Intermarriage: Jewish Attitudes

A recent survey finds that a growing number of American Jews accept intermarriage.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

In September 2000, vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman came under fire from many Jewish organizations for telling a radio talk show host that there is no Jewish prohibition against intermarriage. 

But according to a survey released in October 2000, Lieberman's comments reflect the beliefs of the majority of American Jews. In short, according to the survey, "the Jewish taboo on mixed marriage has clearly collapsed."

More than half of American Jews disagree with the statement, "It would pain me if my child married a gentile," and 50 percent agree that "it is racist to oppose Jewish‑gentile marriages," according to the American Jewish Committee's 2000 Survey of American Jewish Opinion. It was the first time the annual phone survey of 1,010 Jews--which tracks Jewish attitudes about Israel, anti‑Semitism and political issues--asked for attitudes about intermarriage.

attitudes towards intermarriageFindings on Israel and political matters were consistent with recent years—showing strong attachments to Israel, concern about anti-semitism and generally liberal political views, with 75 percent reporting they planned to vote for Al Gore for president.

On intermarriage, 78 percent of respondents said they favor rabbinic officiation at Jewish‑gentile marriages "in some form and under some circumstances," while only 15 percent are opposed to this. But the majority of American rabbis do not officiate at intermarriages: Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are forbidden to do so, while an estimated half of Reform rabbis refuse to officiate [A majority of Reconstructionist rabbis do not officiate at intermarriages. A significant minority will do so as the sole officiant under certain circumstances; their professional association prohibits co-officiation with clergy from other faiths].

Only the Orthodox, among the various groupings of American Jews in the survey, maintain strong opposition to mixed marriage--and they do so by a large majority. 84 percent of the Orthodox Jews surveyed said they would be pained if their child intermarried, compared to 57 percent of Conservative Jews, 27 percent of Reform Jews and 19 percent of those who said they are "just Jewish." (The denominations are self‑identified and do not [necessarily] mean the respondents are actually affiliated with synagogues belonging to that movement.)

In 1990, shock waves rippled through the American Jewish world when the National Jewish Population Survey reported that 52 percent of Jews who had married between 1985 and 1990 had wed non‑Jews. That number was disputed as too high by some sociologists, but most agreed that intermarriage rates are still significant.

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Julie Wiener

Julie Wiener is a reporter with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the Global News Service of the Jewish People.