Interfaith Marriage Taboo

Should Jewishly-committed single women be encouraged to marry supportive non-Jewish men?

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According to Sylvia Barack Fishman of Brandeis University, the percentage of bar to bat mitzvahs has recently tipped, for the first time, to more girls affirming their commitment to the Jewish people than boys. This is a remarkable development given that the bat mitzvah is a 20th century innovation. Check out nearly every Jewish teen program and there is a gender mismatch: 60 percent girls to 40 percent boys, sometimes even higher, like in Brandeis University’s Genesis Program [for teens], which attracted 40 girls and 20 boys this past summer. The imbalance applies to Israel programs, camps, youth movements and non‑Orthodox day schools, and has tremendous implications for the future of Jewish life. Even the Maccabia sports games attract more girls than boys.

The implications of the gender gap in Judaism are great and extend far beyond the teen years. Synagogue membership and attendance are higher for women. Interfaith marriage is about 20 percent lower for Jewish women than Jewish men. Personal religiosity, home rituals, participation in adult education, and other indicators of commitment to Jewish life tend to be higher for women than men. A comprehensive 1997 survey by the American Jewish Committee found that the feeling of being Jewish is "very important" in the lives of more women (60 percent) than men (41 percent).

Empowering and embracing Jewish women as spiritual ambassadors of the Jewish people to potential non‑Jewish mates is a mitzvah on many levels. First, they will be better able to participate in the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply," either by childbirth or adoption. Second, it allows our community to grow in strength and numbers, thus creating a critical mass of people to sustain our institutions, traditions and values. Third, the impact of this kind of sanctioned intermarriage on the Jewish gene pool is positive, thus lowering the chances for couples to face impossibly painful decisions about abortion of fetuses that would be born with Tay-Sachs or other debilitating genetic diseases. Fourth, it sends an inclusive message about Jewish living to unaffiliated Jews who once wrote off the community as being out‑of‑touch, parochial or racist. I would rather dance at the interfaith wedding of my Jewish female friends who will raise Jewish children than continue to cling to an outdated communal expectation that perpetuates loneliness, lacks compassion and is bad Jewish public policy.

For more information of interfaith dating, visit our partner Interfaithfamily.com.

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Yosef I. Abramowitz

Yosef Israel Abramowitz is a writer and serial social entrepreneur in the Jewish and social justice realms. He is the co-founder of Jewish Family & Life! and he has produced much of the content for BabagaNewz, JVibe, JBooks, SocialAction.com, and Sh'ma.