The spring issue of Lilith magazine contains a very interesting and provocative article called “How Twenty-Somethings Mate Now: Three (Very Jewish) Rabbis’ Daughters, Inhabiting a Multicultural, Radically New World, Dish Seriously About Their Non-Jewish Partnering.” Author Susan Schnur interviews the three young women about general dating trends; afterward, each writes about her specific dating history.
The young women’s worldviews are very different from mine, but that’s to be expected, since we grew up in radically different times. What disturbed me, though, is one statement: Schnur writes that among their college peers “it’s largely seen as racist (or otherwise discriminatory) for a Jew to date or marry only other Jews.” Even more upsetting is that these young Jews seem to accept this idea.
There are two separate issues here: 1) the definition of racism and 2) the idea that religion shouldn’t matter in one’s choice of sexual/marital partner.
While I agree with the young women that many people see Jews as “white and privileged,” that is a stereotype and, like all stereotypes, inaccurate.
First, Judaism is a religion, not a race. You cannot convert to another race, but you can certainly convert to Judaism.
Second, saying that you want to date someone Jewish does not mean that you have to date someone with the same skin tone (there are Jews of every race and color), in the same economic class (there are many poor Jews) or from the same cultural background (Jews come from a wide variety of cultures and countries, including India and Ethiopia).
The thought that religion shouldn’t matter in your choice of sexual/
marital partner also makes no sense to me. Being open to new ideas and having friends from different religions and cultures aren’t the problems. However, saying that it’s wrong to want a life partner of the same religion reduces people’s freedom of choice.
If you can choose whether or not to follow a particular religion, why can’t you also choose a partner of the same religion? Why is it wrong to want to spend your life with someone who shares your ethical and moral values?
I have to wonder if this criticism isn’t directed mostly against Jews. If someone said they want to live in a home modeled on the teachings of Jesus (as one Christian friend of mine has done), is that racist? If a Muslim prefers to dedicate his home to Allah and follow Islam, is he prejudiced? If a Hindu seeks someone of her culture and religion, is that biased? The question is never directly addressed in the Lilith article, but it’s an important one.
Jews, no matter what their age, need to be very careful when someone tries to equate Judaism and race, or claim that it’s biased to want to be part of a Jewish community or form a Jewish household. These declarations undermine Judaism as a legitimate form of religion.
Being Jewish, preferring to marry Jewish and wanting to live in a Jewish home is not racist. And being told so should be acknowledged as another form of prejudice.
Rabbi Rachel Esserman is the interim executive editor and the book reviewer for the Jewish Observer and the Reporter, both based in Binghamton, N.Y