Intermarriage and Jewish Survival


         

Intermarriage and Jewish Survival

 
 
 
 

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I Do: Intermarriage and Jewish Survival

By Jennifer Abbott

There have been many recent articles, including articles in the United Synagogue Review, and Women's League Outlook, discussing the problem of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. The primary topic of these articles is the difficulties and achievements of bringing the Jew back to Judaism, ensuring comfort for the non-Jew, and raising the children in a Jewish home. There is however, another side to this issue –preventing intermarriage.

Torah explicitly forbids intermarriage (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Socializing with non-Jews is frowned upon as shown by the prohibition of drinking the wine of the non-Jews (Talmud: Avodah Zarah 36b) and eating bread made by the non-Jews (Code of Jewish Law: "Yoreh De'ah" 112). Clearly, halachah forbids intermarriage and further states that the children of such marriages will be lost to Judaism.

The2000 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) performed by the Council of Jewish Federations found that only 33% of the children of intermarriage today are being raised Jewish as compared to 96% of households with two Jewish parents. The majority of converts out of Judaism are children of intermarriage. Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin note, in The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, that if the non-Jewish spouse truly shares the same values as the Jewish spouse, then the non-Jew is welcome to convert to Judaism, and if the non-Jew does not share the same values, then the couple should not be marrying in the first place. While this would be an accurate view if the Jew has a connection to Judaism and has the "same values" as Judaism, what about those Jews who do not have a connection to Judaism - or a tenuous one at best?

Simply stating that Jewish Law says that a Jew must not marry a non-Jew will not suffice. Telling a Jew that intermarriage will bring about the downfall of the Jews will not suffice. Telling a Jew that past generations have died in order to help Judaism survive will not suffice. Marriage is a very personal decision and one that is not always approached in a logical, systematic way. Why should a Jew who lives in a home that, for all intents and purposes, is just like the non-Jewish neighbot's home, marry a Jew? If a bar or bat mitzvah means a quick Trope learning, one day in a shul, and a big party, why should a Jew marry a Jew? If a Jew is exposed to mostly non-Jews and the non-Jewish way of life, why should a Jew marry a Jew?

In order to encourage Jews to marry Jews, it is important to instill a solid background in Judaism and Jewish identity. Being a Jew is something to be proud of and this needs to be passed on to the Jewish youth. If we want to help ensure that Jews marry Jews the idea that we are not exactly like our non-Jewish neighbors need to be instilled in our youth. Keeping a Jewish home – a home that keeps kosher, has mezuzot on the doorposts and has a well-used Chumash (Jewish Bible) – lets everyone know that the people who live in the home are not exactly like their non-Jewish neighbors.

    Judaism and Jewish life are linked to the family. Indeed, the home is considered a miniature sanctuary. It is within the family setting that the Jew celebrates most of Jewish living. Thus, rabbinic leadership throughout the generations established clear laws and customs to foster marriage and preserve the integrity of the Jewish family.
    Quoted from: Employing an Intermarried Jew: A Responsum from the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards

A Jewish education is important to both youth and adults alike. Ensuring that the Jewish youth are educated from a very young age is important not only for the bar/bat mitzvah but also for the youth's lifelong journey in Judaism. A Jew becomes responsible for the mitzvot at the bar/bat mitzvah age. This is a serious time in a youth's life and one that needs to be cared about accordingly.

    "The best methodology to prevent intermarriage is to provide the most solid types of all-around educational experiences that will motivate a person to live and identify Jewishly," says Jules Gutin, director of the Department of Youth Activities for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The Jewish community is vital to every Jew. Rejoicing, learning, and grieving with a community are important for all. Youth who are exposed to a Jewish community – including synagogue, school, camp, fairs, and plays – have a greater vestment in the Jewish community and are more likely to date and marry another Jew.

    "If we never take a child to see a Jewish play or go to a Jewish fair they will never have any idea of what is important to us," says Karen Kushner, a San Francisco social worker who has run interfaith workshops for over 20 years.

Intermarriage is a fact of life in today's world. The rate of intermarriage is increasing which is detrimental to the Jewish world. Encouraging the youth of today to marry another Jew is important for the future of Judaism. Prevention is the key to not losing more Jews to intermarriage and not losing future generations to Judaism.


Jennifer Abbott is a member of a Conservative congregation in the United States and author of www.becomingjewish.org

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from the June 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

 

 

 

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