Will Bill Clinton’s grandchildren be Jewish?

That’s anyone guess, but in the meantime we must find ways to keep the fading Jewish spark in America from being extinguished completely.

August 11, 2010 22:01
4 minute read.
Chelsea Clinton wedding

Chelsea Wedding 3 465. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Chelsea Clinton’s recent nuptials have caused quite a stir. When the Methodist daughter of the former US president stepped under a huppa (Jewish wedding canopy) recently to wed Marc Mezvinsky, the couple’s relatives and friends weren’t the only ones who decided to celebrate.

From New York to Israel, a range of public figures practically kvelled over the mixed matrimonial, gushing with excitement at the sight of a Jew bedecked with a yarmulke and tallit (prayer shawl) winning the hand of the young political princess.

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“I envy Chelsea and Marc,” Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk wrote on Ynet. “Dear Chelsea and Marc were wed without their history being erased; their royal wedding featured a priest and a rabbi,” he cooed.

Kaniuk’s reaction was typical of many who sought to view this wedding in Disney-esque terms, as though a fairy tale had come to life straight from the pages of People magazine.

Other observers took a different tack, seeking to imbue this decidedly human union with nothing less than cosmic Jewish significance.

We should “celebrate the full acceptance of Jews by the larger society that this marriage represents,” Hebrew Union College sociologist Steven Cohen told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, as though the ghetto walls had finally come crashing down together with the glass that was broken at the end of the ceremony.

A no-less sweeping assessment was provided by Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University. Mustering all the understated detachment at his disposal, he pronounced it to be “a golden age for Jews in America.”

“It shouldn’t surprise us,” he added helpfully, “that the daughter of a former president and the daughter of the secretary of state marries a Jewish man she has known much of her life.”

Indeed it shouldn’t. And that, perhaps, is precisely the problem.

For amid all the exhilaration of seeing “one of our own” breaking into a very exclusive club once off-limits to “those of the Hebrew faith,” a few important and far less stirring facts have been blatantly overlooked.

TO BEGIN with, this was an intermarriage, for God’s sake! Never mind that both sides are long-standing Democrats. After 3,000 years of loyally marrying within the fold, a young Jewish man has tossed aside his family’s – and our people’s chain of tradition and married outside the faith.

And he did so by appropriating the ultimate symbols of Jewish fidelity – a yarmulke, a tallit, a huppa – even as he trampled on everything which those symbols represent.

Is this really something to celebrate?

This marriage may signify that American Jews have “made it,” but it also underlines just how many are leaving it, too.

According to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, a whopping 47% of marriages involving a Jew were intermarriages. Forty years ago, the figure was just 13%.

And there is little reason to believe that the rate has not continued to accelerate, threatening to decimate the ranks of one of the largest Jewish populations on the planet.

The doors of entry into American society have also become paths of exit for growing numbers of young Jews.

Just consider the irony in the fact that the rabbi who officiated at the ceremony heads something called the Center for Jewish Life at Yale University.

Just what kind of “Jewish life” is he promoting by standing together with a Methodist minister and presiding over a break with Jewish tradition? The fact is that the publicity given to the wedding, and the photos of the young intermarried couple, only serves to further legitimize and popularize this increasingly dangerous trend.

The participation of a rabbi lends credence to the act itself, and constitutes a disgraceful sullying of our heritage.

Sure, I know what some of you think: intermarriage is a fact whether we like it or not, so we may as well accept it.

But that is simply a recipe for Jewish extinction, dissolution, diminution and demise.

We must do everything in our power to resist and prevent intermarriages from occurring because they threaten the very existence of the Jewish people. We must also project unbending opposition to it at every possible turn, lest it come to be perceived as just another viable option for young Jews.

As for those who have already intermarried, or will do so in the future, a way must be found to reach out to them without compromising the integrity of Jewish law and values. We cannot simply write them off , even if they themselves seemingly wish to do so.

There are plenty of latter-day rabbinical authorities who, while firmly denouncing intermarriage, nonetheless sought ways to bring the intermarried back into the fold. These include such luminaries as Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski and the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel.

A number of these sages recognize the children of intermarried couples as zera yisrael – the “seed of Israel” – who, while not considered to be Jewish, nonetheless warrant our active outreach lest they be lost to our people forever.

That is where we must focus renewed efforts.

Of course, whether Bill Clinton’s grandchildren from Chelsea and Marc Mezvinsky will end up being Jewish is anybody’s guess. But instead of wasting precious time and energy marveling at the nuptials, let’s start finding ways to keep the fading Jewish spark in America from being completely extinguished

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