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Life in the Enclave
October 15, 2007 8:14 PM   Subscribe

The SY Empire: A rare and fascinating look inside the secretive Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn, which has drawn a bright line against assimilation called the Edict that casts out for life any "SY" who marries a gentile, even if they convert. (Crazy Eddie -- who knew? Seinfeld's mom -- who knew? Isaac Misrahi -- who knew? "J-Dubs" -- who knew?)
posted by digaman (84 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
ah, nothing says old-time tradition like xenophobia.
posted by mrstrotsky at 8:25 PM on October 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Insular, backwards, and superstitious people engage in heartless and ignorant behavior, alienating those close to them: News at 11
posted by stenseng at 8:32 PM on October 15, 2007


everywhere i see these xenophobic, ostracism-based crowds and I ask myself - "How is it that they manage to grow? You'd think they'd dwindle at a brisk pace and fizzle out."

ah, well. Breed in weakness.
posted by mr_book at 8:41 PM on October 15, 2007


My experience with Persian Jews (in general) has been that they look down on non-Persian Jews to almost the same extent that they look down on gentiles.
posted by Poolio at 8:42 PM on October 15, 2007


I've always found that confusing. Look down on people who aren't like you, but then get upset when they do the same in return.
posted by nightchrome at 8:52 PM on October 15, 2007


Say what you will about the SY's, but they make some damn fine sweet ka'ak.

(Look it up.)
posted by greatgefilte at 8:54 PM on October 15, 2007


I've always found that confusing. Look down on people who aren't like you, but then get upset when they do the same in return.

I don't know that they really care how people outside their community view them.
posted by Poolio at 8:58 PM on October 15, 2007


> ka'ak

anise, cumin, caraway, cherry pits... sounds delicious. I wonder if I can get them here in the Goyische Babylon of San Francisco.
posted by digaman at 8:59 PM on October 15, 2007


If anyone cared enough, a boycott would crush them in a few years.

Good thing this is America, where one fundamentalist group of Jewish xenophobes is free to to disassociate themselves from the groups of fundamentalist Christian xenophobes while the rest of society just doesn't give a shit.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:07 PM on October 15, 2007


Nothing in this article remotely suggests that these people are xenophobes. They merely prefer aggressively to protect the boundaries of their community and to engage in lavish mutual aid in order to reward close affiliation. They aren't killing their children for intermarrying. Nor are they doing much to outsiders beyond engaging in commerce. For the record, I don't share their values. But I'm not so arrogant as to assume that their values are any business of mine.

All you enlightened cosmopolitans who feel a warm glow in your chest as you sneer at these "backward" people ought to ask yourselves what right you have to judge these people who prefer to keep to themselves and maintain their traditional way of life. Then follow up by asking yourselves why real diversity bothers you so much.
posted by felix betachat at 9:21 PM on October 15, 2007 [6 favorites]


I think it's weird that so many of you people are disgusted by the SYs. If it were about black people or Chinese people, I don't think you'd be so offended.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:31 PM on October 15, 2007


Paula Abdul comes from a Syrian Jewish background as well.

Isaac Mizrahi's very name refers to his heritage: mizrahi refers to Jews from the Middle East/Arab countries.
posted by padraigin at 9:33 PM on October 15, 2007


Maybe because they disown their children for life for marrying someone they love? Maybe becuase their "traditional" way of life is an atavistic, primitive throwback to a racial standard that others rightly abhor?

Maybe becuase I can make a fucking moral judgement?

And yes, I speak from experience wrt this shit.
posted by lalochezia at 9:34 PM on October 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


And for all of you 'let the sys do what they want' : you should lump yourself in with people that defend no Miscegenation or No Homosexuals In My Family. Becuase that is ultimately what all social groups do that cast out the Other.
posted by lalochezia at 9:37 PM on October 15, 2007


I'm offended by any group who restricts mating to those within their group. It's like inbreeding. I prefer outbreeding.

This "ka'ak", do they suck it?
posted by strangeguitars at 9:38 PM on October 15, 2007


I agree with felix. Where's the love of diversity? When the "traditional way of life" of others is threatened by Western influence everyone falls all over themselves to deplore it, but that doesn't apply here?
posted by Falconetti at 9:39 PM on October 15, 2007


I reckon the problem is that of degree. If the SY jews decision to , cast transgressing SYs (for marrying outside the community) away from the community is a bit too extreme. Maybe they can insist on conversion etc etc, but this total ban seems excessive.
posted by dhruva at 9:50 PM on October 15, 2007


For the record, I'm Jewish (non-Syrian/Persian), and I don't care what other Jews think of my Judaism.
posted by Poolio at 9:53 PM on October 15, 2007


Being your garden variety American mutt, I can only imagine how scary it must be to feel as though my culture could be robbed from me by the outside world. Yet, my not-so-distant ancestors must have faced this very question at some point in history.

My father married outside his cultural background, which probably pissed his parents off to no end. On the other hand, I speak his family's language fluently, have traveled extensively in his homeland, understand the culture and food, and married a guy who also happens to be familiar with the language and culture. I'm not really sure how it could have turned out better.
posted by padraigin at 10:07 PM on October 15, 2007


I went to, and lived down the street from, Hillel Yeshiva in Deal (Ocean Township, but Deal to Syrians) with Syrian Jews. Isaac Mizrahi's cousin was my classmate (with father of same name as Isaac, they name for living grandparents, paternal first, unlike Ashkenaz "J-Dubs" who usually name for deceased grandparents).

I also went to school with the Antars. And lived down the highway from Crazy Eddie's.

The cool thing about their naming custom is that there are a lot of 15 year old Beatrices and Sophias. But also a crapton of Eddies and Joeys.

I don't know if there's any substance to this rumor, but it was widely believed that they have a lot of retarded children (cousins marrying cousins marrying cousins, etc.) that they put in homes, when I was in highschool.

I'm not a huge fan of Syrians. When Ashkenaz kids first started attending Hillel maybe back in the '70s they were hideously mean to them for being poor (I use the term extremely loosely, as poor by Syrian standards meant typical Ashkenaz Jew level doctors and engineers or whatever) and different, which could result in violence and tearing Ashkenaz kid's clothes for being cheap. By my time we were tolerated I think mostly because they'd gotten used to us and because Ashkenaz kids exceeded academic standards and that kept the faculty happy (unrelatedly, our principal ended up in jail later for molesting girls). Also by then Syrians were more commonly marrying Ashkenaz, but almost universally it was Syrian men marrying Ashkenaz girls. I can't offhand think of one example of the opposite. (And as an (poor, half breed) Ashkenaz girl I knew I was okay enough to fuck around with but certainly not marriage material, so I kept my distance, even on a very drunk graduation party night when the universally accepted as Hottest boy tried to...you know, take advantage of my state. I cried -loudly- and made a disgusting spectacle of a scene. If there's one thing really really wealthy people hate it's the spectacle of upset commoners. I was safely shuffled back home.)

