JAP -- Jewish And Passed-over:

The Invisibility of Single Jewish Women in Issues of Intermarriage and Conversion

 

Sonia and Monda Halpern, University of Western Ontario, London, ON Canada

 

 

I am officially declaring a new definition of “JAP,” the well-known acronym for the derogatory label “Jewish American Princess” -- I dub the new phrase “Jewish And Passed-over” (that the term also references a Jewish holiday is merely a brilliant coincidence). As a single Jewish woman in my forties, who has never been married, I began thinking about this term a few years ago while sitting in synagogue one Saturday morning. As I looked around the sanctuary, I noticed that with the exception of the chatty elderly widows behind me (who had already been married), the giggling teenage girls to my left (who were too young to be married), and the self-professed lesbian across the way (who didn’t want to be married), I was the only single Jewish woman there -- and I was alone. But that wasn’t the whole story. Because it was the morning of a Bar Mitzvah, the sanctuary was filled with young to middle-aged couples (who aren’t normally there), and, in virtually all of them, the wife had converted to Judaism. It was this combination of circumstances that prompted me to ask the question: when it comes to Jewish men initially hooking up with non-Jewish women, why does Judaism not seem to care about its single Jewish-born women who are being passed-over?

Once upon a time, these Jewish men fell in love with non-Jewish women, and married them, a problematic phenomenon for single Jewish-born women who want Jewish men. Indeed, whether these non-Jewish women converted before the marriage or not, does not alter the fact that for every non-Jewish woman who got chosen, there was yet another Jewish woman who didn’t (offering another perspective of the phrase “the Chosen People”). While some big-city dwellers may argue that “there are more than enough Jewish men to go around” (as my male cousin from Chicago recently quipped), whatever the exact numbers is really irrelevant -- the more Jewish men marry converts and gentiles, the less chance there is for Jewish-born women to end up with Jewish men -- no matter how you slice it, that’s just a mathematical truism.

This Jewish-man-shortage was acknowledged in a groundbreaking 1980 article by William Novak entitled “Are Good Jewish Men a Vanishing Breed?” 1 Novak stated that “there is a very large group of Jewish women, who are, for all practical purposes, stuck” because “there are, in short, not enough Jewish men to go around. When all the sorting is done, some women are going to be left over, and they will most likely blame themselves, because nobody has bothered to tell them the harsh statistical truth.” 2 Not surprisingly, one reason that Novak cited for the Jewish-man-shortage is the “intermarriage statistic” -- that roughly 25% of American Jewish men who marry will “marry out” 3 -- significantly, within the last 3 decades, this number has doubled. 4 Novak didn’t explicitly acknowledge in his use of the term “marry out” the distinction between men’s choice to marry a non-Jew or to marry a convert-bride, and, of course, from the perspective of the single Jewish-born woman, this doesn’t really matter -- Jewish-born women are being “passed over” in both cases. 5 Indeed, in referencing the act of marrying a convert, renowned historian Jonathan Sarna uses the provocative phrase “intermarriage-in,” suggesting that, for Jewry, intermarriage and marriage to a convert are undeniably related. 6

Jewish men have long been marrying outside the faith in much greater numbers than have Jewish women. 7 Many factors have been “blamed” for this phenomenon, not the least of which are Jewish women themselves. According to the “original” JAP label, Jewish women possess negative traits which run antithetical to qualities attributed to non-Jewish women: Jewish women are complex, non-Jewish women are uncomplicated; Jewish women are threatening and demanding, non-Jewish women are passive and understanding; Jewish women are high-maintenance and materialistic, non-Jewish women are natural and outdoorsy; Jewish women are short and unattractive, non-Jewish women are willowy and blonde. And while stereotypes can be damaging for either group, Jewish-born women seem to have gotten the proverbial short end of this stick. Being typically thought of as sweet, athletic, tall, and beautiful is not one of life’s worst curses.

