6/16/05

Son of Intermarriage
Or: What do we call those pesky non-Jews who insist on hanging around?

Eons ago, when most of midtown Manhattan was covered by a vast inland sea -- I refer to July, 2003 -- I started this blog with a post about intermarriage. My unoriginal claim was that intermarriage is by no means an unmitigated evil for the Jewish community, and that our institutions need to find positions which go beyond preachy boilerplate.

A related conversation (what do we call non-Jews who choose to ally themselves with our community?) is going strong in the J-sphere. Here is some miscellany you might find of interest, most shamelessly filched from friend and commenter Becca.

Perhaps the only newsworthy bit I have to offer is that the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs has prepared a twenty-two page pamphlet on supporting the non-Jewish spouse (I can't seem to find the exact title right now), supposedly meant for circulation to the members of the Rabbinical Assembly for a meeting in July. Since I can't find any information on line about an RA meeting in that month, I wonder if something else might be meant. In any case, the Forward is supposedly going to print something about the pamphlet and reactions to it.

Rabbi Steven Greenberg, in an essay on intermarriage, talks about reinventing the ger toshav for modernity. On the other hand, the authors of the new book A Place in the Tent: Intermarriage and Conservative Judaism (also reviewed here) suggest the term karov* (קרוב, lit. "relative") for any non-Jew who allies herself to the Jewish people without seeking membership.

In a private e-mail correspondence I'm involved with, one of the participants suggested that using the term ger toshav might encourage tradition-minded Jews to give due respect to the roles played by non-Jews in a Jewish community. To this, I replied:
The benefits of the term "ger toshav" are also its dangers -- well, maybe "dangers" is an exaggeration. Call them "downsides." Most tradition-minded Jews who are knowledgable enough about the term "ger toshav" in order for it to mean something to them (and, even more, with enough familiarity to create a less-negative reaction to intermarriage) will also realize that there is a long halachic history behind the term. None of you have to be told that Rambam holds forth at great length on the privileges and responsibilities of the ger toshav. While it might be comforting to some to know that the GT is not a new category, they might be less comforted to know just how different our allied non-Jews are from the (frankly) subject population envisioned by medieval halachists.

It's Elliot Dorff, I think, who points out in one of his biomedical essays that sometimes halachic categories do not correspond to present realities - sometimes they're so out of joint that no amount of shoving will make things fit. He mentioned this in the context of goses and terefah, but I think for the liberal Jew it applies as well for the status of women, and, in our case, for non-Jews within the (liberal) Jewish community. That's why "karov" seems like a good try. Pretty vague, true, but then perhaps what's needed is not a formal naturalization for allied non-Jews, just (as was pointed out previously) a rhetorical acknowledgement of their positive existence.

The aforementioned Becca also shared some general comments on the rhetorical tasks faced by liberal Jews in taking account of the importance of their non-Jewish friends and relatives. (Rhetoric shapes our actions, hence the attention I'm devoting to it here.) I'm going to add her e-mail as a comment in my name.

I look forward to all of your views on the issue. Please note that the comments link at the end of each post seems to be broken; if you click on "link" you should be able to use the Blogger commenting feature.

*Which I will, to no one's surprise, pronounce korev. Kadimah Ashkenazistim!

3 comments:

