Friday, 3 February 2012

The Country Club

Interfaith marriage is a real taboo within the Jewish community, and is often characterized as the bogey man coming to chase away what remains of our rich-in-heritage-but-small-in-numbers people. Yet, the same Jews who bemoan the supposed evils of interfaith marriage and assimilation, often  take no accountability for the community's part in driving out Jews from within. If interfaith marriage were seen as (in Einat Wilf's words): "a plus one, rather than a minus one", perhaps our numbers would be slower to dwindle.

When discussing interfaith marriage with a friend, he compared being Jewish to belonging to a Country Club. He said, "Marrying Jewish and ensuring one's children are (halachically) Jewish is just part of the membership policy in the club". I like the Country Club analogy a lot, but I think given the varying ideologies underlying religious observance and cultural identification with Judaism, it is not entirely accurate to describe us as all belonging to one Country Club. Maybe a network of Country Clubs would be more accurate. Since I subscribe to SHJ's very liberal definition of who is a Jew, whom I would consider Jewish encompasses a far broader group of people than, for example a Conservative or Orthodox Jewish person might.

In terms of denominational affiliation, this is how the Country Club analogy would play out for me, personally. The biggest difference between SHJ, and the other denominations, as I've pointed out herehere, and here is its divorce from theistic thought and language, and shifting of focus to historic and cultural connections with Judaism. So, while SHJs enjoy the benefits of The Country Club, they prefer to play on a different terrain. While the other Country Clubs are built around God  Golf, maybe we play Putt Putt instead. It's not that I have anything against Golf, but the game is not my cup of tea, and so I wouldn't choose to spend my time at a Golf Club. However, if a Golfer friend asked me to come spend the day her club, I'd be okay with that depending on the policies of the administration.

Now, administrative policies of the Country Clubs also vary. Some have stricter dress codes. Others enforce uniforms. In some, women or openly gay people are not given prominent leadership roles such as Country Club President. This would bother me enough that I would have a problem on an ethical level joining that Country Club - even for the day. Disclaimer: I recognize that an organization's policies do not necessarily reflect the views of the members, and outside of the Country Club individual members may have no issues working with or hiring women or gay people. In fact, some members of the Clubs in which discrimination occurs, actively work to modify discriminatory company policies. In any case, policy aside,  people join a specific Country Club for a variety of reasons. Some like the perks: great grounds, an incredible social network, they enjoy or are skilled at the style of Golf played. Others like it because their family has belonged to this particular Country Club for many generations. Some just like the hats. All of those reasons are valid, and I can relate to them since I myself have also sought a Country Club, and am happy to have found Putt Putt. (Mini-golf seems to be a good fit for the smallest and youngest denomination).

The Country Clubs also vary in the membership requirements. Children of female Golfers are automatically in the club - whether or not they ever play or even like the game. Some, more liberal clubs, also would give automatic membership to children whose fathers only are Golfers. In the event that neither parents are Golfers, most Clubs require Serious Golfing Lessons first. Some, particularly in more elitist Clubs, shun members who marry people belonging to a different network of Country Clubs. In the strictest of Country Clubs, marrying a member of the Tennis Club (ghasp!), for example, is strictly forbidden and may result in Suspended Membership. The requirements for my Country Club are relatively very lenient, welcoming and inclusive, but sometimes dismissed by other Clubs as "Not Real Golf".

When Country Club administration examines factors for shrinking membership, isn't it unproductive from a business standpoint to blame the customer? More often than not, shrinking business in an organization is a result of internal factors. Maybe the marketing is poor. Perhaps the product or service is no longer relevant or alienates a certain portion of the population. Perhaps the Club has suspended too many of its members.  In the more conservative streams of Judaism, the marginalized/potentially alienated groups, from my perspective are: homosexuals, skeptics/non-believers, women, and those who are not married to Jews. People who do not fit into any of these categories, but strongly empathize with those who do, also may be repelled by "Company Policy". Combined, these numbers start to add up. Einat Wilf may be on to something in her math.

Company Policy by The Mighty Rhino
The song (by Toronto-based talent) that was stuck in my head the whole time I wrote this post.


  1. I like the post. Just my two cents here...since "Judaism" in this context is a matter of personal identity, to what extent do you think a person's claim to being Jewish makes them Jewish. To me, if someone says they are than they are, and if they say they aren't than they aren't. Personally, I am not sure I would consider myself Jewish anymore. I am not sure how others would feel about that.

  2. I have to say that over all in the marketplace of ideas religion loses consistently. The main way how religion wins is by using the state (or force of some kind) to warp the marketplace and by doing so cheat.

  3. @Ami: Thanks! I consider Judaism a man-made culture with some (optional) religious elements. So, if someone identifies with the culture and considers themselves part of it, I respect that and consider them Jewish. If they don't consider themselves Jewish, then I would respect that and no longer consider them Jewish. Even if they have a superJewish name and mother!

  4. Ami, my dad brought up another point re: your comment. He pointed out that being Jewish is also an ethnicity, and that whether or not you like most people will consider you Jewish regardless. He pointed to the very assimilated Russian Jews when he was growing up who were still considered Jews by the non-Jews, and also to local Jews that we know who try very hard to erase the Jewish from their identities, but are still considered Jews by other Jews. In other words, you can try to get a divorce from being Jewish, but it won't always grand you a Get.


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