Sunday, May 07, 2006

Mixed Marriage, Mixed Message

I read a disturbing article this evening in The New Jersey Jewish News, entitled Non-Jews raising Jewish kids — now they’re heroes. Written by the president/publisher and the editor of an online magazine for interfaith couples, they write:
Recently, interfaith couples have been getting a message from the Jewish community that raising Jewish children — by participating in Passover seders and other Jewish activities — is not enough. Instead, they’re hearing that only the conversion of the non-Jewish partner to Judaism will do. Now, following a new study on conversion sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, some Jewish leaders are suggesting even conversion isn’t enough.

A recent JTA article on the study (“Study: Non-Jewish spouses not converting,” April 20) quoted Steven Bayme, the AJC’s director of contemporary Jewish life. “We should not see conversion as the end of the story,” he said. “What we’re really aiming for is converts who enrich the Jewish community through Jewish activism.”

Which raises the question: When is enough enough?
When indeed. The issue of inter-faith families is a delicate one, and not one with easy answers. There has been an understandable decision by some Jewish groups to focus on the conversion of the non-Jewish partner in mixed marriages. The article, however, works from the assumption that too much is being asked, that conversion is not the answer. However, the answer given in the article is not enough either:
Let’s be clear: Anyone who chooses conversion deserves a “mazal tov!” We should be delighted when anyone makes this wonderful personal decision. But conversion should not be the goal of Jewish outreach. Non-Jewish partners who are participating in Jewish life and, more importantly, raising their children as Jews should be accepted as they are, not as if they are somehow “damaged goods” because they didn’t happen to have Jewish parents or have decided not to convert. As Reform rabbis and leaders begin to gently encourage conversion, it is essential they continue to offer statements of gratitude and acceptance to non-Jewish spouses who are raising their children as Jews. To those interfaith families raising their children Jewish, we should emphatically say “Dayeinu” — “it is enough.” [emphasis added]
The point that the article ignores is what it means to raise one's children as Jews in a mixed marriage. In what ways is such a child Jewish, even if the mother is Jewish? No definition is given; no guidelines are provided. Apparently anything goes--everything is left as a personal decision. But if so, just what is Jewish in the result--and by what right is it called Jewish?

On answer may be provided by the April issue of Cooking Light magazine, which features the article Blended Holiday: Easter and Passover have some food traditions in common. Here's a menu creatd by a couple who bring them all to their table. Among other things, the authors of the Cooking Light article take it upon themselves to explain the symbols of Passover:
The Lamb...For Jews, the name of the holiday, "Passover," refers to the story that lamb's blood marked the homes of Jewish children so those homes would be "passed over" and the children would not be sacrificed when G_d liberated the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
The confusion in the description is obvious, and unfortunate. It also highlights the problem with the 'hands off' approach suggested in the Jewish News article. There can be no dedication to a true and complete Jewish upbringing when at best only half of the parents have any knowledge of the tradition, history, and laws that a full Jewish life require. The arbitrariness resulting from such a diluted approach may be praised as being 'enriching,' 'beautiful,' and 'inspiring.'

But it is presumptuous to call the result Jewish.


Soccer Dad directed me to an article that led me to another article on the special initiative that has been taken by 170 Orthodox rabbis from around the world to reach out to intermarried families with universally accepted standards for conversion:
When is an Orthodox conversion really kosher? How long should a prospective Jew have to study before being universally accepted as a convert? And how much should a rabbi charge to supervise the process?

No one has easy answers to these questions. In fact, until recently few Orthodox rabbis even were asking them, at least not in a public forum. And most, if not all, did not accept applicants with Jewish spouses.

Now the Orthodox community gradually is encouraging non-Jewish spouses to convert in accordance with halacha, or Jewish law.

"We're reaching out to intermarrieds to encourage them to apply for conversions if they are truly and sincerely dedicated" to being religious Jews, said Rabbi Leib Tropper, co-founder of the group Eternal Jewish Family, or EJF, based in Monsey, N.Y.
Technorati Tag: and and .

1 comment:

Soccer Dad said...

I don't think this helps much either.