Liberalism and Intermarriage

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As I mentioned on Friday, much of David Klinghoffer’s diagnosis of liberal pluralism (as he experienced it at Limmud NY) is correct. “Liberal pluralists” (a category in which I would likely be included) do indeed have a difficult time with claims of absolute truth.

I do not believe, however, that this is a flaw in the pluralism. Democracies, for example, should allow for people to preach fascism, but that doesn’t mean that they should value it. (And no, I am not saying Klinghoffer’s orthodoxy is like fascism, I’m just giving another example in which pluralism need not attribute equal weight to ideologies that themselves conflict with pluralism.)

But a related aspect of Klinghoffer’s article is also worth addressing. He writes:

The “pluralistic” embrace seems to extend over a very narrow bandwidth of views, comfortably hearing only opinions that make no claim of capital-t Truth. Unfortunately there are sociological ramifications of denying, as a religion, that you have the truth. For example, it becomes devilishly hard to convince the young that they should commit themselves to marrying exclusively within that religion’s confines.

In fact, to wed a non-Jew is exactly what kids raised in the liberal Jewish denominations, Reform and Conservative, are being prepared for by their upbringings.

Here too, I both agree and disagree with Klinghoffer. He is right in saying that pluralism makes in-marriage less likely. Absolutely. If someone is brought up to believe that people of other faiths can find meaning, purpose, love, and value in religions other than Judaism, they are indeed more likely to find reasons to commingle with those people and thus, yes, might end up marrying them.

But you may have already caught on to where I disagree with Klinghoffer. There are sociological ramifications to believing that you have access to absolute truth, as well. “Pluralistic” Jews may, indeed, have a higher rate of intermarriage than “Absolute Truth” Jews, but, in my experience, the latter have higher rates of xenophobia and racism (and sexism too).

It’s a stretch to say that kids raised in Reform and Conservative homes are “being prepared” to wed non-Jews, but Klinghoffer is right to hint at the hypocrisy of many liberal Jews who seem bewildered by the high rate of intermarriage, and he’s right that a pluralist (who can abide multiple ways of living and thinking) is more likely to marry someone who is different than him or herself.

But Klinghoffer doesn’t address the moral, theological, and yes, sociological costs of claiming to have a monopoly on absolute truth. Liberal pluralism isn’t merely airy-fairy relativism, it is rooted in a view that many people — not just certain kinds of Jews — have lives that are dignified and right.

Posted on January 22, 2007

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