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More on Black-Jewish Marriage:

To follow up a bit on Ilya's post below, I think the survey question is too poorly worded to be used as evidence for or against racism among Jews: "Would you be in favor of a close relative marrying a black?"

As Ilya points out, the vast majority of blacks are gentiles, so some fraction of Jews, especially more observant Jews, are going to answer "no" because they oppose intermarriage. But there is a more subtle problem. I've heard several Jews, especially among the older generation, say something along the lines of, "I have nothing against people of any race. However, if my child asked me if I should marry someone black, I'd advise against it (even assuming the black person was Jewish or willing to convert). It's hard enough to be a Jew in this world [this, note, from people who often escaped pogroms, or Naziism, or official Soviet anti-Semitism]. Interracial couples face additional prejudice, and their children will face the prejudices of being black and Jewish. And it's hard enough for two people to get along in this world, especially if they have different cultural backgrounds, without facing the additional pressures an interracial marriage would bring. But if my child ignored my advice and decided to marry someone black, I'd accept him/her and welcome him/her to the family, and treat him/her exactly like anyone else." (And, I should add, I know of individuals who have followed this exact script--including having a wonderful relationship with their black child-in-law--in practice.)

Such people would have to answer "no" to the survey question, but it really doesn't speak to the issue of racism, or black/Jewish relations more generally.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that allowing societal racism to affect one's preferences for whom one's children marries helps sustain societal racism. That's true, and may make the attitude I described above morally objectionable. But it's also true that worrying about how others' attitudes will affect your children and grandchildren--assuming it's not a pretext for your own prejudices--does not mean that you share those others' attitudes, even if it hardly makes you an anti-racism crusader.

So I'll slightly modify what I said before. The wording of the question doesn't allow us to separate those who are motivated by religious opposition to interfaith marriage from those who are motivated by racial concerns, and of the latter group, those who are motivated by personal racism from those who are motivated by the effects of societal racism. The fact that some people might be willing to allow societal racism to effect their judgments does speak to the issue of racism and black-Jewish relations, but more obliquely than those who are motivated by racism.

Of course, if we are talking about the relative prejudices of Jews, as the original post by Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, the relative comparison would be "to compare the Jewish numbers ... with other whites." The survey data I've seen shows that 77% of whites state that they approve of interracial marriage in general, way up from the 1950s, when the statistics was 4% (!). I haven't seen such data broken down for Jews. I do remember hearing a few years back NPR reporting on a poll that concluded that 40+% of whites would not want a close relative to marry an Asian or a Hispanic (which I thought were surprisingly high figures), and somewhat higher numbers opposed a close relative marrying an African American.

http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

As Ilya points out, the vast majority of blacks are gentiles, so some fraction of Jews, especially more observant Jews, are going to answer "no" because they oppose intermarriage. But there is a more subtle problem. I've heard several Jews, especially among the older generation, say something along the lines of, "I have nothing against people of any race. However,...


I think you make a valid point in this post. But I was struck by the bolded portion above, the hypothetical comment of a Jew from the older generation. In my experience that phrase, in real life, is very often a tipoff that the speaker is prejudiced about something.

Compare the common alternative phrasing, "I think they should have the same rights as everyone else, but...."
6.3.2009 8:44am
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :
I also can't help but wonder at religious people (of all stripes) who conclude that their God is peeved by interfaith marriages. That's an awfully interesting view to ascribe to a benevolent deity. Hardly the most odious of God's alleged views, but still.

Thank goodness S/He is imaginary.
6.3.2009 9:16am
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
I think the attitude of the hypothetical older person is still racist. And to the extent that its a lesser form of racism, that attitude is usually pretext for a more mundane kind of racism the person knows is impolitic to admit.
6.3.2009 9:16am
Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
I am living in China for a long time. Naturally I have been involved with a number of Chinese ladies. My grandmother used to read from the same script until she realized it was futile.
6.3.2009 9:24am
Preferred Customer:
Bigotry based on religion is no more comforting to me than bigotry based on race.
6.3.2009 9:24am
deliotb (mail):
"I think the attitude of the hypothetical older person is still racist."
Asserting it doesn't make it so. Please provide your rationale, especially for those, who, like I said, followed this script and proceeded to have a wonderful relationship with their black child-in-law.
6.3.2009 9:27am
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
PC -- how about bigotry based on education level, income, wealth, the marital status of the prospective inlaw's parents, sexual orientation, or sex?
6.3.2009 9:28am
devil's advocate (mail):
exclude,


In my experience that phrase, in real life, is very often a tipoff that the speaker is prejudiced about something.


In the broader sense of noticing a difference, I think you are absolutely correct. The whole point of offering the qualification in the first place is essentially to recognize distinctions among people. There is no such thing as imagining that such differences themselves will vanish as a consequence of enlightenment.

I also agree that offering these qualifications, while a somewhat universal kneejerk polite sensitivity, ought to be discarded, but I think I am in the distinct minority in that view.

Thus, in my chosen field of debate over political economy I find it trite in the extreme to say "I want a clean environment too, but . . . " so instead i introduce myself as an anti-environmentalist in the tradition of the anti-federalists -- which is by way of saying that I generally oppose environmentalists means, without making any statement on what I think of their ends.

But, ItSeemsToMe, many people feel a social compulsion not to be so combative or possibly perceived as anti-social. So they insist on prefacing policy propositions similar to my own with disclaimers about how they want clean water too, or they breath the same air, etc. And, of course, their political opponents capitalize on these obsequious politenesses to encourage observers to draw just the type of conclusion you have -- that were it true, no disclaimer would be needed.

I'm with President Bush for putting arsenic in drinking water and I brashly recognize ethnic, religious and racial differences between myself and others. But I don't judge others on their prologues, which I think have an acculturated genesis and don't reflect on the underlying question to the extent you allege.

brian
6.3.2009 9:29am
Anonymous Associate (mail):
Hovsep Joseph nails it. This is the classic line of the bigot who knows that his bigotry isn't socially acceptable. So he reframes it as concern for the targets of his bigotry.

"Oh, of course I have nothing against you dating a black person. I'm just worried about what other people will think."

"Of course, I have nothing against gays. I'm just concerned that if they flaunt their sexuality, other people will treat them badly."
6.3.2009 9:35am
Jim Copland (www):

I think the attitude of the hypothetical older person is still racist. And to the extent that its a lesser form of racism, that attitude is usually pretext for a more mundane kind of racism the person knows is impolitic to admit.

Yes, the argument may be -- and often is -- pretextual. And it may be founded upon misperceptions about the difficulties faced by interracial couples in this day and age, which at least in many parts of the country -- particularly those with large Jewish populations -- are rather de minimis (at least in my experience, and I'm a white man married to a black woman living in New York).

But I don't think that such an argument is necessarily racist. When a prospective parent hopes that his child will be born without disabilities, that doesn't necessarily imply that the parent has issues with disabled people. When a parent wants his child to be smart, that doesn't necessarily imply that the parent has issues with slower people. Rather, said parent wants -- as most parents want -- his child to have as good a life as possible; and said parent perceives -- rightly or wrongly -- that being disabled or slow limits one's ability to live a "good life" in modern America. Many, many parents love their children who are born with Down's syndrome; I doubt many of them wished ex ante that their child would be born with Down's syndrome.
6.3.2009 9:36am
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
Asserting it doesn't make it so. Please provide your rationale

Part of the older person's argument is that the children of the interracial union will have difficulty because they are biracial. That attitude stigmatizes the racial identity of the child, preferring that such children not be created at all because they do not fit into the established racial order. Ultimately that argument supports maintaining segregation of races. I understand how the argument appears on its face to be empathetic but that empathy doesn't insulate the attitude from its fundamental racism.

