Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The content of their character

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
~MLK

I have a friend, lets call her J. J is white. A few years ago, J married a man who is from India, and is Indian. Her parents did not approve. They didn't come to the wedding, and for a few years were not on speaking terms with J. Not because of the content of her husbands character, but because of the color of his skin.

We have a term for this view. It's called "racism"

Now, leaving behind any emotions about destroying the jewish people, etc. How is her situation any different than mine? My parents, and all the various asshats who don't 'approve' of me marrying B, are not judging our relationship on the basis of his character. They are judging him based on who he happened to be born to. Who his parents are.

You can argue about whether Judaism is a race or not. That's not my point. My point is that if you believe racism is wrong, then how can you think disapproving of my choice of partner on the basis of who his parents are is right? How can disapproval of racism be reconciled with a disapproval of me marrying B? Or should I just assume that anyone who disapproves of our relationship thinks that racism is just fine and dandy?

56 comments:

  1. Of course it's bigotry. It's simply not possible to give a valid secular justification for any identity-based discrimination in marriage. And by secular I mean reality-based.

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  2. I wouldn't refer to it as racism. After all, if B was a sincere convert to Judaism, they'd probably be happy. (Though, as you've mentioned, they weren't thrilled when your first fiancee was a convert, so there is some bigotry.)

    But labels aside, it's a shame they won't meet with him and see him for who he is instead of stereotyping him as the "big bad goy".

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  3. You're missing (or ignoring) a fairly obvious distinction.

    Race and ethnicity are both immutable characteristics-- therefore, it makes no sense to "disapprove" of someone's race.

    Religion, however, is not an immutable characteristic, but a set of beliefs to which a person subscribes (or does not subscribe). B could have converted to your religion (and thus, in theory, eliminated your parents' objections).

    Can you not conceive of a set of beliefs that someone might hold which would make you not want them to marry your child? If you can, then, isn't that the same as what your parents did?

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  4. Yes, but if B had the exact same believes he did, and had jewish parents, my parents would be fine with him. So what's up with that?

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  5. Being Jewish is a tricky thing because it is treated as in some ways a race and in some ways a religion. AE's parents don't care if B joins the religion, AE herself has left the religion. But AE will always be a Jew in terms of race as it is defined by Jews. So they want B to change his race, which is possible to the extent that some, by definition, non-OJ rabbi could send him to bunch of classes and pronounce him a member of the Jew club race and bloodline. Of course, even if AE and B had any interest in B converting - there is no way AE's family would accept B as a Jew anyway, since he would not be eligible for an OJ conversion.

    AE - it is racism in this case - one based on bloodline that you can choose to get adopted into, but race none-the-less. Cause it certainly ain't religion when you are an atheist, right?

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  6. I think the point here is that even if Ms. Eden raised a child who grew up to marry someone with entirely different philosophical or religious beliefs (or was a different race, for that matter) Ms. Eden would certainly try her hardest to get to know that person and to embrace him/her because her child did.

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  7. "Yes, but if B had the exact same believes (sic) he did, and had jewish parents, my parents would be fine with him. So what's up with that?"

    Well, you have me at a disadvantage here, as I do not know your parents. That said, you know "what's up with that." Yes, I oversimplified in characterizing Judaism as a set of beliefs-- that said, my original point about it not being an immutable characteristic still applies (I assume your parents would not approve if B had been born a Jew, but spent his time in a church).

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  8. Good point, Eden! I think there is some racism mixed in with Judaism these days. Although I prefer terms like "discrimination" and "ethnocentrism."

    This point about judging based on what's inside, not what's outside, is so basic, so fundamental to the Jewish worldview. How is it that a whole generation could have missed this?

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  9. "My point is that if you believe racism is wrong, then how can you think disapproving of my choice of partner on the basis of who his parents are is right? How can disapproval of racism be reconciled with a disapproval of me marrying B?"

    Because it's not about his parents - it's about your future children who are in a great deal of threat of dropping off the grid of our collective Jewish legacy.

