Sunday 1 August 2010

And so, another Jewish man marries out. Clearly, a Jewish husband is the lastest must-have accessory. Ivanka got hers last year, Chelesa did yesterday and there's a slew of pretty It-girls with Jewish boyfriends hoping that he'll turn into that nerdy-yet sexy, dependable Jewish husband. It would be churlish not to wish Chelsea and Marc mazal tov on their wedding, but quite frankly, all the self-congratulations about this union signalling the ultimate acceptance of 'The Jew' leaves me cold.

I'm worried about all the single Jewish women. There's a glut of single Jewish women who would prefer to marry a Jewish man, but they've all been taken by the waspy girl-next-door. And when that waspy girl wants to convert, well then every celebrity rabbi is elbowing her way forward to become the spiritual mentor of the moment.

All this makes me even more despondent about the situation facing single Jewish women, particularly those in the Orthodox community. But here's where I am going to make myself really unpopular - the number of women converts far exceeds male converts and these women converts are encroaching on the local home grown talent, taking away potential husbands for the women in their 30s and 40s who have been searching for a suitable mate for so long. It's very disheartening for these women to watch what happens when a woman converts and within a few months is married to a local fellow. I say this tentatively and with respect, for we are obliged to welcome the converts and the tremendous sacrifices they make, particularly given the demands of London's notoriously rigorous Beth Din are very impressive. And of course, we're all familiar with the convert who eventually dumps her Jewish boyfriend because he is not frum enough for her - it's usually enough to make him run into the arms of the nearest shiksa.

The only solution I can come up with is a proactive campaign to convert more non-Jewish men. It's hardly a new idea but someone has to take the lead in enticing all those interesting non-Jewish men in our workplaces to explore the benefits of converting. And maybe it doesn't even have to be a halachic conversion: recently I saw the term 'sociological converstion' whereby people are absorbing the social mores and values of a Jewish lifestyle without confining themselves to a rabbinical conversion.

Of course, it's not ideal, but it could prove an option for men and a solution for women as the halachic status of ensuing children will not be compromised. And in a reversal of many other cultures where boys are prized over births, Jews will always be relieved if a daughter is born – it’s an halachic assurance of Jewish grandchildren no matter what reckless decisions her mother makes.


  1. Not to discredit the threat of intermarriage, it's the greatest internal threat we face, but I think your ideas are a little flawed. We've never been a proselytizing people. Look at Christianity and Islam, not only spread by a sword but by selling a religion to save non believers. We're neither of those people, and to reduce Judaism to something which can be bought into with anything less than total devotion is self defeating. Converts are vital to Judaism because of their passion and commitment, not because they're numerous.
    What happens when there are too many men after we put the advert in the Times for men to apply at their local shul? More women this time? I'm no economist but Judaism should stay outside the realms of supply and demand. We're a religion, not a commodity, and our dignified position on conversion shouldn't change, along with any of out values, unless completely, utterly necessary.

  2. Thanks Zack for your thoughtful post. I know my ideas are fairly impractical - I was merely trying to put something out there that could be discussed. I think perhaps your flaw is to assume that there is no sociological lifestyle dimension to Judaism that is somewhat devoid of spiritual content. Does it make Judaism less worty?

  3. I think is what you're saying is that there's a cultural Judaism with no link to the spiritual (i.e. to God). To that I could easily agree, many people out there identify with smoked salmon but not shabbat, and to them being Jewish might be a very occasional infringement on life.

    This isn't at all a reason to change how we go about conversion. While people differ hugely in religious observance the laws themselves don't change. If nobody kept Shabbat we wouldn't suddenly be exempt from keeping it. By that logic we can't convert somebody who likes the idea of a seder but hates the idea of kashrut simply because Jews out there identify with that notion. I don't think it is a flaw to conclude this.

    When somebody converts, they not only become a part of our people all the baggage we come with. Most significantly, they sign on the dotted line to the contract of Jewish Law set out by God (and fiddled by rabbis). This doesn't mean that it's suddenly OK for the gates to Judaism to be dictated by a love of sarcasm, guilt and chicken soup but not agreeing to give up working on Saturday and wearing that lovely wool and linen jacket.
    Society and culture change but we keep by the same values as always. A conversion can be annulled in some cases of the convert clearly having not accepted Jewish observance. Would a 'cultural conversion' have to be reversed if we found out they actually got on pretty well with the mother in law and didn't like chopped herring?