When the non-Jewish woman converts before marriage, and is welcomed as “part of the tribe” (better that she converts than remain a shiksa), the single Jewish-born woman who has been “passed-over” appears to be deemed irrelevant in this Jewish “success story.” The plight of the single Jewish-born woman who wants to be married to another Jew is quite simply off the Jewish radar screen. In discussing community building, for example, demographer Gary Tobin asserts that “if we rebuild our institutions and organizational network and strengthen Judaism, what difference does it make if someone was born Jewish or becomes Jewish?” 8 In posing this question in which Tobin wishes to downplay distinctions between Jews, he ignores the reality that in “community building” being born Jewish has negative consequences for those women who are losing Jewish men to women who convert.

Let’s face it, despite some people’s “humanistic” desire to emphasize the similarities among people, most Jews and Jewish communities do make the distinction, in one form or another, between born-Jews and converts, regardless of its apparent lack of political correctness. This tendency exists in spite of the fact that, as Jews, we are taught that once non-Jews convert, they are in fact Jewish, and should never be reminded of their convert status. But even core Jewish ritual suggests differently. When a born Jew receives an aliyah, for example, he/she is called to the Torah as the son/daughter of his/her parents. When a convert is called up for an aliyah, however, he/she is cited as the son/daughter of the Biblical patriarchs/matriarchs. Some people may not attach a value judgment to this difference, but, nevertheless, it is a difference that highlights, and reminds us of, their distinctive histories. If the irrelevance of conversion is really a priority for all of Judaism, another manner of aliyot would have been conceived and practiced. The fact of the matter is, whether we like it or not, the Jewish community does want to know who is born a Jew and who isn’t -- if only for the sociological need to categorize appearances, behaviors, and backgrounds -- in order to define the parameters of one’s own group identity, and to “explain away” the characteristics that may diverge from it. Even converts themselves justifiably draw attention to their own conversion in order to underscore their often arduous transition from Christianity to Judaism. To suggest, then, that there is no difference between a born Jew and a convert, in whatever social or religious context, is to undermine the unique experiences of both groups -- and isn’t recognizing this uniqueness the essence of political correctness?

When I discussed with a very wise Rabbi what I saw as some of the problematic implications for Jewish-born women regarding conversion, the Rabbi encouraged me to focus on the gains for Judaism, rather than the losses: “sharing our Judaism doesn’t have to mean we’re giving it away.” This sentiment may certainly hold true for the Jewish-born husband, his family, and some members of the Jewish community who could benefit from the new insights and commitment gained by the convert-bride. Yet, from the single Jewish-born woman’s perspective, the idiom is problematic. If sharing our Judaism means that there is a common good from which we may all benefit, then single Jewish-born women are undoubtedly excluded from this process – indeed, in having to “share” our Jewish men, “giving them away” is precisely what we are doing.

But the single Jewish-born woman has not just been “passed over” by Jewish men -- the recent scholarship regarding intermarriage and conversion also neglects her. The literature would lead us to believe that the experiences of the couple, their families (actually, only his Jewish one), their prospective children, and to some extent the Jewish community as a whole, are the only ones that matter. Entire books, such as Christine Benvenuto’s Shiksa: The Gentile Woman in the Jewish World, for example, are devoted to the experience of the non-Jewish female spouse or the convert-bride within the context of Judaism 9 ; however, no book of which I’m aware gives equal time to the plight of the single Jewish-born woman related to the issues of intermarriage, and conversion and marriage. To her credit, Benvenuto does devote an entire chapter to the tense relationship between non-Jewish and Jewish-born women, acknowledging their “competition” for Jewish men, yet her inclusion of some curiously inappropriate lines (“Jewish women have historically been saddled with the responsibility for Jewish continuity and survival”) prompts me to question her cultural sensitivity. 10

