Good For The Jews To Drive Them Away?

Andrew Apostolou’s ugly tirade in these pages against Reform Judaism is an embarrassment to Jews. In it, he writes that the Reform movement “undermines Jewish identity and so weakens the Jewish people” and “promotes the exact opposite” of a commitment to “Jewish survival.” Why? Because it allows—now here’s where you gasp and clutch at your pearl necklace—marriage between Jews and non-Jews.

A few disclosures up front: I attend a Reform synagogue, but I don’t really consider myself a Union for Reform Judaism partisan. At my synagogue, the rabbi will perform not only marriages between Jews and non-Jews, but ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. (Perhaps Apostolou might take to his fainting couch for that one, too.) There are things I disagree with there. I’ve argued with the rabbi about the occupation. I’m glad we talk, at least. If something’s wrong with Reform Judaism, it’s that it’s been too timid to have a necessary conversation with its congregants about the occupation.

I write, then, not as a URJ partisan, but rather to contest Apostolou’s fixation with purity as a marker for “Jewish identity,” “Jewish survival,” and the future existence of Israel as a state. I’m just as Jewish now as I was before I married my non-Jewish husband sixteen years ago (today, actually). What I love about Judaism is its inclusivity, its ongoing introspection, its spirited debates, and its commitment to justice—ideals that Jews like me pass on to our Jewish kids, with the whole-hearted support of our non-Jewish spouses. It’s this Judaism that is threatened by unreflective “support” for Israel and by ceding the definition of Judaism to religious fundamentalists, insular nationalists and supporters of the occupation. Israeli clerics aren’t actually threatened by Reform Jews, as Apostolou suggests—their diatribes are pure demagoguery meant to silence dissent and consolidate their own power.

Apostolou’s piece was a reaction to one written by Uri Regev, critical of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s attack on Reform Jews. In his piece, Regev was responding to the public statements of a religious (and, given his position in Israel, political) leader. Apostolou followed with an attack, grotesquely disconnected from the lived reality of actual humans, on rank and file Jews who he accused of nothing short of ethnic self-annihilation.

Intermarriage, he writes, “is bad for American Jews and bad for Israel. The Jewish state needs a vibrant and viable Diaspora—as a partner and source of immigration. That relationship is endangered when the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S. enables assimilation.” Israel’s existence isn’t threatened by American Jews marrying non-Jews. It’s threatened by its own, politically powerful religious fundamentalism, which Apostolou feels compelled to defend from the perceived transgressions of American suburbanites who—horror of all horrors—marry for love. Is it good for the Jews to drive them away? If Apostolou is worried about undermining Judaism, he should read his own words more carefully.