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Intermarried A-Listers and Us

Anne Hathaway’s and other celebrity weddings suggest that in America Jewishness has become aspirational

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Getty Images and Shutterstock)
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Mazel tov, Anne Hathaway!

For those of you who don’t read the tabloids or fit into the narrow Venn diagram sliver of people equally obsessed with Les Misérables and The Dark Knight Rises (even I fit into only one of those circles; I’ll let you guess which), allow me to inform  you: The Devil Wears Prada star and patron saint of drama nerds married her fiancé Adam Shulman last weekend. The groom wore a suit; the bride, a custom-made Valentino confection with a headpiece that made her look like the world’s most ethereal lobotomy patient. They did it in Big Sur. And, as every tabloid has made clear, it was a “traditional Jewish ceremony.”

That makes the new Mr. and Mrs. Shulman—along with Drew Barrymore and her new husband Will Kopelman, son of former Chanel CEO Arie Kopelman (well done, Drew!) and Her Majesty Queen Natalie Portman and dancer/choreographer Benjamin Millepied—the third celebrity couple to wed under a chuppah this year, with all the ketubah ’n’ glass-smashing fixins, despite having one of the least traditional aspects of all: a partner who isn’t actually Jewish. Doubtless, in some circles this will be seen as a cause for much hand-wringing about the sorrowful state of the Jewish people, but I’m not so concerned. Intermarriage, like homosexuality, has been around since biblical times, and it isn’t going anywhere. If all the royal families of Europe put their crowned heads together and figured they could use some new blood, we could probably stand for some too.

For the first time in the history of America, Jewishness—and not just the bagels-and-lox part—is aspirational.

More interesting to me are the cultural ramifications of seeing a Hollywood princess awkwardly perched on an uplifted chair like she’s playing Tzeitel in her high-school production of Fiddler (which I’ll bet you a hundred bucks Anne Hathaway has done). These weddings all have one Jewish partner, after all; they aren’t some creepy, faintly Orientalist adoption of a culture based solely on its aesthetics, like Russell Brand and Katy Perry’s doomed Hindu union, the co-opting of the sacred rites of a religion to which you have no measurable connection, even if you do really like the idea of elephants in sequins. Or Britney Spears’ Moroccan-themed baby showers of yore. Or the fact that Mariah Carey actually named her kid “Moroccan,” although technically, this wasn’t after a denizen of the Maghreb but after the theme of the décor in one of the rooms of her house, which—I rest my case.

That’s not to say there isn’t some yearning for Zion realness here; as Madeleine Kahn said derisively in Betsy’s Wedding about the family of her daughter Molly Ringwald’s WASP-y fiancé: “They don’t even know what they are. He said, they think they’re Scottish.” Who wants a piece of stale white bread when they could have a nice big slice of rye?

And that’s precisely the point. The current vogue for Jewishness, in weddings or otherwise, is less notable for its exoticism—the kind of thing that might seem irresistibly “edgy” to a Crayola-haired pop star who uses that word a lot—than for its normalcy. When Drew Barrymore stands under a chuppah, or Anne Hathaway accompanies her fiancé to Yom Kippur services, or the husbands of Queen Natalie and her lady-in-waiting Rachel Weisz (and believe me, the thoughts I have about Daniel “James Bond” Craig as the ultimate trophy husband could fill a doctoral dissertation) slip on a yarmulke or wrap themselves in a tallis, they’re doing so because it’s normal, and the mainstream nature of the ritual is the key to its desirability. For the first time in the history of America, Jewishness—and not just the bagels-and-lox part—is aspirational. There’s a Seder in the White House, and rabbis gave the invocation at the conventions of both major political parties—something that would have been unthinkable as recently as my childhood, when I cried every year when we didn’t have a Christmas tree and told my friends the Friday night dinners I had to attend before I could go out were just “family nights.” Ralph Lauren built an empire giving us all WASP anxiety; now the WASPs want to be Jews.

