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I’m not a bigot, am I?

Yesterday, my 19-year-old son and I had this textversation:

Son: What would you and the family say if I was dating a black girl?
Me: Is she nice?
Son: She seems like a sweetheart so far.
Me: That’s the most important thing!

Of course there are many other important aspects to building good relationships, but starting out with two people who are nice to each other isn’t a bad place to begin.

Now let’s get to the real issue: racism. If a Christian parent said to his or her child, “Don’t marry that Jew!” it would be considered racist, and the speaker would be considered a bigot. A bigot is someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats other people with fear, distrust, hatred, contempt, or intolerance on the basis of a person’s ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics (Wikipedia). Wouldn’t I, then, be considered a bigot if I said, “Don’t marry that Christian!” or “Don’t marry that black girl!” But I don’t think I’m a bigot, am I?

In fact, I’m not. We’ve raised our son to be curious about other cultures, to be interested in people with different backgrounds and experiences, to find his own authentic way of expressing himself, to seek out diverse friendships and to make sure those friends feel welcome in our home and in our hearts. So, if my son’s relationship were to go from dating to an engagement, what I would do is talk to both my son and his fiancé; we would open a dialogue about religions and what it means in terms of raising a family. We would talk about why our family observes Jewish values, principals, holidays, etc. We’d find common ground and learn about each other’s observances.

I would hope that they would raise Jewish children, not because I wouldn’t want them to raise Christian children, but because I believe it is the way to perpetuate the Jewish people. And while I may not feel comfortable observing another religion, I certainly would celebrate the parts of the children’s ethnicity that are related to their own identities, even if they are different than mine. And I do think that is important. However, what is key here is that it would be a conversation, not a refusal to keep an open mind. Despite the fact that my son’s relationship is just beginning, I am thinking this far ahead because there have been a series of what seem to be conflicting articles lately.

The first was published in the New York Jewish Week, written by Gary Rosenblatt. In his article, Rosenblatt responds to recent pieces that choose to look at intermarriage as a “problem” and an “issue.” And in Sylvia Barack Fishman’s article in Moment Magazine, also in response to the same piece to which Rosenblatt responds, Fishman places the focus on the threat to marriage itself, claiming that family formation is under siege in America.

If Elinor Tatum of the Amsterdam News wrote an article condemning black men from marrying white women and postulating that it’s the reason that black culture is disintegrating, there would be outrage. So why, then, isn’t there similar outcry when Jews take such strong stances against intermarriage? This is particularly relevant in a time when we see Jewish rituals being used in non-Jewish settings all the time – mezzuzot on the doorposts serve to sanctify the home, chuppahs (wedding canopies), breaking of the glass at weddings, menorahs.

I have raised my son to acknowledge the differences between folks, but not judge them because of those differences. After all, it isn’t the color of their skin, or their religion, or their beliefs, but the content of their character. And that was a paraphrase of Martin Luther King, Jr. not the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.



1 Comment

  1. There seems to be some confusion as to the underlying premise of the opposition to intermarriage. It is not at all the same thing as racism. Race and religion are very different. One is born into a race, and that trait is immutable. The Jews are not at all a race; they are a people. Some leave the Jewish people, and some choose to join the Jewish people and become Jewish. We should not be confusing the two in order to promote a pro-intermarriage stance.

    I know a fair number of African-American converts. Were a parent to oppose their child’s marriage to an African-American Jew (or Ethiopian Jew in Israel) on the basis of their skin color, it would indeed be racist and intolerable. But one might oppose a child’s marriage to someone of another religion (regardless of skin color) on the basis of lack of shared values, the smaller possibility that the children will grow up to be committed Jews or be raised as Jews, and a host of other factors that are both legitimate and substantially different from disapproving of a marriage on the basis of race.

    To put the shoe on the other foot - if a Christian opposed a marriage to a Jew because he didn’t like Jews, that would indeed be bigoted. But I have a good friend who is an Evangelical Christian who wants her son to marry another devout Christian. Her son marrying a Jew would be a problem for her, not because she has any animosity whatsoever against Jews, but simply because such a marriage would be far less likely to perpetuate the values she has instilled in her son as a Christian. That she wants her son to marry a Christian and not a Jew is not in any way “racist” or “bigoted.” Nor should we see Jews wanting their children to marry Jews (whether by birth or conversion) as “racist” or bigoted” when such aspirations are truly built on perpetuating Jewish values.

    Comment by Harold Berman — October 4, 2013 @ 5:48 am

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