Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Fuss About Intermarriage

My culture and faith has profoundly impacted my written work. I used to be the Editor of the Judaism site for until time constraints forced me to stop. My work remained on the site for a while but has since vanished from the web. I will be posting some of the more resonant articles I wrote here, to keep them real and alive.

Intermarriage is one of the biggest issues that is blamed for assimilation. Yet the number of Jews who intermarry is on the rise. This really isn't news and in the years since I wrote this article, the rates have only increased.

The Fuss About Intermarriage

When statistics that indicate that, for the most part, 50 per cent of the Jewish people who choose marriage partners choose non-Jewish, the first instinct can be that of alarm. If, that is, you happen to be one of the people who are happily married to a Jewish partner, and/or believe that intermarriage equals the certain destruction of the Jewish people.

I live in a large city with a disproportionately small number of Jews. The intermarriage rate is extremely high. Most of the people who marry Jews either leave the city, or find someone from someplace else who is willing to relocate.

What is a Jew in a small community to do? The Internet has helped create some long-distance matches, but long-distance relationships are not for everyone. Nor is relocation. Staying single out of loyalty has been done, but is not realistic.

There are a lot of Jewish singles in areas of higher Jewish populations, so the problem of finding an appropriate Jewish spouse is universal. When you combine the necessary factors of sharing spiritual goals, feelings for one another, and having enough in common to sustain a marriage, the pickings can suddenly seem very slim.

Without laying blame, or explaining the (mostly obvious) reasons why, intermarriage is a fact of life for contemporary Jews. We can raise children with as many Jewish values as possible, but if there simply are not enough kosher fish in the sea when they grow up, most of them will marry out.

For women, this is not that big of a deal, because our kids are still Jewish in all of the movements. For men, their children will only be considered Jewish in the more left-wing denominations. We cannot bank on false hopes that the Orthodox will ever accept these children as Jewish, or accept Reform conversions as valid.

I have seen that Orthodox communities will still welcome the Jewish spouse in an intermarried couple, and if the woman is the one who is Jewish, the children as well. And Reform, of course, welcomes non-Jewish spouses.

What it comes down to, is whether or not Judaism is passed down through the generations. A child who has had positive experience with Judaism is far more likely to make Jewish choices. Children of intermarriage who experience loving, affirming Jewish grandparents are more likely to stick with Judaism than dive headfirst into the religion of the other parent.

Even if the child is not halachically Jewish, there is still hope -- a boy born to a non-Jewish mother may indeed marry a Jewish girl, thus restoring the lineage. Stranger things have happened.

I honestly believe that deep down inside, a lot of Jews who marry Gentiles wish their partner was Jewish, but due to circumstances beyond their control, it just didn't happen. "Fighting" intermarriage is like fighting industrialization or desegregation. Frowning upon it isn't going to stop it from happening. Disowning our relatives who "marry out" is only going to further alienate them from Judaism.

The worry that intermarriage is going to completely erode Judaism is, I believe, an overreaction. First of all, there is always going to be the Orthodox branch of Judaism, which has the lowest intermarriage rate of all the movements. Secondly, look at all of the adversity that we have survived over the centuries. And yet we are still here.

While I am not going to go so far as to say that intermarriage always has a positive outcome, there are cases where marrying someone who is not Jewish increased one's sense of Jewish identity. Let me explain: when a Jewish person marries a non-Jew, there is negotiation, the explanation of rituals and holidays, and a true effort has to be made to inject Judaism into the home. One has to soul-search about what being Jewish really means. When two secular Jews marry, there are no such issues. You simply exist as a bona fide Jewish family, when the home might actually be devoid of Jewish spiritual flair.

The trend towards intermarriage might very well turn itself around. But I am not counting on it. Whether one's children's children are Jewish will likely depend on too many variables to control. The face of Judaism is changing, while Halacha remains the same. We need to respect our laws and traditions, while accepting change as a fact of life.

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