My friend Rebecca Boggs sent me by e-mail another comment on my intermarriage piece. I've slightly edited it.

First of all, there's the question of what "intermarriage" means. If the non-Jewish partner converts before marriage, it's not intermarriage from the perspective of Jewish law, and the household created by that marriage is one committed unequivocally to Jewish life. At the same time, though, the larger family life of couples where one member was not born Jewish, whether or not that person has converted, demands that they and their non-Jewish relatives confront (and try to be sensitive to) differences in religion and observance among their family members. None of this necessarily has much of an effect on the Jewish continuity issue--the main hot-button one for those concerned with intermarriage--but for those of us with spouses, parents, and other family members not born Jewish, it's something we can't ignore.

Mike [Rebecca's husband] converted before we got married, so we're not intermarried; my father didn't, so my parents are intermarried. But in each case the bride's family is Jewish and the groom's family is not, so those family issues remain very similar. And, in fact, though Mike and I had known each other for 10 years before we got married, for the first 9 of those 10 years it had been clear that any family I had would be a Jewish one, but neither of us expected Mike to convert -- no doubt in large part because I had grown up with a well-functioning model of how to have a Jewish family with a supportive non-Jewish spouse.

I suppose it's also interesting to consider how little difference it has made on the halakhic/Jewish continuity level that Mike converted and my father didn't. (It's true that my Jewish life was radically changed by Mike's conversion, in that we both became much more knowledgeable, involved, and observant, but that's not to say it's the only road to those ends: my mother's Jewish life was comparably altered by going to synagogue daily to say kaddish for her father.) I can't say that would be the case if they'd been non-Jewish women marrying Jewish men, which I think points up an often-hidden double standard in considerations of both intermarriage and conversion: how is the matter treated differently depending on whether the non-Jewish partner is a man or a woman? Halakhically, there's much less pressure on men to convert, because their children will be Jewish whether or not they do so.

But this also goes back to Darcy's comments on the error of viewing the non-Jewish partner's conversion as an all-or-nothing one-time issue to be considered only before the wedding: there's no halakhic reason a non-Jewish woman who's ready to raise her children as Jews, but not necessarily ready to convert, can't have them taken to the mikvah to ensure their Jewish status in movements that don't recognize patrilineal descent, or, if that hasn't been done, that those children can't/shouldn't do so themselves when older. I think those sorts of matters would also be made easier if the American Jewish community were able to change the tone of its rhetoric on intermarriage, Jewish continuity, and "who is a Jew?". I feel that the language of citizenship rather than that of identity politics is both more appropriate and less inflammatory: instead of saying, "If you don't convert, your children won't really be Jewish," or "because your mother's not Jewish, you're not really Jewish," I wish we would recognize the connections you've suggested in your essay by saying "We understand that you are part of our community even if you have not halakhically become part of the Jewish people" (to a non-Jewish spouse) or "you have been raised as and living as a Jew, but you will need to take certain steps to normalize your status in movements that do not accept patrilineal descent" (to the child of a non-Jewish mother)...

I think I'll more or less leave it at that for now, but I can't resist adding the incident I found most ironic/least persuasive in my young life in convincing me of the evils of intermarriage--a classic case of treating it "as an excuse for institutionally pious rhetoric." You were spared it, since your parents wisely saw to it that you didn't have to have anything to do with AJ's "Confirmation Class" [AJ = Adath Jeshurun, my and Rebecca's home shul in Louisville, KY] (but don't get me started on "Confirmation" as an ersatz Jewish ritual...). The last few months of the Confirmation Class involved sessions on various topics where all of the students and their parents were supposed to meet together at someone's home. The session on interdating and intermarriage was the last one (as well as, in my book, the last straw...) and perhaps only five or six of the students (half or less of the total) had come. There I was, a product of intermarriage, sitting there with my intermarried parents, listening to other parents offer unconvincing platitudes about why you should only date or marry Jews: "relationships are hard enough; it's better to be with someone who's more like you." "More like you?" I thought, looking around the room. These people are not like me! Mike is like me! And he's not Jewish!

Basically, it made no sense whatsoever in my conception of myself to think of Jewishness as the most important category of likeness or difference. I made some comment to this effect to my mother when the group broke for snacks, and she asked, "But would you convert to another religion to marry someone?" I thought it was somewhere between ridiculous and offensive that she should even ask such a thing, even as a rhetorical question. Absolutely not! Being Jewish was important to me, and anyone who wanted to be with me would have to recognize that fact. But she of all people should know that such a person need not be Jewish himself.

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