder whether part of the difference is belief. I'm increasingly realising that a lot of people in interfaith relationships don't believe the sort of things Alec and I believe. Judaism is the most important thing in my life. I believe that I am in an ancient covenant with G@d. I believe that as part of this covenant I am called to observe commandments and I try to discern what G@d wants of me. I believe that worshipping any human as G@d is one of the worst sins a Jew can commit and I genuinely hope that I would die before I would worship Jesus as G@d. I am married to someone whose life is shaped around his Christianity. He believes that Jesus is G@d incarnate and the Messiah. He believes that Jesus' life and death are the key to humanities salvation and I am sure that this is a belief that he would be willing to die for. Our beliefs are incommensurable and we couldn't raise a human to hold to both of them. Somehow we manage a marriage within our competing views of reality and G@d willing we'll be able to manage to raise Jewish children within it.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I have a friend who's going to become a priest. He's a liberal on issues of gender and sexuality. He believes that women should be ordained including to the episcopate. All the same, he's glad that he's going to get ordained before the first female bishop is finally consecrated within the Church of England, long after the majority of its members decided that such a thing could be G@d's will. He's glad because it means that he can have his cake and eat it. He can support the ordination of women and feel good about that but at the same time his ordination will be seen as valid by all of those who disagree with him on that issue. If he were ordained at some point in the future when he could have a female diocesan bishop, his ordination might be seen as no more valid than that of his female colleagues.

I mention this because I think a similar thinking runs through a lot of non-Orthodox Jews. Whilst they don't believe in Torah min HaShamayim and may scoff at some of the beliefs and practices of Orthodoxy, but they like to know that the Orthodox establishment views them as one of the tribe. They may even take measures to protect this recognition, such as marrying in an Orthodox ceremony so there's an Orthodox ketubah to act as a pass for their children into Orthodox institutions.

This reassuring confidence that we'll be accepted has allowed non-Orthodox Jewish communities to be dependent upon Orthodoxy. Who writes our Torah scrolls and mezuzot? Who bakes our matzahs? Who runs most of the British Jewish state schools? Who ensures that there's somewhere Jewish students can go for Shabbat dinner? Who inspects for kosher certification? Who circumcises our children? This works fine and dandy for most non-Orthodox Jews because they're Jewish by Orthodox standards and the Orthodox are willing to cooperate, either for the money or the sake of ahavat Israel.

A bigger problem comes from those of us who can't ride on Orthodoxy's coat tails. People who have to find a mohel willing to circumcise a baby with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. People who want to give their children a Jewish education which won't teach them that their mother's conversion isn't valid. People who want to immerse in a mikvah to purify themselves for their non-Jewish spouse.

I think if we want the conversation about how the Jewish community can serve Jews in interfaith families to move beyond talk of welcoming or performing weddings, we need to actually notice the things we take for granted which are inaccessible to a larger and larger proportion of our communities.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I love this quote from a post on the The Jewish Outreach Institute's blog". It's a bit of a Frankenstein quote of a quote, so I'll just put it in:

'the “problem” isn’t that Jews are falling in love with non-Jews, “it’s that Jews are not falling in love with Judaism.”'

One of the problems with blaming intermarriage for everything (apart from, you know, alienating Jews who don't like hearing that their marriage is worse than the Shoah) is that it allows the Jewish community to ignore the ways in which it's failing to give Jews a positive reason to get involved with Judaism. They can go on thinking that the synagogues would be full of happy engaged Jews if it weren't for those damn shiksas. I have Jewish friends who were estranged from Judaism long before they got interested in the opposite or the same sex. However, as long as they're still included on their parents' synagogue membership they'll be regarded as good non-assimilated Jews until they marry a non-Jew.

I think part of this is that a lot of Jewish organisations don't have much of an answer to the question "Why be/stay Jewish?" apart from Hitler and all that. It turns Judaism into a giant Ponzi scheme where the whole point of Judaism is to produce more Jews. I think Judaism is worth practising as an adult, whether on not you have or ever intend to have children. Do I, with a Christian husband, have a higher regard for the merits of Judaism than most Jewish community leaders?
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
There's been a bit of discussion on the Jewish blogosphere lately about what to call non-Jews who are involved in the Jewish community. The discussion really centres upon whether we need a better term to describe non-Jews who are married to Jews, raising Jewish children and active in Jewish communal institutions. One of the terms being thrown about as a possibility is the term ger toshav, a biblical term for someone who isn't an Israelite and isn't bond by all of their laws but is loyal to the Israelites and observes certain rights and obligations.

