Mosaic Magazine

Response to: "Intermarriage: Can Anything Be Done?"September 2013

Yes, Something Can Be Done

A “Purple” Solution to Intermarriage


The discourse on Jewish intermarriage over the last decades has been dominated by two schools of thought. One may be termed the normative school; the other, the welcoming school.

The normative school—ably represented by Jack Wertheimer—sees intermarriage through the lens of historical Jewish norms. Insofar as this school offers policy prescriptions (which it rarely does), it calls for strengthening the norms that have historically promoted in-marriage and discouraged out-marriage.  

By contrast, the welcoming school not only sees large-scale intermarriage as inevitable and unstoppable but advocates warmly receiving intermarried families into Jewish families and communities. Rather than stressing norms that privilege in-marriage, it works to dispel perceptions that Jewish groups or leaders harbor negative attitudes toward the intermarried or resist their active participation in Jewish life.

Whereas the normative school sees intermarriage as both ideologically wrong and socially corrosive of Jewish continuity, the welcoming school sees intermarriage as ideologically neutral and socially neutral or even beneficial, in that it signals Jews’ integration within the larger society.

Let me elaborate.


Truths and Consequences

As Wertheimer correctly notes, intermarriage is associated with several adverse consequences both for Jewish demography and for Jewish life. Among the consequences are these: relatively few children of intermarried couples are raised as Jews; adult Jewish children of intermarried parents are much more likely to intermarry in turn; the intermarried display low levels of participation in Jewish religious practices, and even lower levels of ethnic connectedness (as in having Jewish friends); and—in the largest gap of all—the intermarried show little attachment to Israel.  

All of these together, and especially the first—that the intermarried are three times less likely than the in-married to raise their children as exclusively Jewish—make intermarriage a major factor in the demographic decline that is now being experienced nationwide among non-Orthodox, communally affiliated Jews. The simple, unavoidable truth is that the non-Orthodox population, in which about one out of every two recently married individuals is intermarried, is shrinking. Only the much smaller Orthodox population, with its near-zero intermarriage rate, is demographically booming.

And this has striking implications for the future shape of the Jewish community. Consider this finding, documented in the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York: for every three non-Orthodox Jews in their fifties in the New York region, we find only one non-Orthodox Jewish child under the age of ten; by contrast, for every three Orthodox Jews in their fifties, there are nine Jewish children. In the entire New York area, the Orthodox comprise a mere 20 percent of Jewish households, but these households contain 61 percent of the Jewish children. Similar patterns have been observed elsewhere, most notably in Great Britain where the Orthodox population has been growing while all others have been shrinking. Intermarriage is not the whole cause of the decline of non-Orthodox Jews; but it is a major contributing factor.


To this evidence of shrinking Jewish numbers outside of Orthodoxy, proponents of the welcoming strategy offer a variety of counter-arguments. First, they say, the picture is not uniformly bleak; intermarriage doesn’t lead inevitably to departure from Jewish life, as can be seen from the presence of intermarried families in synagogues and other Jewish venues. Second, if intermarried Jews and their children are less likely to be active in Jewish life, the fault is attributable at least as much to the intermarrying spouses’ low rates of Jewish education and social connectedness prior to marriage as to intermarriage per se; even if they had married fellow Jews, the odds are that they would have been less engaged than their in-married counterparts. Finally, say some in the welcoming camp, if the intermarried are alienated from Jewish life, it is precisely because of the lack of welcome that greets them when they encounter Jewish communities or social circles.

The first of these counterarguments—that intermarriage doesn’t necessarily lead to a departure from Jewish life—is true enough but statistically insignificant; it is indisputable that the two phenomena are very highly correlated. More cogent is the second counterargument: to some extent, today’s intermarried were indeed already slated for lower levels of Jewish involvement by virtue of circumstance (living in a remote geographical location, suffering from a weak Jewish education, having intermarried parents, etc.). But the argument is without merit concerning the outcome that matters most, which is the raising of Jewish children—not partially Jewish, not half-Jewish, not Jewish-and-Christian, not Jewish-plus-something-else. No statistical manipulation can explain away the enormous gaps between the in-married and the intermarried in the rates at which children are raised as exclusively Jewish.