My life was always so divorced from Syrian values and my life now is so divorced from Jewishness in general and Syrians specifically that it all sometimes seems like a weird dream (though I can still remember to this day the smell of onions on everyone on Friday mornings from their moms already preparing Shabbat dinner.)
. Living with Syrians is very surreal. And not just because they're gobsmackingly wealthy.

(Other Syrian slang I remember is "sketch" meant to kid, as in "I'm just sketching you" and "dibbeh" (spelling phonetically from memory) meant stupid or idiot. "Hazeet" (phonetic again) is, I think, like "What the fuck already?")
posted by birdie birdington at 10:25 PM on October 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


Nice to get first hand reporting, birdie. Thanks.
posted by digaman at 10:28 PM on October 15, 2007


felix: You've got it fundamentally, at what point does respect for diversity stop? Is Female Genital Mutilation acceptable because all cultures are equal? Is Social exclusion because of sexual preference legitimate, i.e. if discrimination is a 'cultural value' at is it discriminatory to oppose that discrimination or discrimantory to support it?

Not an easy question.
posted by sien at 10:30 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


By the way, not to overlook the larger issues, but all their slang is cool. "J-dubs" is phonetically very cool, if xeno to the max. But these SYs have a great ear for the sounds of slang. I can image groaning "Hazeet!" over the tzuris already.
posted by digaman at 10:32 PM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


lol jews
at least a tenth of you were thinking it

I have the same opinion of any group that tries to define themselves through harsh, aloof rejection: they're assholes. Whether it's a religious group or a cultural group or just a bunch of stupid kids in a cafeteria, they're still plain old assholes, and there isn't any amount of mumbling about how they're Defending Their Special Heritage that's going to change it.

Humanity is not benefited by kicking people out of families because they happen to fall in love with different religions or hair colours or eye colours or shoe sizes. It's hateful bullshit that should be denounced as what it is.

Exclusion is not diversity.
posted by blacklite at 10:46 PM on October 15, 2007 [3 favorites]


True. And there is this, too -- from the Times article:

"...But the solidarity of the SY community is based on more than fear of excommunication and the evil eye. There are positive inducements as well. Chief among these are the support and charity that the community shows to its members. It is an intensely social place; weddings of 1,000 guests or more are common (there are volunteer societies that loan out dishes, silverware and even tables and chairs to enable everyone to entertain in a respectable fashion). Grown children often live within walking distance of the parents, and family Sabbath dinners of 30 or 40 are the norm. Being an SY means never having to say you are hungry. The community is charitable to a fault: at Sunday-morning house parties and festive holiday cruises, grandees compete by making donations to one another’s pet charities.

The result is the most generous cradle-to-grave mutual-welfare society this side of the Saudi royal family. The community’s annual spending on charity and other civic services, including education, is around $100 million. 'The services here are preconception to postmortem,' David Greenfield, executive director of the recently formed Sephardic Community Federation, told me.

An SY in good standing can expect free K-12 parochial education and summer camps for the kids, access to a palatial communal ritual bath, use of grand recreational facilities in a community center now being doubled in size, high-level care for the aged and attention to whatever material problems life may present. 'If there are poor people among us, we try to help,' Jakie Kassin told me. 'If a person falters in business, other men step in. I’ve even seen people in the same business, direct competitors, raise money to put the man back on his feet.'"
posted by digaman at 10:52 PM on October 15, 2007


Mmm, do I love me that stanky, stale odor of righteous self-satisfaction.
posted by nasreddin at 11:06 PM on October 15, 2007


[Sephardic Jews] were hideously mean to [Ashkenazic Jews] for being poor...almost universally it was [Sephardic] men marrying Ashkenaz girls...as an (poor, half breed) Ashkenaz girl I knew I was okay enough to fuck around with but certainly not marriage material

The funny thing is, if you swap the words "Ashkenazic" and "Sephardic" in that paragraph about New Jersey, you get good a sense of what the culture is like in Israel! That is, the ridiculous upper-class/lower-class social distinction is reversed over there, with Ashkenazim being the numerically inferior but socially and politically superior, but Sephardic girls being the "not-marriage-material" hotties. (This is a broad stereotype, of course.)

/Ashkenazic Jew who spends a lot of her time lately running a Sephardic genealogy project (husband's mom's family) -- but luckily, the family is from Greece and Turkey, not Syria, and so they don't look down on me. or, um, at least they don't tell me if they do...
posted by Asparagirl at 11:14 PM on October 15, 2007


Listen, I like you non-Jews well enough. There's plenty of things I'm happy to do with Gentiles. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following.

But I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. Sorry, dudes. Go ahead and call me a prick. It won't make me bleed.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:18 PM on October 15, 2007


Actually, joking aside, of course I will drink with you. And how!
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:18 PM on October 15, 2007


One quibble I have with the article is that Syrian isn't always From Syria.

So, yes, some other Sephardim, like Israelis and Moroccans are second class to them. But some so-called "Syrians" are 1. not second class and 2. not Syrian. I can think of Italian, Spanish, and Egyptian "Syrians" who, and okay I didn't live with them so maybe I'm off, were just as wealthy, had similar businesses (textile manufacturing as opposed to grocery store owner), carried Prada bags, and wore Tods driving shoes to 9th grade.

(I've never been good at explaining to people that I grew up with Syrians, but not all of them are from Syria. It's just shorthand, I guess, for Sephardic but not Israeli/poor/whatever.)
posted by birdie birdington at 11:21 PM on October 15, 2007


Who do these Jews think they are, to look down on other Jews? Why, the Muslims liked them better than they like us? No? Then why didn't they stay in Syria?

Actually, I have this reaction to every insular immigrant group. If you only want to associate with people who look and act like you, stay the heck home. If you want to live in America, be prepared to interact with and get used to Americans.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:45 PM on October 15, 2007


Listen, I like you non-Jews well enough. There's plenty of things I'm happy to do with Gentiles. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following.

But I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. Sorry, dudes. Go ahead and call me a prick. It won't make me bleed.


Astro Zombie: The thing that confuses the hell out of me though, is that if someone were to say the same thing but replace "non-Jews/Gentiles" with "Jews", they'd be up on hate-crime charges and be called out as an anti-Semite by numerous groups and organizations devoted to this sort of thing.
posted by nightchrome at 11:50 PM on October 15, 2007


I was quoting Shakespeare. I don't really feel that way.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:00 AM on October 16, 2007


Yeah, but from the article I'm getting the impression these folk might say such a thing.
posted by nightchrome at 12:29 AM on October 16, 2007


Astro Zombie writes 'But I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. '

But how are we fixed for a spot of the old in-out, in-out, Astro Zombie?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:33 AM on October 16, 2007


The Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn is the largest Sephardic community in the U.S. and one of the largest, if not THE largest, Syrian communities outside Syria itself.
posted by richards1052 at 12:58 AM on October 16, 2007


It's their prerogative.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 5:29 AM on October 16, 2007


Jewish Travellers in Brooklyn. As a Jew, it makes me feel like just stepped in dogshit.
posted by hexatron at 5:37 AM on October 16, 2007


All you enlightened cosmopolitans who feel a warm glow in your chest as you sneer at these "backward" people ought to ask yourselves what right you have to judge these people who prefer to keep to themselves and maintain their traditional way of life. Then follow up by asking yourselves why real diversity bothers you so much.

