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Funny handbook or insulting stereotype?

A recent, thoughtful review in the Jerusalem Post by editorial page editor Saul Singer about a new book called “Boy Vey! : The Shiksa’s Guide to Dating Jewish Men” by Kristina Grish raises some important questions about stereotypes associated with inter-dating and intermarriage—even when those stereotypes are about the supposed positive aspects of Jewish men. Noting that intermarriage is now an equal-opportunity pursuit by both Jewish men and women, Singer also writes about the potential Jewish outcomes of such unions:

Why can’t the attractive power of Jewish men (and women, for that matter) be a force for good, for growing instead of shrinking the Jewish people? When asked if she had ever thought of converting to Judaism, Grish said: “In my conversations with Jewish men, even those who don’t attend synagogue, the subject has come up… but I wouldn’t feel comfortable about leaving Christianity. At the same time, I have no problem raising my kids as Jews.” Grish doesn’t seem to draw much of a connection between what she likes about Jews, what Jews like about themselves, and Judaism itself. But both she and the men she dates should….

Jewish men and women, even secular ones who readily date non-Jews, should set themselves this simple rule: If I end up considering marriage to a non-Jew, I will grant the tradition that produced me the courtesy of a hearing. Before writing it off, or adopting some hybrid religion in my family life, I will require that my beloved and I seriously consider Judaism - converting for my spouse-to-be, discovering my own roots for me.

Singer raises important points, and intermarriage (and inter-dating) often prompt a Jewish journey on the part of both partners that would not have existed before, but we think if Singer reads more closely into Grish’s quote he would see that that’s exactly what’s happening on her dates with Jewish men, “even those who don’t attend synagogue.”

Although author Kristina Grish doesn’t feel she can leave her religion-of-origin for whatever reasons, her discussions with her dates and her agreement (even before marriage) to raise Jewish children is “a force for…growing instead of shrinking the Jewish people.” If she marries a Jewish man and they raise Jewish children, then they are a Jewish household, period. It would be wrong to suggest that they are a “hybrid” or even an “interfaith” family. They are a Jewish family where one partner happens not to be Jewish.

Helping ALL families raise Jewish children should be our goal. Conversion is of course a wonderful result, but if conversion becomes the goal and our sole focus, we will lose people like Grish who might hear that we don’t believe they are capable of raising Jewish children. They are capable, especially if they were to receive more support from the organized Jewish community.

On a side note, we can’t let it go without pointing out that the word “Shiksa” is a slur. It is NOT a neutral word for “non-Jewish woman,” but—as described on the soc.culture.jewish FAQ—”Shiksa and Shaygetz are the Yiddish derivative of the respective feminine and masculine Hebrew words for something unclean, dirty.” Now, when the word is used by a woman from another religious background the way it is in the title of this book, she may either be mistaking it for cute and playful, or “reclaiming” a slur as a badge of honor. Jews are certainly familiar with doing such a thing (see: Heeb Magazine). We just wanted to point it out, because we still see it used in Jewish media, by Jews, who also mistake is as cute and playful, and it’s actually offensive and off-putting for those who understand its meeting.



1 Comment

  1. Hi Paul. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you are defining “Jewish family” as any family where the parents agree to raise their children as Jewish. Or maybe I’m overstating and you would require at least one of the parents to actually be Jewish (as defined by an “accepted” stream of Judaism)? I have a couple of questions, but don’t feel they will be meaningful unless I am clear on the operative definition you’re using. Thanks.

    -marc

    Comment by Marc J. — August 8, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

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