There’s no telling how far this will go, or how long it last. Two decades from now, we may have been swept into the indistinguishable morass of white people, and a different kind of writer will be composing think pieces on how everybody now wants to pretend that they’re Indian. But in the meantime, if we see an artisanal gefilte fish movement start up in Brooklyn; if the generic wedding scene that opens every boilerplate romantic comedy features a reading from the Song of Solomon instead of Corinthians; if pageant moms in the South start naming their golden-headed little moppets things like Goldman and Silverberg because they think it sounds classy, I’ll be cheering them on. It won’t be proof that assimilation is evil. It’ll be proof that we can let others in without diminishing ourselves. It’ll be proof that assimilation works.

***

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Wow, I’m so relieved that Jews are finally in vogue! Now we have all
the privileges that our forefathers yearned for. If being Jewish to you
means getting married under a chuppah or wearing a kippah, then you
need to start attending weekly services. Judaism is actually an amazing
faith – filled with teachings and strong traditions. The trappings of Judaism are not what it means to be Jewish.

Lanskymob says:

Point taken. But think of it this way: If it was important for them to be “married Jewish”, maybe it’s important for them to raise their kids in a Jewish home, and the life they live will be a Jewish one.

Style comes and goes. I’m reminded of a non-Jewish friend who’s been married to her Jewish husband for over 30 years, has not converted (which is more than fine), but insists that because, by this point, she “feels Jewish”, she *is* Jewish. But of course she’s not, and the future of Judaism does not depend, and never has depended, on whether or not non-Jews participate in Jewish rituals. Non-Jews appropriating Jewish ritual is, in the end, without meaning or import. It just doesn’t matter. It’s certainly not the same as choosing to throw your hat in the ring with the People and its fate.

You need to remove the effect of money and wealth to narrow an effect from ethnicity and religious beliefs.

dboakland says:

NonJews have been aspirationally marrying Jews for a long time. My peers want to marry/have married a Jewish man because they think they will be “taken care of” financially and emotionally (no divorce) as they came from financially stressed, very broken families. My 85 year old mother’s Italian Catholic hairdresser told her many decades ago when the hairdresser’s daughter was marrying that she wished her daughter married a Jew because she would be “taken care of”. None of these women I know have any interest in the religion that fosters the reality and the stereotype. They don’t want to convert or if not religious, even give up Xmas. They’re not interested in raising the next generation of nice Jewish boys. (and the joke of the stereotypes is if Jewish men marry out because Jewish women are “too demanding” they are in for a surprise with their aspirational nonJewish spouses).

irvingdog says:

And, once we penetrate the realm of the wasps, we can proceed to really take over the world. What utter silliness!

dboakland says:

To finish my comment- What seems different now is that the Jewish partner is affirming their connection to Judaism as a basis for who they are. Part of what makes them appealing is not merely cultural but is rooted in the religious.

Rachel, I’m yours! I love your irreverent, brainy sense o’ humor (a faculty that often seems in short supply in Tabletlandia) and your insights into the socio-politics of Jewish life in America. I’m sure this piece like most of your oeuvre will provoke gripes and even wrath from the insecure guardians of monochrome, dutiful, stagnant “mainstream” Judaism.

Maybe. Or maybe it’s that “spiritual identity” is part of the fashion of our time. It still doesn’t really matter. Not until much harder decisions have to be made, decisions like how the children are to be raised, and whether the children will be converted. That’s when you start to find out who you actually are.

Forgive her for she knows nothing. Send her to somewhere safe and sane but please, never let her write for another Jewish magazine.

Stash says:

And yet, just below the surface . . .

Some might say that if that’s a priority for them, they might want to find Jewish partners. At the very least, any children that Anne Hathaway or Drew Barrymore might bear will not be considered Jewish by the vast majority of the world’s Jews–unless, of course, the mother converts before the child’s birth or the children themselves undergo conversion. This can be a painful realization for someone raised “Jewish.”

אהרן לנדגרטן says:

Rachel , Thank you for sharing your Sally Field’s moment with us. For those of you who don’t know – in her acceptance speech for her 2nd Academy Award she said “… I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” Rachel your gushing obsequiousness is pathetic.