It seems to me that most recent writings devoted to the struggles of the single Jewish-born woman appear in light-hearted forums, thus minimizing the issue’s importance. But in spite of their unscholarly nature, it is still refreshing to see overt references to her neglect. One appears, of all things, as an online relationship-advice column: a young Jewish man ponders marrying outside of his faith, and Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach instructs him against it -- “everytime a Jewish man dates or marries another non-Jewish woman, it leaves another Jewish woman who will never find a Jewish husband” 11 (whether the girlfriend/wife converts or not). In an amusing autobiographical article in Washington Jewish Week, Rabbi Toby Manewith also recognizes that single Jewish-born women are disadvantaged by Jewish men’s decision to marry non-Jews: “what is a single Jewish woman to do?” 12 Thankfully, this piece stops short of emulating many first-person pithy narratives in which the loss of Jewish men to “the shiksa goddess” becomes the source of self-deprecating, defeatist fun. It is merely coincidental that both writings I cite are authored by rabbis, as many rabbis are embroiled in the pervasive politics of outreach, and often, unwittingly or not, contribute to the invisibility of the single Jewish-born woman. 13

The countless serious books and articles on the subject of conversion before marriage, and intermarriage, advocate a multitude of ways to deal with the often challenging experiences and circumstances of the bride and groom, and their families. The outreach movement of Conservative Judaism points to keruv and edud, the practice of maintaining, and acting on, an accepting and welcoming spirit toward the converted spouse or non-Jewish spouse (in the hope that she/he will eventually convert, although there is no expectation to do so). 14 Creating this inclusive climate, the scholarship reassures us, is for the sake of the survival of Judaism: conversion creates more Jews, and intermarriage creates the possibility of more Jews. Gentiles as would-be Jews, the argument goes, are doing Judaism a favour by ultimately increasing its numbers. For future Jewish-born women, then, this would mean a greater pool of potential Jewish husbands. But, in the meantime, single Jewish-born women are being sacrificed to this risky and tenuous numbers game in which “there is no guarantee,” and in which community divisiveness festers. 15 Those Jews who remain unconvinced by the potential long-term benefits of conversion and intermarriage, for example, are routinely characterized by fellow Jews as mean-spirited and narrow-minded, and of impeding Jewish continuity by not seeing “the big picture” -- a manipulative tactic given that Jewish continuity is the very value that these more traditional Jews hold dear. 16

In his well-known and provocative book Opening the Gates: How Proactive Conversion Can Revitalize the Jewish Community, Gary Tobin completely ignores the single Jewish woman’s experience. 17 This is astounding, given that in the first part of the book, he devotes a number of chapters to Judaism’s longstanding hostility toward conversion, and the historic, religious, and emotional reasons for this attitude. Moreover, he asserts that it is non-Jewish women who have comprised the majority of pre-marriage converts, 18 yet he fails to mention that it has been single Jewish-born women who have been directly disadvantaged by female conversion because it has depleted them of Jewish men (thus possibly leading to more intermarriage, which Tobin doesn’t advocate). This is a glaring omission for a series of chapters whose purpose is to present an exhaustive profile of the conventional negative perceptions and outcomes of conversion.

Of course, Tobin discusses the downside of conversion in order to later rebut these views. His thesis is that conversion will strengthen the future of Judaism, so it is essential that Jews be entirely receptive to potential converts in every aspect of Jewish life: “We must move away from conceiving of conversion as a stopgap measure, a last resort if a Jew cannot marry someone who was born Jewish. We must advocate conversion as an equivalent...choice... . 19 For single Jewish-born women who are being “passed-over” in favor of gentile women who convert, this brand of “egalitarianism” is cold comfort.

It seems no coincidence that keruv and edud have been the initiatives of the Conservative movement’s Men’s Clubs. 20 They have organized a variety of programs intended to encourage Jewish identity and continuity in the Jewish community at large. It is clearly in men’s best interest, however, to promote keruv and edud in particular, given that, as already noted, Jewish men have historically married out in significantly greater numbers than have Jewish women. By instituting these programs, the Men’s Clubs have provided for their Jewish brothers a safety net in which to intermarry -- a guarantee, so to speak, that they and their non-Jewish spouses, and potential children, will be welcomed, if not embraced, by the Jewish community. Indeed, keruv and edud are the proverbial “get out of jail free” cards for Jewish men, gifted by Men’s Clubs who, unwittingly or not, sanction the invisibility of Jewish-born women.

