Monday, December 21, 2009

Interfaith romance and assimilation

In Jewish discussions of intermarriage, interfaith dating, and the like, the non-Jewish partner is implicitly assumed to have one of two identities: that of a universal, non-hyphenated member of the majority culture (i.e. the women Portnoy screwed so as to screw, in both senses, America), or that of a mainstream elite - a member of the New England WASP upper class, say, or the Parisian aristocracy. In both of these cases, the Jewish desire to resist total assimilation, to insist upon raising theoretical and real-life children 'as Jews', and thus to reject the culture and religious traditions of the non-Jewish partner, is understandable. In neither case would choosing Judaism/Jewishness over the other route put the particularities of the other partner's culture in danger of disappearance.

But what about the (frequent) case of a Jew partnering off with a member of another 'particular'? I ask because I found myself wondering whether Prudie would have responded the same way had a Chinese-American woman complained not about her Jewish boyfriend's refusal to embrace the secularized Christmas her own family adores, but instead about his failure to accept specifically Chinese aspects of her heritage, say, if she had told him the Theoretical Children could attend Hebrew school only if they also went to Chinese school, and he'd said no? What if the issue had been Greek Orthodox Christmas up against Chanukah? And so on.

There's a certain degree of assimilation inherent in considering out-group dating acceptable. But it seems the discussions of theoretical children disappearing into the majority are less appropriate when neither partner is the 'real American.' In such cases, an insistence that a child be raised in only one parent's culture strikes me unfair.


Daniel Goldberg said...

My own case may be illustrative, seeing as how I am married to a Japanese (not Japanamerican, but Japanese) woman.

Accordingly, neither of us qualify as the "real" American (both of us are first-generation residents in the U.S., we and our families were born on other continents, etc), and we often have to negotiate some of the issues you raise here. Fortunately, we have a lot of shared values and approaches, and I happen to adore Buddhism.

But one thing I often find myself having to explain to others is that religion in many Eastern cultures -- including Japan -- is just an entirely different institution/phenomenon then it is in the West. Japan is certainly no stranger to warfare, but the idea of fighting a war primarily over religion would, at least over the last few centuries, make little sense. Religious practices shade much more strongly to the civic variety, such that the binary, oppositional character of different Western religions -- and especially Jewish vs. Christian beliefs -- simply does not come up as much, at least in my experience.

Part of our approach has been to recognize that our daughter is Jewish, Japanese, and American by birth. Before the age of two she has traveled to two continents, with a third planned for the summer. She is different, to put it mildly. Hence we want her to be a part of some community, and as my wife likes Jewish communities -- sometimes more than I do -- we happen to think that is a nice one for her to belong to.

So no real issue with raising her Jewish, etc. We are on the same page about that.

More specifically as to the Christmas issue, it is interesting to note that we have pretty divergent understandings of that matter. Like many Japanese people, my wife had Santa-san and a Christmas tree in her home growing up. I was raised Conservadox, such that these activities were absolutely forbidden, and I have retained a fairly strong antipathy towards any Christmas-related activities, regardless of their secular provenance. This my wife cannot truly understand, no matter how much I try to explain it.

Fortunately, like many things that relate to Western religion, having a Christmas tree in our home is not the end-all be-all for my wife, and while she might choose to put one in her home were it entirely her decision, she respects the strength of my desire not to have one.

But I think part of our approach is very much to recognize that our daughter perforce simply cannot be "raised in only one parent's culture." Given my tremendous respect for Japanese culture, I personally would count it as a grievous personal failing were our daughter not raised to understand something of what it means to be of Japanese heritage.

Matt said...

Daniel- you'll be lucky if your daughter doesn't end up just being an American (perhaps even as a form of rebellion!) My wife (who is Russian) finds the idea that if we were to have a child, it would likely be an American terrifying. I almost agree. But it's very hard for that not to be the case.

Perhaps not so much in Japan, at least recently, but lots of wars and killing took place during the spread of Buddhism, for the sake of spreading it. There's even an aspect of this in Sri Lanka now.

