When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
The Pope is coming to the U.S. for the first time next week, making stops in Washington, D.C., and New York on his five-day trip. What does this mean for interfaith families?
Like his predecessor John Paul II (and really, like any mainstream Catholic official), Benedict XVI is pro-life, anti-death penalty, anti-birth control and anti-homosexuality. He also follows the recent trend in papal politics of decrying the excesses and abuses of capitalism and protesting American use of force. Also like his predecessor, he sees moral relativism as an insidious force that sustains evil in secular society. In terms of substance, his views are little different than that of John Paul II–why then is John Paul II viewed as the lovable uniter and Benedict XVI as the reactionary divider?
“The policy is we will only invite speakers who are either single or, if they are married, are not intermarried,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, the R[abbinical] A[ssembly]‘s vice president.
Which is proving to be a problem given the prevalence of intermarriage. Organizers of the R.A.’s convention in Washington Feb. 10-14 discussed inviting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to speak, but nixed it when they realized it violated the R.A.’s long-standing, but little known, policy. The policy even extends to the non-Jewish spouses of Jews, such as Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
R.R. Reno, a practicing Christian and theology professor at Creighton University, wrote a wonderful essay in Commentary on his intermarriage to a religiously observant Jewish woman. Unfortunately, it’s available for subscribers only.
The story of his interfaith relationship begins typically. He met Juliana when they were both graduate students at Yale in the ’80s:
Make no mistake. There was nothing about Yale University in 1985 that made such a love difficult or even noteworthy. Our lives as students were full of common experiences and common aspirations, and in that bastion of American liberalism, one could easily imagine a Jew marrying a Christian—after all, religion is a “life-style choice,” is it not?
Arnold Eisen’s inauguration as the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary last fall has generated a fair amount of excitement in the Jewish world. As the first non-rabbi to serve in the role in more than 65 years and one of the leading sociologists of American Jewry, he is widely seen as bringing a fresh perspective to his leadership of the Conservative movement’s flagship institution.
So far, his statements about intermarriage have been encouraging, but I’m really enthused about what he said in this recent Q&A with the St. Petersburg Times. His response to a question about intermarriage is so positive that I want to share its entire text: Continue reading →
Our site is full of stories of people who encountered resistance to their interfaith relationships from Jewish family. But their problems pale in comparison to the rejection and ostracization experienced by Jews from the Orthodox community who are dating or married to non-Jews.
In her latest “In the Mix” column, Julie Wiener tells the story of “Ilana,” an intermarried Orthodox woman who “was urged to hide her children from her grandfather and tell him she was still single, for fear the news of her intermarriage would trigger a heart attack.” In the Orthodox world, intermarriage is one of the great taboos–perhaps akin to declaring yourself a racist in the secular world.
In the sciences all experiments require controls as well as subjects. Controls allow scientists to see if the expected results from an altered environment are any different than what would occur in an unaltered environment.
Typically, research on intermarriage in the Jewish community has looked at the effect of intermarriage on Jewish behavior as a binary proposition. If you’re intermarried, you act this way. If you’re inmarried, you act another way. But in recent years, more researchers have used controls in their research, controlling for variables such as level of Jewish education as a child and size of one’s personal Jewish network. Revealingly, when you control for level of Jewish “capital” when comparing the inmarried and the intermarried, gaps in Jewish behavior and participation shrink dramatically.
The latest study to add to this body of research comes from Leonard Saxe, Fern Chertok and Benjamin Phillips of the Cohen Center for Jewish Studies and Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Titled “It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah: Jewish Identity and Intermarriage,” the study controls for factors such as the Jewish partner’s pre-existing Jewish education and home religious practice.
As Sue Fishkoff of JTA reports, the study is muddying the waters of the intermarriage debate. Meanwhile, however, Steven Cohen, author of several of his own studies on or related to intermarriage, disagrees with the study’s conclusions, arguing that intermarriage is a deterministic factor in decreased Jewish involvement independent of other factors.
Further complicating the debate is another study soon to be released by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston which shows that the children of intermarried families being raised Jewish behave remarkably similarly to the children of non-Orthodox inmarried families.
When I get my hand on the actual studies, I will have more to add to the conversation.
While true, the number cited in the story–61%–is a little different than the number typically used when citing intermarriage rates. The most commonly cited intermarriage rate is the percentage of married Jews who are married to non-Jews (the individual intermarriage rate). The 61%, however, is the household (or couples) intermarriage rate, which is the percentage of households with Jews that are intermarriages. The household rate is always higher than the individual rate. In Portland, the individual rate is 44%–which is not quite as shocking as 61%.