Which leaves the welcoming camp’s third counterargument, the one about the allegedly off-putting behavior of Jewish institutions and communities. Here, too, evidence is lacking. For one thing, some Jewish institutions—ranging from Birthright Israel to Jewish community centers to, most prominently, Reform congregations—seem to have little trouble attracting large numbers of intermarried families or children of the intermarried. Far from erecting social barriers, broad swaths of American Jewry have adopted a posture of openhearted welcome, and not just toward the intermarried but toward all sorts of non-traditional and historically non-normative behaviors.

Most strikingly, when asked in the New York study whether they felt comfortable or uncomfortable attending most Jewish events and activities, the responses of the intermarried were nearly identical to those of the non-married and only slightly behind the in-married.  This suggests that intermarriage per se does not generally provoke either social rejection or feelings of alienation among the intermarried themselves. It also underlines that a welcoming attitude by itself is insufficient to produce the desired effect: namely, intermarried Jews and their families who are active in Jewish life.


Implications for Policy

Still, notwithstanding the analytic strengths of the normative camp in assessing the impact of intermarriage, the story is different when it comes to policy recommendations and actions on the ground.

To the extent that the normative camp offers substantive policies, they amount to the need to inculcate a strong pro-endogamy ethos and to refrain from conferring positions of leadership or communal honors upon the intermarried. Yet this approach has failed utterly to promote in-marriage, to raise the rate at which the intermarried raise their children as Jews, or to engage intermarried families in Jewish life. Over the past half-century, the strong disapproval of intermarriage articulated by some sectors of the community has visibly failed to diminish its incidence overall or bring about other desired effects.

Even this were not so,  moreover, today’s non-Orthodox communal leaders are simply incapable of embracing the normative approach—in part for fear of alienating their children, friends, congregants, and donors, in part out of aversion to “judgmentalism.” (“Who am I to tell others, even my own children, whom they should or shouldn’t marry?”) In post-modern, post-ethnic, post-religious, post-collective America, the words and actions urged by the normative camp fail to resonate. In fact, they might even cause collateral damage by impeding the formulation or enactment of policies explicitly designed to foster in-marriage. (Programs aimed at promoting endogamy routinely refrain from declaring their true objectives, emphasizing instead how they help young people decide their “Jewish journeys” for themselves.)

If the normative camp finds few followers among non-Orthodox leaders, the welcoming camp, correctly reading and reflecting the values of those leaders, has initiated several educational endeavors that even stalwart members of the normative camp might in principle applaud.

Take, for example, the introductory Derekh Torah course at New York’s 92nd Street Y, which bills itself as “an excellent class for interfaith couples, for individuals who are curious about conversion, or for Jews who want to learn more about Judaism.” Or take the Exploring Judaism course at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, designed “for students exploring the possibility of converting to Judaism” and strongly encouraging the participation of “Jewish partners of potential converts.” Consider, too, the nearly one-hundred classes around the country sponsored by the Mother’s Circle of the Jewish Outreach Institute, with its “free educational programs and resources for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children within the context of intermarriage or a committed relationship.” On the Orthodox side of the ledger, we may add the entire Chabad outreach operation, premised on a welcoming attitude toward all Jews, emphatically including those who act contrary to traditional expectations. 


And yet: when it comes to intermarriage, what have these educational programs accomplished? As Wertheimer’s compelling review amply demonstrates, intermarried couples continue to increase in number, few raise their children as exclusively Jewish, and most are fairly distant from Jewish life. No less than the normative camp, the welcoming camp, too, has failed to halt, let alone turn around, the steady decline in the part of the population that is at once non-Orthodox and at least somewhat attached to conventional Jewish life. Nor is that decline significantly offset by the growth in “borderland Jews”: those, heavily the offspring of the intermarried, with but an episodic attachment to being Jewish or with hybrid identities like “partially Jewish” or “both Jewish and Christian.” In the words of one illustrative respondent to the New York survey: “I’m Jewish with my father and Christian with my mother.”

In sum, in terms of effective policies for dealing with the larger demographic trends, both camps have fallen short. One is unpersuasive, the other unproductive. What then is to be done?


