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Can you be for inmarriage without being against intermarriage? My gut says yes. But explaining it is the tricky part.
When people of different religious backgrounds ask what I do, I tell them I work for a Jewish non-profit that provides resources for interfaith couples with a Jewish partner. “So you encourage Jews to marry Christians?” they inevitably ask. Well, no, I stammer, we don’t promote intermarriage, but if people do intermarry, we’re all for welcoming them and showing them the beauty, joys and community of Judaism. Their eyes are usually glazed over by that point.
But Andrew Silow-Carroll, the ever-thoughtful editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, has written an essay on the subject that is more eye-opening than eye-glazing. It’s all the more powerful because Silow-Carroll readily admits his instinctive reaction to intermarriage is not positive:
But, rationally, he knows better. He knows Jews don’t marry non-Jews because it’s taboo, or because they’re trying to rebel against their parents:
As a modern worldly person, he recognizes that criticizing intermarriage is both intolerant and fruitless. But does accepting that Jews marry non-Jews also mean not encouraging Jews to marry Jews? As he says, “How can any of us defend inmarriage without sounding like Archie Bunker?”
His answer, as always, is eloquent:
If I have any quibble–and it’s a small one–with Silow-Carroll’s argument for promoting inmarriage without denigrating intermarriage, it’s the statement, “But it’s harder.” Rather than focus on how it’s “harder” for intermarried couples to raise Jewish children, focus on how it’s easier for inmarried families. Rather than focus on the challenge of intermarriage, focus on the opportunity of inmarriage.
Here’s how I would put it: you can have a rewarding Jewish life in an intermarried home–and many people do–but it’s a little easier to have that life in an inmarried one.
But the important point, as Silow-Carroll recognizes, is focusing on the pleasures of Judaism. Appeals to the pull of tradition, to demographics–these only mean something to people ensconced in a particular community. Young Jewish-Americans are citizens of the world. They live in multiple overlapping communities. They don’t want to be pushed to declare their residence in any particular one. They will do what they like, rather than what they’re told. The Jewish community may have a reputation for laying on the guilt, but guilt trips stopped working about 30 years ago.
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