As Einstein said “The Jewish religion ,like all other religions ,is the incarnation of childish superstitions.

Jewish men marrying non-Jewish women, however, means that Jewish men are having and raising children who are also not Jewish.

“It’ll be proof that we can let others in without diminishing ourselves. It’ll be proof that assimilation works.”

The American Jewish population has reduced over the last 10 years (due primarily to assimilation) and many young Jews and the majority of descendants of interfaith couples don’t affiliate with being Jewish. And many of those who do affiliate, my experience is that most of these people know very little about Judaism or being Jewish. Besides the shame of their Jewish connection being of lower quality then it could be, a tenuous connection like that will struggle to withstand generations.

So when you finally realise that we are in fact dimishing ourselves, will you accept that as proof that assimiliation doesn’t work?

Beatrix17 says:

Trump, Clinton. I read of one non-Jewish woman
bragging that her new Jewish son-in-law didn’t ascribe to Zionism.
Actually, it was the establishment of Israel that made American Jews
one of the guys.

Now when we read about future Morsi and Ahmadinejad’s
daughters marrying Jews, we’ll know Israel has arrived.

Beatrix17 says:

Reform Jews, the majority religion in America, accepts as Jewish someone with a Jewsih father and non-Jewish mother who was raised Jewish. Israel doesn’t.

compvla says:

There already is an “artisanal gefilte fish movement start up in Brooklyn” :D.

http://gefilteria.com/

There is a kind of food served in non- kosher restaurants called ‘kosher style’. I suspect these weddings are a bit of ‘kosher style’.
The substance is not an instant media event but rather a lifetime of a certain way of life. I do not think this is what we are talking about here.

samgfromdc says:

If Judaism is really becoming so popular in Hollywood, how come none of those folks who are marrying Jews has converted to Judaism. Jews are popular in Hollywood, they always have been, they built it. Marrying Jews has been a Hollywood habit for non-Jews for decades. What’s the big deal? What else is new?

Judaism is a religion of behavior and not of belief. Na’aseh v’nishma – Doing comes before understanding. Wouldn’t we rather have “technically” non-Jewish individuals behaving as Jews – joining in ritual, acting in ways that align with Jewish values of tikkun olam, etc – than “technically” Jewish individuals who do nothing (which is a significant portion of in-married too!)? Why we have to push away people who want to be part of our communities while we ‘claim’ those who are Jewish by blood but want nothing to do with us, will always mystify me.

JUst watch out for Mormons!

saidi ben yehud says:

you tolk non sence what about me ı born star of DAVİD 3 BOY 3 GİRL REPLY TO ME

saidi ben yehud says:

we dont want to joint your communities we jew by feith of MOST HİGH GOD THE GOD OF İSRAEL !!!!!! & WE BY BLOOD WE CHEDREN OF İSRAEL WHOM JACOB !

saidi ben yehud says:

WE ARE CHEDREN OF İSRAEL WHOM JACOB. WE DONT WANT JOİNT YOUR COMMUNİTİS, WE PROUD İSRAEL WHATEVER WE NOT COME FROM POLAND YES WE FROM ZİON !!!!!!

That is certainly an opinion not shared by all. There have been times, throughout Jewish history where patrilineal decent has been the norm.

Call me when someone produces “artisinal Ptcha”.

Please stop this nonsense. Your replies are totally not understandable.

Thanks, Borat.

Isn’t there an atheist site someplace you can go to post where you’ll feel much more at home?

BethesdaDog says:

What kind of slop this is. Everybody’s a writer these days. They should be sent to work in a factory, to get a real job.

What is it, “Being of lower quality” or “children of the most high?” Jewish people do themselves the most harm. In contrast, I love and respect the method in which Jewish people honor and worship G-d, too much ritualism for me though.

rachi farrow says:

hey, are you the only one around here who has a sense of humor or what? I love Rachel Shukert’s style. And I thank her for making me laugh all the time. What’s wrong with all these other folks, anyway? booooooo!

rachi farrow says:

Rachel- you did it again! You made me laugh. Thank you. But why are all these comments so serious? All these writers must suffer from the sense of humor disorder syndrome or something. Rachel Shukert, I am your dearly devoted fan. Forever and ever. Till death us do part. Amen! (Did you hear the sound glass breaking just then?)

