In past posts I’ve raised questions about the implications inherent in the establishment of a Jewish state – and the problems that invariably seem to arise in relations with Israel’s non-Jewish citizens and residents.
How do we American Jews react, for instance, when we read that Israel is concerned about a “demographic threat” to the Jewish state? (That is to say, what would we say if our President raised questions about the “demographic threat” of a particular minority group to the “American character” of our country?)
And now: what would we say if an American city funded a campaign to discourage girls from dating or marrying boys from another ethnic group?
From Coteret (an Israeli news/media aggregator):
Maariv reported reported on February 23 that the Tel Aviv municipality launched a “counselling program” to “help” Jewish girls who date and/or marry Arab boys.
Grassroots and governmental campaigning against interfaith mingling is nothing new in Israel…But this is the first time officially sanctioned racism, funded by taxpayers, has come to Tel Aviv, Israel’s liberal heartland.
I’m not asking these questions to “bash Israel.” I’m genuinely concerned by certain realities that seem intrinsic to ethnocracies. If we truly do cherish values inherent to American civil democracy, how do we react to news such as this? Do we simply put these values on the shelf out of our desire for a Jewish state? Or can we understand these kinds of measures in a way that is consonant with our most essential civic beliefs (beliefs, by the way that have been quite kind to the American Jewish community)?
And if not, then how will we respond?
Raw freedom has, indeed, been kind to the American Jewish community. I understand the desire for a Jewish state. What that means and how to get there are troublesome matters, though.
Brant, you talk about “American civic democracy,” but of course, this particular issue hasn’t always been easy here in the US, either. Anti-miscegenation laws were on the books until they were declared unconstitutional 40 years ago–and when Zangwill’s hymn to Jewish exogamy, “The Melting Pot,” became a US hit in 1908, he had to scramble to explain that of course he didn’t mean that whites should marry blacks!
I sometimes wonder whether this notion of America as the place where people can marry and mix isn’t, in part, a particularly Jewish gift to American culture, just as the notion of America as a “Mother of Exiles” was.
On an unrelated note, why are they only worried about Jewish women dating and marrying Arab men? If Jewish men date or marry Arab women, is that OK–or, in this case, OU?
I like to also see it from the standpoint of those who derive their perspective not from the very recent phenomenon of American and European mixed-race marriages, but from the vantagepoint of the thousand years or so of Jews keeping the Jewish people alive in galut (exile) by attempting to avoid mingling and dissolving into the surrounding culture.
It has been a survival skill for so long that a myriad of cultural associations have grown up around it–sharing similar family history with the mechutonim, re-experiencing holidays and low points in Jewish history as one educates ones family, etc. One has to comprehend and commiserate with this vantage point, I think, in order to be able to communicate ones own different viewpoint going forward, along with the assurance that one truly believes that intermarriage will not put an end to the Jewish people.
Marc and I have honed these skills well in many, many discussions with family members who have threatened broyges with their children over this. We have also used examples of families like friends of our from JRC to prove our point!
Why is the problem, I wonder, Jewish-Arab intermarriages? Not Jewish-Christian?
I’m not sure why you make a distinction between Arabs and Christians given that they are far from mutually exclusive, especially in the Levant, and notably in Palestine where many Palestinians are descended from the original Christians. Perhaps you meant Arabs versus European Christians?
I also think it should be obvious why the problem is with Arabs. Anti-Arab racism is endemic in Israel, and goes back as far as political Zionism does. Anti-Arab racism in Israel has always included even Jews of Arab background, let alone Arab Christians and Muslims.
In Islam it is permitted for Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women, but it is absolutely forbidden for Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men. The all-too-common “family honor killings” that happen in Israel and the rest of the Arab world usually occur because the family discovers that one if its girls is interested in a non-Muslim (or even someone from a socially “inferior” family that is Muslim). Thus, there is no need for Jews to warn Jewish men about Muslim women, her own family will “take care” of the problem. Thus, if you think Israel is “racist” for discouraging intermarriage, then so is Muslim society.
I don’t understand what is puzzling everyone here. Judaism prohibits intermarriage. So what if America has different values? In America, the view is “sleep with anyone you want, anyone, anytime, anywhere”. Who says that is right? Who says that is the overriding value? Judaism has survived for thousands of years, often in the most difficult circumstances. It has the secret of success, and I don’t see why it should arbitrarily be held up and criticized in the light of some other passing values.
And do NOT claim that the Jewish prohibition to intermarriage is “racist” because anyone can convert to Judaism, if they are sincere.
