The Jewish fear of intermarriage - Identity politics
2014 02 15
By Erica Chernofsky | bbc.co.uk
There is no mention of Norway, Norwegian tradition, culture, religion or their rich history in this article. This is strictly from a Jewish identity politics perspective, written by Erica Chernofsky for BBC:
Intermarriage - when Jews wed non-Jews - has been called a threat to the future survival of the Jewish nation. So what happened when there were reports that the Israeli prime ministerís son was dating a Norwegian non-Jew?
The Norwegian daily Dagen last week reported that Norwegian Sandra Leikanger and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuís son Yair are a couple, to which the office of Mr Netanyahu has responded - according to Israeli media - by insisting they are only college classmates. But the damage has already been done.
The Jewish Journal gives the derogatory term "shiksa" for Norwegian girl Sandra Leikanger the, in the headline: "Who is the mysterious shiksa girlfriend of Israelís boy king?"
From: urbandictionary.com: A Gentile girl or woman, especially one who has attracted a Jewish man. The term derives from the Hebrew word "sheketz", meaning the flesh of an animal deemed taboo by the Torah. Since a Jewish man marrying a non-Jewish woman is taboo also, this word applies to her.
Leikanger is not Jewish, a fact that has sparked outrage in Israel, a Jewish country which since its inception has fought to have its Jewish character recognised throughout the world. While Judaism is not a proselytising religion, Leikanger, like any non-Jew, does have the option of converting should she wish to become Jewish.
Oh not proselytising? Why is it that the non-jew always have to convert to Judaism? Never the other way around. Why? Furthermore, as explained below, she and her children will not be viewed as "true Jews." More here: Why Is Conversion to Judaism So Hard?
Think this is an isolated case? Remember when a Jewish nationalist organization urged Jewish supermodel Bar Refaeli via letter not to marry Leonardo DiCaprio, as it would dilute the Jewish race.
More here: In letter to supermodel, Baruch Marzel wrote: Assimilation has forever been an enemy of the Jewish people
Intermarriage and assimilation are quintessential Jewish fears and have been called a threat to the future survival of the relatively small Jewish nation. According to Jewish law, the religion is passed down through the mother, so if a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, their children would not be considered Jews.
The chance that children of a mixed couple would keep or pass along any Jewish traditions to future generations is radically diminished. As todayís rate of intermarriage among Diaspora Jews stands above 50%, many are worried that the nation that survived persecution, pogroms and the Holocaust could eventually die out of its own undoing.
The anxiety was expressed in an open letter to Yair Netanyahu by the Israeli organisation Lehava, which works to prevent assimilation, in a post on its Facebook page, which warned him that his grandparents "are turning over in their gravesÖ they did not dream that their grandchildren would not be Jews".
Benjamin Netanyahu with sons Yair (left) and Avner
The issue of intermarriage has largely been one for Diaspora Jews - the Jews who live outside Israel. Inside Israel, Jews (75% of the population) and Arabs (21%) rarely marry, but with an influx of foreign workers and globalisation of the Israeli community, in recent years the phenomenon has come to light.
"God forbid, if itís true, woe is me," says Aryeh Deri, leader of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to a local radio station, lamenting the news that the prime ministerís son was dating a non-Jew. "I donít like talking about private issuesÖ but if itís true God forbid, then itís no longer a personal matter - itís the symbol of the Jewish people."
Over the weekend, Eretz Nehederet, the popular Israeli satirical television show, aired a parody showcasing infamous historical oppressors of the Jews including the biblical Pharaoh and the Spanish inquisitor. The show culminated with Yair Netanyahuís non-Jewish girlfriend, whom they called the "newest existential threat". She sang about a shikse, a derogatory term for a non-Jewish woman, sarcastically crooning that she is "worse than Hitler".
Here she is, Sandra Leikanger, the "newest existential threat" to Israel and Jews:
Even the prime ministerís brother-in-law, Hagai Ben-Artzi, spoke out strongly on their affair, warning his nephew that if he doesnít end his relationship with Leikanger, it is as if he is spitting on the graves of his grandparents.
"From my point of view, if he does such a thing, I personally wonít allow him to get near their graves," he told an Ultra-Orthodox website. "This is the most awful thing that is threatening and was a threat throughout the history of the Jewish people. More awful than leaving Israel is marriage with a gentile. If this happens, God forbid, Iíll bury myself I donít know where. Iíll walk in the streets and tear off my hair - and here this is happening."
Anyone whoís watched Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye says his daughter is dead to him for marrying a non-Jew, knows the issue has always been a sensitive one among Jews.
But Dr Daniel Gordis, an author and expert commentator on Israel and Judaism, says that has changed in the past few decades, especially in the Diaspora Jewish community.
Whereas once it was greatly frowned upon for a Jew of any stream to marry a non-Jew, today, among unaffiliated (no synagogue), non-denominational (those who donít identify with any movement), conservative or reform Jews, it is not the taboo it once was. The intermarriage rates of non-denominational Jews approach 80%, he says.
But among Orthodox Jews and in Israel, it is still much more controversial.
"Itís not a racial issue, itís not a superiority issue, itís not a xenophobia issue," he says, explaining that there are two reasons for the opposition to intermarriage, one of which is that it is simply forbidden in Halacha, or Jewish law.
"The other thing is that Jews have come to see that the only real way to transmit powerful Jewish identity to their children is for them to be raised by two Jewish parents. Kids raised by one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent have more tepid, more fragile, thinner Jewish identities than their Jewish parents did.
What about Norwegian identity?
"They are statistically more likely to marry non-Jews. Thereís no guarantee, but statistically itís almost impossible to create a child with the same sense of Jewish passion that the older generation has if heís raised by someone who doesnít share that story."
The result, he adds, is that in America, "thereís a rapidly eroding sense of Jewish commitment, a complete collapsing of Jewish literacy, and a thinning of Jewish identity".
Where? Can you give an example?
So Israelis are petrified, says Rabbi Dr Donniel Hartman, head of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jewish studies, because since intermarriage is so rare there, when an Israeli marries a non-Jew they view it as if he is leaving Judaism.
"When youíre a small people and you lose your constituents it makes you quite nervous. We are 14 million Jews in the world, thatís it," he explains.
There is only 5 million Norwegianís and only 86.2% of those are ethnic Norwegians, so this can (and should) be view the other way! Itís actually the Norwegian girl that should be more concerned then Rabbi Dr Donniel Hartman.
"Whatís changed in contemporary Jewish life outside of Israel is that a Jew marrying a non-Jew doesnít necessarily mean leaving Jewish life anymore."
This is a new phenomenon in Judaism, and Hartman says Jews must rise to the challenge.
"The battle against intermarriage is a lost battle. We are a people who are intermarried - the issue is not how to stop it, but how to reach out to non-Jewish spouses and welcome them into our community," he says.
By converting them and leaving their own culture, history, religion and identity behind?
"Our outreach has to be better, our institutions have to be better, our Jewish experiences have to be more compelling, we have to start working much harder.
"Living in the modern world requires you to be nimble. Things are changing, I donít know if itís for the worse or not, that will depend on what we do. But the world is evolving, and we have to evolve with it."
More: Israel PM denies son dating Norway ígentileí
Just a quick reminder for those who has forgot or not seen this yet:
Donít miss our series on this topic:
Adrian Salbuchi - Zionism & Multiculturalism
Henry Makow - Zionism & Multiculturalism
Gilad Atzmon - Zionism & Multiculturalism
Israel Shamir - Zionism & Multiculturalism
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