That's the uncomfortable paradox at the heart of diversity; real diversity depends, to some degree, on chauvinism. Distinct cultures maintain their distinctness by believing that their ways are better than other people's ways. Our food is better than that weird stuff that they eat. Our music is bouncy, fun, spiritual; that stuff is noise. We are quiet and dignified in our daily lives; those people are loud and boorish. We are friendly and demonstrative; those people are cold and uptight. Our language is beautiful and poetic; their language is just babbling.

The SYs are a community of 75,000, surrounded by a community of 300 million. They live in close proximity to similar communities who are losing their distinctness as a result of assimilation. Given their position, I can understand why they would resort to extreme measures to maintain their cultural identity.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:30 AM on October 16, 2007


I thought about posting this excellent story about a community I knew little about, but quickly came to my senses once I realized the reaction would consist largely of "OMG xenophobe evil bigot religious weirdos hate them!!" Yeah, it's obviously hard on those few kids who "break the rules" and marry outside the community, but most seem OK with it. It's certainly a warmer, more sheltering culture than most in these disunited States. I wouldn't want to live in it myself, but I grew up with different traditions and desires. I've read a fair amount about traditional Sephardic life, and it's very attractive in many respects.

But carry on with the comparisons to genital mutilation by all means.
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of Mennonites in Pennsyltucky.

You should've swallowed your fear and posted your excellent story, languagehat; one would think a long-term, respected poster like you would have a little more courage there.

I think it's great that people are able to foster community in their own traditional manner without interference by state or neighbors. Like those MOVE people in Philly, but rich, and not black.
posted by breezeway at 10:23 AM on October 16, 2007


That's the uncomfortable paradox at the heart of diversity; real diversity depends, to some degree, on chauvinism.

As a Buddhist, I disagree with this assertion. I think it's possible to value one's own culture without necessarily devaluing or denying the legitimacy of others. However, I do think it's more common that people tend to form their identities (collective or otherwise) around little burning embers of selfishness, self-importance and contempt for others. Such identities, as aspects of conditional existence, are inherently unstable, so excessive attachment to them can, ironically, be self-destructive.

When clear conflicts between one's own culture and another culture arise, the goal should be to resolve them humanely. In other respects, choosing to observe ones own cultural traditions really isn't much more than a useful mechanism for simplifying otherwise hopelessly arbitrary choices (matters of taste, etc.), and of allowing oneself to partake in the comforting illusion of belonging to something bigger and more enduring than oneself (and so, in a sense, achieving a kind of immortality by proxy).

Fascinating post! I'm a gentile (unless my grandmother's maiden surname 'Mizner' had Ashkenazi origins instead of strictly German ones--well, I guess in that case, my dad would be Jewish, and I wouldn't, right?) without much exposure to Jewish culture, but I really appreciate getting a glimpse of some of the lesser-known varieties of Jewish life (guess you could say I'm a little Jew-curious)...
posted by saulgoodman at 10:30 AM on October 16, 2007


Maybe because they disown their children for life for marrying someone they love

lalochezia, I'm sorry that this issue seems to be something you have been personally hurt by... but is it safe to assume that your argument is about an SY who marries a non-SY?

I don't see why this makes them more offensive than any other cultural group. Marrying for love is a fairly recent and Western concept, and while we're all spoiled that it's our birthright to marry as we like without securing family approval (and further, convinced that it's the best course of action, which hasn't actually proved true), we've forgotten that that isn't how it's always been. Further, there are plenty of insular cultures right here in the U.S. that believe and function exactly the same.

It doesn't seem strange to me that marrying for love outside the family or community blessing is cause for being disowned; it actually seems pretty minor. I'm sure it doesn't feel that way when you're affected, though.
posted by pineapple at 10:37 AM on October 16, 2007


Who do these Jews think they are, to look down on other Jews?

Better Jews?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:40 AM on October 16, 2007


we've forgotten that that isn't how it's always been.

I don't think it's so much that we've forgotten this as it is that we'd hoped to see it forgotten. Prohibitions against out-of-group marriage aren't just remote, exotic traditions common only in "other cultures"--until relatively recently, many groups within America held similar views about marriage (and in the South, many rural whites still consider interracial relationships taboo). Particularly in the South, many of us have been personally impacted by similar cultural attitudes, and have seen the harmful effects they can have firsthand (I've known people whose families disowned them for dating outside of their race, for example).

"Cultural traditions," like prohibitions on out-of-group marriage, to the extent they've been abandoned in mainstream American culture, were abandoned only after long and persistent inter-generational struggles within the groups themselves.

It's only natural that the members of groups that have recently excised similar traits from their own sense of cultural identity might get a little defensive when they see another group continuing to propagate those trait as positives.

And what's wrong with criticizing a particular characteristic of a culture when that characteristic isn't even a uniquely, defining characteristic of the culture anyway? Lots of cultures don't approve of out-of-group marriage. Such attitudes seem less like traits of a specific culture, than like deeper, more general prejudices common among many human populations.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Marrying for love is a fairly recent and Western concept, and while we're all spoiled that it's our birthright to marry as we like without securing family approval (and further, convinced that it's the best course of action, which hasn't actually proved true), we've forgotten that that isn't how it's always been.

This historical pedigree of marriage is irrelevant and it's never kosher to appeal to the past to justify some given behavior. Not too long ago it was perfectly fine to keep slaves. In this case, a very strong case can be made that the right to marry the person you love is a fundamental human right. Arendt puts forth the strongest case for this but, even from a common sense perspective, it should be obvious that denial of marriage is very much a denial of personhood as it falls among that set of critically important, purely interior decisions made by the heart. This behavior by the SY is indeed oppressive and backwards and, on this, they're just as despicable as fundies who throw their kids to the streets when they discover she's gay.

Distinct cultures maintain their distinctness by believing that their ways are better than other people's ways.

Eh, this isn't how real cultures work. Culture is always inwards-looking, it never really justifies itself as 'the best' among other cultures. At best a culture will define itself against its own particular past. What your talking about is the sort of ideologically refined nationalism that's usually motivated by larger socioeconomic factors and rarely ever rises "out of thin air."

But of course nobody actually cares whether you think your culture is the best or not best. The problem arises only when your culture is said to interfere with the rights and responsibilities the whole world has agreed human beings possess. At this point it's no longer an issue of 'distinction', it's a matter of unjustified violence and oppression. In a (more) just world the kids expelled by fundie communities like the SY would be able to sue their parents for economic redress. As it is nobody really wants to put whole cultures on trial so such barbaric traditions are allowed to continue on a kind of 'shit happens' basis.
posted by nixerman at 11:28 AM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Prohibitions against out-of-group marriage aren't just remote, exotic traditions common only in "other cultures"--until relatively recently, many groups within America held similar views about marriage

saulgoodman, this is what I was trying to convey as well.