What is curious to me, however, is that synagogue Sisterhood groups have also supported these outreach initiatives that serve as a detriment to single Jewish-born women. It appears contradictory to the slogan repeatedly printed in the Conservative movement’s Women’s League’s Outlook Magazine: “Women’s League and Sisterhood -- A Partnership Enriching Jewish Women Worldwide.” 21 While it can certainly be seen as commendable that by supporting keruv and edud, synagogue women’s groups are providing much-needed community support for women who convert to Judaism, this mandate can be regarded as a slap in the face to single Jewish-born women who are disadvantaged by the very group that Sisterhoods are assisting. 22 Furthermore, in the context of the outreach initiatives to intermarrieds, Sisterhood groups are paying more attention to married non-Jewish women than single Jewish women, a focus that is not consistent with their slogan, and which discriminates against the single woman generally. Indeed, with limited resources of money and time, Sisterhoods have relegated single Jewish women to low-priority status in this age of outreach. One can only conclude that with the high rate of intermarriage, aging Sisterhood members, who are typically Jewish-born women with grown children, and long-standing members of congregations, are confronting their own painful issues of intermarried offspring --- women who have the desire and influence to establish, institutionally, a supportive and pragmatic way of coping with their seemingly inevitable circumstances.

In fact, it is often these older Jewish women in particular, who rightly point to the Biblical figure of Ruth as an exemplary female convert in history, and frequently reference her story as an endorsement for modern conversion, even if inadvertently at the expense of single Jewish-born women. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Ruth was a Moabite woman who demonstrated her loyalty to the Jewish people by choosing to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi after her own husband died, a loving gesture which would particularly appeal to modern Jewish mothers-in-law (curiously, we don’t hear much about Naomi’s other converted daughter-in-law, Orpah, who scrammed after her husband died). The implication of Ruth’s story for modern Jewry is that contemporary converts can be equally virtuous. Ironically, however, Jewish women, including feminists, are doing Ruth a great disservice by discussing her in the context of modern conversion. Ruth lived in an age of violent anti-Semitism, and juxtaposing this setting to today’s general climate of liberal multi-culturalism diminishes the significance of her perilous commitment to Jewish life.

While contemporary converts certainly face their own obstacles, unlike Ruth, today’s women tend to benefit socially and economically from conversion. That’s not to say that this is their motivation for converting, but it is certainly a frequent outcome of it. One reason for this, of course, is that female conversion is more often than not connected to marriage, 23 a fact that has an economic impact on Jewish-born women who want to marry Jewish men. Unlike single Jewish-born women, the convert-bride benefits from the resources of Jewish men, who, thanks to the combined forces of male privilege and the financial success of North American Jewry, are typically economically comfortable. This often means that women who convert before marriage raise their economic and social status through the combined act of conversion and marriage, a trend that denies such privilege to Jewish-born women who are passed-over. Though marriage without conversion could also bring non-Jewish women economic security and community, this option is potentially risky, as there are those Jewish men who may opt not to marry the woman who, for whatever reason, does not convert. 24

Some sociological studies have revealed that Jewish women themselves are increasingly marrying out of their faith (a recent trend that has been attributed to Jewish men’s high rate of intermarriage, and thus their lack of availability to Jewish women 25 ); nevertheless, they still generally opt to marry Jewish men. 26 Yet, what has been so disappointing is that as one of these Jewish women who has expressed this preference (for me, it’s not up for debate, but something that just is), I have been criticized for my resolve by my own Jewish community -- better I end up with any man than no man at all, even if he’s not Jewish (my advanced age combined with the likelihood that I will never have children have no doubt contributed to this view, two factors I see as irrelevant in insisting on a Jewish partner). My steadfastness has earned me the reputation for being “discriminatory,” “xenophobic,” “elitist,” “exclusionary,” “and “downright picky.” But if the Jewish community praises the convert who wants to be and marry Jewish, why is my resolve any less admirable?

