Some rabbinical students are ‘closeted’ because of intermarriage bans

More on the crisis of Jewish identity. Yesterday I did a post about my own efforts to transcend identity politics and adjust to a diverse American culture in the age of Obama, in which young people don't see race and religion as prominent.
Yes and some of those people actually fall in love across those shadowy lines. Here's a great piece of reporting by Jeremy Gillick for New Voices about the opposite impulse in social organization, the intolerance at rabbinical colleges of students who want to marry non-Jews. The policies are of course rationalized as a means of preserving "the Jewish people." Preserve, preserve–but on what terms?

[Aspiring rabbi David Curiel] was shocked when Hebrew College (HC), the non-denominational,
Boston-based rabbinical school that appealed to him because it seemed
“progressive and forward-thinking,” told him he would not be welcome at
its seminary because his wife was not Jewish.

Neither Curiel’s situation nor HC’s policy is unique. The
Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the Reform
movement’s Hebrew Union College (HUC) and the Reconstructionist
Rabbinical College (RRC) all refuse to admit or ordain students in
relationships with non-Jews. “Because we believe in the importance of
Jewish family modeling,” reads the policy at HUC, the network of
seminaries for America’s largest Jewish denomination, “applicants who
are married to or in committed relationships with non-Jews will not be
considered for acceptance to this program.”

If the policies affect only a small number of potential rabbis, they
channel strong ideological currents. Rabbinical leaders contend that
the policies are not only consistent with halacha, but
actually embody core notions of Jewishness. “Jewishness has not
historically been understood as a matter of individual faith or
choice,” explains Jonathan Boyarin, a professor of modern Jewish
thought at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “but as
entitlement and obligation based ultimately on descent.”

Halacha is Jewish law. Most American Jews violate it constantly. Halacha changes, like other legal codes. Here's a weird story from Philadelphia's Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in late 1990s:

[Rabbi Maurice] Harris recalls learning about at least five fellow students in covert
relationships with non-Jews—evidence that many students are too scared
even to “come out” about their partners. “We were the only out couple
which was an interesting thing in a seminary known for being very
gay-friendly and where issues of being closeted had a strong impact on
many students and faculty members…

Then an enlightened note:

Rabbi Yael Shmilovitz, a recent HUC graduate who gave a
controversial senior sermon in favor of intermarriage in 2007, differs
sharply with[sociologist Stephen] Cohen. Rabbis should serve as role models, she says, but
“endogamy is not a value to be emulated.” In her view, the ideals
embodied by the “blue sheet,” which is now colorless and exists only
online, are products of “deep-seated Jewish fears of disappearing. It’s
about the reluctance to realize that in order to survive we have to
change.” And change won’t come if liberal Jewish movements see
intermarriage “as a necessary evil to be contended with rather than a
blessing,” she says. “If Judaism is strong and vibrant it will survive,
and if not, it won’t, regardless of who anyone marries.”

Another story of the closet, and of hurt/coercion:

M, who was admitted to rabbinical school last month after her boyfriend
agreed to convert by 2010, says it would have been easy to pretend he
was Jewish. Although she decided against hiding his background from the
school—albeit “with no judgment for friends who have made that
choice”—M remains torn about the conversion. “The fact that it’s forced
puts this strain on his relationship with Judaism,” she says. “The
worst parts of Judaism, the parts that exclude and marginalize people,
seem to be the parts asking the person I love to convert. That’s really
hurtful to me.”

Piece culminates with a vision of Judaism by a rejected would-be rabbi:

[David] Curiel envisions a Jewishness free from the exclusive, tribal
inclinations that history once mandated for the Jews, inclinations that
he feels mainstream Judaism still clings to, and that are excluding him
from the rabbinate. [He imagines a school policy] acknowledging a variety of valid Jewish identities [and that] agrees to “accept
applicants in interfaith relationships and marriages who will be able
to engage with, support, and otherwise Jewishly enrich the families of
the communities they serve.”

