Letter to the Editor of New Jersey Jewish News, Responding to Edmund Case

By Steven M. Cohen


In February 2006 the New Jersey Jewish News began a yearlong community dialogue called “The Next Big Think.” Editor Andrew Silow-Carroll wrote that the movements and causes that inspired Jews in the past–Zionism, absorption of Jewish immigrants in America and Israel, the fight against anti-Semitism, the redemption of Jewish captives the world over–had succeeded, and that the big social issues–the role of women and gays in religion, response to the intermarried, Who is a Jew?–had been largely resolved, were nearing resolution or had failed to galvanize large numbers of Jews. He invited Jewish thinkers to identify the “The Next Big Thing” in Jewish life: what issues will define the Jewish agenda and what we will need to address to grow and flourish in this “post-historical era.”

The Next Big Thing is Now: Outreach to the Intermarried.

Alongside Case’s letter was printed a response from Cohen. Cohen’s response follows.

Reprinted with permission of New Jersey Jewish News. Visit www.njjewishnews.com.

To the editor,

For the record, and contrary to assertions made in a recent column by Mr. Case, I have never said, nor have I ever held the view, that intermarried families are not Jewish families. Nor have I ever said, nor have I ever held the view, that intermarried families are not holy.

My views on intermarriage can be summed up as follows:

I am deeply concerned that only 12% of the grandchildren of intermarried families identify as Jews. I am pained and worried that only about a third of intermarried families are raising their children as Jews. I am also anguished that intermarried families exhibit very low rates of affiliation with synagogues, or ritual practice at home, or patterns of involvement in organized Jewry. I wish that intermarried families were more active in Jewish life, and that they would all decide to raise their children and grandchildren as committed Jews.

Moreover, as a matter of principle, I believe that Jews should marry Jews, and that Judaism teaches that Jews should marry Jews. A Jew is anyone born or raised Jewish, or who converts to Judaism. The marriage of a Jew to a Jew-by-choice is an in-marriage and NOT an intermarriage.

We have a rich and wonderful culture, religion, community, people, and set of values–all of which we can introduce to the non-Jews who have become part of our families by way of marriage. While we should continue to teach that Jews should marry Jews, we should also encourage non-Jews who marry Jews to convert to Judaism. In the event that conversion does not take place, we should welcome into our families and communities the children of Jews and non-Jews, and advocate that they be raised unambiguously in one faith tradition–Judaism.

To be clear, we must welcome intermarried couples and their children into our families, our friendship circles, our synagogues and our community, as I have in my own family and my own life, and we should do all we can to welcome and encourage conversion.


About Steven M. Cohen

Steven M. Cohen is a professor of Jewish social policy at the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.