In the face of the community neglect of single Jewish-born women, it would be easy to dismiss non-Jewish wives and converts as Jewishly insincere, and the men who choose them as self-loathing or unreconciled Jews, but this is neither possible nor desirable. Many of these women are smart, accomplished, lovely people who have contributed to the Jewish community in countless ways, and many of these men identify with and value their Judaism. Furthermore, plenty of these couples have raised beautiful children with strong Jewish identities. My need to acknowledge these many positive attributes only confirms for me that my negative feelings about Jewish men selecting non-Jewish women should not be construed as personal condemnations. Mine are protective feelings for single Jewish-born women who want to marry what’s left of our Jewish men, and for all Jews who want to maintain this tradition.

In recent years, my synagogue has organized a number of events advocating keruv and edud in the context of intermarriage, and I have objected to these initiatives. My protestations, however, have been met with disapproval by proponents of outreach. I have been told, in a somewhat patronizing tone, that “ignoring the issue won’t make it go away,” and have been accused of “sticking my head in the sand.” These responses are unreasonable on a number of levels: first, as this paper suggests, I’m all for discussing the reality of intermarriage, but discussing it is not synonymous with accepting it. This is a significant distinction that is frequently overlooked by outreach advocates. Voicing objection to a synagogue welcoming intermarrieds is in itself an overt position that can hardly be classified as avoidance. Second, organizers have expressed no concern for representing at these events the single Jewish-born woman’s perspective. But any balanced examination of the topic of intermarriage and/or conversion must acknowledge the single Jewish-born woman as an essential component of the discussion - ignoring her existence is sticking one’s head in the sand.

Judaism must be more proactive in educating its communities on the negative consequences of intermarriage and marrying a convert. While some may cringe at the fact that I am lumping together these two circumstances, their ramifications are virtually the same for the single Jewish-born woman who wants to marry Jewish. Through Jewish cultural organizations, synagogue educational programs, rabbinic sermons and articles, and pre-marital and/or conversion counseling, the community, and the couple and their families, need to be made aware of the fact that with outreach mandates such as keruv and edud, there is an entire population of single Jewish-born women whose needs are not being met, or even addressed, by their own Jewish community. 27 It could emulate, for example, the simple practice of Rabbi Boteach who “often asks Jewish men [who want to marry] to think of the many Jewish women who need [Jewish] husbands.” 28 If some Jewish men care enough about Judaism that they want their future wives to become Jewish, then they should care about the women who are already there. And the potential convert, who is, initially at least, typically unaware of her ambiguous place in a Jewish community, should be made to understand her possible impact on the very group that she claims to respect. It is my hope that this article will be an educational tool to help achieve these ends.

As a Jewish community, we revel in weddings, but, as time passes, fewer of them feature Jewish men with Jewish-born brides. And all of Judaism should be alarmed by this trend. Undoubtedly, Jewish leaders who embrace intermarriage and conversion before marriage are doing so in the name of Jewish continuity. But the perspective of the single Jewish-born woman who wants to marry Jewish must be factored into any contemporary religion-based and/or sociological consideration of intermarriage and conversion. Indeed, in this age of outreach, the single Jewish-born woman is given more attention if she marries out than if she wants to marry within. As damaging as the traditional JAP acronym has been for the Jewish-born woman, she has at least been the “princess” who, as part of her riches, acquired her Jewish “prince.” With the new meaning of JAP, however, our single Jewish-and-Passed-over women are no longer princesses, but simply ladies-in-waiting.

 

 

Notes:

 

 

1 William Novak, “Are Good Jewish Men a Vanishing Breed?” Moment, vol.5, no. 2 (January/February 1980). Reprinted in Jewish Marital Status. A Hadassah Study edited by Carol Diament (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1989), pp. 8-19.

2 Ibid., pp. 10-11.

3 Ibid., p. 10. Before the advent of aggressive outreach movements in recent years, other scholars writing in the 1980s and early 1990s also acknowledged that single Jewish women in particular were disadvantaged by the intermarriages of Jewish men. See, for example, Peter Y. Medding, et al. Jewish Identity in Conversionary and Mixed Marriages (New York: American Jewish Committee, Jewish Sociology Papers, 1992), pp. 8-9: “as increasing proportions of Jewish men intermarry, there will be fewer available Jewish males for Jewish women.”