As for Christmas, you should adopt the Russian tradition and celebrate New Years. You can even still have a tree (now with pagan over-tones) and even "grandfather frost" (who does look suspiciously like Santa, but is distinct), but without the unpleasantness of Christmas. It's what I've done for the last 8 or 9 years. (Orthodox Christmas, at least for most Russians, is either a day to get drunk or else to stand in church for several hours. It's basically nothing like "catholic" Christmas.)

Phoebe said...

Given how common it is for Jews to pair off with foreigners/other minorities, why is the discussion about intermarriage still presented as though Jews marry out because of the temptations of blending into the majority?

Another question, for another time, is why so many Asian woman - Jewish man couples, and so few vice versa? One of the world's many mysteries.

Daniel Goldberg said...


I can imagine few things more horrifying than that prospect. Indeed, although I am sorry to contribute to the "self-hating academic liberal" stereotype, there is some truth to it in my case. I would not be at all sorry to spend a few years living abroad, at least while my daughter is "young." And although I am the child of immigrants, and have a fairly acute sense of the enormous cost of leaving one's home society, I do think quite seriously about picking up and going to Japan, even though I am also acutely aware of the fact that gaijin will always be gaijin in Japan.

You're right to note the existence of warfare over Buddhism, but that has tended more to the Theravada than the Mahayana line, and there are several qualifications I tried to note above, at least as to Japan: first, that such wars have been largely absent more recently, and second, that religious disagreements have certainly contributed to conflict in the East, but, at least as compared to Western history, IMO, have far less frequently constituted casus belli.

Of course, the absence of such conflict is in part a function of the homogeneity of Japanese culture, but I guess my point was in part that, even as an outsider, I suspect that is actually not as dominant a reason as one might presume.

And we do celebrate a non-Jewish holiday in my household: it is called (Japanese) New Year's. Everyone should have the chance to experience the wonder of new year's in Japan; it is such an awesome, amazing event. and even though buddhist and shinto traditions are built into it, I have no real antipathy to it the way I do to Christmas. quite the contrary, I actually enjoy the Eastern traditions, and have eagerly participated in them as a family.

For myself, however, I think I shall choose to go with Frank Costanza and erect the aluminum pole, followed in close succession by the airing of the grievances and the feats of strength.


Your second question (on Asian women-Jewish men pairings) is a good one I have wondered about for a while. I remarked to Kei some time ago that there is some evidence that when Japanese women pair with Caucasian men, they do so an unusually high percentage of the time with Jewish men. Why that is is a good question, but the authors of one study I have seen suggested some overlap in cultural background (importance of education, professionalization, etc.). My own case is not really a good example, since my Japanese in-laws are unusual in basically every sense of the word, but their only question as to our marriage was -- aside from the necessity of treating their daughter well -- whether I was educated. Fortunately -- or sadly if you prefer -- I have that covered.

No idea why there are much fewer Jewish woman-Asian men pairings.

kei said...

I think it's a general mystery that Asian men tend not to date outside of Asian circles in the way that Asian women do. I always thought that this had something to do with the image of Asian girls vs. Asian guys: cute vs. nerdy/mathelete/etc. In the world of dating, my bet was that "cute," or the perception of cute, has an advantage over good grades or knowledge of computers or whatever the image is.

But in my high school, there were at least a few Asian-American guys (good at math, history, volleyball, and flirting) who were quite popular among all the ladies. I wonder if there's a difference in dating trends between Asian men and Asian-American men. That might at least explain some of my high school observations.

Personally, re: my marrying Mordecai--in one of those weird subconscious ways, I don't think it was a pure coincidence that I married Mordecai, and that my mom had remarried a non-Asian, non-Japanese man many many years ago. My dad and Mordecai are (at least to me and my mom) white, and they share similar personality traits and tastes. I find it kind of eerie that sometimes, one ends up marrying someone like one's mother/father, but it seems kind of inevitable.