This is not an argument that is in any way unique to Jews. I think it is more common among the older generation than young people, but racism in general is also more common among the older generation than young people.
6.3.2009 9:39am
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
The upshot of Black-Jewish pairings is that your kid can be a rock star, act in The Office and I Love You Man, be the only Jew with a modicum of talent in the NBA, act on SNL and bang the guy who made Magnolia, be worshipped by jam-band-crazy hippies, be Bill Clinton's "quota queen", or (in the world of fiction) take Meadow Soprano's virginity.

Ah, Tony's memorable quips about "Jamal Ginsburg" and "Charcoal Briquette"
6.3.2009 9:42am
Preferred Customer:

PC -- how about bigotry based on education level, income, wealth, the marital status of the prospective inlaw's parents, sexual orientation, or sex?


All I can say is this: my parents never pre-judged any of my girlfriends on any of those bases that are relevant to me; not being gay, I never had the chance to test them on sex (and I am not sure how sexual orientation is different from sex in this context), but I believe that they would have been fine with that, too. I am grateful for their open-mindedness and can only hope that I can follow their example with my daughter.

I don't think that blanket exclusions or prejudices based on any of those categories are desirable. Of course, we can come up with some examples of where my tolerance ends (e.g., a person in a thrill kill cult, a drug addict, a neo-Nazi), but such categories strike me as very different from race, education level, income, religion, etc.
6.3.2009 9:43am
deliotb (mail):
Part of the older person's argument is that the children of the interracial union will have difficulty because they are biracial. That attitude stigmatizes the racial identity of the child, preferring that such children not be created at all because they do not fit into the established racial order.
But until very recently, children WOULD have much more difficulty in life because they are bi-racial. What you're asking is for a parent to put aside what he accurately sees as the potential well-being of his child and grandchildren in favor of an abstract cause of combating racism. Not being eager to be an activist in this way may not be heroic, but it's not racism.

I'd feel the exact same way about a Christian parent in the 1930s who was reluctant to have his child marry a Jew for the same reasons. It's one thing to say, "I'll cut off all contact with you if you marry a (Jew, black, whatever) because such people aren't worthy of marriage," and quite another to say, "I think you would be making mistake because your life and your children's lives will be made more difficult than if you chose to engage in endogamy. So you don't have my blessing, but I will still love you and support you if you choose to do it anyway."
6.3.2009 9:46am
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
PC -- for orientation vs. sex, think (openly) bisexual. Or somebody committed to a polyamorous lifestyle.

As for the others, they make a lot of sense. In my dating life, for example, I'm definitely "bigoted" about women whose parents divorced before they finished high school -- I think children of divorced parents have a much tougher time having stable families of their own, and I'd prefer that my kids, when I have them, end up with somebody from a stable family. As for education/income level, I think it has to do with shared values, putting education/kids first, common backgrounds and expectations. They're not axioms, but they work as maxims.
6.3.2009 9:52am
hawkins:
While not necessarily racism, are Jewish attitudes against intermarriage with other religions just as bigoted? It wouldnt be looked at too kindly if a Christian was similarly opposed to marrying a Jew.
6.3.2009 9:56am
deliotb (mail):
Also, I'd say that a young person who starts a paragraph with "I have nothing against people of any race" would likely be covering up prejudice. But for older people, at a time when racism was often very overt, proclaiming this was a way of declaring your liberalism. To wit: among "white ethnics" I knew growing up in my neighborhood, use of the "N" word and other overt racism was not uncommon. The rejoinder among the non-prejudiced was often "there's good and bad people in every race." That hardly sounds like a resounding declaration of the equality of humanity in current parlance, and frankly didn't sound that way to me at the time, but it was, in fact, a declaration of racial liberalism in a racist environment.
6.3.2009 9:56am
Derrick (mail):
But I don't think that such an argument is necessarily racist.


It's hard to prove that the argument is racist, because as you say there are a number of other factors. But in this day and age, let's be honest most people understand that it's not socially acceptable to make racist arguments about your antipathy towards another race. These type of canned answers and arguments are often used for the express purpose of covering up controversial views with an incontroversial statement. Doesn't mean that these "older Jews" in the example are all racist, but I think that its very reasonable to estimate that a good number of them are.
6.3.2009 9:56am
deliotb (mail):
Hawkins Just e.g.
6.3.2009 9:59am
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
1. The survey is asking people their opinions today, not at some point where biracial identity was widely stigmatized. The older person's expression here is emboldening racist attitudes.

2. The extent to which biracial identity actually makes life more difficult has been overrated, mostly by people who don't want biracial kids in their families. In fact, its arguably beneficial in life to be biracial (see, e.g., Barack Obama). Parents' purported concern here for the difficulty their children and grandchildren will face is really concern for the difficulty they themselves will face in coming to terms with their own racism.

3. "I think you would be making mistake because your life and your children's lives will be made more difficult than if you chose to engage in endogamy. So you don't have my blessing, but I will still love you and support you if you choose to do it anyway." This may be a softer, gentler kind of racism, but "I don't approve but I will accept it" is still definitely racism.
6.3.2009 10:04am
RichW (mail):
I am white and married to a white woman but we are of different religions, her Catholic and myself Presbyterian. Even with both religions being Christne she was questioned as to the wisdom of the choice "because of the difficulties inherent in the different backgrounds". He parents have been totally accepting as are the rest of her family. In fact, we joke that I am more accepted and loved by her family than I am by my own.

BUT, and there is a but, there are and have been many difficulties due to those differences especially when we had children. Given that reality and it is only a difference is Christen religions, any parent would be justifiable concerned given a Black/ Jewish marriage solely from the immense difficulties that implies.

People we are all most comfortable with what we are use to and genuinely what the better/easier future for our children it is natural. I have found that assuming the better motive for people makes my life much better. If they prove me wrong what I have I lost?
6.3.2009 10:07am
hawkins:
GMUSL - I have two major problems with your posts:

1) I think your point regarding women from divorced families is pretty silly. I can see it being only a very minor factor. Many other family attributes are much more significant. Many divorced parents do a much better job raising kids than parents who remain together.

2) How dare you refer to Paul Thomas Anderson as "the guy who directed Magnolia."
6.3.2009 10:08am
Ricardo (mail):
I think this is objectionable for two reasons. First, in many cases it doesn't seem to be based on reality but is instead in the minds of people who may have grown up during the 1960s or earlier when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. People who raise this objection ought to have some obligation to themselves and their families to justify it with actual facts about the problems facing interracial couples in their area. Of course, interracial couples may draw attention in some parts of the U.S. while they would be much more ordinary in other parts -- moving to a place where interracial couples are better perceived could help the new family adjust.

Second, while I know Prof. Bernstein has no love of the Obama Administration, even he did celebrate Obama's victory as a decisive victory on the part of the U.S. against the ideology of white supremacy. However, arguments analogous to the one Bernstein gives above were made in the Democratic Party about how it should find a white candidate to compete against a Republican since a white person would be more likely to win. There is a self-referential quality to these kinds of arguments. People's expressing "concern" over the bigotry of others can do much more harm than the bigots themselves.
6.3.2009 10:22am
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
I think you can make an argument that it is justifiable racism (with which I would disagree) but its still racism. I don't think anyone should get a pass on the damage done (well-intentioned/reasoned or not) by promoting racist ideals. But I would also give credit to those who harbor racist attitudes but find compassion and empathy to overcome those attitudes when presented with an opportunity/crisis.
6.3.2009 10:24am
hawkins:
Based on my personal experience, a few of my Catholic friends' parents would have reservations regarding them marrying Jews. Many of my Jewish friends' parents would have a much more negative reaction to them marrying Catholics.
6.3.2009 10:34am
Don Miller (mail) (www):
I think there are legitimate reasons for parents to be concerned about the people their children are thinking about marrying.

Although, there are exceptions, most successful long term marriages have a common thread. Partners who have common values, religion, backgrounds, interests and communications styles have a greater chance at success.

Differences in religion, culture, socioeconomic background, education, nationality are indicators that some of these commonalities that make marriage easier might be missing.

The color of the skin is meaningless, but it can be used a possible indicator of cultural issues that might make a marriage more difficult. It isn't the only indicator, but to a concerned parent, who only wants the best for his/her child, it does make an easy marker to ask more questions.

My ex-wife and I shared the same race, but our education, religion and family cultures were so different that our marriage didn't work out. We overlooked all of those things when we were dating. The marriage was good at first too. It wasn't until we had a child that those differences really leaped out and killed our relationship.
6.3.2009 10:35am
Smooth, Like a Rhapsody (mail):
I am not Jewish but I am pretty sure that the proscription against marrying a goyim has as its motivation the desire to preserve the Jewish culture, since for a long time there was no country that was majority orthodox Jewish.

OTOH, biracial people tend to be more attractive than the average person. I thought everyone knew that. :)
6.3.2009 10:40am
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
Don Miller raises what I think is a more justifiable parental objection to interracial unions. Studies have shown that people who are similar in personality, background culture, etc. have more successful relationships that people who are different from each other. To the extent race tracks socioeconomics, interracial unions may face more difficulties than average. But a good parent should raise concerns about the socioeconomic differences, not race per se.
6.3.2009 10:49am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Part of the older person's argument is that the children of the interracial union will have difficulty because they are biracial.
Right. And that statement is descriptive, not normative; hence, it can't be racist. (The argument can be a pretext, concealing the real, racist reasons one opposes the interracial union, but need not be.)
6.3.2009 10:57am
yankev (mail):

I'd feel the exact same way about a Christian parent in the 1930s who was reluctant to have his child marry a Jew for the same reasons. It's one thing to say, "I'll cut off all contact with you if you marry a (Jew, black, whatever) because such people aren't worthy of marriage," and quite another to say, "I think you would be making mistake because your life and your children's lives will be made more difficult than if you chose to engage in endogamy. So you don't have my blessing, but I will still love you and support you if you choose to do it anyway."
Sounds like Pug Henry's advice to his son in Winds of War.
6.3.2009 10:57am
Houston Lawyer:
Differences in religion play a huge factor in dating. When I was single, I did not date anyone who was not a Christian. I preferred to date someone of the same denomination, since that makes life simpler as well.

While opposites attract, shared common values are essential for a long-term relationship. While society is much more accepting of mixed marriages now than in past decades, I don't think that a preference for those who look like you is racist. The races still are a bit tribal, often going off into their own corners. Concern that the grandchildren won't be part of your tribe is not trivial.
6.3.2009 10:59am
David M. Nieporent (www):
This may be a softer, gentler kind of racism, but "I don't approve but I will accept it" is still definitely racism.
But that's not what David said. He didn't say, "I don't approve but I will accept it"; he said, "I don't advise it but I will accept it."
6.3.2009 10:59am
Blue:
I'm really surprised that 40 percent of whites wouldn't want a close relative to marry an Asian or a Hispanic person. I'd be interested to see the exact wording of the question.
6.3.2009 11:02am
hawkins:

I preferred to date someone of the same denomination


As a Methodist, I never could trust those loony Presbyterians and Baptists, God forbid Episcopalians or, even worse, the forsaken pope worshipers.
6.3.2009 11:04am
Aultimer:

hawkins:
While not necessarily racism, are Jewish attitudes against intermarriage with other religions just as bigoted? It wouldnt be looked at too kindly if a Christian was similarly opposed to marrying a Jew.

Don't even try the poor persecuted majority on this one. No person who subscribes to a creed fails to understands the objection against marrying an unconverted (doomed) outsider.
6.3.2009 11:06am
BGates:
It's a racist question to begin with. "a black". Which one? Can anybody who has a kid, a sister, or a kid sister imagine getting a phone call where she says, "I met this guy, and he's [insert any race or religion], and we're getting married," and you say, "I strongly approve"?
6.3.2009 11:08am
yankev (mail):

Bigotry based on religion is no more comforting to me than bigotry based on race.

I can understand why it might look like bigotry to you. If you understand the role and mission that the Torah assigns to the Jewish people, it is not bigotry.

I was educated in a stream of Judaism that did not believe in the Torah; our Rabbi told my confirmation class that we should not marry non-Jews because the cultural differences would impede a successful marriage. I dated on-Jewish girls in college, some quite seriously, and by the grace of God ended up marrying a girl who was Jewish. Some years later, as I began to learn more about the Jewish religion, I realized there were much stronger reasons not to intermarry. The experience of intermarried acquaintances who later became or wanted to become observant Jews reinforced those reasons.

To anyone who dismisses religion as superstition, or to anyone who thinks that Judaism is a misguided religion for not being more like Christianity, these reasons will not be persuasive.

FWIW, I have met Jews of every race, and have met Jews who are married to Jews of another race. Apart from the prohibition against a Kohen marrying a woman who converted (he IS permitted to marry the daughter of a convert, if the daughter was born after the conversion), there is no religious prohibition against it.
6.3.2009 11:09am
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
But that's not what David said. He didn't say, "I don't approve but I will accept it"; he said, "I don't advise it but I will accept it."

He said "So you don't have my blessing, but I will still love you and support you if you choose to do it anyway." I read "you don't have my blessing" as withholding approval.

And that statement is descriptive, not normative; hence, it can't be racist.

Descriptive statements certainly can be racist, for example if they aren't true or exaggerate the facts, as is the case in proclaiming the difficulties interracial couples and biracial children face.

Saying "I don't want my child to marry a black person because black people aren't as smart" is also "descriptive" but its clearly racist.
6.3.2009 11:09am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I don't think that blanket exclusions or prejudices based on any of those categories are desirable. Of course, we can come up with some examples of where my tolerance ends (e.g., a person in a thrill kill cult, a drug addict, a neo-Nazi), but such categories strike me as very different from race, education level, income, religion, etc.
Religion strikes me as very different from race, too. I don't think they're in any way analogous in this context. Yes, opposing intermarriage could be an argument that "I don't want you to marry an X because Xs are icky," but that's certainly not why Jews (*) generally oppose intermarriage. It's generally because intermarriage leads to non-Jewish children; children of intermarried couples tend to end up with no religion at all.



(*) I assume my arguments are true for others, but I can speak most informedly about Jews.
6.3.2009 11:10am
yankev (mail):

Don't even try the poor persecuted majority on this one. No person who subscribes to a creed fails to understands the objection against marrying an unconverted (doomed) outsider.
Autlimer, I agree with you on the "poor persecuted majority", but it is not that Judaism views the unconverted as doomed. In fact, we believe that the righteous of all peoples have a share in the world to come. But we also believe that Jews have addtional special obligations and a special role to play, and cannot fulfill those obligations if married to someone who is not similarly obligated. The Torah states the concern that the non-Jewish spouse will turn the Jewish spouse away from those obligations, not concern that the non-Jewish spouse is somehow damned.
6.3.2009 11:13am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Descriptive statements certainly can be racist, for example if they aren't true or exaggerate the facts, as is the case in proclaiming the difficulties interracial couples and biracial children face.

Saying "I don't want my child to marry a black person because black people aren't as smart" is also "descriptive" but its clearly racist.
I'm not sure I'd call an untrue statement "descriptive" -- what is it describing? -- but that semantic quibble aside, yes. But it's racist because the content is "Blacks are inferior." The claim that DB was proposing was "Society is extremely prejudiced." Whether true, exaggerated, or false, it's not a racist claim. It makes no claims about blacks at all.
6.3.2009 11:17am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
I wonder if the percentages would change if parental attitudes were broken down by the sex of their child. Many Jews believe that "Jewishness" follows the female line. In two families within our social circles, the older Jewish matriarchs were more alarmed at their sons marrying outside the faith than they were when their daughters did. The grandchildren of the sons are not, in their view, Jewish. But the daughters' kids are, because the faith of the husbands doesn't matter.

I can't say if this is widespread or is simply an aberration on the part of those two families. Evidently, the mothers' views weren't too strong because five of their six kids married Christians. I think it was influenced by the size of the dating pool. A Jewish boy who only dates Jewish girls has dramatically decreased the number of potential dates he'll meet on campus or at work.

I really would be curious at what the breakdown would be. I imagine among racist Christian whites there would also be some disparity but in the opposite direction: Folks who can't imagine their daughters with them "uppity blacks."
6.3.2009 11:18am
Tony Tutins (mail):

their children will face the prejudices of being black and Jewish.

Nah. If they're like the black-Jewish couple I know, they will face the prejudices of being thought Puerto Rican.

But their daughter, speaking at her bat mitzvah, did subtly allude to feeling excluded by members of their (Conservative) congregation, while the pale kids were accepted without question.
6.3.2009 11:33am
Adelle (mail):
Both of my Jewish step-siblings are in long-term, committed relations with African Americans (one of whom is also Jewish, as a result of a previous Jewish/African American relationship). From our talks on the subject, they have experienced some slight negative attention on the topic, but it has not greatly impacted their lives to any extent that would lead them to end their relationships. My stepbrother's girlfriend who is Jewish and black said that it was a little weird growing up being both, but she's in her mid-30's. I would hope that our society has progressed a bit and would be less likely to make a kid feel poorly about their heritage today.

They do occasionally joke about being part of a couple where both people belong to groups that have been historically discriminated, oppressed, and persecuted, so they can identify with one another even if their heritage is different.
6.3.2009 11:44am
Pyrrho:

Smooth, Like a Rhapsody:
I am not Jewish but I am pretty sure that the proscription against marrying a goyim has as its motivation the desire to preserve the Jewish culture, since for a long time there was no country that was majority orthodox Jewish.

OTOH, biracial people tend to be more attractive than the average person. I thought everyone knew that. :)
The proscription against marrying gentiles is straight out of the Torah, which comes from long before the time period in which those concerns would have existed.
6.3.2009 11:48am
Hovsep Joseph (mail):
Whether true, exaggerated, or false, it's not a racist claim.

I suppose we just aren't going to agree on this point but I think "people should not produce biracial children because they will face prejudice" is more than a comment on society. By expressing that view and actively discouraging interracial unions, a person adopts and promotes the disapproval of interracial unions and stigmatization of biracial identity that the person claims to perceive in society. Analogies are always tricky, but I'd compare it to a friend who's mother objected to her dating a black guy by saying "I don't have a problem with black people but I just want you to be aware of the assumptions people make about white girls who date black guys." Making that statement only reinforces the stereotypes the parent claims will hurt her daughter. And, I think that while the statement is "descriptive" it seems to me (and I think most young people) as primarily reflective of subtle or subconscious racist attitudes of the parent.
6.3.2009 12:02pm
Gordo:
This is akin to what my wife said a decade ago - that she would be sad if one of our children turned out to be gay.

Not because she is a homophobe, but rather because of society's discrimination and ostracization of gay people.

That's been changing since she said it. And she never was a bigot.
6.3.2009 12:04pm
Preferred Customer:
yankev:


To anyone who dismisses religion as superstition, or to anyone who thinks that Judaism is a misguided religion for not being more like Christianity, these reasons will not be persuasive.


I do not dismiss religion as superstition, though I am not myself religious; I think characterizing religion as "superstition" is inadequate in describing the place that religion occupies in many peoples' lives.

That said, while I understand that religion occupies a categorically different place in peoples' paradigms than do many other beliefs, I am not willing to accept religious doctrine as an excuse for behavior that I believe is otherwise unacceptable. Just as I do not believe that it is OK to curtail speech because depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are not permitted, I do not believe that is is OK to be prejudiced because that is what faith commands. I would take strong issue with a Christian sect that looked down on/did not permit/ostracized members who married Jews; I take strong issue with Jewish doctrine that has the inverse effect. In that vein, quotation of various sources of the proscription on intermarriage is useful in helping me understand the *source* of what I consider to be bigotry, and it helps explain it, but it in no way justifies it.

So. As I said, I am no more comforted by religious bigotry than racial bigotry. I do not find them morally distinguishable; both are based on prejudgments and exclusionary attitudes that should have no place in the rational world.
6.3.2009 12:04pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
I believe I have read a couple research papers suggesting that in the tested individuals, maternal IQ was the more determinative, in just one example of a genetic endowment parents pass on to their progeny.

And the Jewish are certainly not stereotyped to be the type of people who wouldn't be cognizant of such the relevance of such information with regard to their elevated status in society.

So I posit a kind of pragmatic calculation in this "bigotry", but certainly there's no animus intended in my claim - for I believe that the next great philosophical and political divide of the 21st century will concern voluntary eugenics and its accompanying ethical questions, which will in time reveal society's full hypocrisy in its professed ideals when too many blue-eyed, blond-haired, hearing-enabled Adonises spring forth.

Fundamentally, beyond political ideology and intellectual games of moral philosophy, I find Nature's Darwinian logic on these matters inexorable and so I intend do my best, on personal level, to investigate so that I may end up on the "correct" side, if perhaps and unfortunately things do turn out to come to a catastrophic and possibly Hobbesian end.
6.3.2009 12:29pm
mossypete (mail):
Anyone who grew up in the NY Jewish community in a bilingual Yiddish/English household knows there are Shiksas/Shagits and Schwartzers. (Please excuse the use of the epithets particularly Schwartzer which is the yiddish version of the N word). You don't bring any of them home to Mom!
But they were different and one was worse than the other!

