I have an etiquette for you. I know this is a touchy subject.
I have a good friend who’s very aggressively JDate-ing. She met a guy on whose name is very Jewish (last name Katz) and who went to a Jewish day school in Los Angeles. He looks black. She asked me when it’s appropriate to ask if he’s black. Let’s leave aside for a minute that it seems like a redundant question.
What she wants to ask about his background. She’s interested in him, but doesn’t want to date someone who isn’t halakhically Jewish, and she’s concerned there may be a non-Orthodox conversion in his past.
My instinct here is that it’s really rude and inappropriate to ask questions about his background up front. I feel like she’s assuming that he’s a less legitimate Jew because he’s black. Her response is basically that she doesn’t want to waste his time if he’s not up to her standards of halakhic Jewishness.
Is there an appropriate context or situation to ask about his background? Or is it off limits and possibly racist to bring it up? Any other thoughts?
I hope you’re doing well. I’m already missing your blog posts.
Well, have you heard the joke now from Hillel rabbis: if the person has a Jewish last name, they’re less likely to be Jewish than a person with “non-Jewish” last name. The whole “half Jewish on the wrong side” thing. Yeah, it’s an awful joke.
A Jew of color can barely get through 2 minutes at any Jewish event without a background check. “Are you Jewish? Are you a convert?” People often don’t even say “Hello.” Obviously, there are plenty of black Jews who were born Jewish. But nobody believes this…apparently even black Jews. A black Jew asked me at a Shabbos table if I was born Jewish and then if I was “born in America.”
But if you read my blogs, you know the drill. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have asked me for advice. I think if you’re sensing your friend is asking because he’s black, then you’re probably right on. And as a friend, you should tell her your concerns. It’s going to be a lot easier coming from you than having her play out her racial insensitivities on this poor boy. I’m sure he’s heard it all before but it gets tiresome. Give her my blog or MaNishtana’s to chew over. Maybe it will raise her sensitivity or maybe she’ll realize interracial dating is not for her. I dated one too many guys who thought my race and my hair height were a “disability.” Waste-of-time!
Of course, there is this thing called tact. But it’s interesting that I know so many white Jews who get into…”situations” because they never ask about their boyfriend about his yichus or observance level up front. Basically, if the guy’s white and has a Jewish-sounding last name, people assume he’s Jewish so why ask? And then it comes out that someone had a conversion that wasn’t “kosher” enough for someone else, somewhere down the line in his family.
Okay, also notable…if she were a guy, particularly a Kohen, she would probably have to on date #1 and go through the “Kohen speech” just to make sure the other person is aware that he can’t marry a person who is X, Y, Z. Before I even introduced myself as a convert (thank G-d, people were really tactful and sensitive with me plus I couldn’t go more than 5 minutes without telling people I was), many Kohens I met would say “Hi, my name is X” and pretty quickly, “I’m a Kohen.” I’ve seen the fallout of what happens when Kohens aren’t so upfront with girls.
It sounds like she’s already made her mind up and if she is, she’s wasting his time. But I should be sensitive to the fact that if she’s been doing JDate and “aggressively dating” as you’ve said, she feels like her time’s been wasted long enough. It’s hard. But the only way you get returns is if you invest even when investing can get you hurt. I know. Been stomped off enough to know. Just not on JDate.
Hope this helps.