Natan79 says:

False. Israel does. The Law of Return clearly states it. Don’t be an ignorant.

saidi ben yehud says:

NONSENSE WHY JEW BRETHEN , BROTHER

Saint_Etienne says:

@Natan79: It’s more complicate than that. The Law of Return reserves to people with non-Jewish mothers the right of aliyah all right, but it does not extend to them recognition as Jews. And I assure you, it is a distinction with some difference if they want to have a proper Jewish wedding in Israel – they can’t.

Saint_Etienne says:

Very good point. Another point: That person who had felt Jewish for most of 30 years must have also raised her children as Jews – and on that our survival as people does turn.

saidi ben yehud says:

champlin

saidi ben yehud says:

is true !

saidi ben yehud says:

what kind of sense you have, ım first born son, future leader in İSRAEL & USA !!!!!!

Yours is an uncouth and despicable
comment, beneath contempt and unworthy of a substantive responsive, other to
suggest, “Get a life, buddy.”

Jeff Jarrett says:

Regardless of all previous comments, the vision of Ann Hathaway under a Chuppah is still very pretty pictures.

Beatrix17 says:

You said it better than I could. Thank you.

Beatrix17 says:

Saidi, I think you’re saying you are Jewish, but your English isn’t clear and that’s why you’re getting a negative repornse. You care, and that’s what is important.

Raymond_in_DC says:

MATrilineal descent has been the rule at least since Mishnaic times, so we’re talking at least 1,800 years.

Raymond_in_DC says:

Agree. We also have the curious phenomenon in some cities of non-Jewish teenagers who want a “Bar Mitzvah”, just like their Jewish friends have. What they really want is the party.

Inter-marriage, like anything else is a complicated subject. Certainly not something I look to celebrities for guidance on. You also can never make assumptions about someone’s Jewishness based on intermarriage. People grow and change, and I know from my experience that I’ve grown in my practice and commitment to Judaism and I’ve been happily married to a lapsed Catholic for many years.

Being Jewish for some is the “trappings” and we shouldn’t judge. These things are sometimes what brings someone deeper into Jewish practice, and are certainly more effective than belittling someone.

It’s true that Reform Jews are the largest denomination of American Jewry, but I believe that it’s a plurality, not a majority (i.e. still under 50%), and Reform is by far not the majority of worldwide Jews, which is what I said.

Also, it’s important to remember that only the American Reform movement recognizes patrilineal descent, not the worldwide Reform movement (for instance, British Reform Jews).

Israel does, in fact, accept as Jewish any person with one Jewish parent, but only for the sake of citizenship and civil matters. Any matter involving a religious law or court (including marriage, status of children, and many other aspects of Israeli life) requires a Jewish mother or Rabbanut-recognized Orthodox conversion.

tendilla says:

Secular Jews” not Reform Jews are the largest denomination!!!…you think not, go to Israel and take a count!!!
…and I say this is like the Jews coming out of the closet…Finally your kids have something positive (the GOOD feelings about being Jewish in a Christian society) to identify with NOT seeing celebrities intermarrying but NOT making a big deal out of it…as you say “something to aspire to”!!!

According to a recent poll, only 43% of Israelis define themselves as secular, and 80% believe in God.

tendilla says:

My definition of secular is a little loose. Our family is secular but any olde Jew that was raised orthodox (most of them) that knows us says we’re the most Jewish family (culturally) they know.
My belief is you can be very Jewish without the attachment to a specific temple connection….however to each his own….I also believe (as Groucho said) I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.

Fact is if it was left up to the orthodox there would be NO Israel today!!!

Ted_McGillicudy says:

Jon Voigt–who actually speaks up in support of Jews is more Jewish than most of these hollywood ‘Jews’.

Ted_McGillicudy says:

Jon Voigt–who actually speaks up in support of Jews is more Jewish than most of these hollywood ‘Jews’.

