Responding to the Critics

As we had hoped, the authors of the 2005 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study responded to the op-ed by Steven Cohen, Jack Ukeles and Ron Miller questioning the findings of the Boston study. Their letter in today’s Forward is short and sweet but makes an essential point: unlike the demographic studies of Ukeles and Miller, which ask about children’s “identification,” the Boston study asked only about children’s religion–which is actually “a more stringent criterion for Jewish identification.”

In the same issue, Bethamie Horowitz, research director for the Mandel Foundation, a Jewish foundation that trains leaders in the non-profit world, has an interesting piece charting the evolution of the sociology of intermarriage from the 1940s to today. Titled “Are We More Than Just a Category?”, the piece not only looks at why intermarriage has increased (a familiar subject) but why intermarrieds today are open to making Jewish choices (a less familiar subject). Here’s her explanation–and conclusion–on the second issue:

The second major change that makes intermarriage today very different is that the credit rating of Jews as a group in American society has radically improved in comparison to its valuation half a century ago. Many people with previously hidden or partial Jewish backgrounds are now open to, and even seek out, their Jewishness. They have become truly interested in Judaism, indicating that there is no longer a unidirectional pull away from Jewish life.

In this context, intermarriage does not in and of itself rule out a serious Jewish life; that depends on social climate as well as the individual’s and family’s commitments. It’s time to realize that intermarriage isn’t the major threat. Rather, it is indifference — viewing one’s heritage as simply a fact of one’s background, without a sense of its power or potential as a guiding force — that is the more fundamental problem. The irony of our hyper-focus on intermarriage is that it has kept us focused on the boundaries, and distracted us from the more important issues of meaning.


In other news, Julie Wiener is at it again, writing another terrific column, this one on balancing Christmas and Hanukkah, with a nice shout-out to our recent December Holidays Survey.

And another friend of IFF, Laurel Snyder, who compiled and edited Half/Life: Jewish-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes, has started another blog called faithhacker, on Jewcy.com. For those keeping score at home, that’s her third website, alongside jewishyirishy.com (also a blog) and Killing the Buddha (a web mag).

Also, the Detroit Free Press article on interfaith families that quotes us was picked up by the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel.

Assuming there isn’t more news on the Boston study front, tomorrow I’m going to do a round-up of stories on the December dilemma from the secular press. (And it won’t be the last one, I assure you…)

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