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Intermarriage, Expectations and the Feldman Factor

I feel sorry for Noah Feldman, but not for the reason he wants us to feel sorry for him.
Feldman is important: a Harvard law professor who helped shape the Iraqi Constitution. Nevertheless, the Orthodox community in which he was raised treats him as if he doesn’t exist. He recently wrote in the New York Times Magazine about how his high school yeshiva airbrushed him and his non-Jewish fiance out of a photo in their newsletter.


I don’t know if his school ever reached out to him, but some in the Orthodox community did, such as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who “ministered” to Feldman in Oxford.
Feldman’s problem is not just that he is intermarried. It is that he is so internally torn with his decision (though he probably would not admit it) that he needs the full acceptance of the community he has rejected to make him feel OK. Lacking that acceptance angers him so much that he skewered his alma mater, and the entire Orthodox movement, in the New York Times Magazine. NY Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt thinks Feldman is the one being unfair. I think we should feel sorry for Feldman, not because he was wronged, but because his “righteous indignation” will bring neither the healing nor the relationship he so desperately craves.
It is theoretically possible to live a deeply Jewish life with a non-Jewish spouse. One of my newest intermarried families left their Reform Jewish congregation because the non-Jewish spouse wanted a more authentic religious experience for their children. They come every Sabbath.
There is a place for non-Jews within our community. Our Talmudic sages spoke about the ger toshav, a resident alien who has cast his or her lot with the Jewish people, and shabbatoi, a Sabbath observer who has not (yet) undergone conversion. My people appreciate how these ideas grant them a legitimate place in our community even as they retain distinctions about who is a Jew and who is not (yet). It is a two-way relationship: my congregation accepts and integrates them socially, educationally, even pastorally. They accept that certain liturgical and leadership roles are reserved for those who have made a commitment to the Jewish faith–something they are not yet (and maybe will never be) ready to do.
This is the crux of the matter: It is not a question of the ambivalence rabbis feel when we regretfully tell a couple we cannot, in good conscience, officiate at their intermarriage, (because, by definition, a Jewish wedding is between two Jews) as Rabbi Waxman discusses. Rather, it is a question of whether the couple is willing to accept the fact that unconditional love is not the same thing as unlimited rights and privileges. I am not saying it is easy for these couples, but who ever said marriage and family–or personal growth–was supposed to be easy?
I don’t know Feldman, but I would like to know what he does with all his Jewish education. Trying to save the world is only one of 613 mitzvot. Does he make kiddush with his family Friday night? If not, why not? To blame his school is a cop out. He is welcome in my shul and, I am sure, in the many shuls in easy reach of Harvard.
I, and many of my colleagues, promise to be warm and loving to every individual, Jew or non-Jew, who comes through my doors. In return, I would like to challenge Feldman and other intermarried families to leave their attitude and defensiveness at the mezuzah, take responsibility for the ambiguity of the decisions they have made, and give the rest of the Jewish community a try.



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Dave

posted August 2, 2007 at 7:28 pm


I don’t think Feldman’s torn. I think he’s whining and seeking attention. He knew the rules and he broke them.



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Darla Levy

posted August 3, 2007 at 1:24 pm


He who feels that the world is upset with them, needs too look at first there own heart to see, where Adoni is in they life. To keep the Sabbeth and all the other Jewish Comandments is an honer. People who wed outside of jewdism needs to first understand that Both People are to enter marriage, only after being of full understanding about jewish laws. If the spouse does except this understanding then by all means thy will not be torn. Thy will keep our comandments and try to seek out those who are willing to help.
Shalom



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Florence

posted August 3, 2007 at 1:47 pm


Rabbi Boteach’s response to the Feldman issue is a much healthier approach to the intermarried. Jews who are confident and proud of their heritage and want to share what it has to offer and what it stands for are always the more welcoming people. Feeling threatened,cutting the Jew off and degrading of the spouse, never giving the spouse a chance to learn all there is about Judiasm risks losing too much. There is always hope for Feldman that he can have his Jewish family if he finds the right group of Jews to help them. I guess his high school skipped over the Book of Ruth.



