Sorry for being such a negligent blogger this summer, but it’s been a quiet season in terms of In The Mix-y news — while at the same time busy in other respects.
Instead of blogging, I’ve been occupying myself with reporting/editing on Jewish education, editing, taking my oldest daughter to and from Jewish sleep-away camp (where two of her friends, also children of intermarried parents, accompanied her), hanging out with various friends and family and even (gasp) attending my younger sister’s interfaith, but basically pretty secular, wedding. (Chuppah, glass-breaking, lobster rolls, nary a rabbi.)
Believe it or not, I do have some friends and family who aren’t intermarried, even some who aren’t Jewish, although truth be told, most of the same-faith weddings I’ve attended would please few traditionalists, given that they were same-sex.
Fortunately, sociologist Steven M. Cohen has awakened me from my bloggy slumber with a post on Rosner’s Domain, a blog on L.A.’s Jewish Journal. Journalist/blogger Shmuel Rosner (who updates his blog just a wee bit more than I do) asks sociologist Steven M. Cohen, “Are you biased against intermarried Jews?” In essence, Cohen’s reply is that he has no problem with intermarried Jews, just with intermarriage. In fact, he notes that some of his best friends are intermarried:
On a personal level, I live with and love the intermarried. I celebrate intermarriages in my family (and even have arranged for rabbi to perform the mixed marriage of a family member), and, the only person named after one of my parents is the child of a non-Jewish mother.
He says he parts ways with intermarriage “hawks” and “doves”:
The hawks are wrong when they believe that more articulate, repeated or forceful condemnation of intermarriage will work to raise inmarriage rates. The doves are wrong when they believe that welcoming the intermarried – as proper and worthy an act as that is – will do much to raise the participation of intermarried families in Jewish life.
…Rather than focusing all our energies on welcoming the intermarried, we ought to be focusing on engaging the intermarried, approaches that certainly include welcoming, but go to building relationships and offering opportunities to educate and participate. Moreover, costs of membership and participation may seem higher to the intermarried (and other engaged Jews) than to the already engaged; hence financial barriers may be more important for the intermarried than for others.
OK, that sounds reasonable. Mere “welcome” sounds kind of shallow to me. But he then goes on to compare himself to a “public health official,” and to note the “deleterious effects of intermarriage both upon the Jewish engagement of the intermarried and their children, as well as upon the Jewish population.”
His argument, from there, seems to confuse causation and correlation, implying that intermarriage actually causes lower rates of engagement and that in-marriage causes higher rates. Meanwhile, I'd venture that non-Orthodox Judaism’s “engagement” problem has less to do with intermarriage or the intermarried and more with a general attitude among many non-Orthodox (intermarried and in-married alike) that organized Judaism fulfills no real need in their lives.
Cohen calls to “elevate the rate at which Jews marry Jews (or those who convert to Judaism,” which to me seems to me more a cosmetic fix than a spiritual one. And then he slides into his argument, about which I’ve complained before, that Jewish education is good not because it’s valuable in and of itself or because it enriches people’s understanding of Jewish tradition or makes their lives more meaningful, but because it boosts in-marriage rates. And even better than education, he notes, is “Jewish association — more Jews meeting and knowing more Jews.” Last year, Cohen even approvingly called this “meaningless Jewish association.”
That’s quite an inspiring rallying cry. I suppose in that famous section from Pirke Avot, when it says, “The world stands on three things: On Torah, on prayer and on kindness to others,” what the rabbis meant to say was, “The world stands on three things: On in-marriage, on education and on (meaningless) Jewish associations.”