For all the high flown, group survival and religious prohibition excuses against intermarriage, what I grew up with in the middle class New York Jewish mileu in the 60's and 70's was simple racism against African Americans.


It apparently never dawned on Mom that there many other non white non Jewish possibilities, perhaps because the shtetl (small rural village) yiddish they spoke, handed down from grandparents in Eastern Europe stopped evolving in the late 1800's and had no words for Samoan, or Maori or Mongol or South Asian or Japanese or ...you get the idea.

It's hard to think the thought if it's not in the language.

It was quite a shock to mom when....
6.3.2009 12:31pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
That said, while I understand that religion occupies a categorically different place in peoples' paradigms than do many other beliefs, I am not willing to accept religious doctrine as an excuse for behavior that I believe is otherwise unacceptable. Just as I do not believe that it is OK to curtail speech because depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are not permitted, I do not believe that is is OK to be prejudiced because that is what faith commands.
No faith that we're speaking of commands "prejudice." Judaism commands non-intermarriage. To call that "prejudice" simply begs the question.
6.3.2009 12:52pm
MAM:
I find this discussion interesting. I tend to believe that the stigma of being black in America has something to do with these numbers. Thus while some may not want their offspring to marry a black person, I am not sure it is racist. It is prejudice.

For some of the posters that suggest that Asians and Jews inter-marry more often, I think that is true but not b/c of "elite" institutions. As a result of slavery and Jim Crow, there is still a large number of African Americans that attend black colleges who would otherwise attend those elite schools. Thus, the self-segregation of blacks, whether good or bad, has something to do with interracial dating. It just seems that black suspicions of white motivations hamper black/white interracial relationships.

From my very distant view of Asians, it seems as though many Asian women seek out white men or rather non-Asian men. I have no idea if this is indeed true, but it seems as if assimilation, for whatever reason, is embraced more by some groups.
6.3.2009 1:01pm
ari8 (mail):
I suppose we just aren't going to agree on this point but I think "people should not produce biracial children because they will face prejudice" is more than a comment on society.
That's not what was said. What was said that given the choice between having your own child produce bi-racial children who will be subject to discrimination and having him/her produce non-bi-racial children who won't be subject to that discrimination, a parent might prefer the latter without being "racist." Your understanding would only make sense if the parent told the child who had already married interracially not to have children, which is not part of our hypothetical. In fact, the parent in question might very much favor OTHER people having interracial children, because they think it would be a good thing to decrease prejudice in society, but just doesn't want his children and grandchildren to be the suffering pioneer.
6.3.2009 1:11pm
Preferred Customer:

No faith that we're speaking of commands "prejudice." Judaism commands non-intermarriage. To call that "prejudice" simply begs the question.


I am asserting that a proscription on intermarriage with those of a faith other than your own is a form of prejudice, intolerance and/or bigotry. That's not begging the question; it's asserting a proposition.

In support, consider this series of hypothetical statements:

"I will not marry a Jew."

"I will not marry a Catholic."

"I don't date Jews."

"I don't date Catholics."

"I don't associate with Jews."

"I don't associate with Catholics."

Do any of those statements strike you as bigoted? Intolerant? Prejudiced? If yes, does adding "because my faith forbids it" cure the problem? Or does it just provide evidence of a bigoted, prejudiced or intolerant faith? FWIW, each one of those statements could ultimately be rationally rooted in a proscription on intermarriage--one may not date Group X because dating Group X only leads to the possibility of falling in love with a member of Group X, and since one cannot marry a member of Group X, what's the point? Similarly, one may argue that it is fine to not associate with Group X, because associating leads to dating and dating leads to (forbidden) desires to marry.
6.3.2009 1:22pm
klp85 (mail):
(1) Well, there are two prohibitions against marrying Gentiles, one in the Torah and one in Ezra-Nehemiah:

The prohibition in the Torah is against marriage with the "the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite," or variations dropping one or the other of these nations (Devarim/Deuteronomy 7:1-6). A similar ban might also have been true for the Ammonites and Moabites (but remember Ruth!), though apparently not of the Edomites and Egyptians (23:4-8). Compare these former bans to the treatment to be given to other nations (20:10-20, 21:10-14; Numbers/BaMidbar 31:13-18 with respect to Midianite female virgins).

Later, Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 13) complain about mixing with other nations generally, but general mixing wasn't prohibited in the Torah, and provisions had previously been made for how to go about marrying non-Israelites from permissible groups.

Of course, most people throughout history who take the Tanakh seriously would look at these passages as complimentary, so one ends up with the prohibition in the one case being assumed to be a clarification, rather than an expansion of, the previous prohibition. And with the tensions that would have existed in the Ptolemaic/Seleucid period and after the destruction of the Second Temple, the role of the separateness for which Ezra and Nehemiah strove became even greater (in terms of cultural/religious preservation), so it's not surprising that the Torah's narrower prohibition would be read as a synecdoche for the broader one Ezra-Nehemiah.

(2) I for one (I'm not Jewish, although I sympathize with the perspective of those Jews who believe, as Yankev does, that "the righteous of all peoples have a share in the world to come") don't think that bona fide objections to interfaith marriage are racist or especially bigoted as such. That is to say, if one legitimately believes in one's religion, and there are clear prohibitions on interfaith marriage (or strong pragmatic reasons for finding it inadvisable), I don't necessarily see this as wrong.

Of course, there are caveats, such as (a) other indications of racism/bigotry arise (e.g., if a Jewish parent were willing to let one's child marry a Christian white person but not a black convert to Judaism), or (b) if the attitude extends seriously beyond religious inadvisability (e.g., a belief that interracial or interfaith marriage will "corrupt" one's ethnic bloodline).
6.3.2009 1:43pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
Of course, we can come up with some examples of where my tolerance ends (e.g., a person in a thrill kill cult, a drug addict, a neo-Nazi), but such categories strike me as very different from race, education level, income, religion, etc.
My criteria for my daughters was "Can he buy a gun?" That excludes felons, dishonorable discharges, under a protective or restraining order, renounced U.S. citizenship, domestic violence conviction, etc.
What you're asking is for a parent to put aside what he accurately sees as the potential well-being of his child and grandchildren in favor of an abstract cause of combating racism. Not being eager to be an activist in this way may not be heroic, but it's not racism.
Plus, I'd quibble that it isn't the parent who must directly deal with the problems. It isn't very heroic to hope your child has to be an activist.
First, in many cases it doesn't seem to be based on reality but is instead in the minds of people who may have grown up during the 1960s or earlier when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. People who raise this objection ought to have some obligation to themselves and their families to justify it with actual facts about the problems facing interracial couples in their area.
You seem to be saying that all these racist people are wrong about current discrimination because there aren't any more racists to be worried about. That's internally illogical.
Of course, interracial couples may draw attention in some parts of the U.S. while they would be much more ordinary in other parts -- moving to a place where interracial couples are better perceived could help the new family adjust.
But if the parent makes your suggestion, "if you marry that person you'll have to move away from your extended family," you'd consider that bigotry? Pot—kettle—black.
6.3.2009 1:53pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Some people discussing this are being ridiculous. The reason there are such strong reactions of offense to this kind of discussion in the first place is because the manner by which people self-identify says something important about them. Sometimes this classification is unwitting and unhelped, sometimes those markers are deliberately sought out. You can argue about the agency, responsibility, and relevance of an individual's chosen or given classification, but I think it is moronic to argue as if those things were all morally neutral or irrelevant to the important life decisions people make. Obviously so, because few people actually act that way, and indeed make quite ordinal judgments on those convictions .

