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Get Me To The Church On Time

Get Me To The Church On Time

Choosing to marry someone who shares the defining values of your life is not racist.


If the most recent survey by the American Jewish Committee on intermarriage is to be believed, American Jewry has thrown in the towel. The survey said that no more than 12 percent of American Jews strongly oppose intermarriage, and 56 percent would not be pained in the slightest by their children's intermarriage. Of those with married children, two-thirds had at least one intermarried child.

So intermarriage is no longer a problem. In little more than one generation, American Jewry has moved from staunch opposition to uncomfortable acceptance to something bordering on celebration.

To oppose intermarriage today, historian Dr. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University points out, means going against the entire modern American ethos. That's because doing so would place group identity over social integration, individualism, and liberal values.

Allan Smith, director of the Youth Division of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform), gave succinct expression to this ethos: "Young people see no connection between marriage and their own sense of being Jewish. I think it's unrealistic to expect our young people to reject the environment in which they've grown up -- one that places such a high value on inclusiveness and tolerance."

In short, we have nothing to tell our children to convince them not to intermarry.

Disappearance will be the inevitable result of the current intermarriage rate.

The most shocking statistic in the AJCommittee survey was that half those polled consider opposition to intermarriage "racist." Judaism itself, as well as every one of our ancestors, is thereby tarred with the brush of racism in the eyes of half of American Jewry.

Still, those who equate opposition to intermarriage with racism have a point. Consider the nature of the Judaism to which most American Jews are exposed. 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." He 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, turn toward 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.

Must then we resign ourselves to the role of helpless bystanders at the disappearance of American Jewry? For make no mistake, disappearance will be the inevitable result of the current intermarriage rate.

Demographers predict an American Jewish community one-third to one-sixth its current size within two generations. Already 70,000 more children under the age of 9 are being raised in homes with one Jewish parent than are being raised in homes with two Jewish parents.

And being raised in a one-Jewish-parent home virtually guarantees the child's loss to the Jewish community.

There is, however, a way to stop intermarriage: Take Judaism seriously.

Even the warm embrace of intermarried couples by the Reform movement has done nothing to stem the hemorrhaging due to intermarriage. So great is the number of non-Jews within Reform that Reform historian Dr. Michael Meyer warns of a movement so syncretized with Christian elements that conversion of the non-Jewish spouses is beside the point.

There is, however, a way to stop intermarriage: Take Judaism seriously.

Any serious effort must start with recognition that campaigns focused on preventing intermarriage have no hope. If being Jewish does not play a central role in a young Jew's life, by the time he or she reaches marriageable age, nothing can be said to dissuade them. If Jews have no unique mission, if being born Jewish is not seen as the greatest privilege, then we might as well all become Episcopalians and call it a day.

The Orthodox community, whose children almost never intermarry, provides the successful model. For those raised with deep Jewish knowledge and a sense of national mission, the issue of intermarriage does not arise.

That mission requires building a home in which Torah values are paramount as is 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 convert's race or ancestry is irrelevant; only the commitment counts.

Choosing to marry someone who shares the defining values of your life is not racist.

February 2, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 26

(25) Shirlee, August 9, 2010 12:34 AM

The only objection I have to intermarriage,is I am afraid that Judiasm and being Jewish will go by the wayside, unless the children will be raised Jewish. We do not need to lose more of our people, we lost enough in the Holocaust!!!

(24) Lisa, September 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Not your typical product of intermarriage

I am a 21 year old American college student. As extra classes, I have enrolled in "Torah," "Biblical Hebrew 101," "The Holocaust," and "History of Jewish Thought." I am on the board of Hillel (the Jewish organization on American campuses) and was formerly the Vice President for Religious Affairs. I am engaged in recruiting Jewish freshman, planning Shabbats and leading some student Shabbat services and planning holidays. Sound like a child from an INTERMARRIED family to you?

The focus for the Jewish community as a whole needs to shift from anti-INTERMARRIAGE to pro-Jewish education. We need more programs like birthright and WUJS, Arad that allow for young people with little knowledge of Judaism to discover its treasures. Such defensiveness and condemnation of loving marriages only makes Jews like me feel ostracized.

Neria, February 15, 2018 5:48 PM

Thank you

Yes! Let's talk about what we want and what we are moving to- pro-Jewish education and culture. Let's also go to Israel, live in Israel and embrace Israel. Let's speak Hebrew.
Thank you for your comment and bring up a pro-active attitude.

(23) C.P. Christ, August 28, 2003 12:00 AM

"diversity" is death

Parents are inceasingly being marginalized from control over their own children's education by an educational system that is not responsible to the community it purports to serve, by mass media that slavishly promotes the narrow viewpoint of a biased artistic elite, and the bludgeoning affect of state bureaucracy that snuffs out dissent and cows parents into a fearful placidity.

The so-callecd progressives want us to believe this is needed to usher in the virtue of "diversity". Don't be mistaken -- they have no desire for diversity, because they cannot tolerate any divergent viewpoint. It is becoming more apparent that their idea of "Diversity" depends on the elimination of God and the ideals and morals that have defined the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Each of us must take a stand and intercede in the education of our children. You can no longer have faith in institutions to expose your children to your beliefs. Diversity has become a cypher for intollerance for our way of life.

(22) Anonymous, November 14, 2002 12:00 AM

Bashing Reform is not the point

I grew up in the Reform movement and I was inspired to become more religious so I decided to become a reform Rabbi. After a year at Hebrew Union College I came to the conclusion that they do not "practice what they preach" and after investigating Conservative Judiasm and the Chavurah Movement I rejected them and eventually become Orthodox. The essential point as I saw it at that time was that non-orthodox Jews believe that they have the right to choose what they want to practice. If this is true, why don't they teach about Shabbas, Kashrut and other mitzvot. The more that I learned, and experienced, the more that I wanted to do, but you will not find a Reform Hebrew school exposing students to a real Shabbas. I was the principal of a Reform Hebrew School and I learned the hard way, that if you want your students to learn the 4 questions for Passover you better start by Chanukah. After all how much can you teach a child in a few hours a week and still have them feel good about being Jewish.
The point is that Reform Jews are not given a chance to know what they are rejecting. I would love to see Reform Jews honestly exposing their children to a real Shabbas, and then let them choose.

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