I don't think that we actually need a better term for non-Jews and I think that attempts to develop one could be more exclusionary than just calling people who aren't Jewish 'non-Jews'. The main problem is that for a new term to be meaningful it has to refer to a different set of people to the term 'non-Jew'. You're going to have to decide where the boundary is of who counts, as put well by Rabbi Elyse Wechterman in an article about the use of the term 'ger toshav':"There are so many different gradations in the community, it's so subtle," she said. "With 112 families [in my congregation], how do you define which is a Ger Toshav or a supporter in the community?"

I think the problem with trying to designate some people as a special type of non-Jew isn't just one of gradation (how many synagogue quiz nights you're allowed to miss before you get booted back into being a run of the mill non-Jew) but also that there are all kinds of ways that non-Jews get involved with Jewish communities. I don't think a single term, or even a couple of terms would be able to capture and do justice to the ways that non-Jews are relating to us and our institutions. Maybe it's living in a university town but I've met and heard about all kinds of non-Jews involved in the Jewish community. There's the spiritual seekers, exploring Judaism but not yet ready to commit to a formal conversion path. There are the Jew-ish people, with a Jewish ancestor (but not the 'right' one) who don't necessarily see themselves as Jewish but like going to the occasional event that reminds them of their zayde. There are the Judeophiles, who somehow end up heavily involved in the Jewish society despite being a practising Christian, perhaps just because they happen to get in with a particular group of friends. There are the friends of Jews who'll go along to their the occasional Friday night dinner because they want to learn about their friend's culture. The non-Jews who went to Jewish schools and now feel homesick without a bit of yiddishkeit about the place. The Asian shopkeepers who discovered a gap in the market and became the main suppliers of kosher food, thus getting to know most of the observant Jews in the area. Our shabbos goys, I can see those non-Jews washing up in the kitchen on Friday evening. Our au pairs, who do a lot of the raising of Jewish children. The odd non-Jew who gets a job at a Jewish organisation. The birth families of converts, who have to get used to their relative's new behaviour. Spouses of Jews who are active in the Jewish community. Spouses of Jews who are supportive of their spouse but have their own separate faith community. Non-Jews who are raising Jewish children on their own. Spouses of Jews who aren't too keen on Judaism but can't really escape that aspect of their partner.

I don't think that we can or should come up with a term which decides which of these people are our special non-Jews. I think that adopting a special term would be exclusionary to the non-Jews who didn't make the cut. It would also be too prescriptive to those who did, whereas how people relate to communities and identities are organic and fluid and tricky to pin down. So in the mean time, if we don't like 'non-Jew', how about rather than going for ger toshav we go for Alec, or Alice, or Becky or Arun.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I've noticed a theme in a lot of attitudes to interfaith couples in Jewish resources. It struck me in particular when I was flicking through a copy of Putting God On The Guest List: How To Reclaim The Spiritual Meaning Of Your Child's Bar Or Bat Mitzvah during the break at cheder this Sunday. There's sort of a model of what the 'good' interfaith couple should be like, implicitly and sometimes explicitly described in the books and blogs and websites and policy documents of non-Orthodox diaspora Jewry.

The first thing which really stands out, and has draw the attention of other bloggers, is that Jewish institutions are only really interested in our children. Research into how much of a problem we are use the religious commitment, or even more often the Jewish identity of our children as a sign of whether we are successes or failures from a Jewish perspective. Whether an intermarried Jew is religiously observant, spiritually fulfilled or Jewishly educated is just a means to the all important end of whether her children have a bar mitvzah, and have no value or importance in themselves.

However, there's another feature of the model 'good' interfaith family which I've noticed. Most Jewish institutions who are concerned with interfaith families advocate raising children Jewishly and exclusively Jewishly. The idea of what that means is very much negative rather than positive. From what I've read "raising your children Jewishly" is usually used to mean minimising their exposure to other religions rather than increasing their exposure to Judaism. Raising one's children Jewishly means not celebrating Christmas, not going to church, not eating Easter eggs. What's surprising is that what is hoped for or expected in terms of Jewish involvement from the 'good' interfaith family is very minimal: obviously the bar mitzvah, to seal the child's Jewish identity (and frequently mark the end of the child's Jewish education and involvement), a bris and a cheder education.

