Susan Jacobs has an article on interdating in today’s issue of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. She treats the issue sensitively, although the general impression left by the article, that it is possible for parents to effectively discourage their children from interdating (and intermarrying), is not realistic, in my view.
I’ve explained my own views on this subject in How to Talk to Your Kids about Interfaith Dating: For Those Married to Jews or in Interfaith Marriages.
Because the Pittsburgh article did not express my views fully, I wrote the following letter to the editor:
Susan Jacobs treated the issue of parents talking to their children about interdating with great sensitivity (“Parents face challenges in urging kids to date Jewish,” September 27). I would like to clarify several points on which she quotes me.
InterfaithFamily.com was formed to encourage interfaith couples to raise their children as Jews. We are a resource for couples who have already made that decision, and we also try to reach and attract those who are “on the fence,” or would otherwise “do both” or give their children no religion.
The way that parents talk about interdating is very important. Contratry to the implication in the article, I would never say to a young adult, “you will have a greater chance of finding meaning and fulfillment if you marry Jewish.” I recommend that parents say the following to their children: “We find participating in Jewish life to be a source of meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We hope you will want to have a Jewish life yourself for that reason. You will have a much greater chance of having a Jewish life if you marry someone who is Jewish. Just as a matter of statistics, only a third of interfaith couples raise their children as Jews.”
More important, parents can encourage their children to date other Jews without demeaning intermarriage. It is unnecessary, and counter-productive, for parents to say “you should only date Jews, because you should only marry a Jew, because intermarriage is wrong and bad.” Counter-productive, because the reality is that half of the children are likely to intermarry despite what their parents say, and if that half absorbs a message from the Jewish community that their marriage is wrong and bad, they are unlikely to want to enage in Jewish life.
In my opinion, the critically important goal, given the reality of intermarriage, is to maximize the number of interfaith couples who raise their children as Jews. I try to assess any issue — how to talk about interdating, conversion, rabbinic officiation — by that standard. Ms. Jacobs quotes me as saying that it’s possible but not easy to raise Jewish children in an interfaith household. It’s much more than just possible — it happens very successfully, in many, many instances, and the Jewish community needs to do what it can to have it occur more often.
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