Saturday, June 18, 2011

Intermarriage and (anti-) Zionism

In the comments below, Erika Dreifus points us to Jeffrey Goldberg's top-notch post on Allison Benedikt's article, Benedikt having provided a somewhat random and apparently unappreciated shout-out to Goldberg that implies that he's somehow behind her. Which made me think how, while I agree with every bit of Goldberg's response to this, I'd just recently disagreed with another post of his. And yes, there's a connection. Namely: what is the relationship, if any, between Jewish intermarriage and Jewish anti-Zionism? Because we have, on the one hand, Benedikt, who ties together her disillusionment with Israel with her discovery of non-Jewish guys. On the other, Goldberg, who, though by no means a rah-rah Zionist, is more squarely on the friend-of-Israel end of things... and he just got through saying that a Jewish man who dates or marries out probably has messed-up ideas re: Jewish women, and is not manly enough to take them on.

Where to begin, from all the various Gender and Jewish Studies angles. We have the machismo of Zionism, from Nordau's Jewry of Muscle down to the heartthrob IDF soldiers they put on the Birthright buses, just to make the Diaspora dudes look extra-pasty. We have the stereotype of Jewish men as mama's-boys, making the ones with a "shiksa" (because yes, the year is 1959) rebellious real men. But I digress.

Some of the negative responses to Benedikt's essay - but not, to his credit, Goldberg's - have treated her having married out and her disillusionment with Zionism as of a piece, and have condemned both in the same breath. Benedikt herself encourages this, attributing her shift from rah-rah Zionism to anti-Zionism to some Gentile gentlemen who'd courted her, and in doing so, opened her eyes to the fact that OMG Israel isn't perfect.

For the intelligent reader, the questions to ask regarding the "romantic" part of the essay are: 1) why is this woman so dependent on dudes she's romantically involved with to tell her what to think about world affairs? and 2) why does she put up with her husband acting like an ass? And indeed, some responses get at this.

But for the not-so-sharp reader with knee-jerk inclinations in a direction diametrically opposed to Benedikt's, the moral of the story is, here's a nice Jewish girl lost to intermarriage. See, this is what happens when a Jew marries out.

Out-marriers deserve neither the credit nor the blame for having broken free of the confines of the American Jewish Establishment. We ought to think of intermarriage more as the result of assimilation (or, if you prefer, integration, or if you prefer an in-depth discussion of these terms, the introduction to my dissertation) than as an intentional act of assimilation.

But there's a sense among some Jews that marrying out is a kind of political statement, that it's an act undertaken in order to break from the community. By "among some Jews," I mean both some Jews who oppose intermarriage and some who are themselves intermarried. The former think of intermarriage as an act of aggression against the dwindling Jewish people, the latter consider it an extra-nice piece of evidence that one is not some kind of sheep, following everything they were told at Hebrew school, and that, as such, marrying out is of a piece with opposing The Zionist Oppressor.

Historically - as in, from "Portnoy" on - it's been Jewish men who've taken this approach to retroactively ascribing meaning to their inter-ethnic romances. Benedikt's foray into originality is to be a Jewish woman stricken with this neurosis. As Benedikt describes it, dating or better yet, marrying a "goy" comes from the same place as questioning Israel's right to exist. Or, as I suspect this actually went down, Benedikt happened to get together with this one guy Mark, then another, John, and has retroactively attributed this to a coherent (well, coherent-ish) Life Narrative.

Here's how to better reconcile all this: Two things are happening simultaneously. American Jews are interacting far more than ever before with our non-Jews neighbors, and Israel is coming to seem more and more distant to American Jews (who did not happen to have bizarre epiphanies about the Dreyfus Affair their senior years of college). These two things are related, insofar as, if you feel very comfortable in America, if one of your own parents isn't or wasn't brought up Jewish, you're likely to feel less of a connection to the Jewish state. The same factors that, for this population generally, lead to more Jews marrying out are also leading to fewer Jews feeling terribly pro-Israel.

The way these two shifts are not related, however, is that, while individual American Jews (like everyone else) get to decide, on the basis of whichever mix of evidence and emotion, what to think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we (like individuals in all other communities) don't get to decide how integrated a world we're born into, which schools our parents will send us to, and how open members of other communities we meet will be to dating or marrying us. People do not marry who they marry to make a point. Most of us can only stand so many people for so long, and when we find someone we actually want to spend that much time with, and when it's mutual, we do not sneeze at this. Once we're under the you-choose system of spousal selection, as opposed to, here's your second cousin, be fruitful and multiply, it becomes very, very difficult to reject the possibility of a marriage to someone you know you can and want to be with for the rest of your life. (Remember, the yuppies of today aren't divorcing like they used to.) Thus you'll find Jews highly suspicious of Zionism, highly critical of the American-Jewish "establishment," married to other Jews, as well as Jews who are full-on Zionists - critical, perhaps, of Israeli policies, but overall pro-Jewish-state - married to non-Jews. Not because members of either group are hypocrites, but because spousal selection and politics are not the same thing.

