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Backgrounder on Intermarriage

For much of American Jewish history, intermarriage was a minor issue. Intermarriage was relatively rare, and was disapproved of by most Jews. Many Jews know the story of a relative who was disowned (in some cases, mourned as if he or she had died) when he or she married a non-Jew.

The incidence of intermarriage started to increase in the 1970s (from 13 percent to 28 percent). In response, the Reform movement took two controversial steps: it created an outreach department to reach out to and welcome intermarried couples, and decided to recognize the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as Jews (under traditional Jewish law, only children of Jewish mothers are considered Jews).

But when the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey revealed that close to half of all new marriages involving Jews in the previous five years were to non-Jews, intermarriage shot to the top of the Jewish community's agenda.

Because Judaism doesn't encourage proselytizing and Jews are such a small minority (about 2 percent of the U.S. population and less than 1 percent of the world population), some Jews consider the ongoing high rate of intermarriage a threat to the continued existence of the Jewish people. Major Jewish figures have been harshly critical of intermarriage and view outreach to the intermarried as a waste of limited communal resources. Many Jewish organizations see promoting Jewish in-marriage as one of their explicit or implicit fundamental goals.

In recent years there has been a growing awareness that writing off intermarried families may mean writing off a Jewish future. Intermarriage can be an opportunity to sustain and even grow the Jewish population both quantitatively and qualitatively. But intermarried couples will only make Jewish choices and raise their children as Jews if the Jewish community genuinely welcomes them. InterfaithFamily.com is a leading advocate for building such an inclusive Jewish community.

We recommend that families choose one religious identity for their children, while honoring the traditions of the non-Jewish parent (for example, participating in Christmas and Easter celebrations). We recommend against trying to blend religions or raising children as "both." Conversion is a wonderful personal choice but our goal is increase the number of children raised as Jews in interfaith families, not to increase the number of converts to Judaism. We support rabbis who officiate at intermarriages and encourage more to do so. We are in favor of increasing the opportunities for non-Jewish parents raising Jewish children to participate in synagogue ritual and leadership and all aspects of Jewish life. And we are in favor of a major investment of resources to expand programs of outreach to interfaith families.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple."
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