25 July 2007

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

...as my father has been known to say. In this case, speaking out against ostracizing those who intermarry has, as one might have suspected, drawn the trolls who live under the bridge of I Must Defend Traditional Judaism Against Apikorsim and Apostates.
So here's what I had to say, continuing on from this earlier post:

Nothing you have written above, and nothing Noah Feldman wrote in his article, indicates to me that Feldman is "anti-Orthodox" -- and nothing in Rabbi Boteach's article suggests to me that he finds Feldman in any way anti-Orthodox either.

The question is not whether the Maimonides School or Orthodox Judaism "recognizes" Feldman's marriage -- it's what it does in reaction to the fact of that marriage. Not listing his simchas is one thing; taking him AND his then-fiancee out of a group photo, and pretending neither one of them exists, is quite another.

Not to mention that it's incredibly chutzapadik and lacking in derekh eretz (respect for other people) to presume that
1) because the woman with him is Korean-American, she's not Jewish
(I know Asian-American Jews of all sorts: raised Jewish by Jewish parents who are of mixed ethnic descent; raised Jewish after being adopted by Jews; Jews by Choice);
2) his children, when he announces their birth or milestones, are not Jewish -- even if it's known that their mother is not
(some families choose to convert their children at birth if they are not halakhically Jewish; whether or not the mother converts is not immediately germane, as long as she is supportive of the creation of a Jewish household and raising her children as Jews: see JOI's The Mothers Circle for more information and support for non-Jewish women who make this wonderful choice!).

Presumably the marriage depicted in his article, like the marriage of my Jewish mother to my non-Jewish father, does not constitute kiddushin and is not a marriage that takes place within the Jewish legal structure. But I am not convinced that therefore the relationship has NO standing in Jewish law, since there are means of acquiring a spouse other than via kiddushin ( e.g., through cohabitation, etc.): if he wanted to marry a Jewish wife, I think that halakha and not just the laws of the land would demand that he divorce his current one -- and if that's the case, then it's being "recognized" as a marriage for at least some purposes. A non-permitted relationship may be prohibited, but it still exists!

Marriage with someone who is not Jewish has always been a fact of Jewish community life and history --look at the marriages in Tanakh/the Hebrew Bible for countless examples, both positive (Tamar, Asenath, Zipporah) and negative (the "son of an Israelite woman" in Exodus, who abuses the name of God in a fight with another Israelite; he's understood to be the son of a non-Israelite, otherwise why say "son of an Israelite woman"?).

It doesn't sound to me as though Noah Feldman turned his back on Orthodox Judaism. The Orthodox Judaism of that particular community, and his school (or at least its administration), seems to have turned its back on him. I think that's a shame -- but I also want to invite him and his wife to come with us and find a home in a Judaism that opens its arms to them instead. (Hi guys--remember me and my husband Mike W. from Oxford?) My Jew-by-choice husband and I are part of traditional egalitarian Conservative communities -- in fact, I was raised in one here in the DC area by my Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, and never felt ostracized or strange -- where they would be very welcome. I have friends in the Reform and Reconstructionist and Renewal movements (several of whom are rabbis) as well, and know that there too they should find a warm welcome and the encouragement to be involved in any way they choose!


Darcy said...

Hm . . . the bit about certain Jews assuming that a Korean-American woman can't be Jewish reminds me awfully of the passage in the Torah in which Miriam and Aaron gossip about Moses on account of the Cushite woman he married. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I (dark-haired and Caucasian, supposedly resembling my central European grandmother) nevertheless endure occasional speculation from acquaintances about the faint auburn tints in my hair and the reportedly non-Jewish shape of face . . . [raises eyebrow]. Someday, people will get tired of wondering.

MiriyaB (Becca) said...

...and then there will be the ones who will say, when they learn that you're Jewish, "oh, yeah, I can totally tell"! (I've gotten that on occasion, re: my Jewishness, which is genetically half my heritage, AND re: my Hispanicity, which is genetically one-quarter of my heritage -- basically, if you have dark hair & dark eyes & relatively fair skin & a nose that's neither remarkably big nor remarkably small, people can project ANYTHING onto you!)

Like the Russian-born Jewish art student at Yale who was going around the Shabbes table commenting on the Jewish nose and identifying it on various people: "you have a Jewish nose, you have a Jewish nose, you don't so much have a Jewish nose...you REALLY have a classic Jewish nose!" ... and when she got to my husband M., who has noooooo 'Jewish' genetic material as far as any of us know, she evaluated what she saw & passed the following judgment:

"you have a rare Jewish nose --but I've seen it" ! (Where? On non-Jews? Like M's family???)

If any name a Jew has is a Jewish name (which I strongly maintain to be the case!), then any nose a Jew has is a Jewish nose. ;) So there!