Invitation to Intermarriage
One can’t help but feel sad for Noah Feldman. In spite of his considerable professional accomplishments – a law professorship at Harvard, three books, a slew of well-received essays and a fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, to name a few – the young Jew is clearly stewing. A bubble of his own imagining has burst in his face.
What he imagined was that, in its embrace of both Judaism and elements of contemporary culture, the “Modern Orthodoxy” of his youth granted Jews license to abandon as much of Jewish religious observance as they deem appropriate. Expressing his anger – coolly, to be sure, but the hurt seeps thickly through the poised prose – in a recent New York Times Magazine piece, “Orthodox Paradox,” Professor Feldman describes how the Boston Jewish school he attended as a child and teenager went so far as to crop a class reunion photograph to omit him and his non-Jewish Korean-American fiancée , whom he later married.
But the Photoshopped portrait is only the professor’s anecdotal hook. What he really resents is that his erstwhile school, along with some of his mentors and friends, spurn him for his decision to marry outside his faith.
No one, he admits, is rude to him. None of his former teachers or friends, he writes, would refuse to shake his hand. But he knows that they deride him for the life-path he has chosen. And that offends and perplexes him.
Does not “Modern Orthodoxy,” after all, embrace the “reconcil[iation of] Jewish faith with scholarship and engagement in the public sphere”? Should it not, therefore, regard his intermarriage as an expression, if somewhat extreme, of his effort at such reconciliation? Were he and his classmates not taught to see themselves as “reasonable, modern people, not fanatics or cult members”?
Leaving aside whether un-“Modern” Orthodox Jews are in fact disengaged from the public sphere (a visit to any of a number of financial firms, law offices and hi-tech retail businesses in New York or other places with large “ultra-Orthodox” populations might yield evidence to the contrary), much less whether they are fanatical or cultist, Professor Feldman’s umbrage is misplaced. There is a reason why, to Orthodox Jews (and many non-Orthodox no less), no matter how embracing they may be of the larger world, intermarriage represents a deep betrayal. It is more than a violation of Jewish religious law. It is an abandonment of the Jewish past and an undermining of the Jewish future.
Because marriage, arguably the most important choice in a Jewish life, is not a partnership but rather a fusing – “and they shall be as one flesh,” in Genesis’ words. Since a spouse is part of oneself, the personal consequences of intermarriage are profound. As, in Professor Feldman’s case, are the communal ones; his children are not Jewish.
Judaism views the Jewish People as a special and hallowed entity. Members of the nation are to care for all – “we are to support the poor of the nations along with the Jewish poor,” as the Talmud directs. And the righteous among the other nations, the Talmud goes on to teach, will receive their eternal reward. But the Jewish faith is clear about the ultimate redemption of the world: It is dependent on the Jewish People’s remaining a nation apart in fundamental ways. One way is in our basic beliefs – for instance, that G-d gave our ancestors His law, and never subsequently changed it. Another is in our commitment to the integrity of the Jewish people qua people. Our commitment, in other words, to marry other Jews.
A celebrated Orthodox television personality and pundit reacted to Professor Feldman’s article in a Jerusalem Post opinion piece with words of welcome. While he considers intermarriage “a direct threat to the very continuity of the Jewish people,” he nevertheless considers Professor Feldman “a prince of the Jewish nation”; and suggests that intermarrieds be treated no differently from the in-married, that they be offered our “love and respect.”
His suggestion stems from his Jewish heart but his Jewish head should have been more carefully consulted.
Yes, there is ample reason to feel sympathy for Jews who intermarry. Transgressions performed from desire, Jewish tradition teaches, do not reach the level of those intended to be transgressive. And on a personal level, there are reasons to not cut off connections to intermarried friends or relatives. (It is not unheard of for non-Jews married to Jews to actually guide their spouses back to Judaism and to themselves convert; precisely such a couple is the subject of “Migrant Soul,” a biography I was privileged to write.)
At the same time, though, there is simply no way – not in the real world – to warmly welcome intermarrieds without welcoming intermarriage. No way to make Professor Feldmans feel accepted for who they are without making potential Professor Feldmans view intermarriage as innocuous. No way to “devalue” the gravity of intermarriage without dulling the truth that every Jew is an invaluable link in the Jewish chain of generations.
