- In Every Tongue: The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People
A recurrent discussion in Israel and among the major Jewish denominations in general relates to the question of "Who is a Jew?" After reading In Every Tongue, one might rephrase the question as "Who is Not a Jew?" Despite the fact that Jews have migrated around the world, adopted local languages and culture, intermingled with the natives and intermarried with them, Tobin et al. still consider them potential members of the Jewish people if they have any cultural practice that might have Jewish origins. "There are hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions of Americans and others around the globe—of all races and ethnicities who could be Jewish" (175), they say, if we would only give them the chance. [End Page 109]
The authors' main focus is on what they call "diverse Jews," and their primary study relates to the United States. They estimate that "at least 20 percent of the Jewish population in the United States is racially and ethnically diverse, including African, African American, Latino (Hispanic), Asian, Native American, Sephardic, Mizrachi, and mixed-race Jews by heritage, adoption, and marriage" (21). "White" Jews are loath to accept them. They also describe Jewish groups in places such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, India, and China in the chapter "Jews Have Always Been Diverse" which argues that the historical fact of Jewish diversity should serve as a basis for acceptance of a wide variety of people as Jews. This is a valuable chapter for people who are unaware of these communities. Based on a 2002 national telephone survey conducted by their Institute for Jewish & Community Research in the United States (D. Tobin is Associate Director of the Institute, G. Tobin is President, and S. Rubin is senior research associate), Tobin et al. claim tremendous potential for Jewish growth, having found 4.2 million adults in the United States with Jewish heritage in addition to their claim of six million persons who are actually Jews. The authors also say that there are an additional 2.5 million adults in the United States who are not Jewish but have a connection to Judaism or to the Jewish community. All of these groups, in the United States and elsewhere, can be sources of Jewish growth, if properly encouraged.
Why should "diverse Jews"—those persons who are the authors' main focus of attention and who are basically defined as people of color who have converted to Judaism, or have Jewish heritage, or identify with Judaism, or who are on the path to Judaism—be welcomed by the Jewish community and taken in as equal members? The reasons Tobin et al. give include: an expansive Jewish community is healthier than a shrinking one; being unwelcoming violates Jewish values; more people accepted as Jews in the world can be counted on for support in the face of rising anti-Semitism; and "diverse Jews" undermine the race card of antisemitism by exploding the myth of Jews as the "white race." Increasing the visibility of racially and ethnically mixed, or diverse Jews, can actually bridge the gap between racial and ethnic groups.
The methodology of their study determining the numbers in the United States can be questioned. The samples are small, and the sampling error large, but the issue of methodology is basically irrelevant to this book. The number of diverse Jews, whether large or small, is secondary to the basic argument of the authors. This book is a political and social treatise to develop Judaism in a way that expands its boundaries so as to make it more open to all. Basically everyone who wants to be included should be accepted, and all should be done to make more people want to be [End Page 110] part of the Jewish people. To this end, the book includes a chapter of recommendations on how to incorporate "non-whites" into the Jewish community, and how to get "white" Jews to accept them. The authors...