ASSIMILATION, INTERMARRIAGE AND CONVERSION
-- Michael Asheri, 1983, p. 332
"Two of the most overworked folk tales that are firmly believed
by Jews are that the overwhelmingy majority of Jewish
intermarriages involved non-Jewish females and Jewish males;
and that most of these non-Jewish females marry Jewish males
in order to better their lot socially and economically."
-- Rabbi David Max Eichhorn, 1974, p. 29
Upon public announcement of the impending marriage between non-Jewish actress Debbie Reynolds and Jewish pop singer Eddie Fisher, Reynolds notes in the autobiography that:
Vickie Bane notes the case of famous radio talk show host "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger (whose father was Jewish, but mother not):
"Laura told Ethnic Newswatch that their Jewish neighbors on Long Island
were very 'unaccepting' of her mother because 'she was a shiksa [a non-Jewish
woman] and because she was gorgeous ... A lot of problems came from the
Jewish women. I got into fistfights because they called my mother a dirty
refugee." [BANE, V., 1999, p. 25]
"I also received a couple of hundred fan letters. Among them was a small, ordinary-looiking, white envelope with my name and address scrawled across the bottom. Inside, in the same blotchy-looking chicken-scratch was a note: 'Dear Deb. Thought you should know Eddies Father does NOT approve of him marrying a Gentile. Doesn't want him to be HURT. What YOU -- if you did? Does your Mother and Father want a half-Jew grandchild?' No signature, naturally. It was postmarked Hollywood, August 18. It was the first of many." [REYNOLDS, D., 1988, p. 104]
In Peru, Israeli Elaine Karp is married to a popular 2001 presidential candidate, Alejandro Toledo. But her relations with the local Jewish community was strained, noted the Jewish Chronicle, "partly because of her high profile marriage to a non-Jew ... Her mixed marriage and her leftist views have caused some rejection." [PERELMAN, M., 4-20-01]
In 1982, Earl Shorris noted the perspective of his Uncle Phillip about his son dating non-Jews:
"When [my Uncle Phillip's] son, then a medical student, brought home a Gentile
girl to meet his parents, Phillip is said to have addressed the boy as Tom, a
subtle pun on a Hebrew word for wrong thinking. The young woman, confused
at hearing her beau called by an unfamiliar name, asked my uncle, Do you always
call him Tom? Only when he's with you." [SHORRIS, E., 1982, p. 53]
(Despite these traditional perspectives about same sex love, Jewish homosexual Lev Raphael's views about marriage, in his youth, to non-Jews were kosher. "Beverly and I did not get married," he writes, "I knew more and more clearly that I could not marry a non-Jew, no matter how much I loved her. What pushed me over the edge? Imagining Christmas, so profoundly a part of Beverly's life, in 'our' house. I couldn't do it, nor could I ask her to give it up. I couldn't confuse myself or any children we might have. I wanted a Jewish home. No -- it wasn't that affirmative. I realized I couldn't have a non-Jewish home; that was as far as I got, and it meant much more to me than my subterranean attraction to men ... I wished my brother hadn't taken something away from the family by marrying a non-Jew." [RAPHAEL, L., 1996, p. 1213]
Paul Cowan recalls a non-Jewish girlfriend he once had (he did marry a woman who converted to Judaism):
"A few weeks after I got back from Israel, I invited my girlfriend, Beth, a
Smith undergraduate, an Episcopalian-born poet from suburban
Connecticut, whose literary ideas had influenced me, to spend time
at my family's house on Martha's Vineyard. Ever since I had returned
to America, I'd been toying with the idea of retaining the name Saul
Cohen, since I thought that act would allow me to feel the same
clear sense of my own identity as I had in Israel. It was a whimsical
notion, of course, since it would plainly wound my father [who changed
his name from Cohen] far more deeply than it would satisfy me. In
fact, Beth was the only person to whom I ever mentioned the fantasy.
Was I testing her? Probing for her innermost feeling about Jews?
Probably. They came, in a rush, when she rubbed her hands in a
Shylock-like gesture and said, 'Saul Cohen. That's not you. You
don't want to go back to the ghetto.' It seemed like a flash of bigotry,
and it bothered me so much that I never dated her again. When we
discussed the episode, years later, she remembered it as vividly as
I did. She had been sure that Iw as abandoning my identity as an
American for a romantic illusion. The illusion might not have been
so threatening if it had included her. But that night at supper my
sister Holly had glanced toward Beth, then turned toward me and
said, 'I feel proud to be a Jew. Don't you?