In the 'good' interfaith family the non-Jewish partner is basically Jewish but not quite. The ideal non-Jewish partner doesn't really have a religious identity other than memories of their vaguely Christian childhood. They're basically Jewish but haven't quite made the step of converting (or in some discourses they have converted but are still regarded as interfaith). The idea of an interfaith marriage in which both partners have a strong religious commitment to their respective religions isn't really acknowledged as a possibility in a lot of books.

I find this attitude rather depressing, not just because it doesn't provide role models for how I'd like to raise my family, but also because I think it says something quite depressing about the generally malaise in progressive Judaism. Let's put it this way, would we rather have Jewish children who spend Christmas eating sweet and sour pork balls or vegetarian Christmas dinner with their non-Jewish grandparents followed by birkat hamazon?
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I recently discovered the term symbolic violence. I realised that it's a good way to understand part of my problem with the way that the Jewish community attempts to engage with interfaith families.

I wrote about this before in this post. I find the concept of symbolic violence helpful for articulating the problem. In symbolic violence you use language to hide the real underlying power relationships and make the state of affairs appear to be natural and just. The socially dominated group internalise the identity imposed upon them. I think this explains why I have such a problem with pretty much any activity aimed at interfaith couples being termed "outreach". The term "outreach" paints a particular picture. As I argued before, it immediately implies that intermarried Jews only exist outside of the active Jewish community. It also gives the impression that the reason for their outsider position is due to their own unwillingness or at least passivity with engaging with Judaism. The term 'outreach' paints the normative Jewish community as reaching out to intermarried Jews and obscures that role of that same Jewish community in actively excluding intermarried Jews. To confirm disapproval of me by using a metaphor from Christianity, the term 'outreach' paints intermarried Jews as the prodigal son and Jewish organisations as the father ready with the fatted brisket if only we would return (and nice progressive organisations don't even require we get divorced to achieve that return). The term 'outreach' makes it clear to interfaith families that we are reason we're not engaged in the Jewish community. We're the block to our children's Jewish education. The Jewish community is reaching out to us if only we'd turn back.

This is not the reality I experience. Intermarried Jews aren't just raising their own children Jewish, they're teaching other people's children to be Jewish. I'm not the only cheder teacher at my shul who's married to a non-Jew. For that matter, over the coarse of chats with my cheder students I've discovered that almost all of them have at least one non-Jewish grandparent. In non-Orthodox regional congregations we are the Jewish community. Despite the number of Jewishly engaged intermarried Jews, activities and organisations targeted at intermarried Jews are run by intramarried Jews. There's one very good reason for this, almost no rabbis are intermarried. This is because only one very small rabbinic college of one small Jewish movement will accept intermarried students. Everyone else, all the way to Liberal Judaism, view intermarried rabbis as beyond the pale. I'm not sure what the situation is with lay Jewish professionals. I don't know whether Jewish organisation discriminate against intermarried Jews or intermarried Jews are put off applying for these kinds of jobs because they have internalised the idea that the best that can be hoped for of interfaith families is that they raise their children to have a bar mitzvah and avoid a relationship like that of their parents.

When I planned my wedding I knew not to even look for a rabbi because no British rabbi would be allowed to officiate at such a ceremony. There are some rabbis who would possibly perform some kind of ceremony as long as they could do everything within their power to emphasise that it wasn't a real wedding. As I wanted to marry my husband rather than sit through a thinly veiled indictment of the validity of our marriage in front of all our family and friends, I got a friend who was also in an interfaith relationship to officiate. I guess I think this is really the answer. Sometimes there are good reasons for why a group of people aren't in charge of the organisations for their interests. Young children do not have the knowledge or judgement to be able to control their own movements. Intermarried Jews are not children. As long as organisations 'for' intermarried Jews are controlled by intramarried Jews, they will continue to impose upon interfaith families a view of them which promotes their second best status and is discordant with their own experience.* The only way for us to stop being painted as passive recipients of the Jewish communities benevolence and be able to address our needs and how the Jewish community actively obstructs them, is to run our own organisations. That's why I'm so glad to have found Fifty Percenters Blog. It's the first thing I've found for intermarried Jews which doesn't explicitly state that our relationships are second best. Given that we make up such a big chunk of the Jewish community, that's pretty messed up.

*Yes, I am well aware that all interfaith families are different and therefore the views of interfaith families expressed by intermarried Jews will be discordant with some other intermarried Jews, but I think movements controlled by intermarried Jews would suffer less from this problem.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I really have to thank [ profile] cathedral_life for pointing me in the direction of the Fifty Percenters Blog. I might blog about it more later. I particularly liked the post The Christmas Tree Debate is a Distraction. Go read the original post but if you really can't here's a quote which sums a lot of it up:
"if my children's sense of Jewish identity was so fragile that the act of decorating a Christmas tree was capable of destabilizing them to the point of not knowing who they were, then there was something very deeply wrong that went far beyond Christmas. Perhaps I am an idealist, but I believe that Jewish identity, when it is steeped in history, community, education, love, reflection, and sincere practice, is strong enough to withstand the temptation of shiny baubles.

