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A Response to Recent Articles on Intermarriage

There have been numerous pieces about intermarriage in the press lately. I am not really sure why they have suddenly emerged. Perhaps it is the result of several books that have been recently published. But I have decided to follow the advice of one of my teachers in rabbinical school, Alvin Reines z”l (of blessed memory). And while I usually disagreed with much of his religious philosophy, I often appreciated his practical advice. He often told us that sometimes silence is the best response, especially to public positions taken that are patently absurd. Rather, he suggested, let people determine on their own how absurd are the positions. You, he would argue, do not need to point it out. So here are some reasons why I have chosen not to respond, in particular, to those articles that are being written.

1. Unlike in previous articles, neither Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) nor I were named explicitly or implicitly. Our board made a decision some years ago not to respond to such pieces unless we were specifically named since it does no one any good to engage in what I call “Jew wars.”

2. During this time of year, I am particularly mindful of the challenge of being respectful to one another, even in the context of a philosophical debate.

3. I refuse to allow someone else to set the agenda for our work. Rather than responding, I would prefer to follow the advice of my colleague Paul Steinberg z”l who would often say “let your deeds sing your praises.” After 25 years of work, JOI has a proven track record. It can stand on its own as a rebuttal to any claim our critics make.

4. The positions that are being taken are old arguments. We have publicly responded to them on numerous occasions. Since there are no new arguments being made in these articles, it is silly to repeat those arguments.

5. I refuse to allow the work we are doing with regard to intermarriage to be classified in terms like “war” or “battle.” Any response would be an affirmation of such terms.

6. To divide the Jewish community along the lines of intermarriage is archaic. The great divide is along the lines of engagement.

7. To intermarry is a choice people are entitled to make. The goal of the Jewish community must be to provide meaning to these couples, and not to judge the decisions they have made.

8. I fear that these articles allow some people to respond and use such reactions as cover for the positions they take, which are commonly known. Our positions are known and we welcome people who want to work along with us.

It is time to move the conversation away from who people marry to how they raise their children. We welcome all those who want to work with us—and join us in the opportunity to shape an optimistic Jewish future.



3 Comments

  1. It’s admirable of you to aspire to take the high road. However, some of your staff seem to be unaware of JOI’s policies in this regard. If JOI’s Board indeed decided years ago not to respond to pieces unless JOI was specifically named, then Paul Golin clearly erred when writing his rather acerbic response to my E-JewishPhilanthropy article a little over a month ago. In my initial article, I never referred to JOI’s programs or people by name (in fact, organizations like JOI were not the focus of the article). Yet Paul issued a full article in response specifically in his capacity as Associate Director of JOI and specifically citing JOI’s programs. As a Jewish communal professional who has stood at the head of Jewish organizations, I know just how important it is for all staff to follow Board-determined organizational policies. I’m hopeful that not only you, but your staff, will adhere to this important JOI policy in the future.

    Comment by Harold Berman — September 10, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

  2. Let me clarify. The policy is referring to a group of specific critics of our work to whom we have responded on numerous occasions. Second, the policy refers to both explicit and implicit criticisms of our work. Finally, it does not include those who are attempting to state new positions rather than rehashing old arguments.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — September 10, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

  3. Ok, thanks for attempting to clarify, but I’m now more than a little confused. Above, you said, “Our board made a decision some years ago not to respond to such pieces unless we were specifically named” which is quite different from “explicit and implicit criticisms of our work. As to the policy only referring to specific critics and what you deem to be old positions, am I to understand that there is a specific policy not to respond to Bayme, Wertheimer, Cohen, Fishman, that wouldn’t apply to others? In any event, whatever JOI’s policy, the Golin article did mischaracterize and misquote my positions, which wasn’t really helpful to anyone, including JOI (and for what it’s worth, he also said in his article that my arguments were the same old arguments, which would seem to bring it under your non-response policy). Ok, whatever.

    Comment by Harold Berman — September 10, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

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