Yosef I. Abramowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman were co-founders of Jewish Family & Life!, of which he was CEO. They live in Israel.
Breaking an Interfaith Taboo
My wife and I have several Jewish female friends in their mid-30s who are still single. Our Shabbat talk inevitably always turns to the people they are dating and how difficult it is to find a nice, Jewish guy with which to start a Jewish family and raise Jewish children. One unpartnered friend, a rabbi, actually flew to Israel to be artificially inseminated and is now pregnant. "I wish I would be married by now. But since I'm getting older and haven't found a soul-mate yet, I'm going to start my own family," she says.
These Jewishly-involved single women could have other options, but these are not socially sanctioned by the Jewish community. It is time to remove the stigma for them to date and marry non-Jewish men.
The word 'intermarriage' has been the convenient scapegoat for many of the ills in American Jewish life. Countless sermons have been wasted on this topic and its specter has launched numerous fundraising campaigns for institutions that usually have little clue on how to creatively adapt to a changing community. So many of our Jewish leaders and even major philanthropists are finding that their grandchildren are not necessarily being raised Jewishly. And the steady increase in interfaith marriages will not bode well for the Jewish future until it becomes the norm for the non-Jewish spouse to convert to Judaism.
But not every interfaith marriage is a threat to Jewish continuity. My rabbi wife generally does not officiate at interfaith weddings. But there was this 81 year old Holocaust survivor and widower who was marrying a non-Jewish family friend and they clearly were not going to have any children. Which value is more Jewish? Holding the Jewish community's line on not performing interfaith marriages or the happiness of this couple? If my wife was a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, performing this wedding would be grounds for expulsion. The rabbinate, like life, is filled with gray areas. The Jewish community is very good at dealing with black and white issues like antisemitism but generally lacks the skills, courage or tradition of dialogue to deal with gray areas.
Like sanctioning, even encouraging, Jewish women in their 30s to date and marry non-Jews. I am not suggesting that it is preferable for Jewish women to marry non-Jewish men. But it is clearly preferable for them to marry non-Jewish men and raise Jewish children than remain alone. To not enthusiastically embrace this idea would mean that the community is not concerned about the happiness and self-fufillment of perhaps its most important members