A Tale of Three Cities

Earlier this year, JDate began offering bulk-rate discounts on JDate subscriptions for rabbis interested in promoting Jewish dating among younger, unmarried members of their congregations. Nothing wrong with that, although the measure is more symbolic than practical, given the small number of young, unmarried people in most synagogues. And the kind of young, unmarried Jews who join synagogues are the type of people who are already dedicated to marrying another Jew. But kudos to anyone who wants to help someone find their beshert–whether he or she is Jewish or not.

Less encouraging have been the explanations that rabbis have given for offering the JDate memberships. From the aforeblogged Newsweek article:

The rabbis say they felt compelled to act because of the gradual dilution of the faith through marriage. Almost half of American Jews marry non-Jews, a rate of exodus that has more than tripled since 1970.

Which makes this article from the San Francisco-area Contra Costa Times a breathe of fresh air. Of the three rabbis interviewed, only one argues that he offers JDate as a response to the “mathematical” decline of Jews via intermarriage. The other two stress the importance of sharing the richness of the Jewish tradition with all who seek it, whether they are Jewish or not. Says Rabbi Dan Goldblatt, of Congregation Beth Chaim in Danville, Calif.:

Jews who are not given the sense of how nourishing and spiritual it is–it doesn’t concern me so much that they are marrying out of the faith, but that they weren’t shown that gift. We have to share our faith more fully and with more depth.

In Beverly, Mass., a profile of Temple B’nai Abraham highlights the importance that young intermarried families play in the synagogue’s future.

And in northern New Jersey, a trio of rabbis from the three largest movements–Reform, Orthodox and Conservative–debated how best to reach unaffiliated Jews. Why?

“Jews in America have become spiritual shoppers,” said Rabbi Doug Sagal of Temple Emanu-El, the Reform synagogue in Westfield which hosted the event. “Thirty or 40 years ago, people joined a synagogue out of loyalty to the denomination they were raised in, because it was the right thing to do. That’s not true anymore; now they are searching for what their religious affiliation can do for them.”

The Conservative and Orthodox rabbis had remarkably liberal approaches to intermarriage considering their movement’s general attitude and policy. Rabbi Matthew Axelrod of Congregation Beth Israel (Conservative) “said the Conservative movement had been missing the boat by not exxtending outreach to [intermarried] families, and praised the Reform movement’s more accomoadating approach.” Meanwhile, Rabbi Aryeh Stechler of Congregation Anshe Chesed (Orthodox) advocated withholding membership rights to intermarried Jews and their spouses, but said, “we should welcome the intermarried in our personal hearts, and welcome them to services and to Shabbat meals, even if we do not publicly recognize them.” That’s quite a distance from the unwritten policy of communal ostracization practiced by quite a few Orthodox Jews.

Add it all up, and you have positive signs of outreach to the intermarried from three very different centers of American Jewish life.

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3 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Cities

  1. Rabbi Stechler’s words echo those of my late Rabbi, who was also Orthodox and passed away a month ago. he set quite an example for both Jews and non-Jews, and it is good to see that his memory and his viewpoints are carried on by others in the Orthodox world.

    as far as JDate is concerned…i’ll be completely honest, i have never liked the site. all the stories i hear about it are typically negative (except from one of my cousins, who met his wife on the site and my friend’s brother who met his current girlfriend on it).
    i appreciate the idea of helping others find their soulmate, but i don’t think JDate should be offered simply as a response to the demographic issue. people don’t need the extra weight on their shoulders when trying to meet potential partners. most people who use JDate are, as Micah said, the ones who are already synagogue members or belong to groups like Aish. they might also be more secular folks (my cousin and my friend’s brother) who would like to meet a Jewish partner but don’t want to do so in a religious setting.

    Rabbi Goldblatt brings up a very interesting point. it’s not that people are simply marrying out; it’s that they’re not being shown enough positivity in Judaism. people are more likely to respond to something when it’s presented in a positive manner. if all young people hear about Judaism is that it’s exclusive and old-fashioned, they’re not going to want to be part of it. if they hear it has something to offer everyone whether they are religious or not or whether their partner is Jewish or not, then their attention will be more easily captured.

  2. Great points, h.

    One clarification: I wasn’t saying that “most people who use JDate are… the ones who are already synagogue members or belong to groups like Aish,” as you said, but rather the reverse–those who are young, single synagogue members (or involved in Aish) probably use JDate already. The reverse correlation you suggest doesn’t hold; I was on JDate for a few months, and neither I nor any of the women I went out with were regular synagogue-goers–or involved in Aish.

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