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  10. It's not racism, exactly, but it's not really that far removed. It's pretty much tribalism. He's not in the tribe (i.e. the extended Jewish family.) The tribe doesn't line up exactly with race -- there are black and Asian Jews, obviously -- but it's a similar enough concept. And it's even more intractable because they think God's on their side.

    And even people like Orthoprax who should know better buy into this nonsense about Jewish continuity. There's no reason whatsoever for a reasonable human being to be torn up over having non-Jewish (let alone Jewish but non-observant) grandchildren. Life's too short for that shit.

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  11. Because it's not about his parents - it's about your future children who are in a great deal of threat of dropping off the grid of our collective Jewish legacy.

    If that is their actual concern, they have a mind-blowingly stupid way of expressing it.

    Because clearly, making themselves hateful to their daughter and ending up completely excluded from the lives of their grandchildren is the right way to be a Jewish influence on the einiklach.

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  12. The fact that most Jewish parents would be incomparably more upset about you marrying a non-Jew than a Jewish Atheist (sorry, I'm taken! ;-) just proves that it's not about the continuity of the religion or the culture. It's the tribe.

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  13. If they would accept B if he were a non-religious Jew, but do not accept him as any sort of non-Jew, religious or otherwise, then that is clearly about who he was born to. Especially since if did accept him, your kids would likely grow up in a religion-friendly environment and from your parents' point of view, be more open to the idea of religion. They may or may not decide to be religious, but they'd have good religious experiences.
    It's hard to say that that is not discrimination, even if you understand their point of view. They may be worried about Jewish continuity, but that doesn't change the fact that they are discriminating against him.

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  14. >How can disapproval of racism be reconciled with a disapproval of me marrying B?

    Because, according to the dictionary I am using Racism is:

    "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race"

    So unless your parents think B is inherently inferior to them, then I don't see how its racist.

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  15. Given that you're not religious it doesn't make a lot of sense. According to halakha your children will be Jewish if you have any, so what's the big deal?

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  16. >And even people like Orthoprax who should know better buy into this nonsense about Jewish continuity.

    Me thinks this is a bit of a touchy subject for JA, hence the "nonsense" part.

    But, I agree, there is a part of "tribal" affiliation. Jews, consider themselves as a sort of large "family," not just a set of beliefs.

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  17. So unless your parents think B is inherently inferior to them, then I don't see how its racist.

    I don't know if they do or don't, but if you want to see that particular ugly belief on full display (along with, to be fair, people rejecting it), look up the "Why Yidden are the Best" thread on the YWN CoffeeRoom.

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  18. >This point about judging based on what's inside, not what's outside, is so basic, so fundamental to the Jewish worldview. How is it that a whole generation could have missed this?

    You are twisting Judaism into your own western liberal version of it. It's about time you just accept Judaism for what it is, and its not what you wish it would be. Remember? the honesty factor?

    In one sense you want them to accept you and your decisions in life, and in the other sense, you enjoy stabbing a knife in its back when they are turned.

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  19. >"Why Yidden are the Best" thread on the YWN CoffeeRoom.

    Sure there are plenty of asses. So what? Every nationality thinks they are better than anyone else. A little national pride is not a problem. I think it obviously CAN and many times DOES go beyond the acceptable.

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  20. this doesnt have to do with better or worse, superiority or inferiority complexes, there is a soul within a Jew that does not exist on the same level by a non-jew. this is what sets us apart and makes us different and non-join'able. G-d has given us free choice to make decisions that will inevitably effect us and our children, and we can decide what to do with that power. The challenge, is to choose wisely.

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  21. And the baseless racist comment of the day goes to:

    "Anonymous" for:

    " there is a soul within a Jew that does not exist on the same level by a non-jew. "

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  22. TO,

    Unfortunately, there is a basis for that view within Judaism. The sages were creatures of their times and they speculated and dabbled in racist ideas as did everyone in the world at that time.

    The problem is that some Jews think that even shorn of the context of era, aggadic teachings within Judaism (as opposed to halachic) should still hold sway today despite their being abhorrent to current standards of human dignity and respect.

