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Intermarriage is Inevitable

[Last week, Ha’aretz Chief U.S. Correspondent Shmuel Rosner featured Jewcy editor in chief Tahl Raz as a guest on his site. Raz responded to Rosner's questions about the future of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood in America, and the frequency of debate … Read More

By / April 16, 2007

[Last week, Ha’aretz Chief U.S. Correspondent Shmuel Rosner featured Jewcy editor in chief Tahl Raz as a guest on his site. Raz responded to Rosner's questions about the future of Judaism, Jewish peoplehood in America, and the frequency of debate about Israel in the U.S. He also answered questions from readers, like the ones below.]

Dear Tahl,

How can you call the objection to intermarriage an "anachronistic tribal obsession"? Don't you realize that if Jews keep marrying out, the Jewish peoplea small minority in America and the worldwill eventually disappear? Or maybe you just don't care?

Thank you for you thoughts, Joel Goldstone, NY

 

Dear Tahl,

Judaism is already more divided than ever before. Do you think the dispute over the "anachronistic tribal obsession with endogamy" could eventually flower into a full-blown doctrinal schism like the one between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, creating two Jewish religions with distinct ideas about who is a Jew? Or indeed, has it already happened? And since just about every respectable religion has had such schisms, does it matter?

Best wishes, Gideon, Jerusalem

You know, Joel, I do care. It's an indelible part of who I am and how I was raised. In the dawn of my pubescence, my beloved Israeli mother let me know that if I ever brought home a "shiksa" she'd use a knife to relieve me of my testicles. True story. And I'm not married yet, so there's a part of me that still worries she was being serious.

I do feel the necessity, the urgency, you also so clearly feel about the continuity of our customs and beliefs. And I personally don't find opposition to intermarriage morally distasteful, just hopelessly ineffectual.

In the marketplace of identities, as Eric Liu put it in Slate, I imagine you're a protectionist, Joel. You want to impose restrictive regulations, raise tariffs, and erect as many artificial barriers as needed to keep your little cottage industry of ethnic purity safe and unchanged. But it won't work. It's a bad strategy. In a free and open society, where we're pitted against the American assimilationist machine, intermarriage is inevitable.

So what strategy will work? I don't know. What's very clear is that change is hard. But it's reassuring that it can just as easily be an act of creation as destruction. Which brings me to Gideon's question.

Doctrinal schisms around intermarriage already divide the Jewish world. But such schisms have historically been rather beneficial. Hasidism exploded onto the 18th century Jewish religious scene, and while it caused innumerable headaches for the mainstream (a couple of false messiahs, for instance), it drew in a significantly large and disenfranchised group of Jews who might have otherwise chosen, say, yoga. Reform and Conservative Judaism, as well as Zionism, were an outgrown of schisms created around how the community should respond to the Enlightenment, emancipation, and increasing anti-Semitism. Discontinuity, as it turns out, can be quite healthy.

Tahl Raz

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