The Celebrity Exception Redux

As I have suggested before, there seems to be a celebrity exception to the interfaith marriage phenomenon. And usually this is the case with those high profile individuals (especially in movies and sports) who are in an interfaith marriage. What has emerged of late is an addition to this phenomenon—children of intermarriage, adult or not. Consider Ashley Tisdale, a wonderful 21 year old actress who starred in Disney’s surprise hit High School Musical. As first reported by columnist Nate Bloom in the Detroit Jewish News, it seems that Ashley, who identifies Jewishly, has a Jewish mother and a father who hails from another religious background.

Before critics counter with their usual “but what kind of Jewish life does she lead?” she has appeared at the JCC of Monmouth County’s (NJ) new theater (where she actually got her start in local theater) to benefit the Macabi ArtFest, an innovative project of the JCCA to reach teens 13-16 around the world as an event parallel to its successful Maccabi program. As JOI has been saying, it is not about intermarriage, it is about how they are raising their children. Ashley is indeed a poster child.


  1. Wouldn’t it be nice if some day everyone was comfortable with replacing the expression “identifies Jewishly” simply with “is Jewish” for anyone who identifies Jewishly!

    Comment by Jeff — January 17, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

  2. Self-identification is indeed the most important.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — January 17, 2007 @ 9:35 pm

  3. I was curious. Can anyone self-identify as Jewish? If this young lady’s mother is Jewish then she already meets halachic standards. Being raised Jewish also helps her meet the standards of the Reform community. If, however, neither parent was Jewish but decided to raise her as such, or if she decided herself to identify as Jewish, would that, on its own be enough?

    Are you suggesting we do away with conversion standardsaltogether?

    Comment by Marc — January 18, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  4. I am not suggesting that we do away with conversion standards. I am saying, however, but not in reference to this that we make conversion more accessible for people. I am also saying that we stop measuring how Jewish someone is on some sort of a numberline. History has taught us that there is no value in doing so.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — January 18, 2007 @ 10:55 pm

  5. Could you clarify what you mean by measuring by a numberline?
    I know many converts and none has ever expressed that they had trouble converting once they made clear how sincere they were in their desire to be Jewish.

    I’m just saying that it makes a whole lot more sense that you can raise Jewish kids if you are Jewish (including a righteous convert)…imagine me, a Jew, trying to raise Catholic kids…they’d be pretty poor Catholics I imagine since I have no background in or commitment to Catholicism myself.

    And certainly, not being Irish myself, it would be difficult if not impossible for me to raise my kids with a healthy does of Irish pride. I think this is a simple point, but am curious as to your thoughts.

    Comment by marc — January 23, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  6. Thanks for writing. When I say a number line, what I mean is some sort of measuring as to how many traditional ritual acts one performs–the misguided way that some folks compare the different Jewish religious movements. It might be easier to raise Jewish kids if you are Jewish–although this is not always the case–but many men and women who are of other religious backgrounds–and we sincerely and thankfully support their efforts–are also raising Jewish kids.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — January 23, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

  7. I see what you are saying about thanking and supporting non-Jewish parents who are raising Jewish kids Jewishly. However, this is only after the fact on an intermarriage having taken place.

    From the outset, though, we can see that this is not the most desireable situation because it does make it harder, almost always, for those Jewish children to integrate fully (for the reasons stated above). I do not think this is merely an issue of “acceptance” or “openness” in the community for these families. Many children ultimately grow up confused and insecure about their identity (unfortunately my wife and I know several ourselves) because they grew up with one parent who was not Jewish (defined I guess as having converted through whatever movement in which that child grew up).

    This is not Israel where virtually everyon our kids interact socially with is Jewish, where the natioanl holidays are Jewish holidays, etc. Dilution of Judaism (religiou, culture, etc.) is easy here in America. A non-Jewish parent, through no fault of their own, will almost certainly lead to further dilution of these Jewish elements with a particular family. I think we can agree that is undesireable.

    Comment by marc — February 9, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  8. It matters not whether it is desireable or not. It is part of the reality of the North American landscape. And if we want to make sure that when an intermarrige takes place that those children are accepted and are raised as Jews then we have to change our attitudes and the approach of our institutions to be welcoming and supportive. Their presence does not dilute the Jewish community.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 9, 2007 @ 10:38 am

  9. I don’t understand. Intermarriage may be a reality, but intermarriage rates are not. They change. Just like they rose dramatically between the 50s and 80s, so too they can decrease dramatically if we focus on factors that will help that happen (Jewish education and schools, or whatever else).

