Where Do You Stand, Part II

Yesterday, I explored the study It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah: Intermarriage and Engagement, co-authored by demographer Leonard Saxe, as well as the response that sociologist Steven Cohen offered at the Reform rabbinical convention in March.

After writing the post, I exchanged emails with Saxe. He responded to my concern that the study appeared to underplay its finding that the adult children of intermarriage are significantly less likely to raise their children Jewish than the adult children of inmarriage–even when you control for “Jewish capital,” like their network of Jewish friends and Jewish educational experiences.

Saxe pointed out that these adult children of intermarriage were raised before the emergence of Jewish outreach to interfaith families–which didn’t start until the early ’80s. The children who grew up immersed in the outreach movement have mostly not yet had children of their own–which is why Saxe says he is “much more interested in studies of those who are part of the birthright israel generation.” To fully understand how the children of the outreach movement will raise their children, we need to wait a few years.

In response to my discussion with Saxe and others, I also wanted to clarify my conclusion that, “both academics highlighted the data that bolstered their case and ignored, or didn’t explore, the data that didn’t.” Cohen ignored the data that didn’t support his case–primarily the data from the Boston demographic study that showed high rates of Jewish involvement among interfaith families–while Saxe and his co-authors didn’t fully explore the issue of the adult children of intermarriage.

Saxe also wanted to stress “the need to focus our efforts on engaging the broader Jewish community”–an important point. Improving the quality of Jewish life will attract inmarried as well as intermarried Jews. That’s something both the “education camp” and the “outreach camp” can agree on.

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