With sighs and facepalms, I read a Previous-Jew take on intermarriage

I suppose Previous Jews will keep writing about intermarriage for the same reason that the Rolling Stones keep touring and releasing albums – because they still physically can and folks are still willing to pay attention to them.

So here goes.  With sighs and facepalms at the ready, I had a bit of a peruse of this piece over at Tablet which, coincidentally, is the subject of the next edition of TanakhCast: Did Moses intermarry?

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 16.31.30 PMThe piece begins with an accurate albeit snide summary of recent efforts (and “strained arguments”) on the part of the Reform movement and various Jewish outreach organizations to recast Moshe and Tzipporah’s union as the first successful “intermarriage”.  (That the authors put intermarriage in quotes … oi.)  This agenda-driven recap builds to the inevitable argument Previous Jews persist in making about one of Next Judaism’s norms:  You young whippersnappers elevate intermarriage from an ever-present reality to a desirable ideal!  (And the Pew Study has the data to prove it!!)

Really?  Is that what we’re doing?  Feel free to sigh heavily and facepalm at this point…

By acknowledging the choice that more Jews are making about whom they will marry (a choice which the authors clearly disapprove of), we are elevating a choice to an ideal?  I thought we were just accepting reality… but I digress.

Cohen and Morris continue to assert that context matters (that is, Moses’ was different than ours, duh) and then move on to argue that parents, like religious leaders, try to teach the difference between right and wrong, but Reform rabbis are confused about whether it is right for Jews to marry Jews.  Really?  Well, I guess the consensus on this has shifted much like the consensus has shifted on many other things… like LGBT Jews marrying or women wearing a tallit at the Kotel.  Sorry, digressing…

And in subsequent paragraphs, which evoked much sighing and facepalming, the authors proceed to do what pieces authored by Previous Jews can be counted on to do:  yearn for the good ol’ days of certainty, clarity and old timey values and religion.  Buried within the prose and analysis is the trenchant wish that if we could only roll back the odometer to a more Jew-identified time, we would all be better off.  If we could only revive the consensus of, say, the 1950s, or even better, the shared values of right and wrong from the 1850s,  somehow, all the vexing problems facing the Jewish community, especially intermarriage, would magically disappear.  We could be a people again!  

As Cohen and Morris pointed out, context matters.  However, it seems that our authors, like many Previous Jews, persist on clinging to and focusing on the wrong one.

Their concluding paragraph delimits their myopia perfectly:

Following the publication of Pew’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” we can well imagine that some Jewish parents are sitting down with their children to assure that their kids understand that when the time comes, they are to marry within the faith. Do we really want these children to answer: “But our rabbi teaches that intermarriage is a personal choice just as good as marrying a Jew. After all, Moses married a non-Jew and he became the leader of our people”?

Do we really want my child to answer in this manner?  DO WE?

In a word:  HELL YES I DO!

Here’s why:

First, this Next Jewish child (about whom our Previous Jewish authors concern-troll so lengthily) quotes her rabbi!  And she can cite her rabbi because, it seems, she has a relationship with her rabbi, one which she values.  It also seems that this relationship is open and trusting enough that personal questions of great import can be asked and answered.  Was this question asked after a Shabbat service or before a youth program or did the Rabbi visit her summer camp?  Who knows?  I guess it doesn’t matter…  (Let the geshrying continue!)

Second, this Next Jewish child is also familiar with the relevant sections of Exodus and Numbers in which the story of Moses’ family is recounted as well as the importance of Moses in the history of the Jewish people.  Not too shabby.

And, third, and most important, she sees herself as part of the Jewish people.

Yes, our authors might answer, yes… but which Jewish people?  I don’t recognize them at all.

I suppose that is precisely the point.



TanakhCast: The Moral Cowardice of the Prime Directive Edition!

Prime-DirectiveIn this week’s episode: Exodus 29-32.  We consider what happens after Moshe is shamelessly late and the person who is supposed to be in charge (read: Aharon) confronts demands for a Golden Calf.  And we regard what it means to “pursue peace” as Hillel (inspired by Aharon) does when similarly confronted by bad behaviour and whether all this “peace pursuing” is not just a sleazy dodge.

And if that’s not enough, TanakhCast is also on Soundcloud!


TanakhCast: The Being Like Atticus Finch Edition!

Atticus_Finch_by_Crispy_GypsyIn this week’s episode: Exodus 9-12.  We re-examine the question of collective punishment as the remaining plagues ravage Egypt and, in the process, probably manage to piss off probably every working lawyer by taking a poke at the legal profession’s favourite fictional character Atticus Finch.

ICYMI, have a listen to the Gettysburg episode of Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast so you can get a sense of context for David Plotz’s comments.  And here is Dalia Lithwick’s piece on Atticus Finch as well as Malcolm Gladwell’s jab at the legendary fictional lawyer.

TanakhCast: The Collectively Punished Prisoner’s Dilemma Edition!

In this week’s episode: Exodus 5-8.  We examine the beginning of the grand game between Pharaoh and Moshe, a contest which not only results in the first three plagues and the punishment of a whole nation for the recalcitrance of one man – but also demonstrates why Tit-for-Tat works best when facing down your opponents.  And my daughter Heala weighs in on the notion of collective punishment!

One additional note:  Richard Dawkins’ love for Tit-for-Tat in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game is based largely on simulations where there are more than two players in the game – which suggests that Tit-for-Tat, though the best strategy for multiple opponents, might not work as well in the Egyptian Bondage version.

UPDATE: It seems that prisoners are more cooperative than expected…

TanakhCast: The Lousy Leader and Miserable Mentor Edition!

Mmmm Yeah, I'm going to need you to come in on Saturday.

Mmmm Yeah, I’m going to need you to come in on Shabbess.

In this week’s episode: Exodus 1-4.  Dan Libenson, President of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, explains why God has a lot to learn about mentoring Moshe at the Burning Bush, and how sometimes, it is better NOT to walk in the ways of God if it means that you cannot grow and learn to be a better leader.

I was going to insert a picture of Dan Libenson, but then I realized that folks would connect the header and the image.

Dan is a distinguished leader and wise mentor.

Bill Lumbergh is NOT.