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in US Politics

{ 40 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. bar_kochba132 says:

    Phil-who really cares? There has always been assimilation and intermarriage. The future of the Jewish people doesn't lie with those who do these things. Thank G-d, there are enough Jews (and today, the number is growing rapidly, particularly in Israel) who oppose intermarriage and assimilation, and who marry within the Jewish people to keep these going nicely.
    Same think with your comment about Halacha. Sure, most American Jews don't follow it rigorously, but again, there are plenty who do (and even more in Israel) and the numbers again are growing rapidly. Also, although you state that "legal codes change constantly", Halacha does not change in the way you mean (although it is flexible to accomodate changes in society and technology and it has always been this way). No follower of halacha is going to approve of intermarriage. The Reform Movement and its HUC seminary does not now and never has viewed halacha as binding and they have been approving of intermarriage for decades now. Nothing new there.
    Bottom line-those who intermarry and assimilate become irrelevant to Judaism and the Jewish people. Will we go on without them.

  2. This blog entry misses the role that the bans of HC, RRC, and HUC play in the construction and maintenance of Zionist attitudes and identity.

    From Feldman and the anguish of the disinherited

    I have studied Geniza texts. In the twelfth and thirteenth century in Egypt, people like Feldman were not excluded from the Jewish community. But those were Jews, who were Arabs and not Eastern Europeans, and that fact is a problem because the essentialist and primordialist myths of modern Jews are crafted to support the idea that a single unchanging Jewish people has existed for three thousand years so that today's Jews can believe that they committed ethnic cleansing and stole Palestine from the native population with perfect justice.

  3. More on the conflict of American, Eastern European Ashkenazi, and Jewish values: Gary Rosenblatt: Noah Feldman and the Confrontation of American with Jewish or Zionist Values.

  4. From Red Herring: Resisting Islamic Law

    The Medieval religious text Sefer Hasidim does not consider marrying a non-Jew to be marrying out of the faith (in all circumstances), and Amitav Ghosh documents the acceptance of marriages with non-Jews (or more accurately concubinage of non-Jewish women) within the Egyptian Jewish community of the 12th century in his book In an Antique Land.

  5. Richard Witty says:

    Individuals have choices. That some are fearful about the choices themselves and are fearful about others impressions of those choices is no big deal.

    There are Jewish movements that emphasize the spiritual mission of the Jewish community (that is transferred by parent-child and teacher-student; tradition and halacha) over the more rote emphasis on the practise first and the spirituality/mission second.

    If that is the case, then I would expect that the spouse of a sincere rabbi would join his/her fundamental mission, or the rabbi would have to acknowledge that its not that important to him/her to have a Jewish life, both intimate and formal.

    Its described that all halacha derives from Torah (written, rabbinic interpretation, prior accompanying oral compilation of story and interpretation), which is an elaboration and explanation of the ten commandments, which themselves are an elaboration of the first two.

    That agreement between God and Jews is what is Judaism. "If you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time (metaphorical and literal)."

  6. Witty refers to Zionist slicing-and-dicing of Rabbinic Jewish theology and not to genuine Rabbinic Judaism, which emphasizes Torah lishmah (the study of Torah for its own sake): Connecting Hanukkah, Christmas and `Idu-l-Adha (I know the pictures are broken and will fix them).

  7. Chris Berel says:

    MARRIAGE

    History has always had a soft spot for the political couple: Anthony and Cleopatra, Bill and Hillary, and, of course, that odd-couple of American political consulting James Carville and Mary Matalin. Yet what is one to make of the oddest couple of all: Joachim Martillo (a.k.a. Juan Carlo Santos Martillo Ajami) and Karin Friedemann (a.k.a. Karin Maria Friedemann-Hussain, a.k.a. Maria Hussain).

    The name Karin Friedemann (without the aliases) may ring a bell to readers of the Somerville Journal. On May 5, she wrote a standout letter to the editor supporting divestment that included the following gem:

    "Soon after the governor of New Jersey invested all of his state employees' 401K plans in Israel, it was revealed that the governor was being poked from behind by an Israeli agent."

    For anyone unfamiliar with the reference, Friedemann was talking about the former governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey, who recently resigned due to a scandal involving his closeted homosexuality. The 401K accusation is total nonsense, and simply used as a hook for a homophobic slur directed at McGreevey's male lover (who was Israeli).