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  23. This is not a racism. Maybe your parents look down on Goyim, but majority of Jews do not look down, they just don't want there to be an intermarriage. It is ingrained in us since birth. You can be best friends with them, go into business with them, and so and so, but never marry them.

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  24. JA,

    "And even people like Orthoprax who should know better buy into this nonsense about Jewish continuity. There's no reason whatsoever for a reasonable human being to be torn up over having non-Jewish (let alone Jewish but non-observant) grandchildren."

    You similarly confuse the issue. It isn't about having non-Jewish grandchildren, it's about _not_ having Jewish grandchildren who will be there to carry on the heritage of your people.

    I care a good deal about Judaism. I care enough that I don't want to see it evaporate from the world stage as the likes of intermarriage and Jewish ennui common in non-observant communities encourage.

    "The fact that most Jewish parents would be incomparably more upset about you marrying a non-Jew than a Jewish Atheist (sorry, I'm taken! ;-) just proves that it's not about the continuity of the religion or the culture. It's the tribe."

    It's about *identity* more than anything else - which is something even Jewish atheists share. And Jewish identity can't hardly exist without the natural referent to Judaism. A Jew who knows he is a Jew is far more likely to be curious of his roots than one who is totally ignorant. Marrying out often represents a very sharp break from the community and the heritage.


    Dave,

    "If that is their actual concern, they have a mind-blowingly stupid way of expressing it.
    Because clearly, making themselves hateful to their daughter and ending up completely excluded from the lives of their grandchildren is the right way to be a Jewish influence on the einiklach."

    That's a fair point, but the question is then just one of policy and not of attitude. Just a generation or two ago intermarriage was very uncommon and therefore it was good community policy to harshly penalize the few who did intermarry. For those few to have done so back then likely meant that they had an extremely uncaring position towards Judaism and their children were likely to be lost no matter what. A harsh line kept bailers to a minimum.

    Today the situation is different and intermarriage is extremely common. It may be more appropriate as a matter of policy to be more accepting - not of the deed - but pragmatically in order to perhaps encourage their next generation to be more involved and enthusiastic.

    I leave it as an open question.

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  25. Are you prepared to honestly say that if you and B have a child and that child decides to marry a charedi Jew that you will welcome him into your family?

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  26. if my child decided to marry a charedi jew of course I would welcome him or her into my house (although they might not want to come into my house). I would probably have some concerns about their views on life, especially if their views caused my child to not talk to me or something, but I would try to get to know them first before automatically assuming they had those views.

    Maybe my ideas about childraising will change once I actually have a child, but I can't ever imagine cutting a child off or not welcoming their partner into my home no matter who they are, especially after the way my parents have treated me. Maybe if their partner was a heroin dealer and dealing heroin to my child I would have a problem, but I can't imagine any other situation in which I would absolutely refuse to let them into my house.

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  27. Orthoprax:

    So what makes Jewish "identity" fundamentally different from White "identity?" Is it just that Jews are a smaller group?

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  28. JA - jewish identity is the handing down of a belief system (Torah).

    "White" identity is just something redneck-ish.

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  29. AE:Maybe my ideas about childraising will change once I actually have a child, but I can't ever imagine cutting a child off or not welcoming their partner into my home no matter who they are, especially after the way my parents have treated me.

    I assure you, they won't.

    DYS - I know what you are saying, but I think that it is a racist notion that some Jews have.

    Anon:JA - jewish identity is the handing down of a belief system (Torah).

    Anon,
    Wrong. By any Jewish definition, AE, JA and I are all Jews. And it has nothing to do with religion anymore. It is a bloodline that one can be adopted into and yet still never be accepted as a full member of the tribe.

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  30. Tikun: I had meant that Jewish identity is not like "white" identity, not at all.

    Jewish identity says exactly what it is: someone who *identifies* with being Jewish, and what it entails. Jewish does not equal Jewish identity, I beleieve

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  31. JA,

    "So what makes Jewish "identity" fundamentally different from White "identity?" Is it just that Jews are a smaller group?"

