Making Intermarriage Legal in Israel

Israeli leaders like Binyamin Netanyahu sometimes excoriate intermarriage as a grave threat to the Jewish people, which is easy to do in a country with a majority Jewish population. But Israel also has another leg up on preventing intermarriage: a Jew cannot legally marry a non-Jew in Israel.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, a number of mixed and non-Jewish couples are suing the state to compensate them for their “expense and anguish” because they have to travel out of the country to get married. Under Israeli law, only a man and woman of the same religion can marry each other, and they can only get married by an official religious authority. In Israel, the official Jewish religious authority is Orthodox. Unlike in the U.S., there is no such thing as civil marriage by someone other than a rabbi, priest or imam.
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One-Quarter of American Jewish Youth are Orthodox, Says Study

There are more young Orthodox Jews than either young Reform or young Conservative Jews, says a study coming out this week, according to a Nathaniel Popper article in the Forward. Says the article:

While the Reform and Conservative religious movements have long jockeyed for the title of the largest Jewish denomination in America, a new study finds that when it comes to the next generation, the Orthodox movement has the most children affiliated with its synagogues, setting the stage for a future shift in the balance of American Jewish power.

…The new report puts particular emphasis on the figures relating to Jewish children. While only 43% of adults are affiliated with a synagogue, the number is 68% when it comes to Jews under the age of 18, according to Cohen’s computations. Of those young affiliated Jews, 37%, or 224,000, are with Orthodox synagogues. The number is 195,000 for the Reform and 147,000 for the Conservatives.

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The Link Sink

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Some links for y’all:

  • Sue Fishkoff’s Hadassah magazine package on converting non-Jewish spouses is now available online. It includes quotes from IFF President and Publisher Ed Case.
  • For several years, I was a loyal reader of Jewsweek.com, which was founded by Binyamin Cohen. But when Cohen left Jewsweek to help start up Atlanta Jewish Life–which is easily the hippest, most accessible Jewish magazine in the country (sorry Heeb)–Jewsweek fell into disrepair. Jewcy.com took it over, but every time you visited Jewsweek.com it said something like “Come back soon for the new Jewsweek!” Finally, after a year-and-a-half hiatus, Jewsweek is back! It’s not quite what it was when Cohen was running things, but it still is a solid spot to find edgy and hip Jewish stories. Like this one from Israeli Jewsweek columnist Orit, on dating a non-Jewish man for the first time. And if you’re interested in a contrary perspective from an equally hip, but more serious perspective, read this critique of Orit on Jewlicious.
  • Hillel has a profile on National Public Radio broadcaster Scott Simon, who is the child of a Catholic mother and Jewish father and also has adopted a non-Jewish child from China.
  • A Little Love for the Reconstructionists

    The Reform movement is often praised–or villified, depending on what circles you’re in–for its 1983 decision to recognize the children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers as Jews. It is rightly considered a watershed moment in the Jewish community’s response to intermarriage, and is a major reason why most affiliated interfaith families are members of Reform synagogues.

    As important as that 1983 decision was, the Reform movement was not the first Jewish movement to officially recognize the legitimacy of patrilineal descent. The Reconstructionist movement made a similar decision–15 years earlier.
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    Marketing Day Schools to Interfaith Families

    Not sure why I hadn’t thought of sharing this yet, but we wrote this article on marketing Jewish day schools to interfaith families for RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network. It will be published in their issue coming out in December, I believe. It’s specifically targeted to the boards and administrators of Jewish community day schools, so forgive the somewhat-dry language.

    How to market community day schools to interfaith families
    By Micah Sachs and Edmund Case

    Of the estimated 500,000 children in intermarried households, only 5,400 (Kotler-Berkowitz, 2005), or barely more than 1 percent, attend Jewish day school. So clearly there is growth potential in the intermarried market.

    When thinking about marketing to interfaith families, the most important thing to keep in mind is that interfaith families who are considering a Jewish day school education are probably not very different from inmarried families considering a Jewish day school. As Jennifer Rudin-Sable, the former Jewish life coordinator at the Rashi School in Boston has said, “Inter-faith and intra-faith families are much more similar than they are different and… the key to bringing them into our community is not identifying ‘who or what’ they are but rather identifying ‘where’ they are and ‘what they need’ to take the next step in their journey.” There is no magic bullet to reaching this diverse market; the best advice we can offer is to make sure your advertising and marketing materials emphasize your acceptance of the children of interfaith families.
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    Trigger-Happy?