Example: I would not want my unborn daughter to marry a believing Moslem, even though I have a heritage of it in my family.
6.3.2009 2:05pm
Patent Lawyer:
Preferred Customer -

There's a huge, huge difference between "I won't marry a Christian", "I won't date a Christian," and most significantly, "I won't associate with Christians". The difference is children. I don't have to connect with friends anywhere near as deeply as I have to connect with a spouse.

For me personally (as a secular Jew), I'm very hesitant to date or marry a somewhat religious Christian (at my age, dating is expected to lead to marriage and children) because the belief conflict is huge, and will lead to problems at all the important life stages that are associated with rituals. I may not be that observant of a Jew, but I don't want my kids baptized; I want any celebration of Christmas to be purely as the secular American version; and I want a rabbi officiating at my wedding.

You can call that bigoted or prejudiced if you want, but it's really demeaning the term to do so.
6.3.2009 2:13pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

The wording of the question doesn't allow us to separate those who are motivated by religious opposition to interfaith marriage from those who are motivated by racial concerns

Practising Judaism can look a lot like rudeness. For example, non-Jews cannot be expected to keep a kosher home, so how can observant Jews eat at their son-in-law's parents' house? But refusing hospitality is an affront everywhere.
6.3.2009 2:30pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I am asserting that a proscription on intermarriage with those of a faith other than your own is a form of prejudice, intolerance and/or bigotry. That's not begging the question; it's asserting a proposition.
But since that proposition is the very point under debate, re-asserting it is indeed begging the question. Or, at best, an unhelpful tautology.

Do any of those statements strike you as bigoted? Intolerant? Prejudiced? If yes, does adding "because my faith forbids it" cure the problem?
None of those statements are inherently bigoted; it depends on the reasons why one holds those views. So yes, adding that explanation can 'cure the problem,' as you put it.

For instance, if the reason is, "Because Catholics are evil," then it would be. If the reason is, "Because I want to be observant and raise Jewish children," then it would not be.
6.3.2009 2:32pm
Jim Copland (www):

My criteria for my daughters was "Can he buy a gun?" That excludes felons, dishonorable discharges, under a protective or restraining order, renounced U.S. citizenship, domestic violence conviction, etc.

This criterion might be overinclusive, unless you take issue with residents of New York City or, at least until recently, Washington, D.C. ;)
6.3.2009 2:32pm
yankev (mail):

A similar ban might also have been true for the Ammonites and Moabites (but remember Ruth!), though apparently not of the Edomites and Egyptians (23:4-8). Compare these former bans to the treatment to be given to other nations (20:10-20, 21:10-14; Numbers/BaMidbar 31:13-18 with respect to Midianite female virgins).
Kip86, you need to look at more than just the text, and especially more than the English translation of the text. As just one example, are you aware that Hebrew has different words for a male Moabite and a female Moabite, and the that the verse prohitting marriage to a Moabite uses only the term for the male? Are you aware that the prohibitions in Deut. apply to all non-Jews, and are stated in terms of the Canaanites only because those were the nearest? Have you looked at Rashi and the others who explain the meaning of these prohibitions?

My study partner and I have just started the final chapter of Kiddushin. Kiddushin is the part of the Talmud dealing, among other things, with prohibited and permitted marriages and with non-marriages. The final chapter deals with converts, among other topics. Toward the end of the preceding chapter, there's a fascinating discussion in which I learned for the first time that any convert is permitted to marry a first or second generation Egyptian or Edomite convert, even though people who were born Jewish cannot. If you want to understand what the Toran permits and prohibits, you need to go way beyond English translations of Tanakh.
6.3.2009 3:02pm
yankev (mail):
Let me fix that for you.

Many Jews believe in the Torah, the basic teaching of the Jewish faith that they believe to predate creation, and which teaches that "Jewishness" follows the female line.
6.3.2009 3:04pm
yankev (mail):
David N, I was going to take issue with Preferred Customer, but I see that you are raising the same points that I would, and doing it more ably.
6.3.2009 3:07pm
Preferred Customer:
Patent Lawyer:


There's a huge, huge difference between "I won't marry a Christian", "I won't date a Christian," and most significantly, "I won't associate with Christians". The difference is children. I don't have to connect with friends anywhere near as deeply as I have to connect with a spouse.


But we are discussing marriage; the survey asks whether one would be in favor of a close relative marrying a black. While I agree with you that adding children into the equation (as one potentially does with marriage) adds a complicating factor, I don't think one can excuse religious intolerance on the basis of child-rearing any more than one can excuse racial intolerance on that basis. After all, a racist could plausibly state that they do not want to marry a black person not because they have anything against blacks, per se, they just don't want to have and raise a mixed race child (or, to put it in a closer parallel with the religion issue, they'd rather have a child of the same ethnicity as themselves).

David M. Nierporent:


For instance, if the reason is, "Because Catholics are evil," then it would be. If the reason is, "Because I want to be observant and raise Jewish children," then it would not be.


It appears that you and I simply have different ways of viewing the world. While I certainly agree that the bigotry in the first example is more odious than the bigotry in the second, I see the second example as just another example of falling back on religion as justifying prejudice because it is religion. Yes, one cannot "be observant" if one marries a gentile, but that is so only because the faith dictates it to be true. I am not questioning whether that is an accurate statement of the faith; I am questioning whether it is (moral/ethical/acceptable) to "be observant" of a faith that has, as one its precepts, a flat prohibition on intermarriage, just as I would question any philosophy that demands as one its tenets that you exclude arbitrary groups of people from your consideration as mates.
6.3.2009 3:12pm
Preferred Customer:
I'll add one further point, which is probably already obvious from what I've said so far: I'm not religious, and one consequence of that is that I have no desire to impart a religion on my children. But I didn't marry an atheist, and I don't necessarily want to raise atheist children. My daughter is an independent person; I'll do my best to pass along whatever values I can, but ultimately it is for her to decide whether she is religious or not, just as it was my decision to make when I was able to think about such things.
6.3.2009 3:20pm
ari8 (mail):
Practising Judaism can look a lot like rudeness. For example, non-Jews cannot be expected to keep a kosher home, so how can observant Jews eat at their son-in-law's parents' house? But refusing hospitality is an affront everywhere.
It would be rude for the in-laws to invite the observant Jewish parents to their house to eat, knowing they can't eat there, unless they made arrangements to provide food the parents could eat. It would be the equivalent of inviting your wheelchair bound in-law to dine in your fourth floor walkup.
6.3.2009 3:30pm
Seamus (mail):

I also can't help but wonder at religious people (of all stripes) who conclude that their God is peeved by interfaith marriages.



News flash: Person who thinks religion is belief in the "imaginary" doesn't understand who people who take religion seriously insist on taking it seriously.
6.3.2009 4:18pm
Seamus (mail):

Please excuse the use of the epithets particularly Schwartzer which is the yiddish version of the N word.