    Are you so far removed from your people that you really cannot answer that question on your own?

    Jewish identity is founded on the beliefs, values, history and practices of the Jewish people - a unique religio-cultural entity on Earth. In comparison, there is nothing that one could identify as "white culture" or "white religion." The only thing people of "white identity" have in common is literally their skin color.

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  32. Jewish Atheist, yes Jews are a smaller group and therefore have a common culture, history, religion. White identity means a common white history, culture, and religion. Well actually western culture, christianity and european history satisfy all three. White Identity is different from Jewish Identity in that it goes further than judaism in placing borders between the outsiders and the insiders. Judaism only requires that you don't marry the outsiders. White Identity would require that you don't allow outsiders to eat in your restaurants, study in your schools etc.
    At the same time, the Orthodox version of Judaism which does draw such a boundary between the outside group and the in group does sound like a form of racism but it's a very friendly and peaceful version of racism.

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  33. you dont need to "feel" jewish or identify with your religion, or have a jewish identity to be considered jewish. It doesnt matter what you think or feel or wish you could create or erase in a hypothetical reality! If you have a jewish mother you are Jewish, thats it, its that simple.
    AE youre Jewish and youll always be.
    (be proud)
    If you choose to act Jewish-ly is another matter completely.

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  34. Forget all the bullshit lip-flapping. What this is all about is who your friends are. You have non-Jewish friends. People like your parents, and all the religious apologists on this blog, don't. That's the root of your different philosophies. It's not rational. It's Hume-an.

    What Jews need is to start talking more to non-Jews. Making friends with them. And in fact, that's exactly what's happening. As Jews, we are far better for it. Far, far better.

    Who knows, we might actually learn a thing or two about what Judaism actually means and says if we let go of this community bullshit.

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  35. There are a couple possibilities.

    People who disapprove of your choice may in fact be racist. Many DO think that B. is inferior. Many more Jews probably have the more nuanced position that you are better than him (due to your Jewishness).

    Other people who disapprove of your choice may simply be trying to punish you for having a different opinion about what it means to be Jewish and what your obligations are to the Jewish community.

    In my opinion it's ultimately all just tribal bullshit. People don't think it through. Some part of their neanderthal brain just goes ape-shit about this stuff.

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  36. CM,

    "Forget all the bullshit lip-flapping. What this is all about is who your friends are. You have non-Jewish friends. People like your parents, and all the religious apologists on this blog, don't. That's the root of your different philosophies."

    Wow. That's as fact-based an argument as we might get out of the likes of Jacob Stein.

    I should not even have to recognize your baseless assertions as anything more than worthless, but all the same - I do have non-Jewish friends and I feel the way I feel for the reasons I gave.

    But don't you worry about winning on the merits, eh? Must be easier to just ad hominem it all from the hip and call everyone racist.

    "Who knows, we might actually learn a thing or two about what Judaism actually means and says if we let go of this community bullshit."

    Sure. Your kids can be your own personal experiment. Want to take odds?

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  37. considering that most of my family and old friends are not religious I could tell you that they all have none-Jewish friends, but if you asked them, most will say that intermarriage is wrong. Actually, I could count on one hand those who don't see it as anything wrong.

    At the same time, as soon as one of them gets engaged to a goy/shiksa, they immediately change their tune. If that engagement or marriage go sour, suddenly they are back to being against intermarriage. Only this time they are siting reasons from personal experience.

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  38. I'm not sure I'd call it racism. If your fiance were a black Jew, I'm guessing your parents would be fine with your marriage (and if they wouldn't, that would be racist).

    This sounds unintuitive, but your parents love you and want you hold on to your heritage. With your marriage to B., there is no chance of that. If you married a Jewish guy, even if you were both atheists, at least the foundations of your faith would be there by birth. Barely, but they would be there. If B. were born Jewish, the option for returning to Judaism is there.

    It's not a question of B. being tainted or inferior. If Jews believed that, we would not have the institution of conversion. After all, true racists would never believe that a person could "cleanse" themselves of their skin color. They believe that you are what you are born with.

