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.

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Read more at Commentary

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

 

The Significance of Mahmoud Abbas’s Holocaust Denial

Aug. 19 2022

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, during an official visit to Berlin, gave a joint press conference with the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, where he was asked by a journalist if he would apologize for the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (The relationship between the group that carried out the massacre and Abbas’s Fatah party remains murky.) Abbas instead responded by ranting about the “50 Holocausts” perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Stephen Pollard comments:

Scholz’s response to that? He shook Abbas’s hand and ended the press conference.

Reading yet another column pointing out that Scholz is a dunderhead isn’t, I grant you, the most useful of ways to spend an August afternoon, so let’s leave the German chancellor there, save to say that he eventually issued a statement hours later, after an eruption of fury from his fellow countrymen, saying that “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For us Germans in particular, any trivialization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.” Which only goes to show that late is actually no better than never.

The real issue, in Pollard’s view, is the West’s willful blindness about Abbas, who wrote a doctoral thesis at a Soviet university blaming “Zionists” for the Holocaust and claiming that a mere million Jews were killed by the Nazis—notions he has reiterated publicly as recently as 2013.

On Wednesday, [Abbas] “clarified” his remarks in Berlin, saying that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.” Credulous fools have again ignored what Abbas actually means by that.

It’s time we stopped projecting what we want Abbas to be and focused on what he actually is, using his own words. In a speech in 2018 he informed us that Israel is a “colonialist project that had nothing to do with Judaism”—to such an extent that European Jews chose to stay in their homes and be murdered rather than live in Palestine. Do I have to point out the moral degeneracy of such a proposition? It would seem so, given the persistent refusal of so many to take Abbas for what he actually is.

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Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Anti-Semitism, Germany, Holocaust denial, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority