Get me to the church on time
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post International Edition
January 5, 2001
If the most recent survey by the American Jewish Committee on intermarriage is to be believed, American Jewry has thrown in the towel as far as intermarriage is concerned. According to the survey, no more than 12% of American Jews strongly oppose intermarriage, and 56% would not be pained in the slightest by their children’s intermarriage.
Rather than cause themselves unnecessary anguish – of those surveyed with married children two-thirds had at least one intermarried child – American Jews have chosen to define intermarriage as no longer a problem.
That despite the fact that intermarriage is destroying the non-Orthodox community before their eyes: Demographers predict an American Jewish community 1/3 to 1/6 of its current size within two generations. Already there are 70,000 more children under the age of nine being raised in homes with one Jewish parent than those raised in homes with two Jewish parents.
Being raised in such a one-Jewish-parent home virtually guarantees the child’s loss to the Jewish community. A previous AJC study shows that only 28% of the children of intermarriages are raised ``Jewish" however minimally that is defined. Two-thirds of intermarried couples have Christmas trees, and 90% of the children of these mixed marriages will themselves marry non-Jews.
Even the warm embrace of intermarried couples by the Reform movement – 90% of Reform congregations offer membership to non-Jews and Reform rabbis are readily available to bless any intermarriage -- has done nothing to stem the hemmoraghing due to intermarriage. So great is the number of non-Jews within Reform that Reform historian Michael Meyer warns of a movement so syncretized with Christian elements that conversion of the non-Jewish spouses is besides the point. Despite Reform’s outreach to the intermarried, one California study showed that 90% of the offspring of intermarriages are basically unreachable by the Jewish community.
In little more than one generation, American Jewry has moved from staunch opposition to intermarriage to uncomfortable acceptance to something bordering on celebration. Even such a traditional Jew as Joseph Lieberman became completely discombobulated when asked by Don Imus whether Judaism opposes intermarriage.
To oppose intermarriage today, historian Jonathan Sarna points out, means going against the entire modern American ethos by placing group identity over social integration, individualism, and liberal values. For that reason, half of those polled in the AJC consider opposition to intermarriage nothing less than ``racist."
Considering the nature of the Judaism with which they are presented, it is not surprising that American Jews deem opposition to intermarriage racism. At the recent General Assembly of Jewish Federations in Chicago, Rabbi Tirza Firestone described the Christmas tree in her house. To honor the memory of the non-Jewish mother of her stepsons, aged 25 and 27, she finds it important to invite them to her house to celebrate Christmas. Not surprisingly, differences of ``theology" rarely pose problems for Rabbi Firestone’s intermarried congregants since as far as they know Judaism has no theology.
Another GA ``expert" on intermarriage, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, stressed the importance of recognizing that there is ``no right way and wrong way to be Jewish." Olitzky would replace the old religion of Law by a contentless dispensation.
If Judaism espouses no rights and wrongs, it admittedly makes no sense to search for marriage partners only among those who share the same null set of beliefs rather than among those who share one’s politics or taste in movies. The only possible excuse for doing so is some kind of worship of gene pools. And that is racist.
The bottom line is: There is no point in separate campaigns to combat intermarriage. By the time it comes to choosing marriage partners the game is up. If Jews have no unique mission, if being born Jewish is not seen as the greatest privilege, then, as David Klinghoffer has written, we might as well all become Episcopalians and call it a day.
For those raised with deep Jewish knowledge and a sense of national mission, however, the issue of intermarriage does not arise. That mission requires building a home in which Torah values are paramount and transmitting those values to succeeding generations. That can only be done with a spouse committed to the same values. By definition that spouse must be a fellow Jew, whether by birth or by conversion through acceptance of the Torah’s commands as binding. (In the latter case, the converts race or ancestry is irrelevant; only the commitment counts.)
That’s what Joe Lieberman should have told Imus: There is nothing racist about choosing to marry someone who shares the defining values of your life.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list