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Asking the wrong questions about Chelsea Clinton’s conversion

by Danielle Berrin

July 13, 2010 | 11:54 am

Everyone is in a tizzy over whether or not Chelsea Clinton will convert.

I hate to burst any hopeful bubbles, but since she is due to marry Marc Mezvinsky at the end of the month, my guess is she has no immediate plans to join the tribe. Let’s face it: with wedding nuptials weeks away, we’d probably know by now if it was going to be a kosher wedding—which, by the way, doesn’t make me optimistic about the food.

But there’s something about the debate over whether or not she will, or should, that seems to be missing the point. David Gibson, writing for Politics Daily, used the Clinton conversion question to explain Jewish halacha on intermarriage and spew statistics about dwindling Jewish numbers that felt a lot like fear mongering. He even went so far as to suggest that if Clinton doesn’t convert, her marriage may be endangered, writing, “Research indicates that interfaith marriages tend to fail at higher rates than same-faith marriages.” But, has anyone wondered if Chelsea Clinton even wants to be Jewish? The thing I’d like to ask is: Why should Chelsea Clinton want to be Jewish? What would a Jewish life, a Jewish brain, a Jewish home bring to her life and how would it enrich her? And for anyone hoping her union with a Jew—who may or may not engage in much Jewish practice himself—might endear her to Israel, again I ask - Why should it? Are most “Jews” in America living Jewish lives rich enough to influence their feelings on Israel? Peter Beinart probably doesn’t think so.

The speculation about Clinton’s religious future is steeped in the kind of intellectual debate you’d have with a toddler. Why should she convert? Because Jews say so. Because intermarriage is forbidden. Because Jewish numbers are dwindling and Chelsea Clinton could redeem the Jewish future through a couple of meetings with a rabbi.

We’re dealing with a Clinton here. Not a stupid woman, a dependent woman or a desperate woman. Clinton is well educated, comes from a good family, is independently successful and has ambition in the world. And we’re raising debate over her spiritual future by lobbing facts and figures about the declining Jewish populace and the fact that Conservative rabbis are forbidden from officiating at intermarriages? We’re going to have to come up with a more compelling argument than that. What we should be talking about is what Judaism might bring to her life, to her marriage, to her raising children, to her sense of purpose in the world.

I say our conversion PR is just as bad as Israel’s.

More on Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials by Hollywood Jew:
Chelsea Clinton’s $5 million wedding

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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