I’m glad to see that Judaism and Islam have come to an agreement here: control the women! Patriarchy has survived for thousands of years, and clearly it has the secret of success. Why, after all, should it arbitrarily be held up and criticized in the light of some other passing values?
More seriously, when you ask who says that the value of loving and marrying across ethnic lines (and within gender lines, for LGBTQ folks) should trump the value of community cohesion, I’m happy to answer that in the first person: I do. I don’t consider this to be a “passing value,” but a “rising” or “emerging” one, and it’s one that I find morally just and beautiful, not just a matter of sexual convenience. So do an awful lot of American Jews.
In the long run, perhaps you’re right: maybe this will turn out to be a passing fad, and American Jewry will simply melt away. I doubt that, but there’s only one way to find out. In the mean time, I note that there are still plenty of people who believe that secular democracy is a passing fad. I’m not willing to write off either of them; indeed, I see them as deeply linked with one another.
As for whether the prohibition on intermarriage is racist–no, not inherently. But I have no doubt that it exacerbates the inherent human (or at least Western) tendency to racism, and more generally the impulse to think that one’s own group, whether racially or otherwise defined, is inherently superior. But then, maybe I just have a goyishe kop.
“In Islam it is permitted for Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women, but it is absolutely forbidden for Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.”
Not accurate. It is not “absolutely” forbidden. That is not the language, nor is it how it works out in the real world.
“The all-too-common “family honor killings” that happen in Israel and the rest of the Arab world usually occur because the family discovers that one if its girls is interested in a non-Muslim (or even someone from a socially “inferior” family that is Muslim).”
1. While I would agree with you that there are too many so-called “honour” killings – even one is too many – you are incorrect to suggest that they are common. So-called “honour” killings are actually very uncommon.
2. So-called “Honour” killings are by no means limited to Muslims. They happen among Christians, Yezidis, and other non-Muslims, and it would not surprise me to learn that they are not unknown among Jews as well.
3. They do not “usually” occur because a girl is interested in a non-Muslim – not at all. In fact, only a small minority of so-called “honour” killings are related to “interest” in a non-Muslim. These crimes are most often committed not because a girl or woman shows interest in a non-Muslim OR a Muslim, but because a girl or woman is suspected of “illicit” sexual activity with a male, period. The religion or social status of the alleged partner is beside the point, but the great majority of the alleged “illicit” behaviour involves Muslim, not non-Muslim males.
“Thus, there is no need for Jews to warn Jewish men about Muslim women, her own family will “take care” of the problem.”
This is beginning to sound uncomfortably close to Muslim bashing.
“Thus, if you think Israel is “racist” for discouraging intermarriage, then so is Muslim society.”
There is nothing “racist” about people of faith preferring to marry within their religion, or people whose culture is deeply important to them preferring to marry within their culture. It is a wise impulse, since shared faith and shared culture certainly improve the odds of a successful marriage, not only of two individuals, but of two families. In addition virtually all religions seek to preserve or increase their numbers, and one of the ways they do that is to forbid, or at least strongly discourage intermarriage, and deeply religious people will be obedient to their religions’ demands.
Without taking a position on the question of whether Israel is racist for discouraging intermarriage in the way it does, I would point out that your opening statement contradicts your conclusion. Muslim society, as you pointed out, accepts intermarriage between Muslim men and any “believing” woman, which includes, according to the Qur’an, Christians, Jews, and Sabaeans, and by tradition also includes Zoroastrians. In addition, the Qur’an allows Muslim men to marry non-believing women who are of good character. Further, racism is the incorrect term in the case of Muslims since unlike Jews Muslims do not claim to be a race or an ethnicity, or even a distinct culture, but are adherents to a religion who come from many different races, ethnicities, and cultures. So, it is contrary to the facts to suggest that racism is involved in Muslims discouraging marriage outside the religion.
Muslim society is more able to deal with women marrying non-Muslim men than you would like to think. First, if the man will convert to Islam it is 100% acceptable. If he will not convert, then it can be tough indeed if her family is very religious, and may even result in her estrangement from some of the family, although usually not as severe or final as, for example, a Jewish family sitting shiva for someone who marries out. As with any group of humans, the less educated the family are, the more likely they are to have a strong negative reaction, and there is a tiny minority at the extreme who will commit criminal and unislamic acts, but this is, as I said, far rarer than you seem to believe.
“…anyone can convert to Judaism, if they are sincere.”
And anyone can also convert to Islam if they are sincere. In fact, unlike Judaism, Islam actively encourages conversion.