    I do not see why you cannot both reach out to Jews who have alraedy intermarried and also encourage Jews of marriageble age, who have not yet married, to marry Jews. Wouldn’t you encourage your own children to marry Jews? (…if for nothing else, at least to put them on the low end of the curve in the divorce rate??? I think we owe our kids that much.)

    Comment by marc — February 22, 2007 @ 4:12 pm

  10. Why are you assuming that we dont encourage in-marriage? One position should not obviate the other. Unfortunately, we are the only folks who take that position. We also dont believe that it should be the litmus test for the community and all of its projects. We also understand the reality of the contemporary Jewish experience. Intermarriage is an American phenomenon not merely a Jewish issue. And it is not a result of eduationa and the like. The only discriminating variables seem to be peer groups and zip codes.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 22, 2007 @ 9:40 pm

  11. To the contrary, I have had correspondence with Paul Golin on this very blog where he insisted that it is contradictory for the Jewish community to both encourage in-marriage while trying to reach out to those already intermarried.

    I disagree that lack of Jewish education is not a cause of intermarriage. Statistically speaking, Jews who go to a Jewish day and high school are much more likely to marry Jews and, more importantly to show that it is causitive rather than only corollary, those students hold it as a positive value to marry another Jew in much greater numbers than those in public or non-Jewish private schools. I’m not sure what evidence you could have that indicates otherwise.

    Comment by marc — February 27, 2007 @ 10:19 am

  12. Researchers in the field agree that it is not education per se, it is the issue of a Jewish peer network that is a discrimating variable in reference to interfaith marriage. In any case, I prefer to focus my attention on how people are raising their children rather than who they are marrying.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 27, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  13. I’d like to see such a study from an unbiased source. Paul Golin has already indicated he believes the Jewish Population Survey to be biased…I’m not sure what proof he has, but I would like to know what it is. I believe I have seen a number of studies indicating the opposite of what you say, and so I must disagree with your statement that “researchers in the field agree” that education is not the discriminating variable. Certainly peer network plays a part, and perhaps the two are so intertwined they cannot be unravelled, but when peer networks change (when, for example, teens from a majority Jewish high school go off to college where Jews are a tiny minorty), a Jewish education and background can keep them clinging to Jewish orgs on campus until they get out. Also, a Jewish education will make it more likely that they choose to go to a college with a large Jewish population and CHOOSE their peer groups accordingly, when given the opportunity.

    Anyhow, I don’t really think you are citing to facts about the research, but I’ll give you an opportunity to cite some objective studies which indicate that the majority of researchers agree with your statement. Otherwise, its politics, not fact.

    Comment by marc — February 27, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  14. I respect that your focus is on raising the kids, but if intermarriage disappeared tomorrow and you were out of a job, would that make you happy or sad?

    Would you see it as a good thing for the Jewish community or a bad thing? (saying “it’ll never happen” is not a good answer since the hypothetical question is meant to gauge your true desires for the well-being of the Jewish people)

    Comment by marc — February 27, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  15. I am a rabbi. I try to keep my work separate from my job. I have no fear about either. It doesnt matter how I feel about intermarriage. It is part of the reality of the North American Jewish landscape and, thus, because I care of the perpetuation of Judaism and the Jewish people, I am prepared to grapple with it positively. We cant afford demographically or ideologically to lose anyone–regardless of their decisions regarding a life partner. Moreover, I believe that our work emanates from a Jewish position to reach out and welcome in.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 27, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  16. All researchers interpret the facts as they see them. I see Jewish education as a correlate rather than causation.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 27, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

  17. But that is quite different from your bold statement that: “Researchers in the field agree that it is not education per…”

    Do you retract that statement, or can you cite researchers who say this? I just want you to be honest with your readers. There are many very well-meaning people who read this blog and should not be mislead about that the research does or does not conclusively indicate.

    Comment by marc — February 27, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  18. Marc, I never said that the community can’t promote in-marriage, it’s the way that it promotes in-marriage that I find so objectionable. In an open and honest discussion about the challenges of raising Jewish children, I think it’s totally fine to explain that it is easier to do so with two Jewish parents. (Also, you’d have to mention how single Jewish parents who are widowed or divorced have a very hard time raising Jewishly-educated children too — yet we hear very little of that and there’s almost no support for them in the community, even if they had been in-married.) But what is the context in which the promotion of in-marriage is most often discussed? As shrill, fearful oratory from the pulpit about “intermarriage finishing Hitler’s job.” Judaism is a purposely complex religion because life is complex. The broad strokes by which the community smears the intermarried in the supposed call for in-marriage has done far more damage than good. It certainly hasn’t dented the intermarriage rate.

