Responding to the Fishman / Cohen / Wertheimer Challenge

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Last Friday Sylvia Barack Fishman, Steven M. Cohen and Jack Wertheimer described Michael Chabon’s views on intermarriage as “morally abhorrent.” The JTA published my reply on Monday, ‘Radical inclusion’ of interfaith families is the best response to Michael Chabon.

In their essay, Fishman and her co-authors address several questions to proponents of welcoming and inclusion (I’ve added numbers):

  1. Where would you draw boundaries?
  2. Where do you stand on maintaining some distinctions between Jews and others?
  3. Is Jewish group survival a force for good or for ill, not only for individual Jews but for humanity?
  4. Should we teach the next generation that all Jews —both those born Jewish and converts — are in a kinship relationship with one another as heirs of a unique, rich and valuable cultural heritage?

They end by asking “Which side are you on?” A rabbi I spoke with described that as a challenge to which I offer this explicit response:

  1. We should draw boundaries around the content of Jewish traditions – the cultural richness, intellectual wealth, moral wisdom, warmth of community life, social justice and engagement with Israel that they refer to – but not around who gets to participate in those traditions.
  2. In order to maximize the Jewish engagement of interfaith couples and families, we should not maintain distinctions between intermarried Jews and their partners from different faith backgrounds.
  3. Of course Jewish group survival is a force for good, not only for Jews, but also for their partners from different faith traditions who should be included in the Jewish group, as well as for humanity.
  4. We need to broaden our thinking beyond only born Jews and converts being in kinship relationships and heirs to Jewish tradition. We need to adapt our concept of Jewish “people” to a broader Jewish “community” that includes everyone who is Jewishly engaged – Jews, their partners from different faith backgrounds, and their children – to welcome and include all of those people as heirs to our valuable heritage.

The challenge I would pose is whether Jewish leaders truly want to maximize the Jewish engagement of interfaith families – the Jewish partner, the partner from a different faith background, and most importantly their children – and what steps they are willing to take towards that end.

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