    Lest anyone think Friedemann's anti-gay crack was an inadvertent slip of the tongue, here is what this outspoken woman and convert to Islam (under one of her many pseudonyms Maria Hussain) had to say about Islam, feminism and homosexuality in an article entitled "Observations on the Palestinian Solidarity Conference":

    "Muslims … are not seeking peace. We get peace from Allah. In Palestine, we will stop only at victory, which will be, inshaAllah, in the end, a just implementation of Islamic religion. We have to guard against the Palestine movement being represented primarily by homosexuals and feminists."

    Karin/Maria's involvement in the Somerville Divestment Project has been both clear and long term. In an October, 2004 communication with her comrades, Freiedmann/Hussain was in a near panic when the city's aldermen decided to make the SDP's activities known to the public:

    "the remaining Alderman threw us for a loop by insisting that 'the other side' be allowed to speak … before letting the vote go through"

    Needless to say, her fear was justified given how their movement shriveled to dust once it's activities was exposed to the light of truth

    If Friedemann/Hussain, whose writing appears on various Islamist and anti-Jewish Web sites (including former KKK head David Duke's white supremacist publication WhiteCivilRights.org) is a strange one, she has nothing on al Jezeera's favorite "scholar" of Jewish history and anthropology, Joachim Martillo.

    In addition to his many activities on various hate publications such as JewishTribalReview.org, Martillo has also been featured prominently on the Somerville Divestment Project's Web site which features a telling little essay in it's Counterpoints Section titled "How to Talk About Zionism: The New Improved Guide" which includes the following over-the-top talking point:

    "…Zionist propaganda reinterprets the Ashkenazi ethnic group as the pan-Judaic ethnonational group in order to make a ridiculous primordialist claim to Palestine just as German Nazi propaganda equated modern Germans to ancient Teutonic and Gothic tribes in order to claim that only pure Germans had a right to reside in German territories."

    If the bizarre ethno-history and discussion of "promordialism" causes a few blank stares, Martillo (and, one presumes, the SDP which has posted his "analysis") is struggling with the same problem faced by right-wing Jew haters who also fancy themselves religious Christians: how to continue to revere the Jews of the Old Testament (which they embrace) while leaving room to despise the Jews living amongst us today. Their solution is a witches brew of religion and ideology called "Identify Christianity" that claims the Jews of today have nothing to do with the Jews of the Old Testament, but are in fact descendents of Eastern European tribes called the Khazars who embraced Judaism centuries ago (much as the Slavs converted to Orthodox Christianity).

    link to somervillemejustice.com

  8. LD says:

    Haha, I knew Berel – being the moron that he is – would only respond to Joachim with slander and straw man Zionist hasbara.

    Dispute what he's actually saying with your own argument, you child.

  9. Chris Berel says:

    No need. Joachim damns himself with his own words and actions. Easiest way to defeat antisemites like you, is to expose you to air.

    Joachim's arguments are little but dust, not worth discussing, just in need of a little Endust to toss it in the waste bin with the rag.

  10. If Berel's claims about me were true, he would not have to resort to accusations ad hominem.

  11. judy says:

    Phil: I don't get your beef. Intermarried families in which one partner doesn't convert can't be religious families.

    I am a good person. I am a highly moral person. I am a good mom. But I'm not a Muslim. Consequently, my home isn't halal, my kids don't pray 5 times a day. My daughters don't cover. We don't require our kids to fast for 30 days during Ramadan.

    In religious traditions where rituals are built around families, is it not reasonable to want both partners to practice?

    Could this be less about endogamy and more about religious practice, especially where rabbis are concerned?

  12. Citizen says:

    Endogamy is countercultural in an American society that values egalitarianism, universalism, and multiculturalism. Preferring endogamy contradicts a universalist ethos of embracing all humanity. Encouraging conversion to Judaism suggests preference for one faith over others. Advocating that children be raised exclusively as Jews goes against multicultural diversity, which proclaims that having two faiths in the home is richer than having a single one.

