Thursday, June 15, 2006

Poo Poo Poo... It Happens

Why is it that women and men who are incapable of communicating the values of Jewish life to their children, and in particular the virtue of marrying someone Jewish, are on JDate seeking a Jewish mate? It’s a bit complicated. For one thing, the failure to transmit values is not absolute. Some values are transmitted, others not. The value of higher education, for example, outlives the prohibition against exogamous marriages, though even this almost sacred value eventually disappears. The iron law of intermarriage is: when you intermarry, eventually your offspring, whether children or grandchildren or great grandchildren will revert to the (statistical) mean.

Very few parents of children who intermarry actively encourage them to do so. There may be some unconscious signaling, but in general there is no overt encouragement. I think this is true even when you are talking of people who have already undergone assimilation to the point of total identification with non-Jewish culture, what the admissions people at Harvard in the 20’s used to call our kind of Jews. (There were 3 types: totally assimilated, obvious but not blatant and you can tell them a mile away).

Intermarriage, as the standard narrative goes, just happens. The kid comes home, presents their bashert and everyone goes ”Who knew? Who would have thought…?” and so on. “BUT we are so fortunate, thank God he/she is so very nice. We feel relieved our Seth/Alison found someone they want to be with. You know, we were getting a bit worried...”

So when I said in my last blog that the typical JDate woman is the mother of those 50% of Jews who intermarry, this must be understood in an ex-post way, it turns out that way in time, not ex-ante, that this was their plan all along. I hope this takes some of the sting out of the taunt, why are these men and women trying to marry someone Jewish, if they can’t get their kids to do the same.

There are some other explanations that are also relevant. Some women and men were married to non Jews got divorced, and blame the failure of the marriage on having married outside the fold. Second dating on line is a bit scary. How do you really know the cute podiatrist who wrote the witty email is not an axe murderer? In dating Jews one feels a little bit safer. We can call this the Jackie Mason defense:Have you ever been mugged by a Jewish accountant? Add the additional consideration that as we get older we regress some to our childhood. When we were twenty-something we were fearless and willingly moved far from home. In our middle age and later, our parents suddenly begin to look a lot smarter, and we become more fearful and conservative.

Finally, there is this commonly held belief, I have no idea if is true, that Jewish men make good husbands. This creates an incentive for Jewish women to stick around. What about the men? There is no corresponding story about Jewish women. In fact the mythology surrounding Jewish women is frequently negative, for example jokes about JAPS and overbearing mothers. My conjecture is that there is an asymmetry between the men and women on JDate, the men, on average, being slightly more traditional than the women. More traditional Jews find intermarriage less attractive than assimilated Jews for all sorts of reasons. I would like to think the main reason Jewish men prefer Jewish women is because they love Jewish women for being who they are, Jewish women.

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