Granted, it's not that people just up and wake up married to whomever. Jews who, though super-duper-integrated, care about raising at least nominally religiously-Jewish children, might well encourage their future spouses to convert. Other highly-integrated Jews might care more about Zionism (yes, we're out there), making a potential spouse's views on Israel more of a potential deal-breaker.* Either way, however, we're left with the fact that integrated Jews these days do not, as did those of a previous generation, arrive at young adulthood with a sense of Jews and Gentiles coming from totally different worlds. Whereas it once required extra effort to marry out, it now requires that, if anything, to marry in. The generations before us did not nobly reject the possibility of non-Jewish partners. This simply wasn't done in those days. (With all kinds of historical caveats I won't get into here.)

*Remember - and Benedikt's essay does not hint at this - that there are non-Jews at various points on the neutral-to-Zionist spectrum as well. If anything, because those who did not grow up Jewish don't associate Zionism with that-which-I-was-made-to-believe-as-a-child, if they're less emotional in rejecting Zionism, they're perhaps also less so in accepting it, if that's the route they go down. Which in a sense, even though I grew up plenty ethnically/culturally Jewish, describes my own experience. I was not sent to Zionist indoctrination summer camps, and don't remember having given much thought to Israel before or after my family toured it on a bus with other Americans when I was 8. That is, until I read Herzl, etc., in college. So I don't really associate Zionism with pleasing my family, doing what I'm told. So it's likely that a Jew more pro-Israel than postadolescent Benedikt would be put off by a guy like John's continuous anti-Israel scream-fest, and would have opted instead for someone else, not necessarily for someone Jewish. It's important to remember that this John, going by the essay, is rude, anti-Israel, and non-Jewish, and that these three things are basically unrelated.


Britta said...

Oh, so much anecdata!

1) My roommate in college was raised a Conservative Jew, kept "no pork, shellfish, or mixed meat/dairy" kosher, was active in Hillel and led Shabbat services on Fridays, and our freshman year was definitely of the "I will marry a Jewish man and have Jewish babies" school. In college, she dated many guys, some Jewish, some not, but her most serious LT relationship was with a non-Jewish guy. They talked a bit about raising their children as Jews, but even though she consciously had made it a goal to marry a Jew, when it came to actually falling in love, other considerations were more important.

2) All the dates my roommate and friends set me up with in college happend to be with Jewish men, not because of any secret agenda to push intermarriage, but because my college was fairly Jewish, and these guys happened to be people my friends thought were a good match. I'm sure my roommate, who herself was not really pro-marrying out, did not have some goal to get Jewish guys to marry out. It simply wasn't even a consideration when she thought about setting me up with people I might get along with.

3) My college boyfriend's (a result of an above set-up) mother co-founded the ME Forum with Daniel Pipes, worked there and at the anti-defamation league, and spent her evenings writing angry letters to Columbia threatening to stop donating money unless they became more pro-Israel. You'd think that if intermarriage and hard-core support for Israel were related, she would be really annoyed her son was dating me, however she was totally thrilled by our relationship. (She was even like "oh, this is great! Blond grandchildren! Think of all the money they'll save on hair dye.") As long as I was willing to raise our potential future children to think of themselves as Jewish, not even be practicing Jews in any way, she and the whole family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) were totally fine with it.

4) Her son (my bf) actually had almost no awareness or interest in practicing religious Jewish customs, like celebrating any major holiday or ever attending services. He had a strong Jewish identity based almost solely on ethnicity, i.e., he'd say, things like, "I'm ethnically Jewish and religiously an atheist." However, he saw no contradiction between his children being totally and uncomplicatedly ethnically Jewish and me being their mother. For him, he didn't see marrying "out" as in any way affecting the Jewishness of his children, even if they were exposed to non-Jewish Scandinavian culture as well. Who knows what would have actually happened once children had been born, but at least there was a sense that being comfortable and proud of being Jewish, marrying out, and one's exact views on Israel have no connection.

Withywindle said...

I suggest for your book title A Wilderness of Monkeys.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


The situation you describe with your college boyfriend is indeed a perfect example of these two things not being the same issue. And the roommate, a perfect one of the best laid plans...

