A tremendous amount of words have been expended these past few weeks in the Jewish community (including by us here, here, and here), debating a New York Times Magazine article by Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman about being shunned (in ways) by his Orthodox day school after he intermarried.
One interesting aspect about the debate that has gone relatively unmentioned is that it is primarily occurring among Orthodox Jews. This is quite remarkable, considering similar public conversations about whether to welcome or shun the intermarried began taking place in the Conservative Movement only several years ago, and in the Reform movement several decades ago. And we have been pleasantly surprised by some inclusive messages, including a piece from Rabbi Levi Brackman called “Intermarriage rethink thanks to Noah Feldman.”
To me, this is further evidence of the wide reach of intermarriage in this country; if Orthodox families were genuinely immune to intermarriage—as so many communal leaders (both Orthodox and non-Orthodox) would have us believe—why such passion over this issue rather than simply writing off Feldman as a crackpot aberration?
Not all comments have come from Orthodox quarters, of course. We at JOI felt the need to reply to Gary Rosenblatt’s thought-provoking editorial in the (New York) Jewish Week with our own letter to the editor (third from top), in which we responded to his pointing out how some Jewish leaders believe “that the community already has tilted so far toward outreach and acceptance of non-Jews that there is little incentive left for them to convert to Judaism”:
The word “incentive” is a particularly interesting choice for describing the shunning, disowning and even sitting shiva that accompanied intermarriage in the past. In the rare cases where those tactics actually led to conversion, the proper term would be “coercion.” Thankfully, we are living in a time when the Jewish values of outreach and acceptance really is “incentive” for intermarried families to find a place in the Jewish community, and the overwhelming majority of converts today are people who really want to convert.