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Why Intermarriage is a Hot Issue
Are you intermarried or considering intermarriage? If so, you are not alone. In the United States, there are over 2 million people just like you! Over the last decade, one out of every two American Jews intermarried. According to the 2001 American Jewish Identity Survey:
Of all adults since 1990, who say they are Jewish by religion or of Jewish parentage or upbringing . . . 51% are married to a spouse who is not of Jewish origins and an additional 9% are married to a spouse who is a convert to Judaism.
In some parts of the country, most notably the West Coast, the intermarriage rate among Jews has topped 80 percent. How are synagogues faring? Surveys indicate that it will not be long before the majority of families in Reform synagogues (the largest community of affiliated Jews in the United States) will be intermarried. It has already approached 60 percent in many congregations. Reform leadership families have also been profoundly affected by this trend. One study found that a third of the children of Reform leaders had intermarried and that 25 percent of the leaders themselves were intermarried! Intermarriage, however, is not limited to the Reform community. Among Jews who married between 1970 and 1990, 56 percent of Reform Jews, 37 percent of Conservative Jews, and 11 percent of Orthodox Jews intermarried. Among Jews without any denominational preference, which is one quarter of all Jews, the figure rose to 82 percent.
According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), of the nearly one million Gentiles (non-Jews) married to Jews, approximately 95 percent chose not to convert to Judaism.
Why is the Jewish community so alarmed about the above figures? There are many reasons. However, of utmost concern is the impact intermarriage is having on the continuity of Jewish identity. The fact is that American Jews are decreasing in numbers, primarily due to low birth rates, but also because of non-conversion intermarriage. Consider the following population projections tabulated by Professor Sergio DellaPergola of Hebrew University:
Jewish Population Projection - Status Quo Assumption
Year Size of Jewish Population [United States] 1990 5,515,000 2000 5,588,000 2010 5,376,000 2020 5,204,000 2030 4,851,000 2040 4,281,000 2050 3,716,000 2060 3,228,000 2070 2,742,000 2080 2,294,000
How does intermarriage contribute to the disappearance of more than two million Jews in three generations? If we look at Jewish families in the United States, the number of young children with one Jewish parent already exceeds the number of young children with two Jewish parents. We now know that among "children in the age group zero-to-nine who are living with two parents, there are 410,000 living in households where both parents are Jewish, and 479,000 living in households where one parent is Jewish and the other is not." Susan Schneider notes that these children of Jewish-Christian intermarriage "will comprise the majority of American Jews by the year 2050." How are these children being raised?
According to the statistics, 82 percent of the children of intermarriage are being raised Christian Only, Interfaith, and without any religion. The remaining 18 percent are being raised exclusively as Jews. This notwithstanding, even the 18 percent are not committed to Jewish identity. Eight out of ten of these children say that being part of the Jewish community is unimportant. Intermarriage, then, contributes to the disappearance of more than two million Jews in three generations because most of the children of such marriages are raised as non-Jews or uncommitted Jews. "There is little doubt that two generations of intermarriage will produce a third generation in which Jewishness is highly attenuated if it survives at all." In light of this situation, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:
Within a generation, mixed marriage has escalated with a speed that has taken observers by surprise and it now threatens the very basis of Jewish survival in one community after another throughout the world. The Jewish family-two Jews who decide to marry, have Jewish children, and thus continue the Jewish heritage-has suddenly become fragile. As a result, the great chain of Jewish tradition, stretching across three-quarters of the history of human civilization, is in danger of breaking. The future of Diaspora Jewry is at risk.
The situation is indeed a grave crisis for the American Jewish community. Most intermarried couples feel that mainstream synagogues are unable to meet their unique needs. But what is the alternative if the great chain of Jewish tradition is to be preserved? This is the question we seek to answer.