Friday, August 07, 2009

US Syrian Jews becoming ever more insular

Haaretz takes an in-depth look at the Syrian-Jewish community in the US, which is reeling from a financial scandal embroiling its rabbis. Instead of assimilating like other US Jewish communities, the Syrians have become ever more insular: (with thanks: Binhaddou)

"Solidarity is how this community has survived intact even as other, less insular, Sephardic communities - the Greeks, for example - have scattered and assimilated in America. The Syrians' communal trajectory has traced the reverse course of Ashkenazic Jewry, in which each generation of the mainstream has been more assimilated than the last. With the Syrian Jews, each generation has been more insular.

"It is an insularity reinforced in no small part by a rabbinic edict from the 1930s - since updated and strengthened - that, in its current interpretation, forbids community members from marrying converts to Judaism, even if validly converted by an Orthodox rabbi elsewhere. It is an insularity that has grown, even as their wealth has burgeoned due to their elaborate, family-linked network of mutual aid in business and philanthropy.

"This has led some wags to describe the community as medieval minds in Armani designs. But its defenders point, instead, to the unparalleled benefits community member share.

"No community has been as successful in building such an extensive infrastructure for its members," noted Sarina Roffe, a writer and researcher whose work focuses on her community - and who was one of the few sources willing to speak on the record.

"Now this community's absolute fealty to its rabbis will face a test unlike any it has faced before. And no one knows for sure in which direction its members will turn - toward greater openness to the outside or further fortification against it. "

Read article in full

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