I often think about Theoretical or Future Children, but I haven't come across anything that involves serious conflicts. But it might be the case that Future Child will have stronger or more visible, for lack of better terms, Japanese than Jewish elements. I think this is just a reflection of how Mordecai and I grew up as Jewish and Japanese. It might be that neither of us is "truly American," but I tend to think of myself as at least somewhat less American than Mordecai. Although, the older I get, the less this is obvious to me. I do know that regardless of where we are, we are both weird in our own ways, so Future Child is doomed/blessed, no matter what.

Matt said...

(Other Matt, to avoid confusion)

Married to a Korean woman, we celebrate Chusok (fall harvest festival) and Korean New Year's and Hannukah and Passover and whatever other Jewish holidays we happen to remember. Almost all of it is at my wife's insistance, though. This was the first time ever I'd managed to light candles all 8 days of Hanukah (though I miscounted, and lit 5 on the 6th day and 7 on the 8th). Also, as the child of an interfaith marriage, I tend to celebrate Christmas as well (even though I get offended when "Season's Greetings" is spelled out in red and green lettering, because it's really about Christmas). We plan on a child, and I think it would be hard for that child to grow up without realizing it is both Korean and Jewish (and American, too, I suppose) and how these relate to the dominant culture.

As for intermarriage, I think it may be, in part, an attempt to assimilate to an idealized America rather than the actual America. The idealized America really is the melting pot (in Israel Zangwill's original sense?) rather than one where Bill O'Reilly's "War against Christmas" is as influential as it is.

Britta said...

I lived in China for a year, during which time I had a Jewish boyfriend. Many of my female Chinese friends saw him as a great catch, because he embodied, in their minds, the best combo of white and nonwhite traits. While he had "white" facial features, he was seen as being smaller and slighter than the stereotypical white man, and had dark hair and so therefore looked more like a Chinese person. Also, Jewish men in China at least have a reputation of being smart, treating their women well, and knowing how to make lots of money, all things which are seen as positive.
There is also an idea that racially mixed children are more attractive (hun xue(r) zhang de hen shuai, lit. "mixed bloods grow up handsome"), so I can see why Jewish men would be popular. They are both exotic in certain ways, but also a bit "safer" than your "typical" white man and seen as being slightly more Asian-like. Plus, in China there is not thought to be any underside to Jewish stereotypes. (E.g., if the Chinese thought a Jewish cabal controlled the world, they would be impressed rather than resentful.) In short, the supposed successes of the Jews in terms of business and American politics are to be emulated, not despised.

Interestingly enough, men often had a really different reaction. Most Chinese men I met told me that if I were willing to date my boyfriend, I would do better with a Chinese man, because they had most similar traits but were much more manly.

Phoebe said...

A couple points, responding, I hope, to all.

-I suppose what bothers me about the American Jewish discussion of intermarriage is that it's always presented as being about a Jewish person wanting to blend into American society. So it's interesting that (it seems, from these comments and my own experience, etc.) for many Jews, a particular non-Jewish partner actually ends up representing a route away from generic or non-hyphenated Americanness, offering if anything a way of affirming cosmopolitan difference. It could be that an even less 'American' partner makes the Jewish partner feel more American, but I think it's more/more often about Jews taking a certain pride in not being shall we say in Sarah Palin's target audience.

-Re: Asian women and Jewish men... mystery seems not to be 'why do Asians and Jews pair off?' (this has been covered at length and forever - 'similar values regarding education', meeting at the same schools, etc.) but why the particular gender breakdown. In my own life/trove of anecdotal evidence I see no obvious reasons - friends of mine have dated in both directions (as in, including Jewish women dating Asian and Asian-American men), making me think the breakdown is specific either to an older generation, or to those who could still consider Jews/Asians 'Other'. In my circles growing up, there were simply too many Asians and Jews for anyone from either group to conceive of the other group as exotic.

-Whether or not we find our own relationships fitting into demographic trends, they're never going to feel like clichés as lived. This is the danger of examining such trends - obviously the point is not to suggest all couples with certain demographic traits are somehow blindly following scripts not of their own making.

