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Intermarriage and Identity: Who Is Gathered Around the Seder Table?

By Daniel Treiman

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Ha’aretz’s U.S. correspondent Shmuel Rosner uses Passover as an opportunity to explain the contentious intercommunal debate over intermarriage to readers of the online magazine Slate.

Rosner, the rare Israeli who is genuinely fascinated by American Jewish life (sort of a 21st-century Israeli de Tocqueville), seems to be more sympathetic to the beleaguered pessimists, discussing at length the views of researcher Steven Cohen, who has established himself as a leading voice of gloom when it comes to the Jewish identities of the intermarried.

Lurking behind the debate over intermarriage, of course, are different ways of understanding Jewish identity: Some see choice as central to Jewish identity. Just as one chooses a marriage partner, one chooses whether or not to identify with Judaism, whether one has two Jewish parents or one Jewish parent (or even no Jewish parent). Adherents to this strain of thought, unsurprisingly, tend to be more optimistic about the possibility of successfully engaging the intermarried. Simply make Judaism a welcoming and attractive choice, and people will opt to identify as Jews. Indeed, some argue that intermarriage, rather than being a problem, represents an opportunity to increase Jewish numbers.

For others, the Jews are primarily (though not exclusively) understood as a community of putative common descent. Jewish identity is the result of an inheritance passed down by our ancestors from time immemorial. In this understanding, a heritage that belonged to only half of one’s ancestors tends (as a general rule, though certainly not in every case) to exert less of a hold on one’s loyalties and imagination. A high rate of intermarriage, therefore, is cause for concern about Jewish continuity.

In America, with its smorgasbord of spiritual choices, and where Jews are often considered a religious group, akin to Methodists or Muslims, the former model looms large in our self-understanding. In Israel, where Jewishness is defined as an ethno-national identity — and the notion of common descent is the tie that binds (however tenuously) secular and religious alike — the latter model holds sway.

My sympathies tend more toward the second view. That’s why I think Rosner hits the nail on the head when he writes:

Passover, more than any other Jewish holy day, is the one in which Jews celebrate not their religion but this strange concept of becoming a people. This idea, of Jewish people-hood—the historic fact that Jews, for generations, didn’t see themselves as just sharing their faith, but also their national fate—will be the one most challenged by the influx of people from other religions into the Jewish community.


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Comments
Dan Pasternak Mon. May 5, 2008

What are the reasons to the facts that Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann have hostility to Judaism, Israel and to the fact that they, themselves, are Jews? Quotations from the article "The Elvis Presley of Science". Book review by Yuval Ne'eman published in the Ha'aretz (October 8, 1999) "The Meaning of It All," by Richard Feynman, Perseus Press, 133 pages. " Feynman's Sunday school days apparently left him with a rather distorted picture of Judaism, and even after spending several days in the company of a group of rabbinical school students - described quite favorably in "You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman" - the achievements of 3,500 years of Judaism were lost on him. When I left Caltech for a week in October 1964 for the dedication of the Tel Aviv University campus, Feynman, Gell-Mann and I had dinner together and the subject of Israel and the Jews came up. "Why preserve this fossil?" Feynman asked me at the table, referring to the Jewish people. "Wouldn't it be better to speed up assimilation?" As I tried to list the many contributions Jews had made to humanity, including achievements in modern science, he cut me off. "Jews in science? Compare that with the Hungarians! Look what an impact they've had!" To which Gell-Mann responded: "Don't you know that all those Hungarians were Jews?" And apparently, he didn't."…. "I invited Feynman to visit Israel on many occasions, but he always turned me down. He seemed to have had this fear of over-identification with the Jewish people, although he never said as much. He went all over the world - but never set foot in the Jewish state. Once, though, I did see a different Feynman. We were at a physics conference in Rochester, New York in September 1967, three months after the Six-Day War, something shook him out of his customary neutrality. He spent the whole evening dispensing astute advice based on his analysis of the situation. He predicted, for example, that because the Arabs could not defeat us in an ordinary war, they would now concentrate mainly on terrorism, and Israel would do well to prepare itself