Such attitudes seem less like traits of a specific culture, than like deeper, more general prejudices common among many human populations.

I'm not interesting in excusing the negative mindsets that might accompany the prohibition of out-of-group marriage. I should have emphasized that marrying for love -- which I use in its literal form, and not as a euphemism for "marrying a non-member of one's cultural group despite familial protest" -- is recent.
posted by pineapple at 11:30 AM on October 16, 2007


You should've swallowed your fear and posted your excellent story, languagehat; one would think a long-term, respected poster like you would have a little more courage there.

I think you misunderstood me; I meant this excellent story—the one digaman linked to, about the Syrian Jews. And it's not a matter of "courage," it's a distaste for kneejerk threads.
posted by languagehat at 11:33 AM on October 16, 2007


In this case, a very strong case can be made that the right to marry the person you love is a fundamental human right.

But the right to remain a member of an exclusive cultural group with well-defined membership criteria is not a fundamental human right (and "fundamental human rights" are not a culturally neutral concept anyway). The SYs are not killing anyone or imprisoning them, so where's the violation of rights?
posted by nasreddin at 11:36 AM on October 16, 2007


Sorry languagehat, I was needlessly needling you; I post nothing but frou-frou for the same reason.
posted by breezeway at 11:46 AM on October 16, 2007


If I was born into a sect of strict vegetarian Buddhists or Hare Krishnas, and yet wanted to eat meat (which is to me a fundamental human right), I would be insane to expect them to maintain me as a member in good standing.
posted by nasreddin at 11:46 AM on October 16, 2007


But the right to remain a member of an exclusive cultural group with well-defined membership criteria is not a fundamental human right (and "fundamental human rights" are not a culturally neutral concept anyway). The SYs are not killing anyone or imprisoning them, so where's the violation of rights?

well, if non-membership in the group means you aren't given the same opportunities for improving your economic circumstances, then one could argue it's discrimination on religious grounds, or even religious persecution.

and yet wanted to eat meat (which is to me a fundamental human right), I would be insane to expect them to maintain me as a member in good standing.

but you wouldn't be insane to expect them not to pass you over for a job interview or to deny you housing. at least, you wouldn't be insane for expecting that in a country with anti-discrimination laws, like america. (and you know, in actual practice, if you still showed up everyday with your beggar's bowl to eat alongside the buddhist monks, they wouldn't stop you--in fact, even though there are strictures against eating meat, it's also typically forbidden for monks to refuse any food placed in their bowls, including meat.)

and finally...

“Never accept a convert or a child born of a convert,” Kassin told me by phone, summarizing the message. “Push them away with strong hands from our community. Why? Because we don’t want gentile characteristics.”

how is this not outright racism?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:58 AM on October 16, 2007


Nasreddin.

So it's OK to receive the opprobrium of a culture for a decision, no matter how bigoted or racist*?

As for 'good standing' and vegetarianism: I'd be pretty shocked if your Buddhist or Khrishna friends said to everyone who ate meat: you may not welcome them into your homes - you may not have them as members of your family - you may not love them. You must ostracize them and treat them as second class citizens. You must treat them as less than human.

I still standby the analogy that has been made above by others: how is this different from "No Niggers / No Queers" in my family?"


*Because let's be clear: this is racism. Spin it any way you want: no converts=biological destiny=race=racism.
posted by lalochezia at 11:59 AM on October 16, 2007


nixerman, I just missed your comment and should have previewed, sorry.

In this case, a very strong case can be made that the right to marry the person you love is a fundamental human right.

Please elaborate. Do you mean that "in today's modern world, marrying the person you love is a fundamental human right"? And do you mean "human right" along the lines of right to build shelter, right to gather sustenance, the right not to be murdered?

The problem arises only when your culture is said to interfere with the rights and responsibilities the whole world has agreed human beings possess.

Again, I don't think we agree on "the rights and responsibilities the whole world has agreed human beings possess" -- if "the right to marry whoever one wants on the basis of love alone, while also receiving a guaranteed family blessing" is to be included there. Arranged marriages are practiced by thousands of families throughout the Middle East, India and Africa. Are they all "interfering" with fundamental human rights?

even from a common sense perspective, it should be obvious that denial of marriage is very much a denial of personhood as it falls among that set of critically important, purely interior decisions made by the heart.

I simply do not agree, not in the concept nor that it is obvious. People have been marrying for thousands of years, and the notion that "love alone" or "decision of the heart" should be the primary motivator is very recent. I also believe (though with no study, so this is just my opinion) that it is a much stronger notion in individualistic America, where after a few generations of self-reliance, we are repelled at the thought that a family or community should play a directing role in how we build our household going forward.

I'm not trying to grant permission for any given group to perpetuate racism, or to reinforce its cultural bias... but nor do I think that it's so black-and-white that, simply because a group has a non-American (or even non-Western approach) to relationships and marriages, they are to be considered a violator of human rights.

Where I depart from lalochezia's statement, and possibly from yours, is the "have our cake and eat it too" element, as nasreddin has just illustrated with the vegetarian metaphor.
Does an American adult (including a Syrian Jew) have the right to marry whomever he or she wants? Absolutely.
If the family of origin disagrees with that choice (including a Syrian Jewish family), do they have a right to cast out the wayward couple? Absolutely.

Is it as bad as those families who cast out interracial or homosexual relationships, as lalochezia accuses? That's a matter of opinion; mine is "yes, I believe that what the SYs practice as presented in this article is racism." But a family or community has a right to its belief ("that Person X is an unsuitable partner for my child for whatever reason"), just as the child has a right to the belief that Person X is in fact suitable. Welcome to America. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment doesn't come with an asterisk that says "only if most Americans agree that your choices are acceptable."
posted by pineapple at 12:07 PM on October 16, 2007


a non-American (or even non-Western approach) to relationships and marriages, they are to be considered a violator of human rights.

But this community, if I'm reading the article correctly, only adopted its prohibitive views toward marriage after immigrating to the US, specifically as a measure to prevent the adulteration of the purity of their culture. So how does that have anything to do with "non-Western approach[es]" to anything?

A few senior rabbis got together and set a policy ("the edict"), which they then imposed on the community from the top-down. It's not like the prohibitions against marrying outsiders were part of some long-standing cultural tradition among the SYs. In this case, they explicitly adopted the protectionist attitude as a response to their new cultural environment. It was not a continuation of an existing tradition at all, if this article correctly tells the story, so what do western/non-western marital traditions really have to do with it?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:23 PM on October 16, 2007


Eh, this isn't how real cultures work. . . What your talking about is the sort of ideologically refined nationalism that's usually motivated by larger socioeconomic factors and rarely ever rises "out of thin air."