Then, later, when I tolkd Beth I was thinking of changing my name,
she began to feel so excluded from my family's -- and my -- inner
core that she went outside and wept. For years I remembered her
as a latent anti-Semite. She remembered me as one of the chosen
people, who secretly believed that everyonse else was inferior."
[COWAN, P., 1982, p. 113]
"I'm horrified by the attitude of so many Jews toward intermarriage," complained John-Paul Flintoff from Great Britain in 1998, "It's not just in Israel. You come across the same thing in Israel. Yes, my wife is Jewish." [FLINTOFF, J., 1--14-98]
In Jewish tradition, notes Dan Rottenberg, even among Jews,
"there were complex rules regarding who could marry whom, for the groups
constituted a distinct social pecking order, as follows, starting at the top:
(1) Kohanim (priests) -- male descendants of Aaron, who was a brother of Moses
and a descendant of Levi.
(2) Levites -- other male descendants of Levi, who served as assistants to the
(3) Israelites -- all other Jews of unblemished heritage (that is, descendants of
Jacob who had not intermarried with non-Jews).
(4) Halalim -- offspring of some forbidden marriages entered into by priests.
(5) Gerim -- converts to Judaism.
(6) Harurim -- freed slaves.
(7) Mamzerim -- bastards.
(8) Netinim -- descendants of the Gibbeonites, who were circumcised at the time
of Joshua (1200 BC?) and were not regarded as full Jews because their
conversion was effected by trickery.
(9) Shetukim -- persons unable to identify their father.
(10) Persons unable to identify either their father or their mother.
Not included in this list were gentiles and slaves, who had no legal status at all
in Jewish law at the time, since Jewish law applied only to Jews." [ROTTENBERG,
D., 1977, p. 60]
entire family had a party for us at his mother's house. I was the only Gentile. I felt as if I were in another country ... They all called Eddie 'Sonny-boy.' They shocked that Sonny-boy was marrying a shiksa, but they thought I was friendly and cute ... I found my visit to Eddie's family fascinating. I decided that I would learn about the Jewish culture. I had no intention of converting, but if none day one of our children wanted to be part of the Jewish faith, I wanted to understand it. There were a lot of people who felt that Eddie should marry a nice Jewish girl who would stay home and raise the children to be nice Jewish children. I wanted to be able to do that for him." [REYNOLDS, D., 1988, p. 107]
Take the case of actress Debbie Reynolds' attitude when she married pop singer Eddie Fisher in 1958:
"I couldn't imagine life without [non-Jewish] Lynn. And though I tried to forget
that could work only she fell in love with the Jewish
Paul Cowan explains common obsessions with Jewish identity in an intermarriage:
"Usually even the most disaffected Jews want to raise their children as Jews.
Many are aware that, according to sociologists and demographers, increasing
numbers of Jews who marry in the 1980s are choosing gentiles as their
spouses. Even though they themselves are intermarrying, they often are
afraid that their children will be assimilated into Christian culture. They
fear that if they don't insist on maintaining Judaism in their homes they
will betray more than four thousand years of proud history and deprive
their children of a valued legacy.
It is often impossible for their gentile partners to understand the intensity
of these feelings. They wonder why so many Jews who marry Christians
insist on celebrating Jewish holidays and ignoring Christmas; on sending
children to Hebrew school and keeping them out of churches. Why are they
insensitive to some of the deepest feelings of the gentiles that they love?
Why, the Christians wonder, are Jews so stubborn?
Why, some Jews respond, are the gentiles unable to understand the
depth of their loyalty to their heritage and their people?" [COWAN, P.
1987, p. x]
Louisa Gibson, also married to a Jew, notes her own hellious road towards conversion to Orthodox Judaism:
"This was a Blakeian period for me. A transition from innocense to experience. I
was coming from a strong Catholic family, convent educated, sheltered. My
parents did not teach us to judge people on the basis of their race or religion.
I knew that bigotry and racism existed but had never felt it. It shocked me, and,
like a person in shock, it took a while to understand that I was victim of these
attitudes. I was an outsider ... Everyone knows the convert has to be rejected.
Little else about conversion is generally spoken about ... Why do so many Jews
believe their personal response to a convert must also be one of rejection?"
[GIBSON, L., 2000, p. 24]