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Jewish View of Intermarriage

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Intermarriage: Past, Present and Future

Past

In the past, Jewish intermarriage was rare. It generally occurred when a Jew deliberately rejected his/her religion and heritage and sought to assimilate into Christian society. In response to this rejection, the Jewish community disowned intermarried Jews. It was common for Jewish parents to sit shiva (Jewish mourning ritual) for children who intermarried.

Present

Today, Jewish intermarriage is common. According to the National Jewish Population Study of 2000-01, the intermarriage rate for Jews who married
  • before 1970 was 13%
  • between 1970-1979 was 28%
  • between 1980-1984 was 38%
  • between 1985-90 was 43%
  • between 1991-95 was 43%
  • between 1996-2001 was 47%
The reasons for intermarriage today differ from those in the past. Intermarriage today is primarily the result of 1) American Jews living in an open society in which they are more likely to meet non-Jews, 2) American Jews being less educated about and thus attached to Judaism and their Jewish heritage.

The vast majority of American Jews receive no Jewish education after age 13. Thus, their knowledge of Judaism is elementary, and they are not exposed to the more advanced theological, philosophical, and ethical teachings of Judaism. Since they are not knowledgeable about their heritage in the first place, intermarriage today, in contrast to intermarriage in the past, is not a deliberate rejection of Judaism.

Further on this note, it has been found that the more intensive the Jewish schooling, the lower the rate of intermarriage. The intermarriage rate among Jews who did not receive Jewish education is 43 percent and among those who received some kind of Jewish schooling is 25 percent. Intermarriage is rare among those who attended a Jewish day school or yeshiva. It follows that intermarriage is far lower among orthodox Jews, who are much more likely to give their children intensive Jewish schooling, than among Jews of other denominations.

As the rate of and reasons for intermarriage are changing, so too is the response of the American Jewish community to intermarriage. According to the American Jewish Committee's Survey of American Jewish Opinion (October 2000), "the Jewish taboo on mixed marriage has clearly collapsed." It was the first time the annual phone survey of 1,010 Jews, which tracks Jewish attitudes about Israel, anti-Semitism and political issues, surveyed attitudes about intermarriage.

According to the survey, the majority of American Jews are more accepting of intermarriage today:
  • More than half of American Jews disagree with the statement, "It would pain me if my child married a gentile."
  • 50 percent agree that "it is racist to oppose Jewish gentile marriages."
  • 78 percent said they favor rabbinic officiation at Jewish gentile marriages "in some form and under some circumstances."
The survey did find that Orthodox Jews in America maintain strong opposition to intermarriage. 84 percent of the Orthodox Jews surveyed said they would be pained if their child intermarried, compared to 57 percent of Conservative Jews, 27 percent of Reform Jews and 19 percent of unaffiliated Jews.

Future

In sum,
  1. Jewish intermarriage is common in America today, with approximately one in every two American Jews marrying a non-Jew.
  2. Intermarriage today, as opposed to intermarriage in the past, is generally not a deliberate rejection of one’s Judaism and Jewish heritage.
  3. Intermarriage is rare among Orthodox Jews, who give their children intensive Jewish schooling.
  4. The attitudes of non-Orthodox American Jews toward intermarriage are becoming more accepting.
Given these changes, past responses, such as disowning and neglecting, no longer seem like the most effective way for American Jewry to face the reality of intermarriage. 33 percent of currently wed American Jews are intermarried. And only 33 percent of intermarried couples are raising their children to be Jewish. Isn't it time to stop casting off and start reaching out?
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