On a similar note there's a post on Homeshuling entitled Playing Christians in which the author confesses:
"But my approach to Christmas has been different. I treat it more like a gateway drug – serve a few glasses of eggnog, or turn on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and next thing I know, my children will be signing up for the convent."
Happily she then explains how she came to realise that her children's sense of Judaism was not so fragile that it would be destroyed by a visit to the Nutcracker.

At my conversion course we had a session on "The December Dilemma". I've also been to a session on it at Limmud (which was sort of an excuse to watch Southpark) and I've discussed it with my cheder students (that's December not Southpark). I've come to realise that Alec and my approach is quite different to a lot of Jews so I'll write a bit about it.

The first difference which really strikes me is that the "December Dilemma" pails into insignificance compared to the "March/April Logistical Nightmare". We find December quite easy. Channukah is a minor holiday and only requires minimal preparation (buy candles, find channukiah, eat fat) and the things I need to celebrate it are relatively portable. Christmas doesn't involve too much prep for us, just a bit of dashing about the country, visiting relatives, and ordering gifts from Amazon. Compare that to deep cleaning the entire house, coming up with a week's worth of kosher l'Pesach food and not being able to travel on certain days or eat out at all, all at the same time as your spouse is experiencing the most important festival of his religious year and your relatives want you to visit them and and eat non-kosher l'Pesach sweeties. Apart from the far greater logistical problems there's also a difference in the level of discordance of mood. Alec is a bit of a Prot and therefore doesn't really do Advent other than going to church on the different Advent Sundays. Christmas is a joyful festival as is Chanukah. If you squint you can see lots of the same themes come through: hope, miracles, pretty lights, unhealthy food. Compare that to the complete discordance when the Pesach seder, complete with joyful singing of Psalms and multiple uses of the word "hallelujah" (to shock my more Catholic readers) falls on Holy Thursday. Even better, a few years ago Purim fell on Good Friday. Imagine Alec trying to mourn the death of his Messiah whilst I'm running around in fancy dress getting drunk and eating far too many biscuits. Compared to that, finding a place for your chanukiah where it won't set fire to the Christmas tree is a minor issue.

I think another big difference in our attitude is that we are both religious and both regard Chanukah and Christmas as religious festivals. My parents are practising Anglicans and my childhood Christmases were very much Christian religious festivals. We would go to church on Christmas morning before we were allowed to open any presents, and when I was older I was allowed to accompany my parents to Midnight Mass. A prominent part of our Christmas decorations was a nativity set* and there were explicitly religious ornaments on the tree. I think the fairy on top of the tree was referred to as an angel. Lots of Jews say that they find Christmas easier to deal with if they think of it as a secular festival. I find the opposite. I see Christmas as a religious festival celebrated by many of my friends and relatives. Just as I might go along to Muslim friend's Eid celebration, I don't feel a problem with going to my in-laws for Christmas dinner. I won't take part in the religious services and I don't really feel comfortable singing Christmas carols (which is a pity because I like a lot of them). I wouldn't celebrate Christmas on my own, and some years I haven't taken part in celebrations because I've been at Limmud, but I'm happy to go and spend time with loved ones whilst they celebrate their festival.

On the other side of things, I think being religious helps me to feel more comfortable when negotiating Christmas. Like, Hannah and Amy, my Judaism doesn't boil down to whether or not I have a Christmas tree and isn't going to be vaporised by a verse of Jingle Bells. With a clear idea of what it means to me to be Jewish, I'm able to sort out what aspects of Christmas would come into conflict with it (worshipping Jesus) and what won't (helping Alec pick out tree baubles, eating vegan mince pies). I think that would be harder if my Judaism boiled down to a nebulous 'we must be Jewish or Hitler has won'.

I think one way that we're different to some interfaith families is that we like to keep our religions separate. At our wedding we held two different marriage ceremonies rather than trying to meld our different religious traditions into one. Our religious traditions are like oil and water. They exist around each other but we try not to let them mix. In this context, I'd rather have a Christmas tree in my house than a Chanukah bush. I'd rather my children receive Christmas presents than pretend that gift giving is a traditional part of Chanukah. Being in an interfaith family actually helps me to keep Chanukah more Jewish.