If one begins with the premise that intermarriage is dangerous to the Jewish people and the Jewish mission, the intermarried cannot enjoy our acceptance. There may be quibbles about the means by which we express our rejection of their choice. But the absence of any communal expression of reproach is nothing less than an invitation to intermarriage.
To my lights, it doesn’t seem extreme in the least for a Jewish school to make clear to an intermarried alumnus that, despite his secular accomplishments, it feels no pride in him for his choice to intermarry. I wouldn’t expect an American Cancer Society gathering to smile politely at a chain smoking attendee either.
It is painful, no doubt, to be spurned by one’s community. It is painful, too, for a community to feel compelled to express its censure. Sometimes, though, in personal and communal life no less than in weightlifting, only pain can offer – in the larger, longer picture – hope of gain.
This is the third article about Noah Feldman. Is the New York Times magazine that influential?
Given the widespread publicity that Professor Feldman’s article enjoys, I find it difficult to understand why his opinions need to be reviewed so thoroughly throughout the blogosphere. Clearly his feeling of rejection demonstrates that he too understands that he has crossed the line in the sand. Let him fulminate in the Times – why give him the space and energy to comment on his actions. Me fears that perhaps we are showing our own self-esteem issues. Whether we are MOs, Chardalim or Chareidim, we take an inordinate amount of pride when one of “unzere” makes it in the secular world. That pride should be reserved for those occasions when “unzere” use that success as a means for “kiddush Hashem” a la Professor Auman.
Dovid Landesman – charadiation.blogspot.com
However much one might be against the act of a Jew marrying a non-Jew, it is quite a different thing to read an already married couple and eventually family out of the Jewish Community. What sense does it make to tell a Jew who has married a non-Jew, in essence “you wanted to marry a Christian — or Bhuddist or Muslim or Wicken or Nothing or whatever — be a Christian — or Bhuddist or Muslim or Wicken or Nothing or whatever We not only don’t want your spouse, but we don’t want you or your children, either. You are dead, as far as we are concerned.” (Particularly when according to Orthodox teachings the offspring of the female Jewish partner are Jewish.)
As painful as the interfaith marriage may be, and as detrimental to the Jewish Community, surely the pain and detriment resulting from a abandonment and shunning of our children and our grand children are worse. Working to make our non-Jewish sons-in-law and daughters-in-law comfortable, and their children, comfortable in our synagogue and home celebrations, with an eye that the partner may decide to adopt Judaism and that the offspring may become knowledgeable and participating Jews, makes more sense to the ultimate survival of the Jewish Community, not to mention the well being and sanity of the Jewish parents.
I have three children, two married to Jews and the third as yet unmarried, but who, I would hope, would not marry a non-Jew. But I, as all of us, have too many relatives and friends who have found themselves in the more difficult situation and refuse to throw their errant children away, but do what they can to “make the best of it.” I believe it is important for the Jewish Community to support them and to help us all find the best way to deal with the situation. If this means welcoming the interfaith family after the wedding, sobeit.
“It is painful, too, for a community to feel compelled to express its censure.”
it is wrongheaded – and telling – for RAS to characterize the airbrushing as “censure”; as though we are teaching feldman a lesson. rather, it is about our almost physical inability – as people who value the holiness of our nationhood – to validate an action that undermines our destiny. the difference is subtle but significant.
on a personal level, there are reasons to not cut off connections to intermarried friends or relatives. (It is not unheard of for non-Jews married to Jews to actually guide their spouses back to Judaism and to themselves convert; precisely such a couple is the subject of “Migrant Soul,” a biography I was privileged to write.)
That’s so interesting. This was precisely my take which was stimulated by yet another article by Rabbi Boteach. It was my blog post today. Public condemnation, private encouragement to continue whatever connection he has to Judiasm. You never know how the warmth that one Jew extends to another will impact on him in the future when his circumstances change. One must never fully close the door on the possible repentance of another Jew.
Good article but enough Feldman already. He wants validation for himself and thus abandons the collective. Let his family be nice to him if that is their choice – I am neutral. Publicly he wants his own religion and he wants to call it Judaism. He can sort out the first himself. He can’t have the second. End of discussion.
It’s appropriate to note that the “airbrushing” allegation is a total red herring. This was 1996 or so. There was no Photoshop. No airbursh was applied. This was a simple photo crop, and people who have spoken with the newsletter publisher say that it was an entirely inadvertent badly done picture.