    Some people feel the need for more rituals than others. This does not make rituals by themselves either good or bad,
    more or less ethical, more or less moral, more or less spiritual. One can be an atheist or an agnostic and be a good
    person, a highly moral person, highly spiritual too–and be a good mom or dad.

    Is it unreasonable to view those who support Jewish continuity by trying to curb intermarriage as essentially people who
    value their individuality less than their sense of being part of a sub-group of humanity? Conversely, is it unreasonable
    to view those who intermarry positively or take the stance "That's a personal choice!" as embracing more, being more
    open to all of humanity?

    Is Archie Bunker in the house?

  13. delia says:

    "…the intolerance at rabbinical colleges of students who want to marry non-Jews. The policies are of course rationalized as a means of preserving "the Jewish people." Preserve, preserve–but on what terms?"

    There is of course nothing new in this: prohibitions against intermarriage go back to the Jewish scriptures (read Deuteronomy) and the Jewish fear of annihilation as a people is not a consequence of the Holocaust but rather, the consequence of the ancient origins of the Jews. Whichever one of those scholarly theories about the origin of the Jewish tribe you want to buy into, they are all in some sense about the attempt to culturally construct a people by adopting social practices that promote a sense of unity. Today, such an effort might adopt a flag around which to celebrate patriotism; in the ancient world, adopting one god — as distinct from the neighbours' many — served that purpose.

    But knowledge that such a unity is not "naturally" occurring but rather, culturally constructed can lead to fears that the tribe could fall apart as easily as it was put together. So laws against drifting off and marrying the infidel can be found in many places in the scriptures — sure proof that drifting off and marrying the infidel was a commonplace.

    Well, it's been a good 4000 years since that fear of the disappearance of the Jewish tribe raised its threatening head, and the Jewish people are still with us — and they're still drifting off and marrying the infidel, and the prophets are still warning the Jews against it. This is, I think, part of what it is to be Jewish. And maybe kvetching about it is too.

  14. LD says:

    No one else but your compatriots on the short bus take you seriously Barrel.

    Keep up the slapstick though, you're amusing.

  15. Citizen says:

    Further, is it unreasonable to conclude from the trend toward intermarriage that there is less and less anti-semitism
    in the land?

    Yet some jews refer to intermarriage as "the silent holocaust."
    While other jews, like Phil, celebrate it as quite the opposite. Hollywood always depicts it as a good.

    Nazi Germany banned intermarriage. And penalized it in Draconian manner.

    Is anti-semitism a necessary part of feeling Jewish?

    If so, how long would it take living in a land without jew-haters before a jew would wake up and–just not feel very Jewish?

    Is that a loss or a gain, or both?

    And for whom?

  16. David F. says:

    Excellent post, Judy. I agree with you.

    In a Reform synagogue, it's no big deal if a Jew is intermarried. They've wisely put their focus in trying to get intermarried Jews to stay involved and raise their children of Jews.

    However if you take having a Jewish home life seriously, it is obviously better if the whole family is Jewish. Becoming a rabbi is a great privilege, and it's completely reasonable to expect that a religious leader should model the denomination's religious teachings.

    If you take all the rules and restrictions of a religious community away, you wind up with nothing but a vaguely spiritual liberal Democratic (or Zionist) organization.

  17. Chris Berel says:

    There is no reason to debate the ideas of an antisemitic crackpot. There is no honor not gain. The claims are true. And you know it.

  18. Chris Berel says:

    Keep laughing. Keeps you from acting on your antisemitic fantasies

  19. The issue, of course, is not intermarriage, but whether practicing Judaism is important to one. If it is not, there is no reason to limit one's marriage choices. If it is important, as presumably it is to a rabbinical student, then it makes sense to select a spouse who agrees, the more so because Judaism has so many home rituals.

    Given the panoply of Jewish genetic disorders carried by recessive genes, there are biological reasons to marry out.

    If one believes the religion to be false, as I do, blintzes and klezmer music are hardly sufficient to determine whom one marries.