4 Table of “Selected Indicators of World Jewry,” The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute’s Annual Assessment, 2005, in “Assessment of World Jewry,” The Canadian Jewish News (March 2 2006), p. 15. The statistic for the United States is 54%, and 35% for Canada.

5 I coined the expedient term “convert-bride” to denote a woman who converts just prior to marriage as opposed to the person who converts after the fact, and had therefore been part of intermarriage.

6 Jonathan Sarna, “Coping with Intermarriage,” in Jewish Marital Status, a Hadassah Study edited by Carol Diament (Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1989), p. 226. Sarna uses the term “intermarriage-out” to refer to Jews who convert to a non-Jewish religion before or after marriage.

7 There is consensus among virtually every source on this topic that this is the case.

8 Gary Tobin in Allan Brownsfield, editor, “Demographer Urges a Warm Welcome for Converts; Rabbi Opposes Exclusivist Religion,” The American Council for Judaism (May/June 1999). Www.acjna.org/article_view.asp?article_id=189. Retrieved April 11 2006.

9 Christine Benvenuto, Shiksa: The Gentile Woman in the Jewish World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004).

10 Ibid., p. 182 (emphasis mine). Benvenuto condemns the term shiksa by comparing it to the derogatory term “nigger.” This analogy is faulty -- the term shiksa has typically been used by members of a minority group (Jews), and has been directed at members of a majority group (Christians). The term “nigger,” however, has been used by members of a majority group (whites), and directed at members of a minority group (blacks). In the former example, then, it is the historically oppressed group that is using the term, a dynamic we do not see in the latter example. In addition, despite the pejorative connotations of both labels, the comparison is further weakened by the fact that shiksa is gender specific, whereas “nigger” is not, introducing another significant component to the misused analogy. See p. xiv.

11 Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “Kosher Coupling,” p. 2. http://72.14.207.104/search?q=cache:Cu8R7ZfHik4J:www.beliefnet.com/frameset.asp%3. Retrieved April 11 2006.

12 Toby Manewith, “There Goes Another ‘Nice Jewish Boy’ into a High Profile Intermarriage,” Washington Jewish Week (May 2 2002), n.p. E-mailed by author.

13 See, for example, Gary Tobin and Katherine G. Simon, Rabbis Talk about Intermarriage (San Francisco: Institute for Jewish & Community Research, 1999).

14 Although the thesis of my article pertains to Judaism generally, it grows out of contemporary Conservative practice particularly -- unlike many Reform rabbis, Conservative rabbis will not officiate intermarriages; however, most Conservative rabbis are proponents of outreach initiatives, which Orthodox rabbis explicitly reject. See Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Beyond Keruv and Edud: A New Way to Think about Intermarriage, Conversion, and Building Jewish Families (Boston: The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 2005); Al Ha-Derekh: On the Path: A Road map of Approaches, Suggestions and Expectations Offering a Sincere Concern For and Encouragement of Intermarried Families to Become Part of Conservative Judaism (New York: United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 2005). Epstein defines keruv as “to bring close,” and edud as “to encourage and support with passion.” No overt reference is made in either source to the Jewish-born woman (or man) who is “passed-over” by the Jewish spouse.

15 Gary Tobin reluctantly concedes that “there is no guarantee that welcoming converts will work in the long run. Indeed, we may invest hundreds of millions and then billions of dollars in a communal debacle.” He sees this alternative, however, as more constructive than anything Judaism has already done in its attempts to “revitalize the Jewish community.” See Gary A. Tobin, Opening the Gates: How Proactive Conversion Can Revitalize the Jewish Community (San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1999), pp. 186-7.

16 Rela Mintz Geffen, for example, states that in Conservative synagogues, “rules that prevent public…mention of non-Jewish spouses” are “mean.” See “The Intermarriage Dilemma: An Overview,” Women’s League Outlook, vol. 76, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2006), p. 10; Rabbi Jerome Epstein, for example, asserts that “For too long, Jews discouraged non-Jews from seeking to convert. … We can no longer afford that complacency… Not as a movement, a people, or a religion. Not if we truly care about survival” (emphasis mine). See “Edud: A New Approach to Interfaith Outreach,” Women’s League Outlook, vol. 76, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2006), p. 22.