Miss Self-Important said...

Wait, so why don't we want American children again? Why would ship our children off to even more closed societies during their formative years so that they can experience transnational moving traumas twice just to avoid becoming Americans (presumably they will be shipped back in time for prestigious university matriculation)?

Phoebe said...

Right, the American thing. I was a bit taken aback by the comments above about not wanting children to be American, but I think there's a more sympathetic way to look at it than as a snooty fear of children who'd like football or wear Uggs (as per Amber's "ugly-American" discussion). Which is not to say that's not part of it. As I see it, it's partly what I mention above - the pride in being non-Palin-eque - but it's also a sense, at least among (some) Jews, that it's sort of futile to feel 100% American (or English, French, etc.) because historically, for Jews, national identity has a) often been taken away, and b) only ever been partially available. As in, the civil and cultural parts might be OK, but the ethnic ones might be denied.

A cynical take on American identity is thus, in this context, part snobbery and part fear. It's also, in the case of a two-different-minority couple, the knowledge that the Theoretical Child by virtue of the dual identity gets to be American in a way neither parent ever could, whether they wanted to or not.

What it's not, however, except possibly in the case of the commenter above who tried to raise his child abroad, is a desire to geographically remove one's child from the U.S. Or politically, even. It's more about hovering in a sort of blue-state (for lack of a better term - is 'cosmopolitan' better, or just dated?) zone, one that includes, obviously, the fancy universities.

Amber said...

It's also, in the case of a two-different-minority couple, the knowledge that the Theoretical Child by virtue of the dual identity gets to be American in a way neither parent ever could, whether they wanted to or not.

Hei Lun hit this a little over at my place, but Phoebe's point applies especially to some minority/minority offspring. An American-born kid of a Japanese mother and Jewish father might get pushback from both parents' groups of origin that she's somehow not really one of them. (I'm assuming the mother didn't convert.) Cf. the recent controversy with the half-black Chinese reality TV contestant. Going out of your way to keep someone in that situation from adopting an American identity might not be doing her any favors.

Phoebe said...


"Going out of your way to keep someone in that situation from adopting an American identity might not be doing her any favors."

The case Daniel Goldberg mentions above, trying to keep his child from forming too much of an American identity by geographically removing his child from America whenever possible, is the extreme, as is the remark by one of the above Matts that it's disastrous if one's child turns out to be American. It's a shame the discussion now hinges on these remarks, because they get at something real - discomfort with American identity in minority-minority couples - without much of the ambivalence and positive feeling towards the U.S. also typically experienced.

What I meant, in what you quote above, is that the Theoretical Parents are fearful but also in a way jealous that their potential offspring would be unhyphenated Americans. This is obviously less the case if one parent is, say, Kenyan, but the child of a European immigrant and either an immigrant from another European country or a Jew might be perceived of as 'just American,' something neither parent would have had a shot at.

Miss Self-Important said...

"It's a shame the discussion now hinges on these remarks, because they get at something real - discomfort with American identity in minority-minority couples - without much of the ambivalence and positive feeling towards the U.S. also typically experienced."

Well, for the sake of balance, I can contribute that I feel completely American, like America, and am unambivalent about having American children. The country in which I was born has never risen much above the level of a brutish despotism, and its cultural accomplishments do not impress me enough to merit steeping my children in them (it's not like Americans have to go very far out of their way to read Tolstoy anyway). My fiance, who is the child of immigrants from a different hemisphere, feels the same way, as far as I know. However, I suspect that, given how much emphasis was put on the exoticism of being not-American in my school experience by people with the mindsets described above, any children I do have will make a point of inflating the fleeting not-American aspects of their background despite my best efforts.

Matt said...

as is the remark by one of the above Matts that it's disastrous if one's child turns out to be American.