    Since B. doesn't believe in Judaism (as you don't, which is one of the reasons you well-suited in getting married), conversion is out of the question. So your marriage to B. will effectively cut you off from your heritage. The only string left connecting you to a Jewish future is that your kids will always be Jewish. It's a thin string.

    I understand your anger at your parents' rejection (sort of). But you can't call it racism.

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  39. Perhaps not wanting that your child marries a non-jew (because he is not jewish) is not racist in the strict sense of term, since the jewish people is generally not considered a race (except by the nazis).

    On the other hand, it still goes the "Universal declaration of human rights", which says that no human being should be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, etc...

    So there is obviously a contradiction between halacha and some of the basic values of our time. And I am sure that this is not the only one.

    So abandoning eden is perfectly right in pointing out that this is racism or something very similar to racism.

    On the other hand: halakha never said it wanted to be compatible with the universal declaration of human rights...
    ...it's just us "modern-orthodox" jews who would like it to be.

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  40. I would look at this topic from another direction. What obligation does a parent have, that requires them to approve or disapprove the choice of spouse their children choose.

    Did the parents approve everything till now, that disagreeing with the marriage is a problem? Or are we looking make a statement that the parents approve the marriage?

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  43. You're basically saying the Torah is racist. I don't have a problem with that, I'm just saying....

    The Torah says its a sin to convert out of Judaism and to intermarry. That means religious adherence over true love. sounds close-minded to me, but that's how they roll.

    being an Ohr lagoyim, and world religious tolerance seems to take a back seat to resistance to assimilation and communal religious adherence in the MO world. It is what it is.

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  44. It's not a question of B. being tainted or inferior. If Jews believed that, we would not have the institution of conversion. After all, true racists would never believe that a person could "cleanse" themselves of their skin color.

    No, I've had people tell me that conversion has a spiritual and physical change to make the ger "truly Jewish".

    So acceptance of conversion does not preclude racism. You just have to add some unusual metaphysics to your beliefs.

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  45. Dave, I disagree. A real racist doesn't believe that "inferior" races can change. It's hard to think of an equivalent example, but let's say a black person took a pill that completely bleached out their skin, wouldn't a KKK'er would still consider that person a n----r? Judaism, on the other hand, embraces converts. A true racist wouldn't be appeased at the idea of reinventing yourself as a Jew.

    That's not to say that some Jewish individuals might not feel differently, and yes, that would make them racists. If you can't look at a converted Jew as an MOT, you've got a problem.

    I think the real litmus test is the idea of black or Asian Jews. I would be totally good with my future kids marrying a Jewish person who was black or Chinese. I honestly wouldn't blink. I would sit shiva for my kid if he/she married a non-Jew. I would still love them, but it would change everything. It's not racist. It's a totally different type of thing.

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  46. Shoshi,

    "On the other hand, it still goes the "Universal declaration of human rights", which says that no human being should be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, etc..."

    Where does it say that? It doesn't. Is the Catholic Church permitted to discriminate by religion for who gets to be Pope? Of course.

    Individuals can certainly discriminate by all sorts of things when deciding on a mate. In fact, it's more justifiable to marry someone based on their background, national identity or belief system than by how physically attractive they are.

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  47. "I can't ever imagine cutting a child off"
    I can't imagine that either, Eden. Your parents simply don't know what love is about. Since they would only be happy if you live your life the way they want you to live it, I'm not sure they really understand the concept of free will either.
    The pain they are causing you can't be excused by any God that I'd ever care to worship.

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  48. >People like your parents, and all the religious apologists on this blog, don't.

    Candyman

    You are like the charedi version of skeptics.

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  49. CM: " Forget all the bull**** lip-flapping. What this is all about is who your friends are. You have non-Jewish friends. People like your parents, and all the religious apologists on this blog, don't. That's the root of your different philosophies. It's not rational. It's Hume-an."