PS I should also explain why Islam permits men, and but does not permit women to marry outside the faith. As with Judaism and Christianity that came before it, and upon which it is largely modeled, Islam is a patriarchal religion. Children take the religion of their father. Therefore, when Muslim men marry outside the faith, their children are still Muslims, and the result is a maintenance of or increase in the number of Muslims. When Muslim women marry outside the faith, their children take the faith of their father, and so do not contribute to the maintenance or increase. Religions, especially new ones, need to grow, or at least maintain their numbers, so as a practical matter Muslim women were instructed in the Qur’an to marry only Muslims.
Rabbi, you may be too kind. You’ve pointed out an obvious problem that should help us question the whole premise of a Jewish state. Is this state one of the last vestiges of mid-1900’s thinking, a time when it seemed to be ok for Whites to say they were different than Blacks, a time when it seemed to Germans that it was ok to want to keep their race pure? How different are we when it seems to be ok for us to try to stop miscegenation?
When we consider that we founded a Jewish state by expelling hundreds of thousands of non-Jews (Muslims and Christians) from their homes and villages, we should come to realize that we’ve gone about this wrong. It’s time to invite our non-Jewish Palestinian brothers and sisters back, to rebuild their homes and villages together.
Steve I don’t know who you are but I’m with you!
Beautifully said, Steve. Thanks!
Do you not comprehend the difference between Galut Jewry and Jewry of the Land of Israel? Of course there’s a difference in how we here react to problems like demography.
You simply move from the Lower East Side to Queens to Nassau to Florida. The Jews of Malmo Sweden have now begun a trek out due to Muslim demography.
We don’t have that luxury, Rabbi.
Are you suggesting that Israel doesn’t have the luxury to respect basic human rights? Jews more than anyone should understand the tragic results of viewing another demographic group as a “threat:”
A new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph. And he said to his people, “Look the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase…” (Exodus 1:8-9)
Or more apropos to the season:
Haman then said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different form those of any other people and who do not obey the kings laws; and it is not in Your majesty’s interest to tolerate them. If if please, Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction…” (Esther 3:8-9)
If American Jews are so accepting of exogamy then how do you explain the success of JDate?
– Some American Jews are not accepting of exogamy.
– Some American Jews are accepting of exogamy in a general sense, but do not choose it for themselves.
– Some American Jews who are accepting of exogamy are under significant pressure from their families only to date and marry Jews, and JDate is a good way to meet a variety of eligible Jewish potential partners.
– Some American Jews who are accepting of exogamy for others and for themselves would nevertheless prefer to marry a Jew if they found the right person, and JDate is a good way to meet a variety of Jewish potential partners.
– Some American Jews who are accepting of exogamy for others and for themselves use a variety of methods to meet potential partners, and JDate is one of them.
All five of the above added together, plus some I probably have not thought of could explain the success of JDate in a country in which Jews are generally accepting of exagamy.
RE jDate: a lot of people use it because they want to maximize their dating pool, not because they necessarily want to marry someone Jewish. For a slightly raunchy, but funny look at this, um…non normative use of JDate see
And while it’s true that anyone can convert to Judaism, that doesn’t mean that anyone will be fully _accepted_, particularly as potential marriage partners, regardless of race. There are many enlightening blogs from non-white Jews on this topic, such as http://mixedjewgirl.wordpress.com/ (I love her piece on “Ashkenazi Privilege”).
Thanks, Lesley. I started to mention that converts to Judaism are not always fully accepted, as you said, but I did not want to come across as saying that Islam is better than Judaism, or Muslims are better than Jews, because I do not either one is better than the other, so I refrained.
You said in your blog post about the new excavations (https://rabbibrant.com/?s=archaeology) that ” the Bible is not a history book – it’s religious literature.”
After reading your use of the story of Yosef and Purim, I am confused as to how you can believe that the stories of Purim and Yosef are not historical, yet you use them as proof that Jews should ‘understand the tragic results of viewing another demographic group as a “threat:”’
Are you then saying that Jews should be sensitive to the issue based on events that you(Brant) don’t believe happened historically?
To put it in Rabbi Elliot Dorff’s words, I believe that that would be “intellectually schizophrenic”
If you cannot tell, I believe that many parts of the Tanach are factual, and I am having great difficulty understanding your viewpoints.
Narratives in the Torah and Bible don’t have to be literally true in order for them to have sacred meaning for our lives. They contain certain universal truths that stand the test of time far beyond any elusive “historical” facts.
There is no way we can conclusively prove that any of the events described in the Torah ever happened or not. But we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bible has had a transformative effect on peoples lives and upon history itself fo centuries.