In Defense of In-Marriage, Community, and Particularism

Aug. 21 2018

In May, Michael Chabon, known primarily as a writer of fiction, gave a commencement address at Hebrew Union College in which he attacked particularism in all of its forms, the Jewish prohibition on intermarriage, and the Jews of Hebron, proclaiming his own disillusionment with Judaism altogether. Chaim Strauchler and David Wolkenfeld respond:

The absence (or the vilification) of identity is self-defeating. If you want to be a good universalist, you need to have a solid and particular identity. Judaism has done this throughout its history. Judaism has something to teach the world at a moment when so much political debate surrounds borders and the interface between particular and universal identities: [at its best], religion helps people discover the humanity of those on the other side of its boundaries. . . [I]t can be easy to find refuge in Chabon’s facile diagnosis: all boundaries that distinguish between and among people are artificial and deleterious. Chabon suggests that Jewish in-marriage creates a “ghetto of two.” . . .

In truth, in-marriage is a battle against a much more restrictive ghetto—the “ghetto of one” that increasingly characterizes 21st-century life, with its associated selfishness, indulgence of narcissism, and concomitant loneliness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revealed that since 1999 suicide rates across most ethnic and age groups in the United States are up 25 percent. Loneliness, depression, and feelings of despair beset so many people in our atomized world. . . . Marriage, family, community, and peoplehood (as well as proper medical care) are tools in helping people find meaning and purpose so that they may overcome what ails them. Religion provides the institutional and social structure for a life of meaning and purpose.

As rabbis who work with couples in preparation for their marriages and afterward, we believe that Chabon fails to understand the true meaning of marriage. Every marriage, no matter the religious identity of its parts, is a ghetto of two. Ghettos exclude. Marriages exclude. Each couple has its own special memories and its own secret language; this is a feature and not a bug of marriage. Marriages build the souls of those who are supported by loving lifelong companionship. Shared values make this more possible. Marriages are a [microcosm of] what community can achieve in freeing us from the prison of ourselves—the ghetto of one—in which selfishness and judgment destroy our ability to love and be loved. . . .

[Of course, it’s necessary to] have content and meaning in Jewish life other than simple perpetuation. . . . If the only Jewish value that is important is marrying someone Jewish, then that indeed ought to be questioned. In modern North America, Jewish continuity for its own sake, without any content, will not perpetuate itself—in this, Chabon is right.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Intermarriage, Jewish marriage, Judaism, Particularism, Religion & Holidays


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria