December 4, 2009

In Discussing Mount’s Future, Remember Its Recent Past

In discussing the recent tensions between Israelis and Arabs over the Temple Mount, Daniel Seidemann writes: “Regardless of one’s view on the political future of Jerusalem, Israel’s claims to be a responsible guardian of this complex and sensitive city require it to respect competing religious and national narratives and their physical embodiments in the holy sites” (“Calming the Temple Mount,” November 13).

This is clearly correct, but Seidemann omits any mention of two crucial points.

First, Muslims have been afforded the remarkable autonomy over their holy sites on the Temple Mount, not only because of the 1967 decision by Moshe Dayan cited by Seidemann, but also because of the guarantees of religious freedom and free access to all faiths guaranteed by Israeli laws. These laws and practices were enacted by Israel in the wake of the pernicious history of the 1948-1967 period in which Jews were denied access to the Western Wall as well as other Old City holy sites while these places were under Arab rule.

The second crucial point is that one’s view of the political future of Jerusalem is inextricably informed by this history — that under Arab rule religious freedoms were violated and under Israeli rule religious freedoms have been guaranteed. Thus, those who resist proposals for a political future that includes re-dividing Jerusalem — let alone ceding Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount — in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are doing so precisely on the basis of this history and the sensitivities to religious freedom.

Israel’s Terrorists, and Those of Its Neighbors’

I would like to thank columnist J.J. Goldberg for informing us that there are Jewish terrorists in Israel and the fact that Israel treats them as criminals (“A Terrorist Who Was Not Alone,” November 13).

If only Israel’s neighbors would treat Muslim terrorists the same way, I might live to see peace in the Middle East.

Painting Part of the Intermarriage Story

Miriam Shaviv does an admirable job attempting to summarize the major research findings in my book, “Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America” (“Non-Jewish Husbands, More Jewish Kids,” October 23).

Not so surprisingly, however, given the tenacious legacy of quantitative studies about intermarriage, Shaviv claims that I “overstate” my case, and she discounts the value of qualitative research methods. She also mischaracterizes my thesis. I argue that Jewish women became significantly more likely to proactively identify as Jews and raise Jewish children later in the 20th century than their intermarried predecessors — not “than men.”

As its subtitle indicates, my book is a history; I do not claim to have written the definitive history, only that of the 46 women in my study. Their experiences certainly shed light on the “threat of intermarriage” (Shaviv’s words) by illustrating that the gender of the Jew in the relationship is significant and that it changes over time. While the reviewer raises an important point about the children of the intermarried, they were not the focus of my particular study and merit a book of their own.

A communal re-think is warranted, not about the intricacies of how intermarried Jewish women self-identify, but about what constitutes continuity and how the organized Jewish community responds to them and their intermarried brethren.

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December 4, 2009

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