  20. Jan says:

    How wonderful it would be if all religions disappeared from the face of the earth. We might have a bit more peace than we do now.
    Religion is truly a curse, no matter what the religion.

  21. Citizen says:

    Here's a scholarly book chapter link you can read online if you care to–it covers the history of Jewish endogamy all the way back. Among other things, it shows that at one time it was only Jewish priests who practiced endogamy, but gradually,
    the concept of holy jewish priests was extended to the concept of a holy jewish peoplehood, and with that extension
    came a blanket endogamy stance applicable to all jews. I guess that touches on the discussion above relative to holding the endogamy line at least as far as rabbis are concerned. Why at any certain point endogamy was preached and to what extent it was actually common practice seems as much an issue of time and context related to getting and keeping power.

    google.com/books?id=-tCwHpLFKTYC&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=endogamy+in+jewish+life&source=bl&ots=q__4jKjyJe&sig=yWU5tszJKBx6kAqjxrjc7_TJZVo&hl=en&ei=ONnxSbKZOJWktwfwq-3CDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5

  22. LD says:

    If I'm laughing at you while you call me an antisemite, yet laughing keeps me from being an antisemite as you just said, then how am I still an antisemite?

    Is there a "You know you're an antisemite if…" Comedy tour that could explain the Zionist mind to me with the same Chris Barrel slapstick comedy quality?

  23. Mooser says:

    So, Chris, that whole "demographic time bomb" is a bunch of BS? There are plenty of Jews, more than enough, and their numbers are rapidly increasing?
    So what happened to the "demographic time bomb"?

  24. Mooser says:

    "If one believes the religion to be false, as I do, blintzes and klezmer music are hardly sufficient to determine whom one marries"

    Obviously, you haven't tasted my wife's blintzes! Just one, I tell you, and all that grumpiness you are troubled with will pass. I handle the klezmer end of things. My gangsta-klezmer rap albums sell like hot latkes in the settlements.

  25. Ed says:

    "…Zionist propaganda reinterprets the Ashkenazi ethnic group as the pan-Judaic ethnonational group in order to make a ridiculous primordialist claim to Palestine just as German Nazi propaganda equated modern Germans to ancient Teutonic and Gothic tribes in order to claim that only pure Germans had a right to reside in German territories."

    I think that's a brilliant observation by Martillo, Berel, and a reasonable comparison. Maybe you Zionists should actually read and digest some of the brilliant critiques of your ideology instead of blindly plunging forward like lemmings. Obsessively ideological and ethnocentric Jews don't exactly have a track record of success in their interactions with the gentile world in much more than stirring up all kinds of anti-semitism due to their own narcissistic group think. Maybe you need to introduce some non-Zionist blood into your little clique. Purebreds tend to be rather strange breeds prone to all kinds of bizarre, unpredictable and dangerous behavior. Mutts are much smarter because they are drawing upon genetic blends with experiences from a huge cross-section of history.

  26. Mooser says:

    Look, I'm really sorry, but truth be told, I couldn't marry a Jewish girl, no matter how much I wanted to, and I did. Jesus, man, sleeping with a Jewish girl is like frickin incest! Yeecch! Would I sleep with my Mother or sister? Hell no, that's taboo. I mean, who the hell could put up with that? Picture it, you are engaging in marital relations with your dearly betrothed, and as she groans and wails in the throes of ecstasy, you are thinking, "My God, I bet that's just what my Mother sounded like when her and Dad made me!!" Don't forget, I had two sisters. Two younger sisters.
    Oh Lord, imagine being nagged or harrassed by your wife, and she uses the exact same intonation and syntax as your Mom did when you were a little boy? The next step is easy- it's either domestic violence or suicide. Nope, not for me.
    My wife offered to convert when we got married. I nixed any further discusiion of that. Why on earth would I want her to change a thing? She was perfect, and I didn't feel like I was sleeping with my sister. What more can you ask for?

    And about a year later I found out what happened to her first husband (She shot and wounded him) and our marital relationship changed somewhat.

  27. Mooser says:

    Oh, and we really need to hear from some Jewish women who have married non-Jewish men.
    I mean. if Jewish men were available to you, why on earth would you marry anybody else? Beats me!

