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Will Our Children Marry Jewish

Will Our Children Marry Jewish

The Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth spells out his view on the issue of Jewish continuity and how to achieve it.


The Jewish people, having survived for thousands of years in the most adverse circumstances, including the Holocaust, is today threatened by intermarriage and assimilation. Jewish communities throughout the diaspora are experiencing demographic decline. Why has this happened, and can anything be done to reverse the trend?

The particular challenge facing Jews today is how Jewish identity may be sustained in an open, secular society. The greatest danger is failure to recognize that times have changed and that, in consequence, communal priorities need to change also.

Times have changed, and we are beginning to sense how suddenly and radically they have changed. We had grown used to a situation in which Jewish identity was passed on through the generations by habit, memory, external events and an inescapable sense that being Jewish is what we are. Belatedly we have discovered that for our children, being Jewish is no more than a matter of choice. They know that they can choose otherwise, if not for themselves then for their children. They will choose to be Jewish for one reason only, that knowing the drama of Jewish history, the richness of Jewish life, the grandeur of Jewish ethics and the majesty of Jewish faith, they are proud to be Jews.

There is only one cogent argument against intermarriage, and it is this. To be a Jew is to be a member of the people of the covenant, an heir to one of the world's most ancient, enduring and awe-inspiring faiths. It is to inherit a way of life which has earned the admiration of the world for its love of family, its devotion to education, its philanthropy, its social justice and its infinitely loyal dedication to a unique destiny.

It is to know that this way of life, passed on from parents to children since the days of Abraham and Sarah, can only be sustained through the Jewish family; and knowing this, it is to choose to continue it by creating a Jewish home and having Jewish children. No one who has been touched by Judaism's wings of eternity would willingly break the link between the past and the Jewish future. This and only this will ensure that we have Jewish grandchildren.


How do we achieve this? At the very outset, I knew that this would be the greatest challenge of my Chief Rabbinate, and the greatest single challenge facing today's diaspora as a whole. Despite the fact that the core of the solution is education, the process of acculturation is already too far advanced for this to be our sole response. Most of our children attend, and in the future will continue to attend, non-Jewish schools.

There is the question of those who have left school and perhaps have gone to university, or who have already begun their careers. There is the problem of educating parents as well as children, for what will we gain if our children hear one message at school and another conflicting message at home? What about the many social contexts in which young Jews can stay Jewish and which are not primarily educational, such as youth clubs, friends, meeting places, organizations and social events? How will any of this help if we do not make our synagogues genuine centers of community, warm, welcoming and all embracing?

A vast global policy is needed, with learning at its heart, but wider than anything normally associated with the word "education."

It will be difficult. But it will be possible, if we are prepared to change our priorities because times have changed.


Two factors might sabotage a solution. The first is despair, which we must resist at all costs. If we believe nothing can be done, then nothing will be done. The Jewish people has never in the past yielded to despair, and now is not the time to begin.

The second factor would be a failure to understand that times have changed. Let me candidly admit that I did not go to Jewish schools. Neither did my parents. My generation, and that of our parents and grandparents did not need intensive Jewish education to remind us that we were Jews. But our children belong to the fourth generation. What was enough for us is not enough for them. In the fourth generation, Judaism is either renewed or it is abandoned. There is no other alternative.

We are not our parents, and our children are not us. Our parents sought to give us the things they did not have when they were children: material comforts, a good secular education, the chance to pursue a profession. They tried to give us the opportunities which they themselves had missed.

We in our turn must try to give our children what we lacked, namely the chance to experience, live, know and understand our Jewish heritage. That is the challenge.

Professor Jonathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth.Article reprinted with permission from

May 19, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 15

(15) Anonymous, March 29, 2015 5:41 PM

I am disappointed

I was brought up in an Orthodox Family. 2 out of 3 of my children married out of my religion. It upsets me that I have 3 grandsons who will never experience a Bar Mitzvah and it breaks my heart. My daughter became a Christian Scientist because that is what her husband chose. The boys are now 22 18 and 16. What can I do to reverse that? I have tried. Maybe some day they will find nice Jewish Girls . I hope before I die. Amen

(14) Wolfe, March 19, 2013 3:25 PM

Generational formula for challenges of Modernity

If you use what was importantly Jewish to the first & second generation and apply it to the 4th generation and make it fun you have good stuff. this is coming from the 6th generation all in Dallas TX.

(13) Max, August 17, 2010 8:11 PM

to number 11

I absolutely respect your decision. People have free will. I myself am a liberal Jew. But within your comment, I see the problem. To many, including myself, Judaism is more than a "religion," it is a way of life. Furthermore, no one is telling you what to think. They are simply saying that if you choose to intermarry, the chances of your grandchildren identifying strongly as Jews is next to nothing. So you say leave it to the Orthodox. There will always be Jews. But that means liberal Jews like yourself will cease to exist. I think that would be a shame. Torah will always be our core, but modern Jewish history encompasses more than just Orthodoxy. It includes secular and liberal Jews who were at the forefront in the fields of the arts, sciences, law, medicine and economics. I also find it sad that you imply that marrying a Jewish partner will get in the way of your experiences and happiness. For me (and I wish more of my peers felt this way), a Jewish partner will enhance my life and ensure that Judaism in all its beauty and tradition will be passed on for generations.

(12) Anonymous, August 15, 2010 2:32 PM

we need to do a better job

I'm no expert. I'm anFFB by choice. When we send our children to Yeshiva we educate them in Torah and mitzvot. Often when they go off to college we lose them to liberal ideology. Perhaps our Yeshivot need to spend the senior year giving our kids the tools they need to overcome the challenge of assimilation.The College campus is a dangerous place for our "yiddishe neshomot". Today's college campuses are a hotbed for Palistinian sympathy and anti Israel attitudes so our kids have a huge challenge in college. Yes, we live in America in the best of times for religious tolerance but there is a danger inherent in that thought. The antisemitic person is always there to remind us who we are when we want to be like everyone else. We have to educate and prepare our kids for the outside world and we're not doing enough to protect our investment in yiddishkeit. Rabbi Sacks we need more guidance.

(11) Anonymous, February 3, 2010 9:10 AM

I'm am sorry to disagree, but I myslelf am jewish woman and I think if you want jews to marry jews there will have to be arranged marriages or just orthodox jews. I feel very empowerd to know that I can believe the way I want and not what anyone else wants. God gave us choies and their will always be jews so leave it up to the conservitive jews to reproduce.I want to be happy and experience all I can. I'm not going to let some one who doesn't even know if god exists dictate my life, all just to preserve a religion.I also read there are 12 documented diseases in the jewish genes.

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