I think it is an understandable manifestation of Dr. Feldman’s underlying feelings that he assumes he was “cut out” of the Maimonides reunion photo. In fact he was not. But more generally it is hard to understand why a religious school would be unjustified in declining to honor the plainly transgressive, religiously antinomian choices that Dr. Feldman made (even if by those choices he never meant an intentional, targeted attack per se on the religious values and standards he was educated in).
I agree with enough Feldman but who among us believes that the issues raised by Feldman will go away?
Our challenge is made more difficult because of the language Feldman and his sympathizers use to describe what’s occurred, namely that somehow the Modern Orthodoxy pushed Feldman away. The truth is that Feldman pushed Modern Orthodoxy away. If you want to be intermarried, there are Jewish schuls that will have you and welcome you. They may even allow your children to be Jewish, based on patrilinear descent.
If your spouse wants to convert, then we’ll welcome her (or him) into the fold with chesed.
But, please, don’t condemn us because you wish for us to be accepting of you when you’ve chosen to reject us. That’s what breeds anti-semitism and the perpetuation of stereotypes about our non-existence intolerance.
There is a reason for every thing that Hashem chooses for us to see. The reason, I believe, we’re being shown a great deal of swirl around Feldman, is that we’re being presented with an opportunity to do kiruv to Jews that don’t understand or appreciate their heritage and obligations. Let’s reach out to anyone, especially wandering Jews, that may harbor the resentment of Feldman most likely because of ignorance.
“Enough Feldman already.”
I agree … unless we’re talking about R’ Emanuel Feldman and his new-to-Cross-Currents son, R’ Ilan. Their articles are very welcome!
“This is the third article about Noah Feldman. Is the New York Times magazine that influential?”
It’s the third article here, but I’ve stopped counting elsewhere in print and blog media. It’s partially that the NYT is influential, and can cause Jews and non-Jews to have the wrong ideas about four or five important topics.
But it also serves as a means of internal reflection(thus, the opportunity to address the topic in “Feldman’s Folly Part I” in a blog-venue). In a similar way, I think Rabbi Berel Wein writes that exile experience forced Jews to address certain issues, and to develop in certain ways, which conceivably would not have had to be addressed and been experienced in our country.
He may be a sinner, but Prof. Feldman characterized the Modern Orthodox world, as it might be defined at institutions like Maimonides succinctly and accurately “reconcil[iation of] Jewish faith with scholarship and engagement in the public sphere.”
Rabbi Shafran, on the other hand is imprecise on two issues: 1) Prof. Feldman hardly believes that his intermarriage is just a very “modern orthodoxy” – an “extension” perhaps of modern orthodoxy. He is saying that MO’s are hypocrites, no less bigoted than their charedi contemporaries – not because they cropped his fiancee but for a host of reasons – saving gentiles on the sabbath being the strongest example. Both the defining characteristcs of the MO – a) engagement in the public sphere and b) committment to scholarship, he asserts to be insincere. The “sincere one” might view himself as “a post-modern Jew;” calling him “MO” is wrong. 2) R. Shafran asserts that “a visit to any of a number of financial firms, law offices and hi-tech retail businesses in New York or other places with large “ultra-Orthodox” populations might yield evidence to the contrary.” Again Prof. Feldman is more accurate – working in the modern world as opposed to working as a peddler, tailor or shoemaker, is not evidence of either a) reconciliation with scholarship ( read science, history, literature, etc.) or b) engagement (as opposed to earning a living.) The evil Professor is telling your co-workers in the “financial firms, law offices and hi-tech retail businesses” not to touch your wine or fall ill on the Sabbath if only you are around and no one is looking, even if you are MO, a fortiori, charedi.
I for one have no problem discussing any or all of this with my non-Jewish colleagues. In that regard some/few MO and the cloistered charedi can really deal with the nefarious professor, differently and effectively. For the rest, especially those who are employed in the modern workplace, he, like apostates of old, hit a raw nerve; as a friend of mine remarked, “his only missing accusation was a blood libel.” Given much of what i have read, however, across the orthodox spectrum, unless you can deal effectively, it might be best to leave the debate to others. You might want to line up a heter to read the magazine section this coming Shabbos, Bo BaYom.