Well, I was exaggerating, at least to some degree, I will admit. And, of course, there are pathologies in every culture. Whether the pathologies of one's own culture of of another's hit you harder will depend on all sorts of idiosyncratic tendencies. I don't have illusions about people in any particular country being without flaws, though I do strongly dislike many aspects of US culture and would hope that any child I might have would be able to avoid them. (Crass provincialism, anti-intellectualism, and many aspects of consumer society, especially ideas like being "brand conscious", being the most unpleasant to my mind.) It might be enough to just avoid TV

Nick C said...

A few anecdotes:

My dad, in his endearing racist ways, has always called the Chinese "the Jews of the East", and it's my understanding this is a fairly common appellation.

When German diplomats were pressuring the Japanese government to extradite Jews in their territory to their tender care, the Japanese called a couple of Jewish leaders into a meeting with the Germans to hear their arguments for why they should be allowed to remain in Japanese territory. Asked why the Germans hated them so much, the wizened rabbi turned to the Japanese leader and, without a translator, said simply, "They hate us because we are Asian, like you." It was a very short meeting after that.

Interesting, no?

Petey said...

"But what about the (frequent) case of a Jew partnering off with a member of another 'particular'? I ask because I found myself wondering whether Prudie would have responded the same way had a Chinese-American woman complained not about her Jewish boyfriend's refusal to embrace the secularized Christmas her own family adores"

I think you have your terms here misdefined.

At the end of the day, there are only two kinds of cultures: the garlic lovers and the barbarians.

Since both Jews and Chinese fall in the garlic loving category, a match between these two will produce garlic loving babies, which means that the family upbringing will work just fine.

Ethnic stews are really quite simple, just as long as no barbarians are involved.

Daniel Goldberg said...

Really, it comes down to Matt's point. There are pathologies in every culture. How they affect a person or their family will depend on a great many of deeply personal points related to values, family culture, community membership, etc.

Some of the participants in this thread have been apparently eager to judge in almost total ignorance of those idiosyncrasies, which, I think, is little more than hubris.

Accordingly, I am mystified that my remarks -- which basically amount to the admission that there are some aspects of American culture and society that I find utterly reprehensible -- would be taken as extreme.

Nowhere did I remotely commit myself to the argument that there are not other places which are far worse. Others, including MSI, are more than welcome to have all the warm fuzzy feelings about the U.S. they wish. What this has to do with my surmise that it might be a good thing for my own daughter to experience living in another culture at a developmental age is beyond me, esp. because no one in this thread knows much about me in anything other than the most superficial sense.

Conversely, I certainly do think there might be better places to live in the world than the U.S. Why this is extreme also escapes me. Others may disagree. Bully for them.

There are undoubtedly worse places to live than the U.S. This is both trivially true, and for purposes of this discussion, seems to me to be totally irrelevant to the deeply idiosyncratic question of whether other places might be preferential homes and communities for my family than the U.S. To argue that I must perforce be incorrect about that because the speaker happens to like living in the U.S. or wishes to raise children here strikes me as both absurd on its face and hubris of a particularly offensive variety.

Phoebe said...

Daniel Goldberg,

What I, at least, meant by 'extreme' wasn't 'extreme' as in 'extremist militias' and so forth, but 'extreme' as in the far edge of a viewpoint common to minority-minority couples, namely the less-than-full embrace of all that is American. Most such couples, I think, would find it unnecessary to geographically remove their children from the U.S. so as to prevent its influence from overly seeping in, and would instead, say, forbid certain reality TV shows, live in a cosmopolitan area, etc. It's not extreme to consider "some aspects of American culture and society [...] utterly reprehensible." It is extreme to think it's necessary to leave the country to avoid them. It's also, depending where one goes, futile - I owe the fact that my boyfriend and I can communicate in American English to the fact that he grew up in Belgium with that most pernicious of influences: American television shows.

Daniel Goldberg said...


I certainly did not say it is necessary to geographically remove my child from the U.S. What I said is, to my mind, the almost banal statement, based almost entirely on deeply personal and idiosyncratic facts about which every participant in this thread is almost completely ignorant, that I might prefer to have my daughter experience living outside of the U.S. for a few years in her developmental years. I also voiced the possibility that it might be preferential for her to experience living somewhere else more permanently.