*Over the years bits got broken or lost and replaced so that we ended up with two Maries, about ten shepherds but only two wise men.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
1. Referring to marriages between Jews from birth and Jews by choice as 'intermarriage'.
I'm not talking about people who don't recognise the conversion of one of the partners, I'm talking about people who flat out boldly describe 'intramarriage' as only between two 'born Jews'. This one seems to be most common among US Reform rabbis. My pet theory is that it's because most of their congregations only recognisable Jewish practice is two years at Hebrew school to justify the Bar Mitzvah party and calling their childhood Christmas trees Chanukah bushes. I'm also wondering whether any of these rabbis have ever been involved in a conversion which wasn't for a chuppah.

2. Complete inability to separate correlation and causality.
The conversation goes something like this:
"Intermarriage is bad."
"Surveys have shown that only 38% of intermarried couples raise their children to have a Jewish identity."
"Oh, OK. My husband and I are planning to raise our children Jewish. Does that make my intermarriage OK?"
"No, because there's only a 38% chance of you raising them Jewish."
"No, we've agreed on this."
"But only 38% of the children of intermarried couples are raised Jewish. Maybe if you have three kids one of them will be raised Jewish."
"You don't understand statistics do you."

It reminds me of the Lucas critique, which was roughly that if you base policy on historical statistical correlations, those correlations may well break down as soon try to manipulate them. If you think just ensuring that disinterested Jews marry each other will ensure the continuation of a vibrant Judaism you should meet some of my friends.

3. It's just what Hitler wanted.
Yes. Making intermarriage illegal was just his attempt at reverse psychology.

4. Assuming that the non-Jewish spouses in intermarriages just can't be bothered to convert.
Again, I have to say I've seen this one mainly among US Reform rabbis. It never occurs to them that someone might have too much integrity to commit to a religion they didn't believe in or plan to practice, or that they might have a strong commitment to a different faith. I wonder what this says about their congregations.

5. Stupid ethnocentric concerns dressed up as religion.
I read an article by one rabbi warning that the Jewish children of Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers wouldn't have 'Jewish' surnames (particularly bizarre coming from a woman with that well known Jewish surname 'Smith'.) The fact that the father of your grandchildren doesn't like Palwin or gefilte fish doesn't mean the sky is going to fall, it just means he has good taste.

6. Marrying another Jew isn't just the most important mitzvah. It's the only mitvzah I'm ever likely to perform.
Generally the same people who feel superior because it's an Orthodox synagogue they don't go to. Put the bacon cheeseburger down and come back when you've got to a level of observance, knowledge and involvement approaching the level my Christian husband ends up at just by being around me.

7. Ill thought out demographic arguments.
Competitive breeding is unseemly and can turn nasty, but if you're going to do it at least get your facts straight. Even if every American Jew identified as a Jew and married another Jew, the US non-Orthodox Jewish population would still shrink. Non-Orthodox US Jews marry late and reproduce below replacement rate. When you exclude the Orthodox (who tend to marry young and Jewish, and have babies) intermarried Jews have more children on average than intramarried Jews. If 50% of those children were raised Jewish intermarriage would be a force for increasing the Jewish population.

8. The belief that if Jewish children were exposed to any other religions they'd clearly abandon Judaism.
Firstly, the reality today is that unless you're Charedi or Israeli, you're going to be exposed to non-Jewish religion, Christmas lights in the streets, finding out that school holiday isn't really for Pesach, most of the history of Western art. More importantly, how low is your estimation of Judaism that you think the slightest whiff of December pine trees will send your children running to learn catechism?

9. Even though I'm intermarried, I expect better from my rabbi.
That contribution was from a particularly bizarre article by a non-observant liberal Jew, who'd become more involved in Judaism at the encouragement of her Catholic husband but said that one of the reasons she opposed the ordination of intermarried rabbis was because if they couldn't enthuse their spouses about Judaism enough to make them convert, how were they going to enthuse her. Judging by the effect of all of the intramarried rabbis she'd met, logically the lesson of her story is that we should start ordaining Catholics.