888… 889… 900 seconds. Okay everyone, Feldman’s 15 minutes of fame are now officially up. Move along. Nothing new here anymore.
:At the same time, though, there is simply no way – not in the real world – to warmly welcome intermarrieds without welcoming intermarriage. ”
This is the problem that Reform and now Conservative synagogues are grappling with. If they speak out against intermarriage, they alienate a lot of potential dues payers . Both groups ,sadly, have caved in.
“Rabbi, you have to remember that a synagogue is a business” is a statement often told to clergy. If Reform did not accept patrilinial descent and if Conservative did not, in fact, accept any conversion or even lack of a conversion in many cases, it would close down the Temple. So, you have to have your priorities and keeping your business open and insuring your salary are priorities, otherwise the rabbi would be fired and the next one would look the other way. Feldman, however, has enough education to want recognition by the orthodox. This is the same as the feminists who insist on orthodox feminism, why don’t they join the non orthodox movemenets which will welcome all of their innovations? Because in their heart they still believe that G-d is orthodox.
Baruch Horowitz, you’re right – it’s a good discussion topic. BTW, how common is intermarriage in the Orthodox community? I assume one can’t be Orthodox and intermarried, but how common is it for the children of Orthodox Jews to intermarry?
Dr. G. — Good analysis of why this has hit a nerve. Feldman felt betrayed by the Modern Orthodoxy which he assumed would accommodate his behavior. And then, in a fit of controlled pique, he says that he never liked Modern Orthodoxy anyway because it is intellectually dishonest. And he is going to tell everyone all about Modern Orthodoxy’s “dark secrets.” Not dissimilar to an angry suppose who says, “I never much liked you anyway. And I’m going to tell all your friends just how rotten you are. They think you’re such a nice guy. Boy, won’t they be surprised. And by the way, I’ve been cataloguing your foibles ever since we got married.” I do feel compassion for him, though, because he was engaged enough to be bothered by the community’s reaction, and by some who will hate both the sinner and the sin.
>“What he really resents is that his erstwhile school, along with some of his mentors and friends, spurn him for his decision to marry outside his faith.”
Somebody gets tossed out of a party and decides to swipe back at the host and his friends…. I think we’ve recently heard this old story somewhere.
Your article deserved better than most of the responses thus far – most bone-headed and agenda-driven themselves. The article was well considered, informed, insightful and in precise accord with what just about any Adam Godol throughout Jewish History would have written in regards to this issue, perhaps first and foremost Ezra HaSofer.
RE: Comment by Ahron — July 31, 2007 @ 2:14 pm
“Somebody gets tossed out of a party and decides to swipe back at the host and his friends…. I think we’ve recently heard this old story somewhere.”
If you are making a light joke, ok. But if you are making a serious comparison, I would respectfully ask you to reread the gemara. I think that you are wrong on both ends of the account.
1) Bar Kamzta did nothing wrong; he accepted an invitation from his arch enemy and came to the party.
2) He was publicly humiliated after trying to reason with the host.
In ‘our’ case,
1)Mr. Feldman made a choice to act in a way that he knew was unacceptable to normative orthodox Judaism
2)No one publicly humiliated him; they just didn’t accept that which they found unacceptable.
“I assume one can’t be Orthodox and intermarried, but how common is it for the children of Orthodox Jews to intermarry?”
I assume it’s miniscule even amongst those “off the derech”. Internal Orthodox reflection in wake of Noah Feldman’s article would be only indirect for intermarriage, in that one can understand assimilation in Jewish society at large. The internal reflection would be more directly relevant to Orthodoxy, however, for the other issues discussed.
For example, although I think much of the article was unfair and irresponsible even from a non-Orthodox perspective (e.g., the Baruch Goldstein issue), I found it both poignant and revealing of a way of thinking when Feldman writes, ” I have tried in my own imperfect way to live up to values that the school taught me, expressing my respect and love for the wisdom of the tradition… as a result, I have not felt myself to have rejected my upbringing, even when some others imagine me to have done so by virtue of my marriage”.
