Columnist: No ‘Easy’ Answer

By E.B. Solomont

Published July 22, 2005, issue of July 22, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

This week Randy Cohen, known as “The Ethicist” in the pages of The New York Times Magazine, showed that when it comes to Jewish sensibilities, he is an equal opportunity offender.

First, in October 2002, Cohen upset Orthodox readers when he advised a letter writer to tear up a contract with an Orthodox male real estate agent who refused to shake her hand on religious grounds.

Now, Reform movement leaders are angered over Cohen’s July 17 column, in which he suggested that it would be “easy” to find a Reform rabbi to marry an interfaith couple were was not planning to establish a Jewish household. Cohen was responding to “Anonymous From Philadelphia,” who wanted to know if she was wrong to lie to the Reform rabbi who married her. She had lead the clergyman to believe that she and her non-Jewish husband planned to have a Jewish home.

“It was something of a dig at Reform rabbis,” said Edmund Case, president of the nonprofit InterfaithFamily.com. According to Case, Cohen seemed to be saying, “Oh, it should be easy to find a Reform rabbi who has no standards.”

The movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis discourages members from officiating at interfaith marriages, though it recognizes the right of each rabbi to make his or her own decision on the issue. While about half of Reform rabbis would marry an interfaith couple in some circumstances, 63% of those who would do so require a Jewish commitment from the interfaith couples, according to a 2003 study by the Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling.

“I wish that more rabbis would officiate at intermarriages,” Case said. “I think no matter how nicely they explain why they won’t or can’t, it is experienced as a rejection.”

Cohen’s gaffe came in the last line of his column, after telling the writer that it was unethical to lie to her rabbi. “With mixed marriages so common,” Cohen concluded, “it should’ve been easy to find a Reform rabbi happy to perform your wedding, even when given an honest account of your plans.”

After several dozen critical e-mails filled his inbox, Cohen called his own advice foolish and ignorant in an interview with the Forward on Tuesday. He acknowledged that he probably had been “overly optimistic.”

“I just made a mistake,” he said. “It just seemed so commonplace.”

Cohen, who was raised Reform and whose sister married a non-Jew, said he sometimes consults others on doctrinal matters, but did not this time. “I based it on my own experience of friends who had no trouble finding a rabbi,” he said.

According to Cohen the level of response to his latest column was typical, compared with the thousands of letters that he received from angry Orthodox readers in 2002.

When asked which was worse, upsetting the Reform or Orthodox Jewish community, Cohen claimed neither. “I want everyone to love me,” he said. “I take no pleasure in having these people be angry.”

But,while conceding last week’s mistake, Cohen stood by his earlier advice not to work with the Orthodox real estate agent who refused to shake women’s hands.

“There we had a genuine disagreement about a question of values,” Cohen said. “I was correct.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.