Neither of these indexical statements implies anything about necessity as opposed to personal preferences for social and cultural values. And yes, I see nothing remotely extreme, by any definition, to be asserting my own belief that there might be social and cultural values resonant in other communities around the world that I might prefer to be imbibed by my daughter, and that a reasonable means of doing so is to actually go and reside in those communities.

Accordingly, I do not agree that it is utterly extreme to voice a preference for leaving a country to avoid the aspects of American culture and society one finds utterly reprehensible. I mean no disrespect to you, but I can't even find an argument to that effect in your comment. If one dislikes things about America, what is remotely extreme, if one has the opportunity and the means to do so, to experience living in a culture that one hopes may lack those infirmities that particularly exercise me (while certainly having others)?

Daniel Goldberg said...

For the record: my own family of origin left their home country, where they had been born and raised, because they found too much of it reprehensible. So perhaps I am colored by this, but I see nothing extreme about it.

Phoebe said...

Daniel Goldberg,

If we replace "unusual" with "extreme," are you in agreement? As you yourself say, your reasons are idiosyncratic. All I was getting at was that... your approach was idiosyncratic, i.e. non-representative. I'm not sure where we disagree.

Anyway, if this helps, this discussion isn't about people trying to judge one another as human beings in their entirety - with blog-comments, everyone's only responding to the information given, reducing everyone - I promise not just you - to the information available. For the purposes of the discussion, you're the guy who wants to raise his child in Japan, MSI's the one who wants to raise her Theoretical Children in the US. She no doubt has her idiosyncratic reasons as well.

Daniel Goldberg said...


There is, I tend to think, a very large semantic difference between the terms "extreme" and "unusual." I have no problem with the latter.

As to your second point, you will likely notice no judgment anywhere in this thread on my part of the perfectly idiosyncratic decisions of others about where they might wish to raise their children. I refrain from such judgments for a number of reasons, not least because I am acutely aware of my own ignorance of the values, ideals, and history of others which go into shaping a decision as singular and personal as where one wishes to live and/or raise children.

It is apparently too much to ask that others extend me the same courtesy. I do not object to the fact that the medium of blogs reduce all participants, but rather to the apparent lack of humility so common to blogs by which one forgets how little one actually knows about the lives and preferences of the participants therein.

Phoebe said...

I think we've located the danger of sharing aspects of one's personal life online - people judge, but they're judging 'man/woman who does X', not you. But I've found this thread overall to be respectful, and I apologize for whatever aspect of my contribution may have come across otherwise. Personally I wish the thread had been more about the specific question of Jews in intermarriages with non-majority partners, i.e. with where the standard Jewish-American discussion of intermarriage ignores the realities of interfaith couples, but this discussion was interesting, so I'm not too worried about it.

Becca said...

While it's an interesting question, I don't think the husband would have objected to a Chinese tradition, because he didn't grow up with it as "The thing that if I were to celebrate it would mean I am denying my heritage." As well, Christmas has the attribute of being in direct opposition to tenets of Judaism (one God, etc.). I'm not sure if anything in Chinese ethnic holidays has such a quality, and if it did, we go back to the argument that it wasn't shoved in this man's face his whole life. I doubt he grew up thinking, "if I go to Greek School, I won't be Jewish anymore." So the symbolism isn't the same.

But honestly, I'm most surprised at Prudie's answer because it jibes so strongly with my own feeling: that Christmas is a religious holiday whether or not you celebrate it in a secular way. That even in talking about it in terms of peace and joy and goodwill and trees and shopping, it's still foremost a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Certainly in the US it's hard not to celebrate Christmas in some way, and even I get into the culture of it (music, movies, etc.) but somehow a tree and gifts crosses the invisible line. I often have this discussion with secular friends and we always end up agreeing to disagree so I'm kind of shocked to have Prudie in my corner.