10. Thinking you're being so generous and tolerant by offering (for a hefty fee) to do an interfaith wedding as long as you can do things to remind people that it's not a proper wedding because the bride's a shiksa at 30 second intervals.
Do interfaith marriages or don't do interfaith marriages; don't do interfaith sort-of-but-not-as-good-as-proper-Jewish-marriage. I'm not so much talking about the halacha here, because I can see that doing a traditional Jewish marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew would hit halachic issues, I'm talking about the petty non-halachic reasons. Things like not letting the couple have a chuppah or break a glass, which are traditions rather than legal parts of the ceremony. If you can't at least do a very good impression of thinking that the couple is beshert, then you shouldn't be performing their wedding. Let their wedding be presided by one of their friends who won't have to pretend to be overjoyed at the union.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I've gotten a bit fed up with a lot of the rhetoric in the Judeosphere about intermarriage, even the rhetoric coming from the people who are officially nice to use. I guess my real problem is that no matter how accurate the model may be for the majority of interfaith families, it really doesn't fit the reality of most of the Jews I know in interfaith relationship, including my own.

First of all, anything specifically for interfaith families is classified as 'outreach'. This gives an impression like this:

If anything catering to interfaith families is 'outreach' it implies that all interfaith families must be 'outside' of the group of Jews who are inside the fold of good, involved Jews. This just doesn't match my experience of Jews in interfaith relationships. Obviously there's sampling bias, I know most of my Jewish friends through religious activities so obviously all of my Jewish friends are more likely to be religiously involved, but still, it proves we exist. Does it make sense to talk about outreach to the girl who organised the J-soc ball and ran the J-soc kitchen for a year? I also don't think that my friends are as aberrant as most people think. One of my friends claims that about half the regulars at my shul are in interfaith families. I don't know because you can't tell with most people. In terms of synagogue attendance, there doesn't seem to be much difference between interfaith families and single faith families. One thing I have noticed is that I don't think that the families who are involved in the running of the shul, the people on the important committees, are in interfaith relationships. This could be my imagination and lack of knowledge but I think it's the case.

This would match my feeling about the situation of interfaith families in Jewish communities. It is really easy in non-Orthodox communities to be an ordinary active Jew in an interfaith relationship. There are enough of us that the stigma can't persist at a level which is high enough to keep us out of shul. However, if you want to move on to take any kind of leadership position in the Jewish community, the stigma surrounding having a non-Jewish spouse will start to be enough to be a barrier. Sometimes this barrier is explicit. There are no rabbinic colleges which would accept a student with a non-Jewish partner. You can be as shomer kashrut, as shomer shabbat as you like, but if you're married to a shiksa there's no place for you. I have had conversations with women who want to be shomer niddar but are terrified that they will be found out as having a non-Jewish husband and excluded from the mikvah. This isn't a baseless fear as I've also heard of women actually being excluded from a mikvah because their husband isn't Jewish. I think a more subtle internalized pressure exists in other realms, that if you tried to enter leadership positions in Jewish institutions you'd be getting above your place. I don't know if this is my imagination, but it seems far more of a barrier to Jewish involvement than the inherent difficulties of managing a household which contains more than one faith.

I think that this leads to a sort of circular logic in relationship to interfaith families. Jews in interfaith relationships are seen as not as committed to Judaism and this is proven by looking around the Jewish leadership and seeing the lack of intermarried Jews. This impression can then be used to exclude intermarried Jews from those positions of leadership because marrying a Jew is used as a shibboleth of whether you're a committed Jew. Referring to all worked targeted at interfaith families as 'outreach' only reinforces this exclusionary meme.

So what do I want? I want Jewish institutions to accept the fact that there are good, involved committed Jews who are married to non-Jews and the how the way in which they frame including interfaith families in Jewish communities actually has exclusionary effects upon these Jews. I want the dialogue of how to live as interfaith families to move on from just 'the December Dilemma' and conversion. Jews are living rich authentic observant lives in interfaith families and the rest of the Jewish community isn't providing what they need because it isn't talking about hot to practice family purity when one partner isn't Jewish, it isn't talking about how shabbat and Pesach when one person in a family isn't obligated, it isn't talking about what mitzvot a non-Jewish father can help his Jewish children to observe, it isn't talking about halachic frameworks for acknowledging interfaith marriages. Ultimately I want not marrying a non-Jew to stop being the ultimate test of whether someone is a good Jew. I'm happy for rabbinic colleges to look favourably upon intramarriage but I want them to treat it the same as other mitzvot, the practice of which aren't an automatic deciding factor. Today, people don't marry out because they aren't committed to Judaism, they marry out because they fall in love with a non-Jew and they don't think that intermarriage is an ultimate taboo and they've seen happy interfaith families, so on the balance of things they go with their heart and try to work out a way in which their love for their spouse and their religion can coexist.