There are countless stories of embarrassment and confusion caused by interfaith marriages. It is incorrect to say that marriage is a purely a personal matter without social, or even religious-national significance.
In one congregation, the rabbi was even reprimanded for giving speeches about the Jewish festival Hanukkah while omitting to mention the Christmas story. One of the operators of “Tagalit” – Birth Right Israel Program – was expelled from the community for daring to bring up the issue of marriage preference only among Jews.
The government of Israel must see the Jewish people in the Diaspora walking on an ongoing fading path to elimination as disastrous. It is especially bad in North America. This problem is no less serious than that of Iran’s nuclear program that threatens to wipe the state of Israel off the global map and even worse. The end result would be the very same: the potential loss of millions of Jews.
Accordingly – a necessary investment is needed to stop it.
The Jewish people’s elimination crisis is reaching new heights. The future looks bleak.
In a long and detailed article on intermarriage in 2013, Jack Wertheimer had this to say: “Can anything be done? The battle is over; or so we’re told. A half-century after the rate of intermarriage in the US began to skyrocket, the Jewish community appears to have resigned itself to the inevitable. But to declare defeat is preposterous.”
Intermarriage between American Jews and gentiles is currently at a peak of 50-70 percent. Assuming that the fertility of American Jewry is at a similar percentage to its surroundings, a little over two children per woman, then this is a trend of irreversible loss for the Jewish people.
Only one out of every two descendants will remain part of the Jewish people. The trend seems inescapable, and most American Jews seem to have decided to succumb to this fact.
Some look at the trend with dismay, arguing that it is impossible and even unacceptable to encourage intra-sectarian marriages. Only a retreat to the Jewish ghetto style of habitation can reverse the trend. Some see the rooting trend as a welcome thing.
Segregation is bad, while rooting and belonging to the environment is evidence of the success of American society in accepting Jews into it.
The damage is actually in the incitement against the mixed family. One successful way is to bring the non-Jewish partner to join the community, instead of rejecting that partner.
Such ideas seem innovative to the point of absurdity. Since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the period from the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE to the second half of the 5th century BCE, there were successive missions to Jerusalem. The efforts of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah aimed to restore the worship of the God of Israel and to create a purified Jewish community, Since then, it was accepted by most Jews that one should marry within the community.
This was not due to racism or hatred of the other, but because this is the way to preserve the uniqueness of the Jewish people. Passing on the Jewish tradition can only be successful when there are Jews observant of Judaism.
History is known. It is littered with nationalities became extinct as a result of assimilation.
The success of the Jewish people in maintaining their uniqueness during about 2000 years of exile was primarily due to the rejection of marriage outside the community. Anyone who deviated from this standard was ostracized.
Therefore, declaring surrender to assimilation marriage is really a problem of mindset for the Jewish people.
Furthermore, accepting the trend as a matter that must be lived with is contrary to the principles of most Jews who sincerely believe in the survival of the Jewish people. The tendency to support marriage within the denomination is also related to the type of community.
Orthodox and Reformers
Among the Orthodox community it is over 90 percent; among the conservatives between 30-40 percent. According to a 2013 Pew report the rate of interfaith marriage among reformers of liberal Judaism is 72%, and could be even slightly higher in 2023.
These are findings that can be attributed to American Jewry as a whole.
Mixed Marriage Surge
The surge in the number of mixed marriages began in the 1960s. Intermarriage reached a peak of over 50 percent in the 21st century. The change is parallel to that which applies in the general American society which looks negatively on intra-sectarian differences.
Today, opposition to mixed marriages is seen as a form of racism. American society accepts more, rejects and restricts less. Though Antisemitism has become a dirty word it is becoming a much more common act.
The success of Jews in American society is above and beyond their numbers and they want to preserve this social elevation.
The unmediated meeting of young Jewish people in the general society at the appropriate age leads to love relationships outside the congregation. The partitions fell and with it the desire to be different. Resistance to a trend is like resistance to the weather.
Could this comparison be wrong?
The decision with whom to meet and with whom to fall in love is related to the desire and knowledge of belonging. Decisions about the identity of the spouse, the direction of the home’s thinking, education, association, and to what extent Judaism will be the anchor for the life together are rational and humane decisions. Society influences, but does not determine. He and she are the only ones to determine.
Studies show that there is a direct relationship between the standing of Jewish presence in the child’s home, belonging, education, and the chance of choosing a non-Jewish partner. Even parents who have done everything right, have offspring who, despite everything, choose to marry outside the community.
The impact of this choice on the Jewish partner’s parents, is immense. It is especially detrimental for Jews who invested and strengthened the Jewish aspect of their child’s life.
Attempts To Integrate Mixed Marriages
Sometimes Jewish parents whose offspring choose an interfaith marriage turn to Jewish organizations for advice to help the mixed couple to take part in community life. Some insist that the rabbi consecrate interfaith marriages, even in the presence of a Christian priest. When there are grandchildren, they demand to change the communal identity laws, and to accept the gentile spouse as an equal member of the Jewish community.
The rabbis and the community leadership surrender to the lawsuits, and marriage ceremonies are conducted as if they are according to the religion of Moses and Israel, including the seven blessings. The door is opened for the couple’s non-Jewish partner to participate as a member of Jewish organizations.
An entire industry of consultants and lobbyists has been created to serve the non-Jewish members of the Jewish organization – from the synagogue to the community and community organizations.
It is forbidden to talk or to recite or to put on the lips the idea that interfaith marriages are a negative phenomenon.
Everything is done so that the non-Jewish members will choose Judaism, and thus raise their children, and the community will not be depleted.
Failure Rate Is High
None of this is really helpful. It turns out that the chance that the interfaith couple’s children, those grandchildren, will choose Judaism is low to very faint. The statistics do not deny that. The attempt to accommodate the new interfaith couple fails miserably and the failure manifests itself on all levels.
A comparison between the descendants of Jewish families and mono-Jewish families shows that the chance of joining as members of a synagogue is a quarter; a fifth keep kosher, and the belonging to a Jewish organization drops to a third, including donating to a Jewish charity, through Jewish organizations or philanthropy and supporting the State of Israel in any way.
When you set standards of belonging to the community, lighting Shabbat candles, praying once a month and a social network that is mainly Jewish, the gap is large and growing.
It appears that two-thirds of bi-Jewish families will maintain a Jewish social network, but only one-sixth of the mono-Jewish families will do the same. The percentage of self-association with an extended Jewish community is even lower. The split between a bi-Jewish and mono-Jewish family is deep, and deepens from generation to generation.
The interesting finding in all the studies conducted is that the chance of maintaining the Jewish nucleus in the interfaith family – Brit Mila – ritual Jewish circumcision, joining the community, observing holidays, social life – increases sharply when the mother is the Jew among the couple. A Jewish man who married a gentile actually made the choice of abandoning Judaism, both for himself and for his descendants.
Jewish Preservation Industry
How effective is the Jewish preservation industry among interfaith families?
There is no evidence that the huge investment by Jewish communities and organizations to preserve Judaism and belonging really pays off. Families that received the closest embrace from the Jewish community – including education, kindergartens, Jewish Sunday schools, joint activities – eventually tended to disappear outside the Jewish community.
In the end, 80 percent of the offspring of mixed families chose non-Jewish spouses. Not that they deny their Jewish origin, but that they do not attach any importance to it. Their origin from the Jewish community is not a rooting anchor for them. Most of them agree with the statement that “being Jewish is unimportant to me.”
The final nail in the coffin of the idea of inclusion – the Enlightenment conception – is the fact that about 1.3 million Americans who are not classified as Jews say they had a Jewish mother. They may have come from a Jewish origin but even identify themselves as Christians for all intents and purposes. The conventional answer to the question “will your grandchildren be Jewish” is a known answer: no.
And what will happen in the future?
History does not help either. Communities that assimilated did so either out of pressure or isolation. The Jewish communities of Central and Western Europe that attempted assimilation were murdered over the years and in the Holocaust or were expelled.
In modern Russia 7 out of 10 Jewish men and 6 out of 10 Jewish women were married to gentiles. But the Jewish background, even suppressed, remained. Maybe because Russian society reminded them of who they are. But it does not seem that it is possible to extrapolate from the Russian-Soviet experience to the American one because there is no precedent of mass assimilation from which one can learn how to stop the process.
As things stand today, only the most orthodox and those anchored in Judaism will remain Jews. Already today and according to existing facts, Jews will remain in doubt, without a real anchor, as some of the descendants already call themselves – half-Jews, or mixed-faith, or Frankenstein-Jews.
Some of them even demand the Jewish community adapt to them, instead of returning themselves to the bosom of Judaism.
The Jewish leadership that put its hands on the negation of negation, on the inclusion of marriage outside the community, failed. And despite the failure, none of them proposes to change “the concept.”
Why do the descendants of those interfaith marriage families not join? Because we did not open the door wide enough for them, say the supporters of the concept. Our communities are not open enough, are not accepting enough.
There are also threats that if the rabbi refuses to perform a bi-religious wedding ceremony, the family will abandon the community. A rabbi who does not bless the mono-Jewish-marriage may find that his employment contract is not renewed.
The fear that wealthy donors will stop their support for the community, due to the lack of support for interfaith marriages, causes community leaders to throw more and more money into the pit that has no bottom and no purpose.
Interfaith Marriage Issues
There are countless stories of embarrassment and confusion caused by interfaith marriages. A congregation’s rabbi was reprimanded for preaching on the occasion of the Jewish Festival Hanukkah but neglecting Christmas. The connection of Christmas with Hanukkah turns the Jewish holiday into a kind of celebration that makes fun of both religions.
Jewish educators have no idea what the children are taught at home. And the message: the whole faith-religious matter is unimportant, secondary to what is really important, that everyone will adapt and play nicely together. Even the attempt to promote the Jewish online dating site has become an example and a joke among supporters of interfaith marriage.
An Israeli advertisement aimed at Israeli expats that emphasized the high chance of interfaith marriages was criticized by the organized Jewish community.
One of the operators of the “Tagalit” organization was expelled from the community for daring to raise the issue of marriage preference for Jews only. Political correctness is that it is forbidden to promote marriage only among Jews; it is forbidden to talk about the dangers of interfaith marriages, and it is absolutely forbidden to raise the issue of the personal responsibility of every Jew for the fate of the Jewish people.
Only The “Why” Is Missing
But not everyone gives up. Many know that abandoning the principles, despite the immediate profit on its side, leads to a national disaster, a self-inflicted Holocaust.
Who Does Not Give Up?
Those who have not surrendered must rally to their side the majority who were silenced by the violence of political correctness. Those who are today partners in the great edifice of American Judaism and do not want it to dissolve like a sand castle.
They must talk to their sons and daughters about the need and duty to continue the Jewish chain. They expect a brave leadership that will express their true desire for the preservation of the Jewish people.
Promoting the bi-Jewish family as an ideal desired by every young man and woman and investing in Jewish education and Jewish society precisely in the most important years. With modern technology, Judaism can do as much good as it can also break down the barriers with the general society.
There is no point in investing great efforts in those who have already chosen to assimilate. Investing in those who have not yet decided is much more effective.
The “Tagalit” program is one of the best investments to promote belonging to Judaism.
Single men and women must explain the meaning of bi-faith life. Faith must be raised at the very beginning, before the bond of love masks the future’s difficulties. Not to hurt them, but to prevent them from sorrow and destruction.
It is incorrect to say that marriage is a purely personal matter without social, or even religious-national significance.
Do Not Lower The Bar
As for those who have already married gentiles, there is no point in inclusion. Inclusion must even be even conditioned on conversion. The bar for entering the Jewish community must be raised, not lowered to the point of worthlessness.
One must show self-confidence in the high added value of being Jewish, and demand proven self-investment. Instead of belittling young people and lowering the bar, it should be set higher, at the level of personal responsibility for the Jewish people, at the level of a war for life itself.
The Words of Jack Wertheimer
He describes the situation why American Jewry, at least half of it, has decided that there is no longer a need for its existence for which it has no reason. It is as if a missing hand came and made the Jews forget what they had known for more than two thousand five hundred years.
Jack Wertheimer is Professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the founding director of the Joseph and Miriam Ratner Center for the Study of Conservative Judaism.
Disconnected Jews may see the “Tagalit” program not as a program to bring the American youth to know the historical homeland of the Jewish people in its renewal, but a type of Jewish matchmaking club.
For them, Judaism is not the longing to return to Zion and establish there a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Rather, it is a landless religion that can and should thrive wherever a stake is stuck. Where a synagogue will be built, an excellent kindergarten will be opened, a soup kitchen for the poor, kosher slaughter and a Kadisha burial society are organized.
Judaism is disconnected from the land of Israel, from Jerusalem, Hebron, Beer-Sheva, Ashkelon and even Tel Aviv.
In a wedding ceremony a disconnected rabbi conducts, they do not say with intention the tradition “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget” [Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not prefer Jerusalem Above my chief joy], but as a way of maintaining tradition’ they ignore the fact that built Jerusalem is strong and alive.
The tradition is not connected to the land of Israel, but stands in its own right. Disconnected Judaism is one hundred percent diasporic, as if there is no return to Zion, as if there is no Promised Land, Israel, but as abstract ideas. This is a Judaism without roots in the reality where the Land of Israel exists, where the Temple Mount exists, where Jews can be Maccabees and can live in modern Beit Horon and Modi’in, and are sovereign over their lives and land.
The disconnected do not recognize the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
They identify with Reverend Martin Luther King who said “I have a dream” and “I have seen the promised land.” Images, not practical things. Their Promised Land is an unattainable dream to which one must aspire, a warm place in the bosom of warm Judaism, but it is not the realistic Land of Israel where there are people and land, Torah and work, dreamers and fighters.
This is the Judaism from which the Jews are dropping like leaves in an Autumn Fall; over 50 percent within 50 years, not out of coercion or persecution or out of spite, but simply because Judaism no longer interests them.
This disconnected Judaism, and that of some 78 percent of American Jewry, is a lie. And Jews vote with their feet against this lie.
And the data: Israeli Jewry has grown by a factor of 15 in three generations, while American Jewry loses half of it every generation. The Gentiles who assimilate into the America Jewish community remain Gentiles, and their grandchildren are Gentiles squarely. While the Gentiles who assimilate to the Jews in Israel, and especially the women, seek to convert to the religion of Moses and Israel and assimilate into the people of Israel, not the other way around.
To correct the distortion, to stop the shedding of Judaism, it is not enough to speak nicely and send the children to a matchmaking club in Beit Hillel of every American university where the Hillel Club operates. The concept must be changed.
No Permanency For Jews Anywhere
I once asked my mother where her family lived in Vilnius in the 1930s and whether they bought a house or an apartment. “We lived in a rented apartment,” she answered me. “Like almost all Jews.”
“And why rent,” I asked, since we lived in an apartment that my parents bought. “Because the life of the Jew in a certain place was always temporary,” she explained.
“Were there practical preparations to leave the apartment even before the order came from the Nazi-Gestapo?” I asked. “No,” my mother answered. “No matter how comfortable the exile, and how long it lasts, it was always temporary,” she concluded.
The American Jewry leadership does not see America as a temporary exile. They think of it as the “golden promised land,” and the Land of Israel as “I have a dream.”
This is the concept that must be changed, and this is with the aim of saving American Jewry from a mass self-extermination.
The method for achieving this goal is to restore the longing of American Jews to the Land of Israel, to the anchor of Jewish existence, the Jewish organization, in all its aspects. Education of Judaism in Judea, love for the Land of Israel, and national responsibility towards the people, the land and the Torah of the nation of Israel.
Eliminating the Land of Israel’s goals of Judaism obscurity: settlement, development and preparation of the mental and physical ground for the coming immigrants. The responsibility for the fate of the Jewish people everywhere, and especially in the Land of Israel, which is the Promised Land, is on every Jewish child still with their mother’s milk on their lips, in their opening exam.
For example, every Hanukkah celebration the children will learn the history of the Maccabees, with the help of maps, aerial photographs, and Google Earth and from the words of experts. Each year, another layer must be added, and at the end of the process, they go on a tour of the territory itself.
It costs less than a student vacation in Cancun, Mexico. The by-product of the effort will be children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that have a goal in life, and therefore will choose partners who have similar goals – Judaism.
The Necessary Investment Needed
The government of Israel must see intermarriage as the extinction process of the Jewish people in North America as a catastrophic process no less serious than that of Iran’s nuclear program with its ongoing rants to wipe Israel off the global map or, God forbid, the Holocaust. The end result is the same: the potential loss of millions of Jews. Accordingly, there must be a very necessary investment to stop this process.
Corrections: The original version of this story contained errors about the point of view of Jack Wertheimer. Those parts of the story have been corrected.