Holiday Season Underlines Shifts in Judaism as Self-Definition Fades

CuJu, BuJu and Mu-Jew Are Faith's New Drawing Cards

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By Jay MIchaelson

Published December 24, 2013.
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‘Tis the season once again — the season of the December Dilemma.

In its original form, the alliterative allusion is to the challenge of raising Jewish kids in a non-Jewish society. Everyone loves Christmas, right? So how come we don’t celebrate it?

But the December Dilemma is dated. A majority of non-Orthodox Jewish marriages are intermarriages. Multifaith families are everywhere. The menorah next to the Christmas tree, once the epitome of treif, is now commonplace. And after a decade or two of closing their eyes and ears to this reality, Jewish organizations are now figuring out how to work with it.

I wonder, though, if we’re headed into a yet another new phase of Jewish-Christian mingling. Recently, these and other pages have hosted lively conversations regarding non-Jews considering conversion, ‘Jewish Cultural Affirmation’ (Steven Cohen and Kerry Olitsky’s rather ponderous neologism), or other forms of affiliation with Judaism and/or the Jewish people. Cohen and Olitsky want to create a kind of Jewish literacy course, Rabbi Andy Bachman wants to convert them, and various haters in the blogosphere have thrown cold water on anything that isn’t the Judaism they personally think is valid.

Add to this the recent speech by Union of Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, in which Jacobs called non-Jews interested in being part of the Jewish community “the opportunity of the millennium.”

All of a sudden, goyim are good for the Jews. As long as they are Jew-curious.

Cohen and Olitsky say that in a 2011 study of New York Jews, 5% said they were Jewish “by personal choice” and another 2% said they had converted. This, they say, points to a surprisingly high level of interest not in converting, but in affiliating.

I have completely unscientific anecdotal information to support that view. As I’ve traveled the country for book tour and scholar-in-residence weekends this year, I’ve seen more and more Christians in shul. In suburban Chicago; in Beacon, New York; in Houston — the trend is unmistakable.


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