If THAT (raising their children in a “Jewish” home) were important to them, wouldn’t they have married “Jewish” women?

I find this article about “Jewishness” and things pertaining to it being “In Vogue” based on wedding trends and celebs…when I clearly see the RISE in Anti-Jewish rhetoric and propaganda from White Christian and White nationalist groups and quite openly. How do you reconcile the two?

Meant to say, I find it conflicting.

In my East Coast U.S. community, young Jewish people don’t date or marry other Jews. That is the case with every wedding I have gone to or heard of outside the Othodox community. Religious Judaism is being replaced by people considering themselves ethnic Jews with no affiliation with a synagogue or participation in religious practices. My “modern Orthodox” cousin, when I told her that my son had a non-Jewish girlfriend, said to me, “You’re perpetrating the Holocaust.” Is there some truth in that remark? I don’t know.

Ding. Until the progeny get married to non Jews and your family is no longer Jewish. Woman can marry out and their children are still Jews but if it’s a man and his wife has not converted it’s over as far as Jewish continuity is concerned.

Jesus Christ says:

You don’t think it’s just you’re making even more money than you were 30 or forty years ago? That anywhere from 1/5th to 1/3rd of the Ivy League is Jewish?
When Blacks and Hispanics are intermarrying with you, then you’ll know “assimilation works”. Until you’re as content to see your kids with Southern Baptists or Muslims as you are with non-observant Presbyterians or Unitarians agnostics, this is pure affectation, about as meaningful as the fact that the Irish don’t go to Mass as often as they did 50 years ago or that nearly all Italians use birth control and have had a birth rate lower than the WASPs’ for at least three generations.
Until then, it’s just one group of wealthy White people marrying the children of another group of wealthy group of White people with some ancestral customs they want to keep and a different set of names. You’ve declared victory on a field where there hasn’t been a real shot fired since Truman.
BFD: the rich marry each other. Please don’t hurt your arm patting yourself on the back.

Boxer Muhammed Ali’s daughter is married to a (Philadelphia) Jewish man*. According to Philly’s “Jewish Exponent” (don’t remember which date but do a Google search), their son’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony was held at one of the oldest synagogues in the city. Grandpa Ali attended the event though he’s not in great shape.

*The Jewish man happened to be an acquaintance of mine some years back and I was really surprised on reading this!

Joseph G says:

That’s really interesting, inasmuch as Muhammad Ali was at one point an enthusiastic member of the decidedly anti-Semitic Nation of Islam (of Louis Farrakhan fame). He used to rail against interracial marriage on the 60s and 70s. I guess he must’ve ditched the NOI for mainstream Islam at some point. Or something. I don’t know if Ali was ever really “Muslim” in any recognized sense (certainly the NOI is not a legitimate Muslim organization).

Ali’s daughter, Khalia (who is georgeous by the way) describes herself as “spiritual but it religious”. My sense is that the Wertheimer’s (that’s their name) are not particularly observant. None of my business either way. Interesting story.

Reform Judaism is not Judaism.

LeilaM12 says:

Umm… how much self hatred does one need to think of the Holocaust when your son is happily in love and loved back?! WTF?! “Cousin Moshe” is a jerk, stop associating yourself with him. I really find it hard to take all this concern about Jewish men marrying non-Jewish women seriously, as all kids I know from such marriages made aliyah… and oddly have a stronger connection, perhaps because it is a conscious choice, to Israel and their faith than those with two parents born Jewish.

Creatively Lindsay says:

Actually that’s not true at all, for immigrating purposes Israel recognizes anyone with a Jewish grandparent or a Jewish spouse as “Jewish”. Maybe not the branch of Orthodox rabbinical movements in Israel, but the state of Israel itself will 100% see Anne Hathaway as a Jew if she theoretically wanted to move there with her husband.

I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog.

It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often.

Did you hire out a developer to create your theme?
Outstanding work!

Religion is the opiate of the people.

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Intermarried A-Listers and Us

Anne Hathaway’s and other celebrity weddings suggest that in America Jewishness has become aspirational

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