  28. Ed says:

    It's really unfortunate that so many American Jews have insisted upon conflating their religion with the Zionist political movement. America is indeed a multi-cultural society, so theoretically, Jews keeping to themselves should not be a problem. But the problems start when Jews keep to themselves and also hatch all kinds of subversive Zionist plots. I, personally, am unconvinced that organized Judaism isn't inherently political, just as is organized Islam. And I suppose Christianity is political, too, when it has to be, ie when other groups have taken advantage of its good will, tolerance and universalism in order to pursue and impose their own anti-Christian visions.

    We may be entering another period of politicized Christianity, now that Jewish Zionists, Islamists, and atheistic liberals and imperialists have all declared jihad on the right hand of power.

  29. Chris Berel says:

    Laughing makes you unable to act on your fantasy. Your ineptness, like the Palestinians, earns you no kudos. Sorry to see that you need Benny Hill to explain your lunacy. He could, but I understand that he is dead.

  30. Chris Berel says:

    Perhaps they feel the need to dominate intellectually. Many things beat you.

  31. Chris Berel says:

    I wondered why you were an antisemite. Now I know.

  32. Jan says:

    Mooser, I was married to a Jewish man for 16 years, But while I was pregnant he picked up a non-Jewish woman at a bar and before long our marriage became history.
    I have now been married for 30 years to a non-Jewish, non-religious man. For me it turned out that it was a mitzvah that my first husband picked up his floozie.
    To me, and to my children as well who are in interfaith relationships, the religion of a prospective mate is only of importance if that mate expects you to change and practice his or her religion or if that mate is overly religous.
    The fact that neither my husband nor I are religious is a great plus for our relationship.

  33. bar_kochba132 says:

    That's right Jan, we need more open-minded, tolerant
    atheists like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot.
    All atheists, every one. So are a high percentage of the
    people sitting in prison in Western countries.

    If you were walking down a dark alley at night and you
    saw three big men walking in your direction, would
    you feel better if you know they came from (1) a bar,
    or (2) a Bible study group? (HT to Dennis Prager).

  34. Duscany says:

    If you were sitting in the oval Office one dark night trying to decide whether to bomb Iran or not, who would you rather finding waiting to see you: (1) three Zionist Jews or (2) three fundamentalist Christians.

    Well, if you're smart you wouldn't see either group, because they both want the US to bomb the rat-shit out of Iran as soon as possible.

  35. Citizen says:

    Ditto here Jan, only my wife is the Jew. Our kids have no problem at all.

  36. Mooser says:

    So Chris, you think that being a good Jew means you want to sleep with your sister or Mom? Jeez man. have you got some oepidal issues.

    I hold my Mom and my sisters in the highest regard, but they have no sexual attraction for me. Well, very little. Okay, a little. Well, maybe some. They were all very pretty women…hmmmm.

    Hey, Chris, ever hear the joke about the Jewsh psychiatrist who was giving a Rorshach test? Every single ink-blot, his patient comes up with an orgiastic, erotic interpretation. The good Jewish nerve-doctor remionstartes that the [atient seems to have an erotic fixation.
    "But Doctor", he said, "You are showing me all these dirty pictures"!

    Stop me, Chris, if you've heard that one before.

  37. Mooser says:

    "Mooser, I was married to a Jewish man for 16 years, But while I was pregnant he picked up a non-Jewish woman at a bar and before long our marriage became history."

    That is shocking to me. The proscription against adultery is very strong for Jewish men, or at least this one. That, and the little bone-handled Beratta .25 automatic my wife used to dissolve her last marriage. She's never without it.

  38. Mooser says:

    "I wondered why you were an antisemite. Now I know"

    Because I don't want to sleep with my mother or sisters? That makes me an anti-Semite. What are you, in some kind of strange Jewish-mother-sex-cult? I mean, all respect and love to Jewish Mothers, but I think you're taking it a bit too far, Chris.

  39. citizen says:

    funny, I haven't noticed the ban against adultery being more effective in jewish men than gentile men….