Jewschool.com: The Anxiety of Influence

Originally posted on Jewschool.com.

Last week, Kung Fu Jew’s post about multifaith families stirred up a lot of activity in the comments section. KFJ ended his post soliciting for other posts from intermarried Jews and products of intermarried Jews. I am neither. And, in fact, as a product of the Conservative Movement’s indoctrination program youth group, I entered adulthood believing that intermarriage was the worst sin one could possibly commit.

A couple of things happened to change my point of view. A big factor, naturally, was experience. I saw my friends who came from intermarried families grow into Jewishly committed adults. I saw my cousins figure out how they could create authentic Jewish identities for their children in partnership with their non-Jewish spouses. I got involved in Jewish education and met hundreds of families doing the same thing. And I heard from dozens of people with multifaith backgrounds about how the hardest part of Judaism was getting in the door, even when they desperately wanted to. I started to think that maybe if we weren’t so busy building up the fences around who gets to learn and practice, we might notice a whole lot of people anxious to get in. (And this year, I was pleased when my Federation published a study that implied just that.)

In truth, dayeinu, that would have been enough. But as I myself have continued to study and learn about the development of Judaism through history, I’ve learned that this whole business of tightening our borders has changed quite a bit over time. And when the discussion around KFJ’s post started getting into a fight over what kind of “influence” non-Jewish religions might have on Judaism, should (or shouldn’t) have on Judaism, I felt like a big piece of the story was being ignored, namely the influences that other religions and cultures have already had on Judaism over the last couple of millennia. Continue reading

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