I think they key thing really is retroactive political-loosely-defined assessment of SO/spouse. For Jews whose serious partner's identity happens to mesh with their views (Zionists who end up with Jews, anti-Zionist anti-what-they-made-us-believe-in-Hebrew-school sorts who end up with Gentiles), it becomes this way of claiming a higher devotion to the cause. For the former, it's this affirmation of a belief that Jewish is Beautiful (esp for Jewish male Zionist-sorts who are with Jewish women), for the latter... it's the whole not-what-they-told-us-in-Hebrew-school thing.

Clearly people understand their own relationships in all manner of irrational/overly rationalized ways. What I have more of a problem with is when outside observers suggest intent where there was none. As in, no, Jews do not marry out in order to stick it to The Jews, or in order to cast a negative judgment on all Jews of the opposite sex.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Care to elaborate?

Withywindle said...

TUBAL: One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for a monkey.

SHYLOCK: Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal. It was my turquoise. I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.


Incidentally, Steve Sailer mentioned a while back that the Census (I think it was) indicates that Asian and Hispanic outmarriage rates are lowering, now that there are larger numbers of both groups in the country. This doesn't speak directly to whether marriage generally (and Jewishly) depends more on in-group preference or indiscriminate availability, but it does argue against an inevitable progression, frequently moralized, toward out-marriage.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Ah. Too bad it's not English literature it'll be on. But I promise there are lines just as perfect from French.


It's not about "an inevitable progression" as in Fate, but about what's inevitable given certain conditions. It's hardly inevitable that a Jew will marry out in Israel, or in a tight-knit Orthodox community. But unless the overall level of social integration dips, with society becoming less welcoming of Jews - and this has happened in the past, without even looking at something as extreme as the Holocaust - it seems unlikely that secular American Jews would ignore romantically 90% of the people they meet socially. (Not that Jews=10%, but Jews are likely to be meeting more Jews than does the average non-Jew.)

To tie this into your point re: Asian and Hispanic out-marriage rates, one obvious reason that might be, if that's indeed the case, is not simply that these populations are larger than they used to be, but that they're bringing in a lot more immigrants. What this means is, "Asian" and "Hispanic" continue to be equated with "foreign" in the general population, thus stigmatizing multigeneration and highly-assimilated Americans of those ethnic backgrounds who nevertheless have the last names and perhaps physical appearance of the new arrivals. This happened in France long ago, when waves of Eastern European Jewish immigrants made the native-born Israélites fear for their reputations. But it probably did contribute to more French-Jewish in-marriage, both because Jews now seemed more foreign and because, as per your point, there were more Jews around to choose from. So it's not surprising that communities with many new immigrants would stay in-marrying longer, or would return to higher rates, as long as that immigration persists, or longer still if the size of the population has greatly increased.

PG said...

Also, of course, "Asian" and "Hispanic" are terms that embrace groups with massive internal differences -- it's long been theorized that South Asians even at the genetic level are more closely related to Caucasians than to East Asians. The increase in the percentage of the population that belongs to an Asian or Latino ethnicity has coincided with an increase in the acceptability of group and subgroup identification, e.g. in the form of all those collegiate and even grad school organizations like the Chinese Student Association or the South Asian Law Student Association.

I don't know as much about how this works among Latinos, but among Asians the popular rejection of "model minority" status has been coupled with a willingness to adopt the tactics of the not-so-model minority with whom Asians had been contrasted, so that the concept of public pride in one's ethnicity has become far more widespread.

Britta said...

Do you know if there's much inter-Asian intermarriage? Like, are Asians marrying out with other Asians and less with people of other races, or are people mainly sticking with their own ethnic group? I agree that Asian/Latino and Jewish aren't really equivalent, since Jews in the US are racially white, and I imagine most Jewish intermarriages involve other white people?

I think another thing that's annoying about the post is that normal growing up always involves disillusionment, but usually the end result is a more nuanced view of the world, not a complete switch in attitudes so black is white and vice versa. Yeah, finding out that something or someone you admired is deeply flawed is kind of a crappy process, but it's pretty much a big part of growing up. This woman however, seems stuck in teenage mode, where once you learn something isn't perfect, suddenly you hate it. It's like as if when she learned her parents were imperfect human beings, instead of getting over it and then having an adult relationship with them, she disowned them. Also, I don't know of any country that if you take a close look at their history doesn't have some sort of shameful act in their past that haunts their present. Even countries that weren't formed from land grabs/conquering other people within recent memory have long histories of xenophobia or intolerance or pointless wars. I don't think people should forget or gloss over these sorts of things, but if you suddenly hated every country in the world that treated minority ethnic groups poorly (instead of fighting for better treatment or challenging offensive policies), you really wouldn't have anywhere to live.

PG said...

This is the only data I've seen recently about Asian-American marriages. It's a website that refers to women being "at risk" for intermarriage, and the link was posted by a guy complaining about South Asian women like Huma Abedin's marrying white guys as a way to gain status, so...

