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Does a Jewish Woman Need a Jewish Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle?

Does a Jewish Woman Need a Jewish Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle?

Two recent pieces have me wondering if I’ll be out of a job soon.

Not because of the sorry state of American journalism, but because these articles, both based on conversations with Jewish women in their 20s, indicate that intermarriage has become a complete non-issue for the next generation.

“How Twenty-Somethings Mate Now,” in the latest issue of the Jewish feminist magazine Lilith, interviews author Rabbi Susan Schnur’s daughter and two of her young friends. As Schnur notes at the outset, the purpose of the article was to better understand how it is that all three young women (all day school grads and the daughters of rabbis) “despite trenchant Jewish identities, are currently in, and/or have recently been in, long-term romantic relationships with non-Jews — and they are also consonant with the idea of someday marrying partners who are not Jewish.”

Similarly, the Webzine Alef features “Dating Jewish Men,” a conversation with Sarah Pumroy and Emily Comisar, who are both on the staff of Birthright Israel NEXT (a program for alumni of Birthright Israel, the free 10-day Israel trips for 18-26-year-olds).

Like Schnur’s subjects, Pumroy and Comisar have dated non-Jews and, despite their enthusiasm for Jewish life, are not uncomfortable with the idea of marrying out of the Tribe.

Says Comisar, after “lots of consideration, I’ve decided that I don’t need to be married to a Jewish person to live the kind of Jewish life that I want for myself.”

The women in the Lilith piece seem to have reached similar conclusions, leading Schnur to conclude they believe “a strongly identified Jew can be compleat unto herself — she doesn’t need a Jewish partner.”

As “Tali,” a Lilith subject (all names were changed “to protect the innocent, guilty and ambivalent”) notes, with so many Jews she encounters uninterested in and unknowledgeable about Judaism, “It’s totally irrelevant to me whether you’re Jewish if you don’t identify as Jewish.”

“I would gain from dating a Jew if he had knowledge, identity and the desire to practice,” Tali adds. “Otherwise, dating an unidentified Jew and a non-Jew are pretty much in the same category to me.”

As a happily intermarried woman, I obviously can relate to all five of these gals. However, I do wonder if they’re glossing over some of intermarriage’s challenges. Intermarriage certainly doesn’t preclude engaging seriously in Jewish life and raising Jewish kids. But, in the same way that it’s possible — but generally harder — to be a single parent than a married parent, it’s still generally harder to be intermarried than in-married. Not to mention that being inter-divorced sounds like a nightmare.

Perhaps it’s because they are too young to seriously contemplate parenting, but I found it significant that none of the Lilith subjects gave much attention to the huge issue of raising children, assuming that they’ll be able to call the shots religiously.

“What I assume is that I’m going to transmit Jewish stuff to my kids, and my partner, whether Jewish or not, is going to be a part of that, because I don’t want to do it single-handedly,” says “Sophie.”

“Abby” says that any partner she chooses “will have to be willing to keep a Jewish household with me, with some kind of Shabbat and some semblance of kosher, and we’ll Jewishly educate our kids.”

I wonder if it’s realistic to expect all Jew-marrying gentiles to be supportive of our Jewish interests or to be willing to give up on transmitting their own religious heritage to children. On the other hand, if these women are able to find willing and accommodating partners (and clarify their needs and expectations before the wedding), more power to them.

As Tali says, “Finding a romantic partner who’s looking for something similar to you Jewishly would mean — automatically — you’re not doing it alone. But finding these people? Totally a needle in a haystack!”

I wondered, however, if the Lilith three, while flexible in their willingness to date/marry gentiles, are being too rigid and narrow in the requirements they have for potential Jewish partners.

Tali notes that in looking for a Jew, she would be looking for a “really, really, really specific type of Jew — who practices a Judaism that’s based in tradition but asks questions, who values the role of song in davvening, who understands sacred space, what it means to build community…”

Is it not possible to live happily with a Jewish (or non-Jewish) partner even if he or she doesn’t share your exact approach or knowledge base? And is it not possible to participate in your campus Hillel, even if it doesn’t, as Abby notes, share all your values about “environmentalism, feminism, liberal politics, abortion rights, gun control and being green”?

I was a bit saddened by their very specific, individualistic approach to Judaism, which, after all, is supposed to be all about community and connecting to something larger than oneself.

Abby tells Schnur that being “very Jewish is somewhat internal. It’s very disconnected from dating or marriage.”


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