    Your comment makes no sense whatsoever. You are assuming that all the people here who hold a certain opinion do not have non jewish friends. That's pretty naive.

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  50. As a person commenting here, I just wanted to mention, I am not OJ and I have non-Jewish friends. So I am one here. I have a good feeling that JA would make 2.

    Just wanted to say that marrying someone not Jewish does not, by definition, mean that you are cutting all ties to your Jewish heritage if that is what you choose. There are countless families that light Menorahs and have a tree, support Israel, have seders, send their children to Hebrew school, make bar mitzvahs, etc. while also celebrating the heritage and traditions of the other parent.

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  51. It's not racism, it's bigotry. Jews are not a race. We come in all colors of the human fleshtone rainbow. I agree that J's parents were racist (?) (Is Indian even a race? Race is such a bullshit term. No time to hate or divide; the world has enough of that, already). It was very head up ass, but at least she learned what her family's really like. She seems happier in her current relationship, though, not being close with her, I can't say for sure. Sorry for getting all semanticsy with you. You can cry anti-semantic, if you want. lol

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  52. genetic diseases and nomadic inbreeding aside, if Jews were a race, conversion to Judaism would NOT be possible, period.

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  53. Orthoprax:

    You are right in the sense that the non-discrimination clause in the Universal declaration of Human rights is first and foremost for governments. Governments cannot refuse you a position just because you belong to a certain race or religious community.

    However, this non-discrimination also became an important part of "western values", and as Abandoning Eden rigthly points out, it is not very acceptable nowadays to refuse a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law on the sole ground of race or religion.

    And she is also right in pointing out the parallels between her case and the indian's case.

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  54. Shoshi,

    "However, this non-discrimination also became an important part of "western values", and as Abandoning Eden rigthly points out, it is not very acceptable nowadays to refuse a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law on the sole ground of race or religion."

    But it is perfectly acceptable for one to reject a person of another religion as a spouse. It's only not ok for parents to do the rejecting because western values launch the individual interests over their parents. Rightly so, I think, but parents still have the full privilege to register their disapproval anyway.

    "And she is also right in pointing out the parallels between her case and the indian's case."

    No, she wasn't. In her post she likened them similar strictly because of racial reasons, which is false. Her parents probably don't care all that much who his parents are if he was interested in converting.

    Surgery and butchery may also appear to be very similar but their goals and purposes are quite different.

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  55. Well, Abandoning Eden said that her parents didn't like a Ger either...
    which is quite funny from today's point of view: They didn't want their daughter to marry a ger, so she marries someone who is not a ger...

    .. so they got what they wanted, didn't they?

    By the way: many jews are very racist as far as shidduchim are concerned. I know sufficient ashkenasim who reject sefaradim as potential spouses or sons/daughters in law.

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  56. From the perspective of Judaism, intermarriage is not a problem, it is a symptom of lack of belief/observance. The depth of commitment required to observe the mitzvot preclude intermarriage (if you had strong enough beliefs to keep kosher, shabbat, taharat mishpacha, etc, intermarriage would not even be under consideration).

    Your parents are not mourning the intermarriage per se, only the finality of your decision. If you had 'accidentally' married someone who was technically Jewish it would merely keep the hope for keiruv alive.

    Religions looking down on intermarriage may be 'bigotry', but is in a sense required by definition. If one's faith proscribes certain beliefs and actions required to be a good person, then it would be total cognitive dissonance to accept a spouse who does not follow that path.

    If Judaism were merely cultural, then the desire to keep marriages in the faith makes as little sense in a PC world as if Italian parents were to object to Japanese in-laws because of lack of appreciation for Grandma's meatballs. This is why the non-orthodox mainstream (culturaly) Jewish fight against intermarriage is a joke.

    When it comes down to it, the belief that God gave you a bunch of rules to follow is un-PC enough that the un-PC behavior suggested by those rules seems moot. Your parents faith in what they believe in is strong enough that they are acting as they think they should when faced with your rebellion. Even an Atheist would have to admit that IF there was a God that created the universe and could provide the path to true betterment, that path should be followed.

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