Actually, no. What I was talking about was a cluster of ten Indian villages in the Amazon referenced in the book War Before Civilization: The Myth of The Noble Savage. Each village hates all the other villages. They hate their music. They think the food is disgusting, etc. It's not a case of "ideologically refined nationalism." It's a case of good old-fashioned tribalism, tempered in this case by an agreement to be civil towards each other, which has kept the peace for an exceptionally long time.


In a (more) just world the kids expelled by fundie communities like the SY would be able to sue their parents for economic redress. As it is nobody really wants to put whole cultures on trial so such barbaric traditions are allowed to continue on a kind of 'shit happens' basis.

Are you saying that a court can legislate politeness and tolerance? That a court can award you $10,000 every time a parent hangs up on you? That a court can mandate that every member of a community such as the SYs must smile through clenched teeth at your new wife or husband or face sanctions?

Maybe some day an American court will be able to do this but it certainly wouldn't be a country where I'd want to live.

We live in a free society. That freedom encompasses a wide range of behaviors, including the right to be asshats, to shun your children, to look down on other people, the right to be not entirely nice. There's nothing that a court or legislature can do about this. And it sucks. It's very painful for the people who are expelled. But there's really nothing we as a society can do about it.

Culture is always inwards-looking, it never really justifies itself as 'the best' among other cultures.

Many indigenous groups have names for themselves that translate into "the people" or "the humans." The word "barbarian" comes from "barbaroi" which was a Greek way of making fun of how non-Greek languages sounded, with lots of "bar bar" type sounds. Chauvinism and ethnocentrism are woven pretty deeply into human history, arguably into human nature. And I can't for the life of me understand why leftists and progressives have such a hard time grasping this admittedly unpleasant fact of life.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:27 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]



So it's OK to receive the opprobrium of a culture for a decision, no matter how bigoted or racist*?

As for 'good standing' and vegetarianism: I'd be pretty shocked if your Buddhist or Khrishna friends said to everyone who ate meat: you may not welcome them into your homes - you may not have them as members of your family - you may not love them. You must ostracize them and treat them as second class citizens. You must treat them as less than human.


Racism is a swear word, and it doesn't really contribute much to the discussion here--because this isn't racism. Caucasians are a race. Jews, at a stretch, are a race. Syrian Jews are not a race, they are an ethnic/cultural grouping. But that doesn't sound as EEEEVIL as "racism."

In Russia, where I'm from, there are some people who are very Orthodox Christian, and violations of their rigid moral code are disapproved of in a similar way (when the Nord-Ost terrorist/police mass slaughter happened five years ago, there were some priests who refused to pray for the victims because they had gone to the theater--a sin). Do I think that it's a pretty closed-minded way of looking at things, one that I would be uncomfortable with personally accepting? Absolutely. But the kind of Orthodox Christianity these people practice would be absolutely destroyed if it were less rigorous and more worldly--and it's a tradition that has been going for over a millennium.

Yes, as far as I'm concerned, I would think it would be ludicrous for someone to stop loving me because I'm an atheist or whatever. But not all families work the way my family does, and that's okay. There are enough secular or mostly-secular people around that if you want to live in a society with looser rules, you can easily do so.

I don't want to see the Old Believers or the stricter Orthodox disappear entirely, because I value the cultural counterpoint these kinds of worldviews provide, and the kinds of traditions they have been able to preserve with their cultural cohesion. When I was collecting folklore in northern Russia, our group bought a notebook from an Old Believer which, written in the early 20th century, contained ritual prayers and other things that had been preserved almost unchanged in oral form since the 17th century. This would not have been possible without policies similar to the SYs.

If diversity is made contingent on acceptance of secular, liberal values, that isn't diversity at all; it's the same shit painted a variety of different shades of beige.

no converts=biological destiny=race=racism.

No, they're not preserving their race, they're preserving their culture. Otherwise SYs who left would get preferential treatment, and they don't.
posted by nasreddin at 12:31 PM on October 16, 2007



Again, I don't think we agree on "the rights and responsibilities the whole world has agreed human beings possess" -- if "the right to marry whoever one wants on the basis of love alone, while also receiving a guaranteed family blessing" is to be included there.


I didn't say anything about "guaranteed family blessing" and it's a pretty uninteresting strawman so I won't bother to address it. Suffice to say any reasonable person should be able to see the difference between your parents being upset with your choice of spouse and oppression.

People have been marrying for thousands of years

You keep appealing to the past and it's not at all convincing. People have been doing all sorts of crazy things "for thousands of years." What is your point?

As for the issue of whether the right to marry the person you love is a human right you need only concede that there is no rational basis for dictating who another person can and cannot love. We can bypass all the complicated arguments about interiority and freedom of conscience and to state the self-evident truths that (1) love can never be taken, only given (2) the decision to give love is a purely personal one. If you accept 1,2 then it should follow that, like freedom of religion and conscience, the right to love who you want is "pre-political" and it exists prior to any state/institution/tribe.

As for the "have the cake and eat it too" element, again, it's a pretty silly point. When somebody is threatened with economic and social ruin or, worse, concrete physical violence (do you really think violence is not part of this equation?) from their family then they're not trying to eat cake. The end.

That's a matter of opinion

Yeah, except when opinion starts ruining other people's lives then no, it's not a matter of opinion. And, sorry, but you're either dumb or dishonest not to see that the parent-child relationship is very different from the one between an individual and some arbitrary exclusive group. On the basis of economic concerns alone it should be obvious that when a kid is disowned by his parents he is incurring very real economic damages and loss of liberty.
posted by nixerman at 12:41 PM on October 16, 2007


If you accept 1,2 then it should follow that, like freedom of religion and conscience, the right to love who you want is "pre-political" and it exists prior to any state/institution/tribe.

Who said anything about loving? Marriage is the question here.

On the basis of economic concerns alone it should be obvious that when a kid is disowned by his parents he is incurring very real economic damages and loss of liberty.


A kid is not entitled to his parents' wealth, or anything else, after he is 18 and can legally marry. What is the problem here?
posted by nasreddin at 12:45 PM on October 16, 2007


"But there's really nothing we as a society can do about it."

Bullshit. I agree it would be very difficult to legislate this away.

The fact that "Chauvinism and ethnocentrism are woven pretty deeply into human history, arguably into human nature" doesnt mean we cant try to change this. Murder rape and slavery are all woven into human nature too: find me a society that didn't do the latter and doesn't do the former. But we try our damndest to stop these behviours.

This problem won't go away entirely. So we throw our hands up in the air and say: hurf durf it sucks to be humans stuck in a tribalistic mentaility? Keep on doing what you've always done?

No. We fight. We can say: hey ASSHOLES you shun your children based on their choice of partner. You act as racists and bigots. We make them examine their beliefs in light of other bigots and racists: show it has no real standing in logic and morals: that it is a justification built on rotten foundations. You shine a light on their backward view and make them stand up and defend it and show it for the primitive tribalistic bullshit it is.