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max

posted August 3, 2007 at 4:30 pm


No, Rabbi Grossman, life is not easy and decision get made all the time, that need to be lived with for the rest of ones life. But I think you are wrong in one respect. The Jewish community has not answered well the question of American pluralism. I come from a Jewish father and a nominally Christian mother, but I was always brought up with a culturally Jewish identity. When I started to reclaim my Judaism as a young adult, I faced parts of Jewish life that could not deal with my mixed identity.
I am proudly Jewish and celebrate Shabbat weekly, and am learning to come closer to the other 612 mitzvot. But my identity will never be fully recognized until I convert. American pluralism has given Judaism the ultimate question of assimilation and when Jews who have largely assilimated come into contact with non-Jews they often fall in love. That love often transcends identity and we as a Jewish community, and yes I include myself, must discuss this sociological reality without reverting to textual answers only.



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Scott R.

posted August 3, 2007 at 4:42 pm


Max,
You will always be a Yid to me.:)



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eve

posted August 4, 2007 at 8:22 pm


Regarding the rabbis who will not perform interfaith marriages: You say that you cannot do this because a Jewish wedding is supposed to be between a Jew and a Jew.
In my opinion not performing that wedding is a good way to
unwelcome, turn your back, turn the backs of those in your congregation, to a whole potential family of Jews. It looks to me like these unwelcoming Rabbis, who are adhering to the law before the heart, are becoming discriminators.
If the rabbi married a Jewish person and his or her non-Jewish partner, what a welcome to the Jewish community. How loving an action that would be. Much more so than turning your backs to the young couple, who will probably go find a judge for the wedding and go shopping and to the movies on the Sabbath. Just think – if you had married them, and welcomed them into the Jewish community with open arms,
maybe they would be in your sanctuary on the Sabbath instead of the mall.
Just a thought.



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Dave

posted August 5, 2007 at 10:19 am


1/ A rabbi cannot properly conduct a marriage between a Jew and Gentile becuase he has to use the phrase ‘according to the laws of Moses and Israel’ which an interfaith wedding doesn not conform to.
2/ Ruth was a convert.
3/ That part of the Jewish people that is growing the fastest are also the group with the firmest opposition to intermarriage and the lowest intermarriage rates-the Ultra Orthodox



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Elonna

posted August 5, 2007 at 12:47 pm


Noah Feldman has admitted he was WRONG about his former school cropping a photo of himself and his future wife. He knew the photo was not cropped BEFORE the article went to print, but did not change the article. Shame on Feldman.



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JewBoy

posted August 5, 2007 at 4:58 pm


That part of the Jewish people that is growing the fastest are also the group with the firmest opposition to intermarriage and the lowest intermarriage rates-the Ultra Orthodox
And that is why we will go the way of the Neanderthals, the dodo bird and fundamentalist Islam (is there a difference between the ultra-O’s and any fundie?). If that’s what happens, we don’t deserve to survive as a people.



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eve

posted August 5, 2007 at 5:31 pm


Ok Dave – so a rabbi uses the phrase “according to the laws of Moses and Israel” – then all of the Reform rabbis who don’t keep kosher, all of the Reform brides and grooms who don’t keep kosher – not following the laws of Moses – what is the difference between marrying two of them and marrying one Jew to one non-Jew?
Besides, the Gentile Christians use the Hebrew Bible – they call it The Old Testament. And Christians today are certainly not what they were in the beginning of Christian times. In the beginning, in order to be a Christian, one had to first be a Jew….
I still think it is wrong for rabbis to turn their backs and not perform interfaith marriages. The couple, then, instead of feeling welcomed to Judiaism, might very well join a church, and raise their children
in the faith of the non Jewish partner.



