A question came to mind after listening to recent high profile news story, that may closely parallel a key “Jewish Value” drilled down by our parents, "you can be friends with non-Jews, but you can’t date them". Can this be interpreted as racism? Is this cause for non-Jews to hate Jews?
To answer your second question first: Anyone who hates Jews should not want to marry one.
Standing up for one's principles is usually applauded. Intermarriage is not condoned by any religion. When a Jew tells a non-Jewish person, I will not date you because you are not Jewish, it sends a very powerful message to everyone that this Jewish person has a strong identity, knows who they are, and does not compromise their values.
So, this is not racism or any other form of prejudice. A racist would not play with them either.
This question raises another tenent of our religion. A person is Jewish if their mother is Jewish or they converted properly. It does not matter their race, country of origin or anything else. Such a person is a full fledged Jew and would be welcome into any union with another Jew.
The Torah prohibits intermarriage from the verse in Deuteronomy, "You may not marry them," them in that instance referring to the surrounding peoples. Rabbinic authorities expanded this verse to be a blanket prohibition against intermarriage. By contrast, social connections with non-Jews have a far more open and positive history. It is clear from the Meiri, for example, in the late middle ages, that Jewish and Christian communities interacted socially and in positive ways including but not limited to business. We know enough history of the Golden Age of Spain to again see an era in which Jews and Muslims interacted in business, in thought, and socially, even including drinking parties and poetry. Our era similarly is one of great social openness in which friendships to non-Jews are part of the culture and ought to be encouraged.
Dating, however, raises a different set of concerns if one wants to hold onto spiritual and cultural identity. While there are some voices within Judiasm that are genuinely racist, and that perceive of non-Jews as less than Jews, my own sense is of a tradition that sees in-marriage as a means of preservation. We as Jews have something critical to say to the world, and sustaining Jewish families is a key way of carrying that message of blessing into the future.
I do not believe it to be inherently racist, nor a reason for non-Jews to hate Jews.
I don’t believe that the sentiment “don’t date non-Jews” is racist, or it doesn’t have to be. According to one dictionary, racism is “prejudice or discrimination against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” I think the last phrase is key. I would suggest that the vast majority of parents who drill this “marry a Jew” sentiment into their children do not do so because they think Jews are somehow a superior race. Rather, I imagine it’s an expression of their attachment to an ethnic heritage that they want to continue being passed down to the next generation. To put it simply, they want their grandchildren to be Jews.
It may come off as racist to a younger generation because of a generation gap in how we define Jewish identity. Indeed, underlying your question is a profound issue of defining Jewishness. Is it primarily an ethnic heritage, or a values-based aspirational commitment? These are not mutually exclusive, of course, but the distinction needs to be teased out to fully answer your question. A parent who demands “marry a Jew” may be primarily an ethnically identifying Jew; the adult child who resists this sentiment is probably not, feeling that Jews are just like other people and wondering why these labels should matter.
But even for “aspirational” Jews, for whom ethnicity is not the primary foundation of Jewish identity, there can be a basis for preferring their children marry (and therefore date) Jews. If they believe in a set of Jewish values and rituals, and they want that way of life with its moral teachings passed on to their grandchildren, then they might make a similar demand. More and more, however, I experience parents welcoming their child’s non-Jewish spouse and supporting the “interfaith” couple in creating a Jewish home with Jewish children. Our sociological realities are changing dramatically, but the way we understand and speak about it is lagging.
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