Dan Pasternak Mon. May 5, 2008

Hayyim Nahman Bialik The poem , Levadi (Alone") goes on to introduce the Shekhinah, first, as a protecting, mothering bird, and ultimately, as a trembling, fearful fledgling Bialik writes: She has been driven away from every corner. Only one desolate small nook remains: The House of Study, where in deep shadow Hidden I share her pains. She feels as abandoned as he does. He lost his friends; she lost her children. They share their loneliness. Bialik draws on the mystical Jewish personification of God's love for His people in the image of the beautiful feminine aspect of the deity called the Shekhinah. Thus, the poet expresses his personal struggle with fear and loneliness. On another level, Bialik comments on the precarious position of the nation's losing its distinctive protection because of the abandonment of the House of Study. The poem rises to the universal plane also by evoking the trepidation one feels when the inner world and its certainties disintegrate.

Dan Pasternak Mon. May 12, 2008

The assimilation of the Jews in Diaspora is the second holocaust. What a shame. What a cowardly. What an escape from responsibility. What treason in themselves. What treason in their brothers that left them fewer, weaker in their struggle to survival. I DESPISE YOU.

Dan Pasternak Mon. May 12, 2008

I DESPISE THE JEWS THAT ARE ASSIMILATORS.

samuel nosherman Sun. Apr 19, 2009

AN UPDATED TREATISE ON THE NEED FOR A SEMITIC MODERN MASTURBATION MENTALITY

By Rabbi Moshe “hung so lo“ Rabeynu, Ph.D April 19, 2009 comments

CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS MUST BE INCULCATED AS TO THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION IN THE ATTAINMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF A HEALTHY MIND AND A HEALTHY BODY! PENT UP SEXUAL FRUSTRATION IN CHILDREN HAS NEVER BEEN HONESTLY AND ADEQUATELY DISCUSSED AND DEALT WITH IN JEWISH DISCOURSE AND DOCTRINE. HISTORICALLY, JEWISH PARENTS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO COPE WITH THEIR MASTURBATING CHILDREN BY ASSERTIONS THAT GOD IS OFFENDED BY THEIR ENGAGING IN THIS ACTIVITY AND THAT HE VEHEMENTLY FORBIDS THEM THE RESULTANT RELIEF AND COMFORT. HOW MANY CHILDREN ARE STARTED ON THE ROAD TO ATHEISM OR APOSTASY DUE TO THEIR PARENTS’ GROSS OVER-REACTION TO THEIR HARMLESS CHILDHOOD WANKERY? THE SCENARIO OF JEWISH PARENTS MOANING AND GROANING AND HARANGUING THEIR FRIGHTENED CHILDREN WITH THREATS OF GOD’S WRATH FOR MASTURBATING IS COMICAL AND TRAGIC AT THE SAME TIME. THEY MIGHT AS WELL TELL THEIR CHILDREN THAT GOD DOES NOT CONDONE THEIR SCRATCHING THEIR LITTLE ASSES IF THEY HAVE AN ITCH. MODERN LIFESTYLES AFFORD INDIVIDUALS THE PRIVACY AND HYGIENIC FACILITIES NECESSARY TO MASTURBATE IN A PRIVATE, DIGNIFIED AND SANITARY MANNER. ONE CAN WELL UNDERSTAND THE IRE THAT WAS AROUSED BY MASTURBATING INDIVIDUALS FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO WHEN AN ENTIRE LARGE FAMILY LIVED TOGETHER IN A TENT IN AN ARID LOCATION. NOBODY WANTED TO HAVE A WAD OF FLYING JISSUM HIT HIM IN THE EYE OR LAND IN HIS HUMUS. WATER WAS SCARCE AND ONE HAD TO WALK , SOMETIMES LONG DISTANCES, TO THE WELL TO GET IT, IF IT WAS AVAILABLE AT ALL. UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IT WAS A CHOICE OF WATER FOR DRINKING OR WATER FOR WASHING EJACULATE OFF OF ONE’S HANDS. THIS IS WHY THE EARLY SAGES WERE SO VOCIFEROUS IN THEIR CONDEMNATION OF MASTURBATION. WE JEWISH PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A HORNY BUNCH AND, IF THERE WEREN'T THESE SEVERE STRICTURES AGAINST MASTURBATION AT THAT TIME, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN ERRANT CUMSTAINS ALL OVER THE PLACE AND THE SMELL OF FRESHLY RELEASED JISSUM WOULD HAVE WAFTED FAR AND WIDE, EVEN WITHIN THE HALLOWED HALLWAYS OF THE SACRED TEMPLE ITSELF. TIMES HAVE CHANGED. IF PARENTS TODAY STRESS THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION TO THEIR CHILDREN, THEY WILL HELP LESSEN THE OCCURRENCE OF STDs, AND UNPLANNED PREGNANCIES. SCHOLARSHIP LEVELS WOULD INCREASE DRAMATICALLY WITH THE RELEASE OF PENT UP ADOLESCENT EJACULATORY TENSION. .WHAT PARENT HASN’T FRETTED AND WORRIED OVER THE MOODINESS AND SURLINESS OF HIS ADOLESCENT OFFSPRING? THERE IS REALLY NO MYSTERY AS TO WHY THE LITTLE BASTARDS ARE ACTING OUT SO WILDLY. THEIR HORMONES ARE CAUSING THEM HIGH LEVELS OF DISCOMFORT AND FRUSTRATION. INSTEAD OF MAKING THEM MASTURBATE FURTIVELY UNDER THE BEDCOVERS IN A NIGHTLY GUILT- RIDDEN FRENZY OF PENT-UP SEXUAL DESIRE, THEY SHOULD BE GUIDED TO A CIVILIZED AND GUILT-FREE MASTURBATORY REGIMEN. IF NECESSARY, PARENTS SHOULD SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN AS TO THE PROPER METHODOLOGY FOR THIS ACTIVITY AND FOLLOW UP AND MAKE SURE THAT THEIR CHILDREN ARE MASTURBATING REGULARLY AT AN OPTIMUM FREQUENCY. KEEPING A MASTURBATION DIARY COULD BE A VERY USEFUL TOOL IN MAINTAINING THE PROPER SCHEDULE. EVERY PARENT SHOULD ASK HIS CHILDREN ON A DAILY BASIS, "DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND MASTURBATE TODAY?" OH, OF COURSE, THE CHABADNIKS AND THE FRUMNIKS AND THE HAREDINIKS WILL YELL OUT, "BUT RAMBAM SAID THIS, AND RASHI SAID THAT AND RABBI AKIVA SAID THIS, AND THAT, ABOUT THE EVILS OF MASTURBATION." PROBABLY ALL THREE OF THEM WERE MASTURBATING WHILE THEY WERE WRITING THESE STRICTURES, ANOTHER CASE OF "DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO". WE MUST NOT CONTINUE TO LET OTHERS DO OUR THINKING FOR US UNDER THE GUISE OF DIVINE REVELATION AND RELIGIOUS EXPERTISE. WE CANNOT LET BACKWARD LOOKING ZEALOTS WITH THEIR ARCHAIC, OUTDATED AND ANACHRONISTIC MORALISTIC MISCONCEPTIONS CAST THEIR PALL OVER THE HEALTH-CONSCIOUS MASTURBATORS OF THE WORLD. WHAT WAS LOOKED UPON AS A SHONDER FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO BY UNENLIGHTENED MENTALITIES SHOULD NOT BE SO DENIGRATED IN THESE MODERN TIMES. THE BLESSINGS OF MASTURBATORY RELIEF SHOULD BE LOOKED UPON AS THE BIRTHRIGHT OF ALL B’NEI ADAM. SHALOM AND ZEI GEZUNT!

Rabbi Rabeynu is available for additional advice and discussion on HTTP://theyeshivabucher.blogspot.com

TSwain Mon. Feb 1, 2010

Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!




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