Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Tragic Price of Romantic Autonomy

I'm still trying to organize my thoughts about the recent, hopefully settled, RCA-Rabbanut spat over conversion. One aspect of the issue to which not enough attention has been paid, is the often excruciating experiences of children born to intermarried couples, who now wish to rejoin the Jewish people. I've recently had occasion to encounter a number of these, and it's heartbreaking to see the kind of angst they undergo. I'm speaking of the pain and suffering imposed, needlessly, upon children as a result of the deeds of the parents. Time has shown that people need to belong. One can't, as Sartre put it, love humanity but no one in particular. One pays a very heavy price to belong to everyone. True, everyone is entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What, however,when that happiness causes suffering to others? Or, put differently, at what juncture does the cult of romantic love become nothing more than egotistical self-indulgence?

Reading Sana Krasikov's review of Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales From Interfaith Homes in the latest Forward brought home this very sad aspect of the problem (not to mention the ongoing self-immolation of American Jewry, but that's another issue). For example, at one point, Krasikov (a very talented writer, by the way) observes:

The more common feelings are those of confusion and embitterment, especially at efforts to explore one's Jewish identity, and at finding that one's claims to it are treated with skepticism by practicing Jews. For others, even the early knowledge of their parents' union not being recognized by a family rabbi is a sore memory of rejection. But the deeper frustration is not simply one of being rejected by "real" Jews, but of being forced to choose at all.

Which brings us back to the rabbis....Should (and I ask this without any clear answer on my part) the rectification of an historical wrong be a factor in the conversion policy of the Orthodox rabbinate? There are many such cases: Communist Oppression (Russian Jews), the Spanish Inquisition (Bene ha-Anussim), the Assyrian Destruction of the Biblical Kingdom of Israel (Bene Menashe and others), and the massive intermarriage that eats away at Western Jewry.

Food for thought.


sham,sham. said...

No answers here either, just to say I found this post to be extremely interesting and thought -provoking.Thanks.

Laurel said...

Thank you for bringing this up. I've spent the last 3 months talking about little besides intermarraige, and the last 2 years thinking about it a lot. This historical aspect is a new thing for me to consider. Thank you!!!!

Laurel Snyder
ed. Half/Life