17 Gary A. Tobin, Opening the Gates: How Proactive Conversion Can Revitalize the Jewish Community (San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1999).

18 Ibid., p. 133. This is likely due to the fact that in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, the Jewish status of the mother determines the Jewish status of the children.

19 Ibid., pp. 13-14. Tobin makes no gender distinction here; however, his use of the term “cannot” is more appropriate for a Jewish-born woman than a Jewish-born man, as, statistically, he typically has the greater option to marry Jewish. As such, the term “does not” would be more fitting for him.

20 See Let’s Talk About It. A Book of Support and Guidance for Families Experiencing Intermarriage and for Synagogue Leadership. An Initiative of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, 2003.

21 This slogan appears on the lower right corner of every face page. See, for example, Women’s League Outlook, vol. 76, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 2006). This particular issue also includes a special section entitled “A Movement Conversation,” which consists of 7 articles addressing the topic of outreach to converts and intermarrieds. By contrast, only one article in the magazine focuses on the matchmaking of Jewish singles.

22 Albeit, Sisterhoods, in conforming to their outreach mandate, are attentive to those Jewish-born women who intermarry or marry converts.

23 The author of “A Leap of Faith,” The Clarion-Ledger (September 23 2003) states that “statistics on how many people convert for love are scarce.” In this same article, Philip Goff, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Indiana University, confirms that studies on this topic are indeed scant. See www.convertingtojudaism.com/Celso-News-Clarion.htm. Retrieved June 10 2007. Undoubtedly, this dearth of information on conversion “for marriage” is because, as Gary Tobin asserts, “in the three major denominations – Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform – marriage to a Jew is not a valid reason for conversion.” See Opening the Gates, p. 100, f.n. 2. Nevertheless, my Conservative synagogue is likely indicative of a statistical trend in recent years, in which 90% of the converts have been women, the overwhelming majority of whom enrolled in conversion classes after becoming engaged to a Jewish man, and then converted just prior to marriage. In keeping with the above dictate regarding conversion, however, Rabbis have typically argued that a convert-bride’s desire to convert evolves from her exposure to Judaism, which just happened to come by way of a Jewish partner.

24 As such, the expression “Jew by Choice,” the contemporary term for one who converts, is problematic. It implies that the woman’s act of converting is in fact a personal decision of sovereignty and free will; however, this concept is tenuous. Indeed, according to Rela Mintz Geffen, one reason that more women than men convert is that “men still have more power in [intimate or] marital relationships, so if he feels strongly about religion, she will convert.” So although the woman who converts is often praised for “her decision” to become Jewish, she inhabits a world navigated by a man who might not have married, or stayed with, her otherwise. The meaning of “choice,” then, can become somewhat murky, despite its overly simplistic usage. See Rela Mintz Geffen, “Intermarriage and Conversion,” in Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Volume 1, by Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, eds. (New York: American Jewish Historical Society/Routledge, 1997), p. 672.

25 Sylvia Barack-Fishman, A Breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community (New York: The Free Press, 1993), p. 28.

26 Sylvia Barack-Fishman, “Transformations in the Composition of American Jewish Households,” p. 8, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, http//72.14.207.104/search?q=cache:sKOSgM_QZygJ:www.jcpa.org/cjc/cjc-fishman-f05. Retrieved April 11 2006.

27 Of course, it is imperative that Judaism acknowledge the existence, needs, and contributions of all Jewish women (and men), apart from their marital status.

28 Boteach, p. 2. As a feminist, I would prefer that Boteach employ the term “want” instead of “need,” although I recognize that from an Orthodox point of view, “need” may be the appropriate terminology.

 

Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal Spring 2008 Volume 5 Number 2

ISSN 1209-9392

© 2008 Women in Judaism, Inc.

 



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