April 22, 2014

The EPT had barely stopped rattling around in the bottom of the wastebasket before the wishes of mazal tov could be heard reverberating around the country.

I am referring of course, to last week’s announcement that Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky are expecting their first child.

The outreach community has already proclaimed that this child will find a warm welcome in (most) synagogues and religious schools. The Orthodox community, for their part, has been very specific: if this child is going to be Jewish, it must have a proper halakhic conversion. And, one anti-Semitic website has proclaimed that the child is already Jewish: “Chelsea Clinton pregnant with jew spawn.” As if, following the Overland Park horror, we needed to be reminded of the scum in our midst. As Sartre noted years ago, quite often it is the anti-Semite who confers Jewish identity.

OK, so let’s suppose that the Clinton grandchild is Jewish.

This means that the question will not be: Is this good for the Jews?

No, it will be: Is this good for Hillary?

Remember when Senator Joseph P. Lieberman, an observant Jew, ran for vice-president? His candidacy produced hardly a ripple of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Quite the opposite: At one point, a Washington Post-ABC poll revealed that more than half of American voters actually felt more favorable toward him precisely because he is an Orthodox Jew.

So, having a Jewish grandchild is not going to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances for the presidency one bit.

So, yes: this rabbi would love for the Clinton grandchild to be Jewish. Yes, the whole deal. The Jewish future of the Clinton grandchild unfolds before my hopeful eyes. Brit or baby-naming. Joining a synagogue. Giving the child a Jewish education. Asking the four questions at the seder. Bar/bat mitzvah. Confirmation. Jewish summer camp. Hillel. Birthright.

But, let’s suppose that Chelsea and Marc decide to not raise their child as (specifically) Jewish.

They didn’t ask me for any parenting advice, but here are some options that I hope that they reject.

Letting the child choose.  Chelsea, Marc: don’t do it. Your home is not an advanced seminar on comparative religion.

You are allowed to say the following: “This is our home. This is the religion that we choose to follow. This is the people that we attach ourselves to. These are the values that we choose to share.”

This is not Putin parenting. It’s what parents do. You gonna give your kid a choice about vaccinations or whether to go to the dentist? I didn’t think so. Don’t drop the ball on this one.

Combining the two religions. Again, don’t do it. At its worst, it winds up being something akin to Jews for Jesus or Messianic Judaism. Plus, it’s just plain contradictory. You really can't mix Jewish theology and Christian theology. 

Look, Chelsea and Marc, you didn’t ask me, but here goes.

I do hope that you will have a Jewish home and raise your child as a Jew.

Why? A few years ago, Yoram Hazony wrote these words in Azure journal:

More than any other people, the Jews have understood themselves as the bearer of an idea and an understanding of the world:

in which people are inclined to evil from childhood, but free to choose the good without need of grace;

in which reward and punishment are primarily a matter of this world rather than the next;

in which responsibility is not only individual, but collective;

in which memory is sacred, and every generation must see itself as if it had lived in the time of its ancestors;

in which love is rejected as the main wellspring of morality, in favor of justice and even honor (as in “Honor your father and your mother”).

in which tradition is recognized as the mainstay of wisdom, and truth triumphs not through “pure” reasoning, but through history.

in which the goodness of regimes is judged not by the procedures they have devised but by the benefits they confer on people;

in which no king and no public may be obeyed by the individual in the face of the demands imposed by higher moral law.

The idea that the debasement of the body is sacrilege;

that books may deserve the same dignity in death as do people;

that hard labor must be limited by an insuperable commandment of rest;

that poverty, like celibacy, is no virtue, and achievement no vice;

that the material world is not our property, but only in our care.

Not bad, huh?

But, whatever you do: make a clear, unambigous religion choice for your child and for your family. 

And stick with it. 

You really can't go wrong. 

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