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The History of Intermarriage

Updated January 5, 2012

Intermarriage isn't new, it is as old as the Bible. And opinions about whether it is a gift or a disaster are almost as old.

This guide for a class will lead participants through the history of intermarriage in the Bible and the biblical response to intermarried couples. Revealed are the many instances of intermarriage being welcomed in the Bible, as well as the occasions when groups from other cultures were welcomed into our community.

Worries and attempts to stop intermarriages were first noted around 450 BCE. How did there come to be anti-intermarriage forces in the Jewish community?

The first expression of strong feelings against interfaith marriages in the Jewish community came after the destruction of the Temple. You will learn what prompted this then-new fear and see how the our ancestors, including the sages of the Talmud, responded to the desire create an insular community.

Is the Jewish community of today as fragile and dispersed as it was at that time? Is it justifiable to maintain the same fears? Some say "yes" and use these old arguments despite the many interfaith couples and families who have contributed to Jewish communities.

Learning the origin of these fears can help participants understand the reasoning underlying the arguments against interfaith marriages. A decision by an interfaith couple to raise a Jewish family is living proof of the inaccuracy of those arguments.

If you want to facilitate a class on this topic, try our History of Jewish Intermarriage Class, with the accompanying handouts. We recommend the facilitator use The History of Jewish Interfaith Marriage (pdf) and participants be given the backgound, source sheet (pdf).

Hebrew for "instruction" or "learning," a central text of Judaism, recording the rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history. It has two parts: Mishnah (redacted c. 200 CE) and Gemara (c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.
Karen Kushner

Karen Kushner is a consultant to, and past Chief Education Officer for, InterfaithFamily. She is known for the workshops, trainings and booklets of the Jewish Welcome Network, which provided outreach consultation and resource to synagogues, Jewish schools and agencies of all denominations and affiliations.

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