Double or Nothing?: Jewish Families and Mixed Marriageby Sylvia Barack Fishman
Some observers believe America’s promises are dramatically fulfilled by marriage across boundaries. Following their hearts rather than familial and communal preferences, intermarried couples illustrate the triumph of such Romantic values as the sanctity of the individual and the sacredness of personal passions. Intermarriages are also touted as emblems of
Some observers believe America’s promises are dramatically fulfilled by marriage across boundaries. Following their hearts rather than familial and communal preferences, intermarried couples illustrate the triumph of such Romantic values as the sanctity of the individual and the sacredness of personal passions. Intermarriages are also touted as emblems of increased tolerance.
If intermarriage is a blessing, American Jews are among the prime beneficiaries. Recent statistical studies show that about half of all recent marriages involving a Jew have been to non-Jews. Many of these Jews maintain at least some ties to their own ethnoreligious heritage. At the same time, very few of the non-Jews marrying Jewish men and women today convert to Judaism. The same cultural tolerance that nurtures mixed marriage also promotes the idea that each partner can maintain his or her own distinctive, premarriage identity. Thus, the homes they form include two religious identities, and, often, two or more ethnic identities.
The American Jewish resistance to intermarriage held by earlier generations has given way to the view that intermarriage is normative in the American milieu. But what is the impact of mixed marriage on Jews and Judaism? Concerned that intermarriage may weaken American Jewish vitality, many wonder: Will the blessing of American openness cause Jewish culture to be virtually loved out of existence in twenty-first-century America? This provocative question frames Fishman’s study.
Drawing on more than 250 original interviews with mixed-married men and women, focus group discussions with their teenaged children, materials produced by communal, secular, and religious organizations, and conferences, books, and films created by and for interfaith audiences, Fishman examines family dynamics in mixed-married households. She looks at the responses of Jewish and non-Jewish family and friends. She investigates how the "December dilemma" plays itself out in diverse mixed Jewish households and explores popular cultural depictions of mixed marriages in fiction, film, television, and in material artifacts such as the "Mixed Message Greeting Card Company."
Fishman concludes with a look at Jewish communal responses from rabbis, schools, and synagogues, and the Jewish community to the potential demographic crisis resulting from mixed marriages. While understanding and accepting the cultural imperatives that have produced high intermarriage rates, Fishman emphasizes the key role of education in creating Jews who seek to remain affiliated. As one reviewer points out, her book offers a "well-thought-out response to a problem that has generated more hysteria than reasoned analysis."
"Using her analysis of 254 original interviews with mixed marriage families, group discussions, as well as the latest survey data from the 2000 National Population Survey, Professor Fishman skillfully explores the impact of this phenomenon and what it means for the future . . . [by] stressing the important role of education in maintaining Jewish affiliation. In a fascinating section Fishman examines depictions of intermarriage in contemporary films, books and television. This book is a serious and valuable analysis of a phenomenon that is changing the parameters of American Jewish life."—Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Journal
"The book intersperses comments from the respondents into the text, which makes for interesting, accessible reading and also humanizes these much-discussed issues. Fishman also shows how interfaith families are depicted in American literature, film and popular culture and looks at the issue of intermarriage in Jewish societies historically."—New York Jewish Week
" . . . Whereas previous studies have focused on numbers —thus providing a snapshot in time—[Fishman] brings the carefully researched stories of 254 mixed-married, intermarried and converted adults. [Fishman] goes beyond the statistics to provide a picture of how their religious identity evolved over the course of marriage. In the process, she ends up describing an enormous hybrid sub-culture of North American Judeo-Christian families, that differs 'strikingly' from all other American Jews . . . [An] insightful book."—Jerusalem Post
- Brandeis University Press
- Publication date:
- Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life & HBI Series on Jewish Women
- Product dimensions:
- 6.50(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)
Meet the Author
SYLVIA BARACK FISHMAN directs the program in Contemporary Jewish Life in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University, where she is a Professor. She is co-director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. Her most recent book, Jewish Life and American Culture (2000) explored the way American Jews negotiate the Jewish and secular pieces of their lives. Her earlier books include A Breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community (1993), named a 1994 Honor Book by the National Jewish Book Council; Follow My Footprints: Changing Images of Women in American Jewish Fiction (1992); and Changing Minds: Feminism in Contemporary Orthodox Jewish Life (2000).
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