    As for causal relationships, every researcher worth their salt will tell you that almost no single identity factor in Jewish life can be linked CAUSUALLY to another through their research. It’s not up to us to waste our time proving to you. It’s a fact. Now, there is a lot of misinterpretation, because advocates are not bound by the same constrictions as social scientists. So of course advocates for day schools will tell you that “day schools cause in-marriage.” But the onus is on you to find the sociologist who could prove that statement. We work with the main Jewish sociologists all the time, if you ask them they will readily acknowledge the lack of provable causality between any of it. (You found us, I’m sure you can find and email them.)

    As for “if intermarriage disappeared tomorrow,” there would still be nearly a million intermarried households who need our help. Half of all children who consider themselves Jewish are from intermarried households (and many of them would even be considered Jewish by you). That’s the whole point. It’s not about interMARRIAGE, it’s about the already-interMARRIED.

    Comment by Paul Golin — February 27, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

  19. No need to retract. The only way to demonstrate causality would be to have longitudinal studies. That means following two groups of kids over time, similar on key family variables, one of which gets lots of Jewish education and one of which doesn’t, and waiting to see whom they marry and how they raise their kids. To my knowledge, it just hasn’t been done. All the data we have is correlational–so it is suggestive but does not prove causality. We all learned the mantra in grad school that “correlation is not causation.” I am sorry if you dont accept the logic of this.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 27, 2007 @ 7:26 pm

  20. But you are backtracking from your statement that most researchers agree with you. In fact, they do not, and you cannot make such bold statements which hinge on pure opinion. I would posit that most researchers, mindlful of the strong correlation between Jewish education and in-marriage, and conversly between the lack of Jewish education and intermarriage, would tend to find this more than mere coincidence, or a product of peer groups and zip codes. In fact, I am sure I have read research which posits this as a causitive, rather than correlative factor, and will, if you like, find teh citations for you. The real question is whether, IF it is causitive, you would then support the Jewsish Day School movement and increased funding for Jewish Day and High schools as a means to promote in-marriage?

    The mark of a good educator or anyone fighting for a cause is that he/she desires to make him/herself irrevelevent in that regard once the problem has been addressed or the studetns made self-sufficient (perhaps one could say the same of parenting). If higher Jewish school enrollment would CAUSE higher rates of in-marriage, would you support it? Or would you fight it even though it might prevent from the outset the very situation (intermarried families and thier connection or lack thereof to teh Jewish community) that you are now trying to address?

    Comment by marc — February 28, 2007 @ 10:15 am

  21. Feel free to cite whomever you care to. I am not backtracking. Please make sure that they are researchers and not merely advocates. As for day schools and the like, I think that you misunderstand. I am an advocate of day schools and believe that they, like so many other kinds of programs such as Jewish camping and the like, should be supported because they nurture jewish identity. they prepare for jewish peer groups. I am only saying that they should not be supported simply because you believe that they are related to issues of intermarriage.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 28, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  22. Re: the reason for supporting Jewish Schools, we are in full agreement.

    I also failed to read the first paragraph of your Par. 18 and apologize for that. You make some excellent points there and I am also in full agreement with you. As the saying goes, “you catch more flies with honey …” It’s the beauty of Judaism that will ultimately keep kids connected and involved intergenerationally.

    I think I agree with you also that a two-sided approach is needed (if I understand you correctly). (1) to educate kids Jewishly and come up with the money to do so; (2) to reach out to those who did intermarry so they do not lose their connection with the Jewish community. Both are very worthy indeed! My fear is that with a shrinking pie of community resources and an ever-widening net of causes and organizations vying for these funds, these two will be at odds in the Boardroom. I tend to think education of children who are impressionable, is more effective in the long run, assuming we had to choose. To the extent we don’t have to choose, hatzlacha in bringing Jews back to the Jewish community!

    (We obviously would divurge on halachic issues that problably don’t need to be addressed. Suffice it to say that if you can bring an intermarried Jew back into the Jewish community, then I wish you all the best in that, even if I may disagree with the approach.)

    Comment by marc — February 28, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  23. Thank you. I would only add one final comment. While there are limited communal funds, there are nearly unlimited private resources available to support a great many caused in the community without doing triage. So now we have to just persuade those funders that what we do is worthwhile–not for Jewish survival for its own sake–but because Judaism can enhance the life and well-being of the individual, as can casting one’s lot with the Jewish people.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — February 28, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  24. I LOVE YOU Asley you are the best player ever!!!Love you i hop you will come to isreal!!!!

    Comment by Shira!!!! — December 14, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

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