My rudimentary knowledge of German tells me that "schwartzer" means "black." Assuming that's not the case, what *is* the Yiddish word that is the polite equivalent of "black"? Or are we to assume that every time a Yiddish speaker uses his own tongue to refer to a black person, he's being offensive?
6.3.2009 4:25pm
Seamus (mail):
Preferred Customer: Why exactly is is "bigotry" for a Jew to want to be observant and raise Jewish children? Is it "bigoted" for a staunch feminist to want to date and marry someone who shares his/her views on relations between the sexes? For a member of Moveon.org to refuse to date or marry Republicans? Or is religion an illegitimate basis for making such judgments because it only deals with such inconsequential matters as one's place in the universe and one's relationship to one's Creator and one's compliance with his will?
6.3.2009 4:37pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Practising Judaism can look a lot like rudeness. For example, non-Jews cannot be expected to keep a kosher home, so how can observant Jews eat at their son-in-law's parents' house? But refusing hospitality is an affront everywhere.
Most observant Jews I know, faced with such a situation, would bring their own food and tableware. See, dilemma resolved.
6.3.2009 4:41pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
For instance, if the reason is, "Because Catholics are evil," then it would be. If the reason is, "Because I want to be observant and raise Jewish children," then it would not be.

It appears that you and I simply have different ways of viewing the world. While I certainly agree that the bigotry in the first example is more odious than the bigotry in the second, I see the second example as just another example of falling back on religion as justifying prejudice because it is religion. Yes, one cannot "be observant" if one marries a gentile, but that is so only because the faith dictates it to be true. I am not questioning whether that is an accurate statement of the faith; I am questioning whether it is (moral/ethical/acceptable) to "be observant" of a faith that has, as one its precepts, a flat prohibition on intermarriage, just as I would question any philosophy that demands as one its tenets that you exclude arbitrary groups of people from your consideration as mates.
See what I mean about begging the question? Your argument is just, "It's prejudice because it's prejudice." You haven't explained why it's bigotry. If I only want to marry a short person, or a libertarian, or a woman, rather than a tall person, socialist, or man, am I a "bigot"? So why is wanting to marry a Jew rather than a Catholic "bigotry"?

In any case you misunderstood my point, which wasn't that Judaism forbid intermarriage, but that even in the absence of such a prohibition, it would be impracticable and impossible to do all the other things that Judaism requires with a non-Jewish spouse. Judaism is not about which building you go to on Sunday (er, Saturday); it's not about whether you put up a Christmas tree or a menorah in December. It's a comprehensive lifestyle, from when you lie down to when you rise up. There's no way one could be frum while intermarried, even if intermarriage were allowed.
6.3.2009 4:51pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

See, dilemma resolved.

Sure, reject my signature dish, cooked with love and considerable effort. It sure feels like an insult to the cook.

It would be the equivalent of inviting your wheelchair bound in-law to dine in your fourth floor walkup.

I can cook for vegetarians, diabetics, celiacs, and people with plain old food allergies. But I cannot cook for observant Jews, even if I followed their exact recipes.
6.3.2009 4:51pm
Pyrrho:

But I cannot cook for observant Jews, even if I followed their exact recipes.
Yes you could. You'd just need to use appropriate dinnerware and kosher ingredients. Observant Jews do not have a problem with food simply because a gentile cooked it.
6.3.2009 4:59pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
hawkins:

While not necessarily racism, are Jewish attitudes against intermarriage with other religions just as bigoted? It wouldnt be looked at too kindly if a Christian was similarly opposed to marrying a Jew.

It's not necessarily bigotry. I dated a girl in college who never met a Jew before and was honestly surprised I didn't have horns. This girl didn't have a bigoted bone in her body. She just believed what she had been taught by people she trusted. They may have been bigots or also just credulous and misled. It only takes a few real haters to give a lot decent people with dopey beliefs a bad name.
6.3.2009 5:12pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
a lot of decent people
6.3.2009 5:15pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
See, dilemma resolved.

Sure, reject my signature dish, cooked with love and considerable effort. It sure feels like an insult to the cook.
It would be rather discourteous to cook something that you knew your guests wouldn't be able to eat. Perhaps you shouldn't invite people over and feed them things they won't eat? Would you invite a vegetarian over for beef stew and then get annoyed when he didn't eat it?
But I cannot cook for observant Jews, even if I followed their exact recipes.
Why not? There is no rule against eating food prepared by a non-Jew. The food needs to be kosher, as do the utensils and other tableware, but the cook need not be Jewish.
6.3.2009 5:23pm
yankev (mail):

I am questioning whether it is (moral/ethical/acceptable) to "be observant" of a faith that has, as one its precepts, a flat prohibition on intermarriage, just as I would question any philosophy that demands as one its tenets that you exclude arbitrary groups of people from your consideration as mates.
Of course, one who believes in that faith might ask whether it was (moral/ethical/acceptable) to abandon a faith commanded by the Creator simply because it included tenets that harm no one but that would be branded as bigotry by those who do not believe in that faith.

Jews are used to being out of step with the surrounding society. As Tony Tutins pointed out, some aspects of our observance can look like rudeness. At one time, declining to worship the local gods was viewed as even ruder than declining hospitality, and in parts of the US, it still is today. We spoke out against abortion, maltreatment of slaves (as far as I know, Judaism was the first system of thought to teach that slaves had rights against the master), exposing new borns to die, abortion, and sexual immorality. Some of those positions were very unpopular in some of the host countries where we lived. Some are unpopular in the US today.
6.3.2009 5:41pm
yankev (mail):

I can cook for vegetarians, diabetics, celiacs, and people with plain old food allergies. But I cannot cook for observant Jews, even if I followed their exact recipes.
Asked and answered, but it may be more trouble that it's worth to you. David and Pyhrro are correct, of course, but there are a lot more details involved than would necessarily appear from their posts. Probably the biggest one is that you would need to have a knowledgable observant (no pun intended) Jew observe much or all of the process, from the time you unsealed the ingredients or earlier.
6.3.2009 5:47pm
mossypete (mail):

Seamus wrote
Please excuse the use of the epithets particularly Schwartzer which is the yiddish version of the N word.

My rudimentary knowledge of German tells me that "schwartzer" means "black." Assuming that's not the case, what *is* the Yiddish word that is the polite equivalent of "black"? Or are we to assume that every time a Yiddish speaker uses his own tongue to refer to a black person, he's being offensive?



In this case (spoken by an Americanized yiddish speaker) it would mean the N word. There's a world of difference between a dictionary definition of a word and the meaning it has in context in it's culture/sub culture.


If my grandmother, while walking off the boat from Europe encountered a black person for the first time and used the word schwartz, that would be a descriptive use of the word.

When my mother, a native born New Yorker told my sister that she'll drop dead if sis ever brings a schwartzer home, that's the N word.

(of course saying that to me just encouraged me to test it out)

Growing up I never heard a "polite" yiddish word for African-American.

