Intermarriage: Jewish Attitudes

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

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David Singer, who as the American Jewish Committee's director of research oversees the annual survey, called the [2000] findings "very, very dramatic.”

“This is the 'amcha'  speaking, and what we hear is rather eye-opening,” he said, using the Hebrew expression for the grass roots. “This constitutes a tremendous challenge to people and groups that want to maintain opposition to mixed marriage.”

The American Jewish Committee has issued statements opposing intermarriage.

Rabbi Alan Silverstein, who has written several books for the Conservative movement on how to respond to intermarriage, said he is disturbed, but not surprised, by the survey's findings. But he noted that statistics on intermarriage can be misleading because there are such sharply divergent attitudes in the Jewish community. Unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, of which there are a growing number, are far less likely to oppose intermarriage, he said.

That obscures, he said, the fact that the majority of synagogue-affiliated Jews--particularly Conservative and Orthodox ones--remain opposed to intermarriage, even if they would not disown their children for marrying gentiles.

"On something in which there's such a split between demographic sectors of the population, one overall number is not helpful," said Silverstein. But on the basis of the survey findings, he predicted his Reform rabbi colleagues will face increasing pressures to officiate at intermarriages of their congregants. Already, a number of Reform rabbis say it is difficult to find a pulpit job if one is unwilling to perform a wedding for a Jew and non‑Jew.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said the survey illustrates the need for the Jewish community to welcome intermarried families, something his movement does.

"We can't pretend there's a reality different from what it is," said Yoffie, adding: "In the unique climate of this wonderful, diverse, democratic, open culture of ours, there's going to be intermarriage." But he said the survey should not be read as a sign that the American Jewish community is just assimilating. While there may be widespread acceptance of intermarriage, there is "also a revival of religious life at every level," Yoffie pointed out.

Kenneth Hain, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of Orthodox rabbis, said he is "saddened," but not surprised, by the survey. "From an Orthodox perspective, it really does affirm our resolve to try to do more to make Jewish tradition meaningful to people," he said.

The finding reaffirms the need for more Jewish education, said Hain. "To appeal to Jews on ethnic grounds, or simply sentimental grounds, or even family attachment grounds" not to marry gentiles is "generally to no avail."

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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.