To understand why the household rate is always higher than the individual rate, one need only realize that it takes two Jews to form an inmarried household and only one Jew to form an intermarried household. Therefore, when you are calculating the household rate, one intermarried Jew counts as much as two inmarried Jews. If you had 12 Jews in a community, and six were intermarried, the individual intermarriage rate would be 50%. However, because the six inmarried Jews all have to be married to other Jews, there are only three inmarried couples (because six people make three couples). But there are still six intermarried households. So the household intermarriage rate in this 12-person community would be 66%.
During the maelstrom over intermarriage that occurred after the release of the 1990 National Jewish Population Study, people were astonished that the reported intermarriage rate for the years 1995-2000 was 52% (a number which was since revised downward to 43%). But that was the individual intermarriage rate. Translated to a household rate, the national intermarriage rate for 1995-2000 would be an astonishing 68%!
Reform Judaism Magazine’swinter 2007 issue looks at the so-called “outreach revolution” through the eyes of children of interfaith households and their parents. The term “outreach revolution” is never precisely defined but I assume it is referring to the gradual change in the atmosphere, programming, outreach and membership of Reform synagogues that has changed the movement to the point that a near-majority of its members are from interfaith families. Given that the change did not happen abruptly, and significant outreach programming didn’t start until the early ’80s, it hardly qualifies as a “revolution”–more of an “evolution” really–but what’s an extra r between friends?
The issue has a nice symmetrical feel to it. It includes perspectives from three children of interfaith marriages as well as essays from the non-Jewish parent of each child. Lucas McMahon, a 17-year-old from Marblehead, Mass., talks about what it’s like to have red hair, green eyes and be Jewish and how his mother initially didn’t invite his Catholic grandmother to his bar mitzvah–only to be rebuked by grandma, who said, “Of course I am going to come… I would not miss this for the world.” Meanwhile, Lucas’ father Tim recounts his and his wife’s decision to raise their children Jewish:
In the end our decision to raise our children as Jews came out of a simple realization: I would be more comfortable having my children be Jewish than Mindy would be having hers be Catholic. If we tried to debate which religion was “better” we would have failed.
I have a theory about intermarriage. I know some people think Judaism is going to die out if Jews keep marrying outside the religion, but if my circle of friends is any indication, there’s a practical, perhaps even evolutionary, reason for Jews to be marrying gentiles. In every relationship I know of, the Jew has the worse sense of direction.
…It’s the same in every relationship, male or female, gay or straight. The gentile looks at the map and says, “This way.” The Jew says, “After you.” Why is this? Did our forebears walk around the desert for 40 years because they couldn’t find their way out? It couldn’t have been that they liked the sights so much.
It’s a funny essay, but its point is less about the distinction between Jews and gentiles–his portraits strike me as a little tongue-in-cheek–than about the way that partners in a couple should complement each others’ strengths. In that way, intermarried partners can be a positive influence on each other because of their different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Interestingly, I think his theory is bogus. I’ve never noticed Jews having an exceptionally poor, or exceptionally good, sense of direction. But that’s why I also think his essay is notable. Even when the stereotypes have no connection to reality, I don’t mind seeing somebody put them in print. We should all be able to laugh out our foibles, whether real or imagined.
Shmuel Rosner, Ha’aretz‘s intrepid American correspondent, has started an ambitious series on American Judaism. The first article, Reaching Out to Interfaith Families, focuses on intermarriage through the microcosm of Boston. It’s an appropriate starting point. We are based just outside Boston, in Newton, and the 2005 demographic study of Jewish Boston released last year showed that 60% of interfaith couples were raising their children Jewish. More recently, Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor, rankled traditional Jews everywhere with his critique of Modern Orthodox attitudes toward intermarriage, The Orthodox Paradox.
While in Boston, Ed Case and I met with Rosner and we had a very interesting debate. Rosner argues that there is an “emerging consensus” on intermarriage in the American Jewish community. While many leaders remain uncomfortable with intermarriage, there is a widespread acceptance that “intermarriage must be accepted and interfaith couples embraced,” according to Rosner. Ed didn’t completely agree. I argued that the statement should be amended: in non-Orthodox Jewish communities (synagogues, JCCs, etc.), there is a near-unanimous acceptance and embrace of interfaith families, but the leadership is much more ambivalent. That ambivalence can be measured by the paltry sums given to outreach to interfaith families.
I think Rosner’s new series is particularly significant for non-American, particularly Israeli, readers. Israelis often are willfully ignorant about the contours of the American Jewish community. They have a triumphalist attitude about the prevalence of assimilation and intermarriage in the States–without acknowledging their own privileged position as the only majority-Jewish country in the world. Other international Jewish communities, such as Britain and France, are way behind the United States in being welcoming to interfaith families. The British Jewish community especially is dominated by the minority of traditional Jews, who set a standard for religious involvement that few abide by. Everyone could learn from what Rosner refers to as “the great experiment” taking place in America.
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