Navigate to News section

Will Chelsea Convert?

And why we shouldn’t care so much

Hadara Graubart
December 03, 2009

Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky has bypassed the usual question of, “Is it good for the Jews?”—the answer seems to be an obvious “yes”—and spurred a more audacious inquiry: Will Chelsea convert? But Washington, D.C. JCC blogger Josh Ford makes a persuasive case that rooting for Chelsea to formally join the Jewish faith actually avoids the more substantive implications of this high-profile interfaith coupling.

First, Ford chides those who would encircle Chelsea like vultures: “Her spiritual decisions are not some ethno-religious trophy we should seek to display like a white rhino head next to Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Ivanka Trump.” And he cautions against being “overly impressed when the elite of the elite decide to marry the elite of our elite. The kid is the son of two former members of Congress—it’s not like she’s marrying Motel the tailor.” In other words, you’re getting drool on the poor woman; shut your mouths.

This frothy energy, he says, could be better spent examining the way we fetishize winning official conversions from the Gentile halves of interfaith couples:

It is great that Chelsea went with Marc to Yom Kippur services. But if that was the only Jewish connection Marc was going make this year, either with or without Chelsea, then it doesn’t really matter if she converts. However, if Chelsea never feels like taking a dip in the mikveh, but they light Shabbat candles, observe the yearly rhythms of the Jewish holidays, make themselves knowledgeable in Jewish history and practice, and decide to communicate these values and practices to any children they might have … then I think we as a people will still come out ahead.

Of course, one could argue that rooting for merely any sort of increased Jewishness in a super-prominent shiksa is a bit uncouth. But the issue is nonetheless important. As Ford points out, the prize is not so much Chelsea and her man, but rather “the thousands of Marc Mezvinskim who are going to marry non-Jews in the coming years, most of whom will not be presidential offspring.”

Hadara Graubart was formerly a writer and editor for Tablet Magazine.