Intermarriage Does Not Equal Assimilation

Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s Likkud party, was reported in an article in the Jerusalem Post to have said that there is no future for Jewish life outside of Israel because of “assimilation and intermarriage.” Netanyahu clarifies that he didn’t say that; what he says he said was that there is no future for Jewish life in the Diaspora without the state of Israel. But he still says “we have lost countless Jews in the Diaspora to assimilation and intermarriage.”

It is a terrible mistake for Jewish leaders like Netanyahu to equate assimilation and intermarriage, for reasons which I tried to explain–succinctly–in this letter to the editor of the Jerusalem Post:

Binyamin Netanyahu is wrong to equate assimilation and intermarriage. It is correct to say that many Jews have been lost in the Diaspora because of assimilation, which means giving up participation and engagement in Jewish life. But many intermarried families in North America are not assimilated–they are actively participating and enaging in Jewish life, and enriching the Jewish community.

It is very important that Jewish leaders not demean intermarriage. In San Francisco’s latest demographic study, more interfaith families were found to raise their children as Jews than nationally; the author of the study concluded that it was because of welcoming outreach attitudes and programs. I expect that the results of Boston’s demographic study, coming soon, will show the same. But intermarried families will not willingly enter the Jewish community if they hear intermarriage disparaged as a negative loss by leaders like Netanyahu.

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