August 09, 2002

HALF A JEW

HALF A JEW: Over on Kesher Talk, Howard Fienberg cites articles in Ha'aretz and Moment discussing intermarriage and conversion. From the Ha'aretz piece, he pulls this nugget:

[According to a poll by Hillel of college students,] 90 percent of the young people with two Jewish parents defined themselves as Jews. On the other hand, when only the mother is Jewish, the number of young people identifying themselves as Jewish is just 40 percent. When the father is Jewish and the mother is non-Jewish, only 16 percent identified themselves as Jewish. These figures confirm the stronger influence of the mother in developing the child's awareness, and its significance is nothing new to Jewish experts either, even if the relatively small impact of the father's influence surprised many.

There's another factor at work here that neither Ha'aretz nor Howard mentions: the fact that everyone with a non-Jewish mother is told "you're not a real Jew" (an aspect of Jewish law abandoned by the Reform movement). A little halacha can be dangerous in the hands of cruel children.

I'm very much in favor of the spousal outreach common in Reform temples (they converted my mom), but I must admit I'm uncomfortable with outward proselytizing. It's not that I have a good argument against it, I just have a general cultural aversion to the idea. I'm not sure how valid the concern is that it would increase anti-Semitism; considering how a-religious types feel about Christian proselytizers, this might be worth thinking about.

Responding to the declining Jewish identity of halflings, many rabbis strongly discourage intermarriage. This annoys me for obvious reasons. When I was subjected to one such sermon at Conservative synagogue during a friend's bar mitzvah, I felt like I was being persecuted in temple. (Okay, I tended to overdramatize such things in my head as a 13-year-old.) Encouraging parents to instill at least some Jewish identity in their children is one thing, but if you ask people to choose between love and temple, don't be surprised when they turn their back on the religion.

Posted by John Tabin at August 9, 2002 06:29 AM
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