I won't generalize for all yiddish speakers but for culturally New York/East Coast yiddish speakers schwartzer = the N word
6.3.2009 6:50pm
q:
I don't find advice that Christians should marry Christians to be bigoted, as there really are concerns not just with potential children but also with the spouses. Which church should the couple attend? Which holidays should they observe? Which rituals? If one of the spouses is an atheist, I could see potential for strife when one asks the other to attend their service. What about if asked to attend regularly? Engage in rituals while in attendance? What if the atheist spouse refuses? What if the religious spouse desires the atheist spouse to convert? How much proselytizing could the atheist spouse tolerate without negative effect? What if the religious spouse doesn't proselytize out of respect of the atheist spouse's feelings, which could possibly go against precepts the religious spouse holds dear (i.e. one should proselytize to ones they love)?

These internal concerns generally have no analogue to a bi-racial marriage.
6.3.2009 9:00pm
klp85 (mail):

As just one example, are you aware that Hebrew has different words for a male Moabite and a female Moabite, and the that the verse prohitting marriage to a Moabite uses only the term for the male? Are you aware that the prohibitions in Deut. apply to all non-Jews, and are stated in terms of the Canaanites only because those were the nearest?

With respect to whether the seven nations are a synecdoche for non-Jews generally, Deut. 20:15 (forgive the poor transliteration):

"ken taaseh lkhol-he'arim harchoqot mimkha meod asher lo me'arey haggoyim haeleh hennah" (thus you shall do to all the cities very far from you that [are] not of the cities of these nations hither/here).

It seems to me that this passage is distinguishing between being able to take the women, children, beasts, and plunder of these farther cities (vv.10-14) and the obligation to destroy everything belonging to the seven specifically-mentioned nations (vv. 16-18; here the Girgashites are not mentioned). And the passage in Deut. 21 also deals with what to do if one sees an "eshet yefat toar" (a woman of beautiful appearance) whom one wants to take "l-ishsha" (for a wife). If Israelite men could marry the women from these other nations, then the original command was narrower than the complaint in Ezra about the refusal to separate "meammey haaratzot" (the peoples of the land) whose practices were like those of the seven Canaanite nations (plus Egypt, Moab, and Ammon).

Your point, well taken, about gender and the Moabites does not undermine my overall original observation, which is that commands about keeping apart from other nations were limited to the seven Canaanite nations. In this case, because Moabite men, but not women, were prohibited, it implies that the ban on intermarriage was not universal marriage with Moabite women was permissible. (I was unsure about them in any case, which is why I used the word "might.")

Now, I may be misunderstanding your point in all this, in that you might be saying something like,


Of course when the people of Israel are among a foreign nation, they will have to keep themselves separate as they did with the seven Canaanite nations. The Canaanite nations were singled out not because of anything inherently wrong with their practices as opposed to the practices of other nations, but because of their proximity. The threat from other nations was minimal, and their women, if assimilated into Israel/Judah, should have little power to lead them away. This was not the case by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, when some Jews remained outside the land of Israel, and those in the land were confronted with new nations whose practices were as problematic as the old, so they were more expansive. Nevertheless, the spirit of the argument in Ezra-Nehemiah about general separation was in the original prohibition.


I would say that this is plausible, but at present I wouldn't be convinced.

As far as Rashi and other Medieval commentators are concerned, I must admit that no, I have not read much. My limited experience in the area of Jewish studies/Judaism has been in the areas of Ancient Near Eastern religion and history, Israelite religion and history, Second Temple Judaism, and early Christianity. Only a cursory overview of the post-Second Temple materials (Tannaim and Amoraim). In short, a wide but not deep examination of the early materials. As far as the Rabbinic materials are concerned, though, I refer back to my original observation that students of the Tanakh (and subsequent expansions of Jewish literature such as the Talmud) have traditionally synthesized what were often originally disparate accounts. Perhaps after I improve my Aramaic and post-Biblical Hebrew I will delve into these materials in greater depth.

Sorry for the long-winded and late post.
6.3.2009 10:17pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

If one of the spouses is an atheist, I could see potential for strife when one asks the other to attend their service. What about if asked to attend regularly? Engage in rituals while in attendance?

You have a point. Regular attendance at an atheist service, including engaging in atheist rituals, would be horrific.
6.3.2009 11:34pm
Ricardo (mail):
You seem to be saying that all these racist people are wrong about current discrimination because there aren't any more racists to be worried about. That's internally illogical.

It is internally illogical. Fortunately, it's not what I said -- I never said the hypothetical parents were racists.
6.4.2009 12:11am
yankev (mail):

Growing up I never heard a "polite" yiddish word for African-American.
To my shame and sorrow, I have to agree with mossypete. Growing up in Chicago, I never heard my parents or extended family use the word schvartzer or any other disparaging term for what were then called colored people, which during my adolesence changed to Negro, then African American and then Black, but I heard the term from kids I went to public school with and it was seldom in a flattering context.

The real sorrow is that schwartzer is probably the closet to a neutral Yiddish term. When I got to law school, I heard an older member of our congregation in Mpls use a term that starts with a D, that comes from dunkle, the German word for dark. The rabbi made it clear he did not approve of the term. I asked someone later what it meant (though I had guessed from the context), and was told it is more disparaging than the Sh word.

Anecdotally, the amount of prejudice seems to be higher among the parents or grandparents of baby boomers, declining over the generations, and seems to be stronger among those who were pushed out of integrated neighborhoods between 1950 and 1975 or so.
6.4.2009 11:40am
yankev (mail):
Klp85

Yes and no. There are definitely differences between the treatment of the 7 Canaanite nations and other non-Jews, as you pointed out. But the prohibition against intermarriage is not one of them. The prohibition in Deut. 7:3 -4 about intermarraige is understood by the Sages to refer to all non-Jews. (Sorry, I don't have primary sources with me here at the office, but Rabbi A. Kaplan in the Living Torah cites to Avodah Zara 36B, Rambam and, Laws of Prohibited Marriages 12:11, and says that the distinction is that the 7 nations are prohibited to marry even if they convert, whereas other non-Jews who convert are permitted, for which he cites Yevamos 76A. Of course, there are the exceptions I mentioned above -- a Kohen cannot marry a convert but can marry the Jewish-born daughter of a convert, and a non-convert cannot marry an Edomite or Egyptian convert or the child of an Edomite or Egyptian convert, but can marry their grandhild.)

As to the yafes toar, is important to remember that the she converts at the end of her 30 days of mourning, before the Jew is permitted to marry her. (See the sources footnoted in Living Torah to those verses.) This is one of the few instances where Jewish law permits involunatary conversion.

In general, remember that according to Orthodox Judaism, the Written Torah (1st 5 books of Tanakh) were given in connection with an Oral Torah that amplifies and explains it. It is impossible to understand the Writtten Torah without the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah is extensively discussed and expounded by the Tannaim and the Amoraim in Medrash and in the Talmud. Rashi is invaluable because his notes to the Written Torah bring the understanding of the Tannaim and Amoraim.
6.4.2009 11:57am
Seamus (mail):

News flash: Person who thinks religion is belief in the "imaginary" doesn't understand who why people who take religion seriously insist on taking it seriously.


Just caught this typo. Sorry about that.
6.4.2009 1:46pm
yankev (mail):

Person who thinks religion is belief in the "imaginary" doesn't understand who why people who take religion seriously insist on taking it seriously.
Very true. And amply demonstrated many times by many people in many threads.
6.4.2009 6:17pm

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