Will this make it go away entirely? No. Will it make a few outliers examine thier assbackward beliefs and perhaps, just perhaps, change their minds so they wont pass it on to their kids?

If you'll pardon the pun: inshallah.
posted by lalochezia at 12:46 PM on October 16, 2007



No. We fight. We can say: hey ASSHOLES you shun your children based on their choice of partner. You act as racists and bigots. We make them examine their beliefs in light of other bigots and racists: show it has no real standing in logic and morals: that it is a justification built on rotten foundations. You shine a light on their backward view and make them stand up and defend it and show it for the primitive tribalistic bullshit it is.


Shorter lalochezia:
Something can only be rational if it agrees with my preconceived opinions.
The Syrian Jews disagree with my preconceived opinions.
Ergo, they must be irrational! ASSHOLES
posted by nasreddin at 12:50 PM on October 16, 2007


Syrian Jews are not a race, they are an ethnic/cultural grouping. But that doesn't sound as EEEEVIL as "racism." ... No, they're not preserving their race, they're preserving their culture.

Oh yeah, smart guy? Then explain this:

“Never accept a convert or a child born of a convert,” Kassin told me by phone, summarizing the message. “Push them away with strong hands from our community. Why? Because we don’t want gentile characteristics.”

If it's only the culture they mean to preserve and it's not about race, then why reject the children of converts? I'm reading this to mean they wouldn't accept even orphaned children of converts into the community. Again: How is that not racism?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:04 PM on October 16, 2007


Oh and as for as "Orthodox Christianity these people practice would be absolutely destroyed if it were less rigorous and more worldly".

I agree there are wonderful aspects of all cultures we can learn from. I agree cultural heritage is something we should preserve. In the name of cultural heritage, we should all accept any judgement a culture makes as valid no matter what the consequences on it's children? On others? You say people CAN leave their families if they choose to.

People can stay with abusive families too: after all, if someone beats you as with a stick every day and says: hey, this is my culture, this only hurts a little, you can always leave?

Anyone that passes judgement or tries to stop people doing this to their kids is a diversity loving liberal beige shit smearer who wants to homogenize the world? Please.


--

Their goal may be to preserve their culture, but they are doing it using solely racial criteria. No converts, remember? Only people born to jewish parents with the occasional chief rabbi-allowed exception. If judaism is a culture then according to these people, after one generation, it becomes a race: this is evidenced by the following:

a) if my parents ar both jewish, but I declare myself a christian, I'm OK to marry a sy jew. Culture=0 Race=1

b) If one of my parents is a christian, but I convert and express a desire to be jewish in all ways, no marriage, and disowning. Culture=0 Race=1

Thus racism. Sorry if it sounds like an EEEVIL word to you: but look it up in the dictionary sometime.
posted by lalochezia at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2007


If it's only the culture they mean to preserve and it's not about race, then why reject the children of converts?
"If we let our kids marry gentiles, they’ll try to slip their kids back into the community via conversion. And then the Edict will lack teeth.”
They feel that it's a slippery slope to integration. And the article says that people who can demonstrate 3 generations of Orthodox descent are allowed to marry into the family; it doesn't say anything about being Syrian.
posted by nasreddin at 1:08 PM on October 16, 2007


Lalochezia, you might have some hurtful and traumatic personal experiences associated with such groups--but for someone claiming the mantle of rationality, you're not making any sense at all, just ranting incoherently. Make an argument instead of frothing at the mouth, and maybe then you can start calling people assholes.


a) if my parents ar both jewish, but I declare myself a christian, I'm OK to marry a sy jew. Culture=0 Race=1

b) If one of my parents is a christian, but I convert and express a desire to be jewish in all ways, no marriage, and disowning. Culture=0 Race=1


Where is this in the article?
posted by nasreddin at 1:12 PM on October 16, 2007



Shorter lalochezia:
Something can only be rational if it agrees with my preconceived is consistent with or based on or using reason; "rational behavior"; "a process of rational inference"; "rational thought" : see antonyms "superstition" ; "irrational prejudice" ; "dogmatic beliefs"

Please address the issue: how is this not racism.
posted by lalochezia at 1:13 PM on October 16, 2007


I agree it would be very difficult to legislate this away.

Very difficult? lalochezia, you can't force people to love or support their children by legislative fiat. Human beings aren't like that.

In any event, I stand by what I said. I'm going to retire from this argument for a little while because it's pretty obvious that this isn't an academic issue for you, that you have had some painful experiences in connection with this group and at this point, I'm no longer arguing with your ideas, I'm arguing with those bad experiences.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:28 PM on October 16, 2007


Nas: I infer this from the article. As you state, if you're descended from 3 generations of Jews: you can marry. If you have any non-jewish ancestry (and it is ancestry, and thus bloodline, a racial concept that that they use as a measure) in your family irrespective of your stated beliefs (a cultural concept), you cannot.

But I have been strident. And I will calm down*

* But yes, I truly think that one of the sources of all evil in the world is our ability to falsely rationalize the other as inferior and not worthy of respect, love and inclusion based on lineage or race. It won't go away in my lifetime, but I'm damned if I'll support or even legitimize cultures for whom it's a core part of their beliefs, who indoctrinate their children to perpetuate this myth. Even if there's great stuff in their culture as well : for me, it poisons the well irredemably.
posted by lalochezia at 1:29 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


well, for my part, all i know is puritans are puritans, whether they're jewish or christian. and while i can respect them to a point for their willingness to stand up to great external pressure to maintain their beliefs, it would be dangerous to forget what history has taught us about where puritanical attitudes can lead.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on October 16, 2007


nixerman, speaking of straw men, continuing to compare my argument to slavery doesn't actually make it a valid parallel. That slavery is wrong is an objective truth, and it was even when there were people who thought it was acceptable. That is actual human rights being oppressed. I know it's difficult to step outside the comfort of your own cultural background, but until you do you are going to keep getting stuck on the low-hanging fruit of this discussion. That anyone should be able to marry for love with their family's support (which, despite your bizarre accusation, is actually the whole point here. You continue to argue that SY children who want to marry outside the culture should not only be able to do so, but they also should not be subject to ostracism over it. The issue of the family blessing is why this is even a discussion.), might seem like a fundamental objective human right to you, but the fact remains that it is not. Plenty of parents disown plenty of children over unsatisfactory marriages every day, and there's no one to stop them.

Suffice to say any reasonable person should be able to see the difference between your parents being upset with your choice of spouse and oppression.

Okay, let's pretend I'm unreasonable. Please explain it to me, in laymen's terms, how "your parents being upset with your choice of spouse" is not what we're talking about.

On the basis of economic concerns alone it should be obvious that when a kid is disowned by his parents he is incurring very real economic damages and loss of liberty.

