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A Message From Joseph Reyes

A Message From Joseph Reyes

Try to contain your shock, but it has come to my attention that I am not the only Jewish woman out there writing about her interfaith relationship(s)!

Just this week, the newly launched Kveller featured a personal essay about an interfaith divorce in which the ex, who had converted to Judaism, turned away not only from his wife but from Judaism.

Also this week, Kveller featured a a blog post by actress/neuroscientist Mayim (“Blossom”) Bialik about her husband, who was Mormon when the couple began dating. (He converted to Judaism before they married.) And the Huffington Post published Kate Fridkis’ “Why My Non-Jewish Fiancé and I Make The Best Jewish Match.”

Speaking of interfaith divorces, I recently got an e-mail from Joseph Reyes, the Catholic dad who made headlines after baptizing his daughter without first consulting his estranged Jewish wife.

It wasn’t a personal e-mail, but a comment on our website, one that was too long to print. Much of it was about how he believes he has gotten an unfair deal in the divorce settlement, something he attributes not only to his ex’s connections (her father is an executive vice president and general counsel for Playboy) but, to the fact that all the judges were Jewish.

I can’t say whether he was treated unfairly or not, but it saddens me that the whole experience of divorcing a Jewish woman seems to have spurred feelings (or intensified already existing ones) of anti-Semitism in him.

In addition to making various allegations about his ex-wife’s misdeeds and identifying as Jewish all the players in the legal battle whom he feels have mistreated him, Reyes’ e-mail lashes out at the broader Jewish community, which he feels has “crucified” him:

By faulting me, you overlook the flagrant intolerance within the Jewish community itself. The first words I heard my very first time in a synagogue were “inter-marriage is destroying the Jewish faith.” The rabbi went further telling his congregation to induce conversion of non-Jewish spouses …

… For a people that have endured so much intolerance, it is nothing shy of hypocrisy to see a significant number of Jewish people behaving so intolerantly.

Here, several Jews have come together to crucify a common enemy – the non-Jewish father of a half-Jewish girl. The Jewish judges involved did not look to law, several Jewish journalists did not look to facts, Rabbis did not look to righteousness, nor did a Jewish doctor look to science. The Jews involved here considered but one thing in drawing their conclusions – Jewry.

Successful interfaith marriages can be so wonderful, not just for the individuals involved but also for the broader Jewish community, by spreading awareness of Jewish culture, often even spurring newcomers to join the Tribe. But unhappy and failed interfaith marriages sometimes lead to the opposite, with bitter exes like Reyes (who actually converted to Judaism) projecting all their negative feelings toward the estranged Jewish spouse onto Judaism itself.

I’ve observed this trend anecdotally a few times, where the Jewish spouse seems to become a symbol for all things Jewish — especially when the gentile spouse doesn’t feel like s/he was ever fully welcomed or accepted in the first place. (I’m sure this happens in the other direction as well, that divorced Jews sometimes feel hostility not only for their non-Jewish ex, but for that ex’s religion, background etc.)

I have no wise conclusions to offer here, and I have no idea if Reyes actually faced intolerance from the Jewish community or if he is just using that as an excuse now. I do hope that Jewish families and institutions make sure that they are treating gentile family members well, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also so as to avoid in any way providing fodder for this kind of post-divorce anti-Semitism.

For more musings on this topic, you may want to check out my column from a few months ago.

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