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Kate

posted August 5, 2007 at 9:17 pm


“And that is why we will go the way of the Neanderthals, the dodo bird and fundamentalist Islam (is there a difference between the ultra-O’s and any fundie?). If that’s what happens, we don’t deserve to survive as a people.
Posted by: JewBoy | August 5, 2007 4:58 PM”
High-5 Jewboy. :)
Get with the program people. So much sadness is due to sticking to out-dated beliefs.
My BIL is a non-practising Jew who married a Catholic girl.
His grandparents refused point blank to attend, despite having great love for the girl.
Well, they sure missed out on a beautiful ceremony.
But by jingoes, they stuck to their beliefs!!!
Now when the 2 great grand-daughters pore over their parent’s wedding photos, they will see the absence of relatives and see what silly morals these old folk held.
Shalom.
Kate, from Australia



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terre

posted August 6, 2007 at 7:02 pm


Where does it say that Ruth was a convert? Her words “Your people will be my my people, and your God my God” does not sound like she was already Jewish, so I guess her deceased husband and his brother were guilty of intermarriage—I wonder who married them.
And Christians ARE under the laws of Moses and Israel, whether they (or Jews) have realized that or not. To reject that is a shortsighted reaction to historical facts–imagine how differently history would look if leaders had come to that realization and acted on that instead of prejudice! When intermarriage is contemplated, the loss due to rigidity is immeasurable and affects attitudes for generations. “Stick to your own kind” has been preached to many races and creeds for centuries—do we have a more loving world for that? Intolerance is still just that, no matter who practices it.
It seems that an intermarriage is a great opportunity to display all of the caring and support we can to young people who are on the cusp of beginning their lives together. Putting the stamp of “reject” on the object of one’s love and caring is a huge sorrow and loyalty issue for the one whose culture will not accept the life choice that has been made. Encouraging respect and loyalty can only lead to positive fruit in our relationships.



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Scott R.

posted August 6, 2007 at 7:28 pm


Non-Jews are not under the Law because they aren’t part of the covenant.
Period.



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Dave

posted August 9, 2007 at 5:09 pm


1/ i don’t think any fundamentalist religion is going the way of the dodo bird. More importantly since the Orthodox will survive, while the others won’t, its not as significant whether this is the way it should be because this is going to be the way it will be.
2/ When a reform rabbi regularly eats his or her delicious bowl of shrimp, they don’t say they are eating it ‘according to the Laws of Moses and of Israel’
3/ What the Christians call the Old Testament is not the same as the Jewish Bible. The order of the books is different, and more importantly there are different and significant translation differences.



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Scott R.

posted August 9, 2007 at 8:47 pm


Taking pleasure in the disappearance of other Jews is not a behavior any Jew should partake in. On should not put onself on the same level as the Nazis.



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terre

posted August 12, 2007 at 2:27 pm


So, Dave: Ruth was not part of the covenant when she united herself to Naomi (and didn’t sound converted already in her words we remember), went to Naomi’s homeland with her as support and dear daughter-in-law. Then Boaz noticed her devotion and they were united in marriage, and Obed their sn was ancestor to David…history (and “herstory”) teaches us much about our ancestors. May it teach us to love those who exhibit character traits of uprightness and dignity. It should by now have taught us that judging others and deciding that some are not good enough is foundation for all kinds of sorrow.
No one is “taking pleasure in the disappearance of other” people–shortsighted rejection of others is what the Nazis did. Perhaps those who reject all but their own kind are in that same boat. Not a very spiritual ride…now, let’s all have a nice life being perfect and pointing out others’ faults and what they are born. Better watch out, your spirituality is showing. That sort of egoism is far more like the Nazis, excuse me for saying so.
One of my Jewish friends turns her Star of David pendant around when she eats shellfish—who’s kidding whom? Do fingers crossed cancel out a lie?



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Scott R.

posted August 12, 2007 at 9:01 pm


Terre,
I wasn’t talking about you, I was talking about Dave. I was talking about what I think is my own kind rejecting me (and the rest of us).
But don’t come in here as an outsider and lecture us how we should treat one another. There are dynamics here you do not – and never will – understand.



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terre

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:26 am


Words like “outsider” are interesting. There ghas been no lecture given, but I have made observations. We all are sharing these incredible times that could be much more illuminated for caring and sharing. And do not, I repeat DO NOT, assume that I do not “- and never will-” understand. I do recognize intolerance all too well.
Your words display repetitive judgments and bias. The “us” and “them” factor is tragic; now that you have discerned I am a “them” and not an “us” you are free to condemn (ah, but you do not know for sure). A very thoughtful stance for one so knowledgable–I support your right to express, but this dialogue (implying repartee and sharing) is displaying the very lack of inclusion that began it, with the Feldman Factor article…



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