An 18-year-old "kid"? Really? Do you mean an 18-year-old who is developmentally disabled and relies on his parents for physical and financial care? Or do you mean an 18-year-old who has been the family breadwinner, possibly as a child star, and therefore has entrusted assets of his own earning to the family, who then withhold it? Or do you mean.... nope, I've just run out of possible explanations for your statement. So, can you elaborate?

When somebody is threatened with economic and social ruin

See above. Until you can demonstrate to me how an American adult of majority age is being oppressed, threatened with economic and social ruin, and withheld liberty, this is a really sweet argument a la the Capulets and the Montagues... but overly emotional and not-so-relevant.

"Parents hate my lover, don't want us to marry" = "Totally sucks."

"Parents hate my lover, don't want us to marry" ? "oppression, rights violated, social ruin, economic destruction."

or, worse, concrete physical violence (do you really think violence is not part of this equation?)

You'll need a cite that this is common in the SY community, or else it's a fearmongering distraction.

If you accept 1,2 then it should follow that, like freedom of religion and conscience, the right to love who you want is "pre-political" and it exists prior to any state/institution/tribe.

"Should" being the key word here. Only, it doesn't follow at all. Plus, while I could direct your same argument back at you (slavery and lots of other things are "pre-political," is something acceptable simply because it's "pre-political"?), I don't need to -- because your opinions on the universal omnipotence of the power of love, and a token, will get you on the bus. In America, we do not legislate how a family treats its members emotionally, or what their obligations are to those members once they are of majority age. The end.

saulgoodman, this:

A few senior rabbis got together and set a policy ("the edict"), which they then imposed on the community from the top-down. It's not like the prohibitions against marrying outsiders were part of some long-standing cultural tradition among the SYs. In this case, they explicitly adopted the protectionist attitude as a response to their new cultural environment. It was not a continuation of an existing tradition at all, if this article correctly tells the story, so what do western/non-western marital traditions really have to do with it?

...is a very fair point, but I think you are taking my statement about non-Western marital traditions too literally. If the SY community got to the US and found that the American policy of "marry whoever you want, mostly" did not support their cultural needs in the way they would have been supported at home, and therefore had to create some new policies in order to continue living the way they preferred... no, technically that's not a continuation of an existing tradition, but it is a new policy put in place to preserve a non-Western cultural more.
posted by pineapple at 1:38 PM on October 16, 2007


it is a new policy put in place to preserve a non-Western cultural more.

okay, then what particular "non-Western cultural more" was the policy adopted to preserve?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:04 PM on October 16, 2007


Last spring, I visited Mt. Gerizim in the west bank to see the Samaritans perform their annual passover ritual. They're a fascinating community in a pretty tight spot culturally. Jews look at them as heretics and according to halakhah, they aren't rabbinic Jews. They have Israeli citizenship in the same way that Ethiopian or Karaite Jews do...by virtue of their community's long association with the people of Israel. But they are viewed with suspicion by many Jews. Especially religious ones. But the Arabs do, definitely see them as Jewish, and are correspondingly suspicious of them. (Though a Palestinian friend tells me that relations between the communities have thawed a bit since the second intifadah, when Samaritans would run the IDF blockade to bring supplies into Nablus)

Half of the community lives in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv and the other half live in Kiryat Luza, just outside of Nablus. Their numbers are in continual decline and they're also obliged to police their community boundaries fairly aggressively. They will admit intermarriage with halakhic Jews, but only for male members of their community, and only after a long process of examination. Anyone who intermarries outside these strictures is ostracized.

So I guess I see the Syrian Jews' situation in similar terms. As an embattled ethnic minority that is going to extreme lengths to preserve its way of life. The Samaritans' rituals are collective and their worship depends on a well functioning, multi-generational community. With too much intermarriage, their 3000 year old way of life will literally die out. Personal happiness and fulfillment for intermarrying members will translate into the absolute loss of cultural heritage. The extreme measures taken by the community are designed to ensure that members place the good of the collective over personal satisfaction.

How is this not the same for the Syrians? Because they live in the US? Because they're wealthy?

Use the term "racism" or "xenophobia" all you want. But please do so in full awareness of the fact that you're stacking the deck against the folkways of a long-lived ethnic subculture. And that you're doing so in the absence of a well-argued philosophy of assimilation to the mainstream. And, most importantly, that you're doing so in the absence of any constitutional framework that can provide redress for your curious, cosmopolitan chauvinism.
posted by felix betachat at 2:23 PM on October 16, 2007


And, most importantly, that you're doing so in the absence of any constitutional framework that can provide redress for your curious, cosmopolitan chauvinism.

felix betachat: maybe i am stacking the deck against the folkways of a long-lived ethnic subculture. or maybe i'm just pointing out that the prohibition on out-of-group marriage is a provisional tactic for preserving "a way of life" and not part of that way of life. you speak of preserving culture as if every form of human culture has an inherent, absolute value, merely because it exists and has a history of some kind. i disagree with this view completely. cultures are not things that can be pinned up in a specimen tray and preserved; cultures are dynamic complex systems of belief and behavior that emerge within and that are inextricably linked to their particular historical and geographical context. you take the people out of their particular place and time and plop them down somewhere else where the rules necessary for survival change, and the culture changes. despite what they may desperately want to believe, the SYs are not effectively preserving their culture despite whatever protective policies they might adopt to preserve it. for one thing, life in brooklyn is a far cry from life in syria. and i imagine they take taxis a lot more often than they did 2000 years ago. i imagine they make their livings in new ways, exploiting new technologies and industries, no?

well, then, despite all the pretty window dressing of these strict rules against marrying outsiders, their culture has already fundamentally changed, and the change is irreversible. in fact, it's pretty likely that deep down they already understand this, and the psychological insecurity this understanding causes them is exactly what makes repressive reproductive taboos and other expressions of patriarchal power seem so appealing. identity insecurity is what drives oppressive cultural norms. i think groups who feel marginalized or threatened by circumstances that are beyond their control become preoccupied with maintaining the purity of their identity.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:48 PM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


well, then, despite all the pretty window dressing of these strict rules against marrying outsiders, their culture has already fundamentally changed, and the change is irreversible.

The SYs have managed to preserve more of their culture than your average Upper West Side secular humanist Woody Allen type. Correct or no?

Cultural change is not binary, and assimilation is a valid problem.
posted by nasreddin at 2:56 PM on October 16, 2007


That was a well argued piece Felix.

Firstly, if they accept voluntary (rather than born-to) converts, it removes my objection of racism : someone at least has the option of joining.

the good of the collective over personal satisfaction.....redress for your curious, cosmopolitan chauvinism.

My cosmopolitan chauvinism: I like that. Questions of he collective vs the individual are always difficult: how about the collective of mankind as a whole?

Ultimately, I believe that cultures that hermetize to the point where you are coerced/forbidden to marry/associate with/adopt the ideas of outsiders often come from (spoken or unspoken) xenophobia, and that this poisons the human endeavor.

In cases where the xenophobia is explicit, it's easy to identify, and I think, condemn. In cases where it's not, I believe the process of living in the culture eventually generates it's own xenophobia and the resultant problems that follow.