I would also add that in a recent series of articles in the Jewish Action, and most recently, in Steve Savitsky’s OU Radio interview titled “Orthodox Judaism 2017”, the question was brought up of practical ways in which Orthodoxy can unite on a public level. Apparently, Noah Feldman did Orthodoxy a favor in forcing a common ground, in the sense that nearly every article or view written or quoted from an Orthodox perspective felt a need to respond to Feldman’s article(including a Rabbi associated with the Left of Orthodoxy, as quoted in the Jewish Week editorial).
Bar Kamtza may have done nothing wrong in accepting the invitation, but there is no evidence whatsoever that he was right about anything else. All that we know about bar Kamtza’s character is found in the famous gemara in Ketubot, and consists of the following: he didn’t like being excluded from parties; he felt slighted by the exclusion; he decided to retaliate against the perceived slight by slandering the entire Jewish people in public. The evidence in favor of the subject’s virtue, then, is rather less than stellar.
Again sticking to the gemara in Ketubot, it is quite debatable whether the host of the party was wrong to expel bar Kamtza–particularly when we consider bar Kamtza’s character as revealed by what he did next.
Bar Kamtza may have been similarly guilty of nefarious antisocial conduct in the recent past, thereby prompting the host to quite understandably wish nothing to do with such a foul character and leaving the scholarly guests simply unable to find a redeeming quality in bar Kamtza that would justify their intervention to prevent the expulsion. (Certainly we can all think of a few foul characters whom we would never invite to a dinner party.) This angle is certainly not meant to be the ‘final word’ on this deceptively simple story, but I suggest that it’s important to consider.
Now moving to the current case–the narcissistic attention seeking of Mr. Feldman–any similarity or non-similarity of Feldman’s underlying character to that of a historical figure in the gemara is irrelevant, and was certainly not the point of my comment.
What is in fact the point is simply to note the similarities in reaction, from the perspective of the ostensibly “slighted” party in two quite distant eras, to a perceived social rejection, exclusion, distancing or non-involvement: public slander against the perceived ‘excluders’ and public swipes against the entire social body they are identified with. I think there is an essential likeness in the fundamental tenor of the two responses.
(Certainly the character from our gemara would not have lacked for arguments that appealed to his listeners’ concepts of self-dignity, free choice, respect and modern values of inclusion and sameness. Indeed his successful appeal to the Roman occupiers was based on precisely that claim: ‘See! I told you so! You’ll never be good enough for those Jews!’)
This and other similar stories are legion in the federation papers. They for obvious political and financial reasons perpetuate a myth that an intermarried Jew is turned off to Judaism because he/she were shunned because of their marital choice. The real truth is however that the person REJECTED his/her faith by outmarrying in the first place. Moreover Feldman acted like Zimri by parading his fiance and expecting valediction. His was aprovocative act and he should have known better.
Depending on the time, place, and situation, some people may indeed have to be rejected. Those who do the rejecting need to explain themselves as best they can, even if the rejected person won’t buy it.
Alan Nadler, in the Forward, has the best comment about Feldman. And this is from someone who left Orthdoxy to become rabbi in a mixed-seating synagogue:
Maybe I have a naive newly-wed’s* view of the world, but why would anybody want to be part of a community that rejects his/her spouse and is rejected by that spouse?
* six years and four children.
I like what Alan Nadler wrote. There is a proud tradition of refusing to conform to the community’s demands when they conflict with one’s conscience and beliefs about the wishes of G-d. I think this tradition started with an Urish lad, Avram, you may have read about (better known as Abraham).
Part of this tradition, however, is to expect the community to reject you right back. The Midrash tells us that Abraham was thrown into the furnace. Spinoza was excommunicated. Noah Feldman doesn’t get his notices into the alumni bulletin. Guess which of the three whines about it…
Rabbi Nadler makes an insightful point and even the part about Grade added a dimension. But he also created a new SAT question: Which one is different than the other three?
a) Spinoza – Jewish community of Amsterdam
b) Sullivan – Catholic Church
c) YCT – YU
d) Feldman – Maimonides
There may be multiple, correct answers.
I thought that the article by my former student and good friend, Alan Nadler was excellent and right on the mark. To revert, however, back question of Dr. Gewirtz: the one point concerning which I disagree with Alan is his comments about YCT. Whatever one may think about the institution, it has not broken with Orthodoxy. Nor did it attack YU at an annual dinner. The attack was launched by Howard Jonas, YCT’s main donor in his speech at the dinner, and it caught all those present by surprise. YCT ought to have apologized publicy to YU, but still the YCT:YU relationship cannot be compared to the other examples cited by Nadler.