    We recently received a video from the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, based in Boston’s North Shore. We’ve talked about the Lappin Foundation before; they fund and manage some great programs for interfaith families, but their spokespeople never miss an opportunity to denigrate intermarriage. This new video is no different. Called “Journey of Faith,” it’s meant to be a “trigger for discussion” on intermarriage and conversion to Judaism. It’s being distributed for free, and intended for “conversion classes, interfaith outreach programs, Introduction to Judaism courses, adult education courses, teen dialogue about dating, marriage and family, pre-marital counseling and training for clergy and Jewish communal workers.”

    A little more than 10 minutes long, “Journey of Faith” features Doug and Jodi Smith of Marblehead, Mass. Doug was born Catholic and Jodi was born Jewish, but after almost 10 years of marriage, Doug decided to convert to Judaism in 2005. His reason for converting is pretty simple: he wanted to feel a “full” member of his family’s Conservative synagogue. He says he was especially struck at the 2005 High Holidays, when he saw his daughter on the bima and knew he couldn’t join her.
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    The Pull of the Holocaust

    This week’s Sunday New York Times had a beautifully written piece in its Style section by a secular Jewish woman who is in love with an atheist non-Jewish Irishman. Called “When a Relationship Carries the Weight of History,” it’s about a very particular, very common kind of modern Jew who is unsure about the existence of God–and therefore uncomfortable with religious ritual–but is certain about the importance of the Holocaust. Lauren Fox, the author, says:

    I was raised Jewish, but in some fundamental way, it didn’t take. I wanted it to. I tried. When I lived in Minneapolis during my 20’s, I attended High Holy Day services at practically every synagogue in the area, hoping to find one that would speak to my heart, but I always left feeling empty, more confused than before I had gone.

    All the talk of God bothered me. I was not sure if I believed, but even in the most liberal of synagogues, even on the weirdest left-wing fringe of Judaism, where you met in a basement and sang songs about ending world hunger, it seemed as if you couldn’t get around God if you wanted to be Jewish. God is everywhere! So I tried to uncover a latent faith in a higher power, but all I have ever found, deep down, at my spiritual core, is a well-developed sense of guilt and a craving for Ho Hos.

    I suppose this is, in some part, how I ended up with an irreverent Irish atheist for a boyfriend.

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    You Think Interfaith Issues Are Only for the Living?

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    Yesterday I attended a fascinating meeting of the Interfaith Collaborative–the group of professionals who conduct outreach to interfaith couples and families in the Greater Boston area and meet on a regular basis. This session, the first of its kind for the group, involved presentations by representatives of two Jewish cemeteries. If you thought that interfaith family issues end when life ends… think again.
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    The Promise

    Another month, another casually great column from Julie Wiener at The Jewish Week.

    In this month’s column on intermarried life, Wiener talks about “The Promise,” that vague commitment to raise the kids Jewish that non-Jewish partners often make to their Jewish spouses-to-be. (I had a conversation with my fiance on this very issue two weeks ago.)

    Ah, the ill-defined Promise. I remember clearly the day almost 13 years ago that I extracted it, saying, “Before things get serious, I need you to promise that if we ever have kids together we’ll raise them as Jews.”

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    Changes in the Conservative Movement?

    Arnold Eisen, the incoming chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, one of two main rabbinical schools of the Conservative movement, had something positive to say about intermarried families in a recent Q&A in the Journal News, a newspaper in Westchester County, New York:

    If we have intermarried families, it’s our job to make them so welcome that they want to be Jewish families.

    It’s a brief statement in an interview that attempts to cover a lot of ground. We haven’t seen any more detailed policy statements on intermarriage from Eisen since he was elected chancellor, but here’s what he wrote for us a few years ago about what the Jewish communal response to intermarriage should be. It’s not clear whether his position is different now that he is steeping into one of the key seats of authority in the Conservative movement.
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