Kamala Harris may not be Jewish but when Joe Biden announced she was joining the presidential ticket, Jewish journalists and Jewish mothers (i.e., my mother) were quick to point out her many Jewish adjacencies. Besides the obvious — Harris is married to Doug Emhoff, a lawyer dubbed by the Schmooze “a hot Jewish dad” — Harris does a mean impression of her Brooklynite in-laws and answers to a Yiddish-inflected nickname, “Mamala,” bestowed upon her by her Jewish stepkids.
But claiming an interfaith couple as part of the tribe is inevitably a complicated task, since Jews are split — as on basically every other topic — when it comes to the legitimacy of interfaith marriages. Rabbis from two major denominations, Conservative and Orthodox, can’t officiate interfaith marriages (Conservative rabbis have only been allowed to attend such marriages since 2018). And while those who choose to marry outside the tribe (between 2005 and 2013, that’s 58% of Jews) are welcomed by many Jewish communities, they also get to watch as influential politicians compare their very existence to a “second Holocaust.”
There are certainly nuanced views on the implications of interfaith marriage for Jews. But there are even more intolerant tweets about who should be able to marry whom. Take, for example, a now-deleted salvo from Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein (he who deemed Harvard graduate Natalie Portman “none too bright”), who responded to the news of Biden’s VP pick by tweeting “Serious Jews don’t marry non-Jewish women.”
How much longer is @Conf_of_Pres going to tolerate its member – Zionist Organization of America head Mort Klein – repeatedly spewing bigotry, including against other Jews? pic.twitter.com/ObljEjBsqQ— Dylan Williams (@dylanotes) August 12, 2020
While studies (i.e. tweets and angry replies) show that precisely no one agrees about what constitutes a “serious Jew,” what follows is a sampling of indisputably Jewish people who have married indisputably non-Jewish women without spontaneously combusting or, it seems, becoming any less serious than they ever were.
Between fleeing his birthplace and hearing God’s voice from the burning bush, the mensch who led us out of Egypt found time to meet a cute shepherdess at the well, defend her from male shepherds trying to cut in line (so relatable!), break bread with her father, and marry her. Zipporah, Moses’ bashert, has since given her name to many a Jewish girl, but she wasn’t Jewish at all — her father, Reuel, was a Midian priest. And for it’s worth, Moses is hardly the only man in the Torah to marry outside the (nascent) tribe: Abraham married the non-Jewish Keturah after Sarah’s death, and Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest. Jews were on the move in the Old Testament, and they found wives among the people they met — just like, you know, Jews living in a modern and diverse society today.
Before emerging as the bogeyman of the bourgeoisie, Marx enjoyed what seems like a pretty bourgeois courtship with his non-Jewish childhood sweetheart, Jenny von Westphalen. While Marx struggled to liberate the proletariat from their chains, Jenny struggled to stave off creditors and maintain the surprisingly conventional Victorian home from which her husband formented the revolution.
Based on his somber expression in pretty much every available photo, Leonard was a very serious Jew, and he married an equally serious non-Jewish woman — Virginia Woolf, creator the literary style most often abused by English majors: stream of consciousness. Was their marriage an ideal interfaith meeting of the minds? Absolutely not: a committed member of the casually anti-Semitic British upper crust, Virginia professed to dislike the “Jewish laugh” and concluded that Jews in general have “immense vanity.” We don’t know what Leonard made of these remarks, but they didn’t stop him from championing his wife’s work or meticulously editing her diaries after her death.
Mark Zuckerberg is married to Priscilla Chan, a fellow Harvard grad and pediatrician who identifies as a Buddhist. The really baffling question here is not the validity of their interfaith marriage but how Zuckerberg, who met Chan while facing expulsion for creating a “hot or not” computer game that ranked Harvard women based on their looks, got her to date him at all.
The professional Larry David impersonator is married to fellow Brooklyn native Jane Sanders, who, though she shies away from public appearances, has been a fixture on Bernie’s campaign staff since working to elect him as Burlington mayor in the 1980s. A profile in the Cut noted that Jane arrived to their wedding in a Plymouth Voyager van; their vows, which could have been ripped from a Sanders stump speech (or a letter from Karl to Jenny), referenced “the concept of family not as an economic unit but as a transcendent force.”
Bob Dylan was married to Carolyn Dennis, a non-Jewish singer who often collaborated with him, from 1986 to 1992. If this era in the crooner’s love live passed you by, you can be forgiven. They managed to keep the relationship secret for 15 years, until a 2001 biography spilled the beans and revealed the existence of their daughter, Desiree Dennis-Dylan, then 15.
Known for making the extremely Jewish movie “Jojo Rabbit” or portraying Hitler in said movie — “What better way to insult Hitler than having him portrayed by a Polynesian Jew?” — Waititi was married to non-Jewish Chelsea Winstanley for several years. Though the two are separated now, they share two young daughters.
Week one down of our anti-fuckface satire, Jojo Rabbit. Can’t wait to share it with the world. Also, what better way to insult Hitler than having him portrayed by a Polynesian Jew?
? #FuckYouShitler @jojorabbitmovie @foxsearchlight pic.twitter.com/bNZ2YlDgaF— Taika Waititi (@TaikaWaititi) June 1, 2018
President Trump may be only too eager to point out the Jersey-born pundit’s Jewish heritage, but Stewart said members of the tribe have written him off as a “self-loathing” Jew — in part because of his marriage to a non-Jewish woman, Tracey McShane. “When people call you a self-loathing Jew it says more about them than it does about you,” he told Bustle. The haters haven’t stopped him from creating some of the most Jewish late night content we’ve ever seen.
Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @katz_conn.