  1. Here's what my friend Becca said in a previous e-mail:

    [...] I think the way
    to play to the strengths of both concepts/terms [ger toshav and karov] is to incorporate them
    both in a move from history to contemporary reality:
    to use "ger toshav" as a basis for showing that non-Jews have not always been historically excluded from or considered inimical to the
    Jewish community, and to suggest "k'rov Yisrael" (or any other suitable
    term that emerges from our collective Jewish community consideration of
    these issues) as a present-day term to be used within the Jewish
    community for non-Jews who are part of Jewish families & the Jewish
    community.
    [However, a]ll
    those involved w/the Jewish community but not raised Jewish may share certain concerns based on their shared background, e.g.:
    • how non-Jews are talked about/treated,
    • how non-Jewish relatives are or are not talked about or treated,
    • how to make non-Jewish family members comfortable at Jewish family
    events like bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, bris/baby namings, funerals
    [kinehora!]
    --but not others, e.g.:
    • whether they can have certain ritual roles or responsibilities in
    their synagogue or Jewish worship community
    --depending on whether or not they have become Jewish.
    Again, as my friend Suzette has been saying: we need new language! And
    we need it for a variety of overlapping but, in some contexts, still
    distinct groups that the Jewish community has not traditionally been
    sufficiently aware of or sensitive to. Which would include those I
    would call, for lack of better terms, the sometimes-overlapping groups
    of:
    • the intermarried (both the non-Jewish & the Jewish partners)
    • intermarried households (the above + kids like me & my brothers)
    • children of intermarriage (just the kids, whether Jewish or not or
    according to whose definition)
    • non-Jewish spouses (those raised in another religion and who have
    not become Jewish)
    • Jewish spouses of non-Jews (those who were raised Jewish, have
    remained Jewish, and have married non-Jews)
    • spouses from other religious backgrounds (those raised in another
    religion, whether or not they have become Jewish)
    • Jewish spouses of individuals from other religious backgrounds
    (those who have married those in prev. categ.)
    • Jews by Choice/converts (all those raised in another religion or
    w/no religion who have become Jewish, regardless of their marital
    status or how they came to be interested in becoming Jews)
    • Jewish spouses of Jews by Choice/converts (as above)
    • children of a born Jew and a Jew by Choice/convert, a.k.a. of
    conversionary marriages (the sociological term used in Wertheimer's
    _Jews in the Center_)
    • k'rovei Yisrael (which, it seems to me, might apply to more than one
    of the groups above for individuals who have not subsequently become
    full Jewish citizens in whatever their chosen Jewish context is--i.e.
    non-Jewish spouses but also some children of intermarriage or other
    non-Jewish relatives of Jews who are actively involved in Jewish life
    via synagogue or community or family life)

    The Jewish community probably thinks that it's done well by, or tries
    to do well by, Jews by Choice and those in their (immediate, Jewish)
    family--and, of those groups above, I would say they have been best
    treated/served. But there's still a lot that could be done in terms of
    rhetoric that might be eliminated or toned down if rabbis, officials,
    and community members remained aware that even in a marriage of 2
    Jews/in a household containing only Jews, there may be tensions with
    beloved non-Jewish relatives over holiday visits or other religious
    matters, there may be non-Jews that these Jews want to have involved in
    Jewish family celebrations, etc.--that it's not "us" and "them,"
    because a lot of "them" are our relatives and friends. "They" are my
    father, my husband's whole family, lots of my relatives ( all I know of
    on my father's side + a good # of spouses or in-laws/family [when
    spouse him/herself has become a Jew by Choice] of relatives on mother's
    side), most of the guests at our wedding, a large proportion of the
    guests at any of our family bar/bar mitzvahs...
    you get the idea.
    Would that the larger Jewish world would!

    Best,

    Becca

    ReplyDelete
  2. Becca1:54 AM

    1) Point of information/clarification re: Zack's query above about the RA & "meeting in July": I think that FJMC, not RA, is the referent for "its" in the announcement here--

    "the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs has released a publication
    that has been circulated to all members of the Rabbinical Assembly (and will be distributed to lay leaders at its convention in July). Entitled "The Role
    of the Supportive Non-Jewish Spouse in the Conservative/Masorti Movement",
    this 22 page booklet may serve as a beginning for a discussion that we
    should all have in our synagogues and communities.

    2) For some of what I've been saying, often on a personal level, on some of these points, you can turn to (most recent to least recent):

    http://joi.org/blog/index.php?p=71#comments
    (for Father's Day)

    http://joi.org/blog/index.php?p=66#comments
    (Comments 4+ are more concerned with general data than with personal history--or at least with the relationship between the latter & the former)

    http://joi.org/blog/index.php?p=52#comments
    (mine is comment #19--you'll have to scroll down a ways)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Becca2:14 PM

    Further point of clarification:
    as the title given in #1 above should make clear, the booklet isn't so much about "supporting the non-Jewish spouse" (as Zack put it in his initial summary) as about the role of a non-Jewish spouse who is supportive of the Jewish life of his/her household.

    So it looks as though "supportive non-Jewish spouse" is what they're using there as the term for the same sort of person others of us have been discusing whether to call "ger toshav" or "karov Yisrael" [oder "korev yisroel," yidishistn!] ...

    ReplyDelete