This is the third entry by Ori Pomerantz – is Cross-Currents that influential?
“Alan Nadler, in the Forward, has the best comment about Feldman.”
Sure is. Kabel es ha emes mimi she omro.
Can we now put Feldman to rest?
How lovely. The NY Jewish Week now reports that even Mr. Feldman has been forced to acknowledge that the Maimonides School never “cropped” him out of a photograph at all. Rather, about 16 people in total at either end of the group photo simply overflowed outside the frame. The picture was simply mis-taken, Feldman and 15 friends were at the out-of-frame end, and the personalized “exclusion” and ‘otherizing’ that Feldman claims to have experienced from that event is in fact his own self-generated projection. The only thing that’s been airbrushed here seems to be Mr. Feldman’s self-involved pictodrama. Is Dr. Rorschach in the house?
Even more lovely: Feldman admits that he was aware of all this before the article was published. Why, then, didn’t he rewrite his piece to reflect the truth? “This was a memoir of my experience.” Oh, is that how this works? How postmodern of us.
My respect for Mr. Feldman–who sought public sympathy by plastering his attention-seeking psychodrama into a newspaper–and his seemingly pliable sense of propriety and reality, declines further.
Ahron says: “It’s appropriate to note that the “airbrushing” allegation is a total red herring. This was 1996 or so. There was no Photoshop. No airbursh was applied.”
Just for the record, Photoshop came out in 1990. I was digitally removing objects and people from photos in the early ’90s.
“I was digitally removing objects and people from photos in the early ‘90s.”
Put them back! They’ve paid their dues.
Point well noted. I should have clarified that there “was no Photoshop here”. Advanced digital image manipulation tools didn’t become prominent and widespread at the consumer level until the early 21st century, and it seems a safe assumption that a small alumni newsletter would not have spent the substantial money in the mid-1990s on such a hyperpowered professional tool.
The real giveaway, however, was Feldman’s very assumption that his old school would have taken the time and trouble to adeptly target he and his fiancé for subtle removal from a class photo–and he delivered the distinct impression to readers that the photographer or newsletter had employed some sophisticated airbrushing or digital manipulation tool to subtly excise him and his fiancé from the image while leaving everybody else none the wiser about the erasure. But the good doctor did presumeth too much.
The supposed “exclusion” was nothing but a poorly taken photo and Dr. Feldman’s self-involved presumptions nothing more than that. But since Feldman’s article was meant to be a “memoir of my experience”–an experience that we now know, and he already knew, was built on projections and false assumptions–he apparently felt no need to correct the record and no compunctions about spreading untrue insinuations and baseless umbrage against his old school.
One now wonders why the NY Times, which rejected publication of the ostensibly otherizing photo once its oh-so-blasé reality became known, still permitted Feldman to write falsely about it in his column.
Turns out Noah Feldman knew all along he was not intentionally cropped out of the picture, but chose not to reveal that fact when he wrote the article.
What was Feldman’s point? 1) He himself admits no rabbi at Maimonides refused to shake his hand at reunion, none of his friends ostracized him, all were polite and congenial; 2) He knew that the removal of his picture was the result of the cropping of more than 15 people, not personally aimed; 3) Therefore, the only “rejection” he experienced in actuality was that the school alumni newsletter did not print mazel tovs on his intermarriage and the birth of his goyishe children. I can’t imagine a more measured response by an orthodox institution when faced with the intermarriage of an alumnus.
Because of this “insult” he goes ahead and blasts Orthodox Judaism publicly, listing some incredibly sensitive halachas such as saving non-Jewish life on Shabbos, which have nothing to do with intermarriage, implying that his intermarriage was something more than simply a personal choice, but a moral one as well.
I can’t imagine a story so narcissistic, so self-justifying, so insubstantial and irrelevant, that if the Times received it from anyone else, about any other religion, that it would be published on the front page of the Magazine section. Its agenda driven purpose is transparent and it is an embarrassment to Feldman and the Times. I hope both their reputations suffer as a result.
For those interested , the OU website has a crucial exchange of letters between the Times and the OU on the issue of the photograph. In a nutshell, the Times is playing hardball despite the evidence that there was no photocropping of Feldman and his companion at all.