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!