Dan O. said...

While your view about intermarriage usually not being about intentionally sticking it to anyone is surely correct, one can be influenced to outmarry for certain reasons.

I'll spare the anecdotes, but I do know that Jewish outmarriage sometimes happens when people feel the direct effects of conflict, war and loss, and associate that with a religious and political culture - as in the intersection between Zionism and Judaism. One avoids Judaism and connected Zionism not to stick it to anyone, but because it stirs up pain. Imagine immigrants from Israel who grew up in Israel during the war torn mid 50'- mid 70's - Nicole Krauss territory if you know what I mean. Now, imagine such a person, now in the U.S., attending a typical American Israel-obsessed Synagogue in the 70's or 80's. It wouldn't work, would it? That person is likely not going to marry an observant Jew.

The Benedikt story was an interesting spin on this. Her family straddled Israel and the U.S., and the conflict became personal. This view of it kind of breaks down, of course, because she represents her husband's anti-Zionism as causing the discord, not resulting from it.

Still, I chafe at Goldberg's claim that Benedikt "abandons" Israel and Zionism. Please. She's merely adopted the right's definition of Zionism, and walked away from that. Fine, that's stupid. But it's pretty disingenuous for Goldberg to accept Benedikt's idea of Zionism and beat her up over rejecting it, rather than correct her on semantics. They do largely agree on the occupation, although I don't think Goldberg cares much about the immorality of the occupation. In any case, I think Andrew Sullivan pretty convincingly disposes of Goldberg's howler.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"one can be influenced to outmarry for certain reasons."

By certain situational reasons - not being around many Jews, not having a family or community stepping up as matchmakers as would have happened in earlier eras, not living in a society in which social discomfort between Jews and non-Jews is great enough to prevent many such unions from occurring - this I'd agree with. But once those conditions are in place, Jews who marry out are not moved to marry out, but to marry specific people who turn out not to be Jewish. Perhaps my anecdata differs radically from yours, but it strikes me that plenty who care plenty about being Jewish marry out, while plenty who don't end up marrying in.

"[....] That person is likely not going to marry an observant Jew."

The way this concept is generally understood, marrying out means marrying a non-Jew, not failing to marry an observant one. Someone very religious -Jewish or of another faith - is likely to marry within the faith. Intermarriage is generally discussed as it relates to the not-so-affiliated of various backgrounds intermingling.

Re: Andrew Sullivan, don't know which post(s) you're referring to, or what you're referring to as "Goldberg's howler."

Dan O. said...

1. Goldberg's howler was an intentional lack of charity. Goldberg made a decision not to interpret Benedikt as saying something about Nationalist Zionism, and instead about Zionism more generally. That is, he intentionally masked their wide area of agreement in order to disparage someone he found viscerally unpleasant. Alternative, it was equivocation, using whatever senses of Zionism was useful to make his anti-Benedikt point. Either way, Benedikt had a right to get angry.

2. "But once those conditions are in place, Jews who marry out are not moved to marry out, but to marry specific people who turn out not to be Jewish. Perhaps my anecdata differs radically from yours, but it strikes me that plenty who care plenty about being Jewish marry out, while plenty who don't end up marrying in."

I'm sure you're right, and I don't mean to disagree generally. But my anecdata (a new word to me) do differ as they are of Israeli origin, and much older (born in the 40's and 50's). And I was unclear. At that time, a Jewish spouse who was not observant would likely still have observant families and the expectation to raise children as Jewish. (Particularly because that's so much more of a pain in the ass in the US/Canada thanin Israel.) That is, all Jews were at least potentially observant or had expectations of observance - expectations usually directed at women in charge of child-rearing. (I also speculate that this may have been an incentive for feminist Jewish women to outmarry - it relieves them of becoming the martyr their mothers often were.)

Romance is essentially involved, of course. I would never deny that. And romance is very much an attitude de re . Which is why even if there were no incentives to out-marry, it would happen only a little less.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I wouldn't blame Goldberg here, because Benedikt herself wasn't clear. If she meant to specify that she'd broken with one branch of Zionism but not another, that wasn't in the article. All I got from it, nuance-wise, was that when it was cool to be rah-rah-Israel, she was, and when that stopped being the thing among those around her, she stopped. I'm not sure what kind of non-Zionist/anti-Zionist that makes her today, or whether she was ever in any meaningful sense pro-Israel. (As in, I didn't read this as, oh what a shame, another good Zionist lost to the cause. More like, a politically-illiterate girl grew up to be a politically-illiterate woman and switched nominal allegiances along the way.)

Also, I have no idea which Andrew Sullivan post/article/etc. you're referring to, or in which post/article Benedikt responded, revealing herself to be unhappy with Goldberg's response.