If a culture* cannot accept change to its customs and beliefs, driven by evidence of new, provisional, moral truths (see: slavery and confederate culture etc), for all that culture's glories, then maybe it belongs in a museum, the good parts preserved/adopted for for mankind, and the bad parts consigned to where they belong.


* Note I said culture, not race or people, less people get all godiwnny on me.
posted by lalochezia at 3:11 PM on October 16, 2007


Thanks, saul, for a well reasoned and articulate reply. Sadly, that's rare these days in this sort of thread.

I take your point. But my reply is simply, who is to tell these people where, when and how they must make accommodations to modernity? Haven't they got as much right to make peace with contemporary American society as you or I do? And to draw the lines in a way that satisfies them? The constitution protects freedom of conscience. As long as they are not breaking any laws, they are free to believe and behave as they will.

You are, in turn, free to say whatever you'd like about them. Nothing obliges you to view them with compassion or interest. I daresay they probably don't give a damn one way or the other.

Your armchair psychologizing is off the mark, though. Read Deuteronomy 7.3-4, for example, and you'll realize that Jews were making these sorts of community distinctions long before the idea of a plural society ever popped into anyone's head. Again, there are plenty of nasty names you can call that sort of ethnic boundary marking, if you want to. But the multivariate diversity of Judaism, with its more than thirteen million members each of whom strikes a personal balance between tradition and the society in which they live, depends fundamentally on millennia of that sort of discrimination.

The great genius of our constitutional system is that it mandates a lassez-faire approach to our fellow citizens. The American public square is culture blind. By being so, it actively facilitates that dynamic process of cultural change that you've described so eloquently. I've never suggested that the Syrians (or the Samaritans) live outside of modernity, only that they've chosen to maintain a community that emphasizes the traditional. That is their right, as much as it is your right to affiliate yourself with any community that will have you. Or none at all, for that matter.
posted by felix betachat at 3:12 PM on October 16, 2007


you take the people out of their particular place and time and plop them down somewhere else where the rules necessary for survival change, and the culture changes. despite what they may desperately want to believe, the SYs are not effectively preserving their culture despite whatever protective policies they might adopt to preserve it. for one thing, life in brooklyn is a far cry from life in syria. and i imagine they take taxis a lot more often than they did 2000 years ago. i imagine they make their livings in new ways, exploiting new technologies and industries, no?

So, what's the point of keeping kosher? Camels don't need to be preserved; food storage has evolved; livestock slaughter has become sanitary.

What's the point of the Amish in Pennsylvania rejecting farm equipment and telephones? They're here now, and they certainly benefit from technology and tourism... they should just embrace the American way.

Why does LDS still insist on home visits? There's the internet now, so people can learn that way. Red wine has been proved scientifically to be good for health; why do the Mormons still abstain? I imagine they like health, no?

Why do Latinos in America still value family culture so much? Duh, haven't they heard that "here" we are all going to postmodern family structure? What's with all this community and supporting each other business?

I guess my point, saulgoodman, is who are you to say "despite what they may desperately want to believe, the SYs are not effectively preserving their culture despite whatever protective policies they might adopt to preserve it"? Who are you to decide how any particular culture should preserve itself?
posted by pineapple at 3:21 PM on October 16, 2007


If a culture* cannot accept change to its customs and beliefs, driven by evidence of new, provisional, moral truths (see: slavery and confederate culture etc), for all that culture's glories, then maybe it belongs in a museum, the good parts preserved/adopted for for mankind, and the bad parts consigned to where they belong.

I suspect that an Iranian muslim, secure in his belief that Allah is great and Muhammad is his messenger, feels similarly about the Baha'i in his midst.
posted by felix betachat at 3:29 PM on October 16, 2007


FB: Ultimately, anyone's decision of the correctness, morality and
justifiability of others actions depends on their set of assumptions. So, yes.

The decision to leave others to practice what they may comes whith moral consequence too.
posted by lalochezia at 3:31 PM on October 16, 2007


I still say that this article wouldn't cause so much disgust if it were about, say, a black community that kicked out kids who married non-blacks. Or a Chinese community that kicked out kids who married non-Chinese.

What about the Amish? From what I've read, if you're born Amish and decide to live outside the community, they pretty much shun you for good. Yet, you don't see people on MeFi comparing their social mores to things like genital mutilation. I wonder why this is.

Is it because the Amish aren't rich? Is it because there is no perpetually embattled Amish state? Is it because there's no ages-long tradition of Amish conspiracy theories?

It would seem that the answers to these questions are beyond the scope of this discussion.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:32 PM on October 16, 2007


I still say that this article wouldn't cause so much disgust if it were about, say, a black community that kicked out kids who married non-blacks. Or a Chinese community that kicked out kids who married non-Chinese.

At least for my part, it's not so much a feeling of disgust as one of mild disappointment...

I take your point. But my reply is simply, who is to tell these people where, when and how they must make accommodations to modernity? Haven't they got as much right to make peace with contemporary American society as you or I do?

felix betachat: Your points are also well taken, and I agree these definitely aren't simple questions. Personally, I just suspect that aggressively clinging to one's sense of cultural identity--as natural and as legitimate a human impulse as it is--sometimes functions as a mechanism for avoiding responsibility for exploring more difficult questions about personal identity.

I think the question "Who am I really?" scares everyone a little, whether consciously or not, especially as our individual life experiences continually force us to reexamine the instability of our personal identities. Adopting cultural or other group identities, is one of the ways we ameliorate the anxieties that arise as a result of the more profound questions that surround our ideas about personal identity. To the extent that such strategies result in inflexibility and cultural puritanism, they can be counter-productive. To me, self is a continually evolving phenomenon--a confluence of external and internal factors. Culture, likewise, is a perpetually evolving, living thing.

Does that mean I don't think one should seek to preserve any aspects of one's cultural identity? No, of course not. Just that striking the right balance of preserving the valuable parts of one's cultural identity while remaining flexible enough to adapt to changing realities is crucial for the long-term survival of a culture.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:48 AM on October 17, 2007


Personally, I just suspect that aggressively clinging to one's sense of cultural identity--as natural and as legitimate a human impulse as it is--sometimes functions as a mechanism for avoiding responsibility for exploring more difficult questions about personal identity.

I agree and would add that in many cases, people cling to a cartoonish, flag-waving sense of cultural identity because they're not smart enough or sophisticated enough to explore those more difficult questions.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2007



Personally, I just suspect that aggressively clinging to one's sense of cultural identity--as natural and as legitimate a human impulse as it is--sometimes functions as a mechanism for avoiding responsibility for exploring more difficult questions about personal identity.


Absolutely; but it's not our place to force people into making that choice. It has to come from within.
posted by nasreddin at 12:59 PM on October 17, 2007


jason's_planet: i would also say not brave enough.

nasreddin: of course you're exactly right.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:03 PM on October 17, 2007


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