With regards to your question in the comments, I put it down to Jewish men having some sort of fetishization of Asian women. See this article in the Jerusalem Post where a man finally achieves his dream of marrying an Asian woman. It's the greatest miracle of his life, you see, one he never thought could occur as he was resigned to marrying a Jewish woman.

Phoebe said...


I think you're right that Christmas has a particular meaning for Jews, and that for secular folks who are not Jewish to ask Jews to just get over it is both understandable and... futile. The day is simply not the same for a non-practicing Christian and a non-practicing (or highly integrated) Jew. Even someone Jewish who's OK with a non-Jewish partner, who doesn't keep kosher, who never goes to synagogue, perhaps who even goes in for Easter eggs or other bits of secularized Christianity, might potentially shun Christmas (as much as is possible, insofar as it's observed by virtually all in predominantly-Christian countries, the option only being whether or not one also wishes to celebrate the day. So this is where I, unlike Amber, think Prudie was onto something.

But I think Amber's right in saying this particular guy should allow the tree, simply because he chose this particular girlfriend, and her family traditions are what they are. The girlfriend should understand why Jews might feel weird about having a tree, but the boyfriend needs to remember that if he wants to be with a woman who's a) not Jewish, and b) not one of the gazillion non-Jews who don't care either way re: having a tree, this is what he's gotten himself into. What's interesting about the question, I think, is that his girlfriend's Theoretical Tree represents not her traditional WASP past of the sort that a Jew might find threatening, but rather her own family as members of an assimilating minority. In a way, it's not so different from if the guy had found a Jewish girlfriend whose family had always had a tree, and who just didn't get his objections.

And that J-post article, just... wow. That man was rather open about the ethnic specificity of his preferences. I'm not sure if it's so much about a fetish for Asian women, though, as it is a desire one finds among (some, OK, many) Jewish men to find that "miracle" woman who in no way 'looks' or 'seems' Jewish, but who rabbinically fits the bill.

PG said...

David Schraub linked an interesting article about Jews' particularly fraught history with Christmas. One cannot intelligently compare the experience of us minorities who have no significant history of religious persecution by Christians, with the experience of Jews and other minorities who have such histories.

If we lived in a Muslim-majority nation, I'm sure my family would be much more tense about celebrating Their holidays -- even in fairly secular ways -- than we were about celebrating Christian holidays, because such a history does exist between Muslims and Hindus. And even without the history of persecution, some hardcore extremist Hindus in India (I don't know of any such who would deign to immigrate from the motherland) do take issue with Christmas celebrations as a pernicious Christian influence. Such people tend to get more het up about Valentine's Day, however, as what they are most anxious about is not really Christian influence as Western influence, particularly with regard to mores about romantic love and the like.

Phoebe said...


What I find baffling, although that article definitely helps, is that Jews don't seem to have the same response to other aspects of Christianity/other Christian holidays. I remember dyeing eggs as a child, and this was something fun whose connection to Easter was not imagined to be a threat to my Jewish identity. But non-celebration of Christmas is just so definitive - I remember as a kid that the way we discussed religion was to ask one another if we celebrated Christmas or Chanukah, as though this was all the information you needed. If anything, the continued significance of the day for Jews reflects a secular Jewish identity largely defined in the negative - not intermarrying, not enjoying December 25th.

PG said...

It's curious that pogroms tended to happen on Christmas Eve, since I'd think if someone were of the "Jews killed Jesus" mindset, Good Friday (a sort of Easter Eve) would be the day to remember that and get het up about it. But it is called Good Friday, presumably because this let the Christians off from having to tote their own sins around, so I guess at that time of year the resentment of "you people killed Jesus" is tamped down with "Yay, we're all saved 'cause He died!" Maybe people got more bitter about it at Christmas Eve because they were focused on the "aww baby Jesus" aspect and not so much the He-had-to-die-so-we-would-have-everlasting-life part.

I admit that trying to make Christian theology fit with anti-Semitism confuses the heck out of me.