Four “Purple” Solutions

In today’s politically and culturally polarized America, analysts routinely divide the electorate into “red state” conservative Republicans and “blue state” liberal Democrats. Correlatively, policy advocates tend to line up behind proposals appealing to one or the other body of voters. Every so often, however, analysts and policy makers do seek to fashion “purple” solutions: ideas that draw on the thinking and sentiments of both camps and bear the potential of appealing to a larger constituency.

Can we apply a “purple” approach to the challenge of intermarriage? Any successful response to that challenge must meet two tests. It must increase the number of Jewish children who are born to Jewish parents and raised as exclusively Jewish in their religious identities. At the same time, it must comport with a cultural environment that shrinks from even obliquely criticizing people for their decisions in matters seen as residing in the private realm. In short, we need policies that would work if adopted, and that can be adopted if they work.

Some examples:

First and foremost, the organized Jewish community can strive to promote earlier marriage among Jews. Broadly speaking, among adult non-Orthodox Jews aged twenty-five to thirty-nine, about a quarter have married Jews and a quarter have married non-Jews, but fully half are non-married. Not only, then, are more Jews marrying non-Jews, but fewer Jews are marrying in their twenties—with adverse consequences for fertility, as recently discussed here by Sylvia Barack Fishman.

Not surprisingly, Jews who do marry Jews tend to have dated Jews over the years; and those who date Jews tend disproportionately to have many Jewish friends, associates, and neighbors. While the organized Jewish community has (properly) responded to rising intermarriage by investing in Jewish education—through day schools, camps, Israel travel, campus activities, and more, all of which are linked with higher rates of in-marriage—it has never explicitly adopted a policy of strengthening Jewish social networks among adolescents and young adults. In this day and age, where a zip code is better than a Jewish education as a predictor of in-marriage, the building of Jewish friendships ought to be regarded as a constituent part of Jewish education, not just its fortuitous by-product.

Along the same lines, the community would do well to consider investing in cafes, social movements, social media, and cultural events (concerts, film festivals) in areas where thousands of young Jewish adults reside. In New York City, two such areas are lower Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn; others exist in all major metropolitan regions.

Second, more converts are needed, especially from the ranks of non-Jewish spouses and the not-yet-married romantic partners of Jews. Congregational rabbis—the prime gateway to conversion—have little incentive (or time) to work intensively with prospective converts, especially those with no particular tie to their congregations. An investment in conversion-dedicated rabbis could increase the numbers at a relatively low per-capita cost. Would such an initiative uncover a pent-up demand? It’s hard to say; but the success of current conversion institutes and certain other outreach efforts suggests the existence of an untapped potential for expanding the number of Jewish young adults and Jewish in-marriage.

Third: as we have seen, only about a third or fewer of the children of intermarried parents are raised as exclusively Jewish. What if the non-Jewish spouses—the parents of these children—were given license to consider themselves as belonging to the Jewish people without taking the extra step of a religious conversion? The suggestion here is to promulgate an alternate path to becoming Jewish, one that doesn’t require a religious process or trappings that might strike prospective joiners as inauthentic or insincere. Would such couples (one born Jew plus one Jew via what might be called “cultural affirmation”) raise their children as Jews? Here, too, we don’t know, but building a non-religious pathway to joining the Jewish people would help us find out.

Fourth, we need a more family-friendly society. Couples throughout the West have been experiencing lower birthrates in part because of the burdensome economic and social costs of raising children. In that connection, as a culturally and politically influential community, organized Jewry could help bring about more family-friendly public policies on the national and local scene that would alleviate the costs of bearing and raising children for all.

Since non-Orthodox Jewish birthrates closely track those of highly educated secular Americans, helping to raise the fertility rates of the larger society in which Jews live would have an indirect but immediate effect on Jewish fertility rates as well. Meanwhile, on the community level, Jewish-sponsored and partially subsidized day care for children with at least one Jewish parent could help raise non-Orthodox Jewish birthrates out of the region of Negative Population Growth, where they currently reside.


Moving Forward

The numerically declining non-Orthodox population constitutes the major adverse collective consequence of intermarriage. This challenge demands frank recognition, sustained attention, and effective action. A package of communal policies can raise the rates of Jewish in-marriage, of religious conversion to Judaism and cultural affiliation with the Jewish people, of Jewish fertility, and of Jewish child-rearing among the intermarried.

Required for such policies is imaginative thinking plus the ingenuity to draw upon elements of both the normative and the welcoming schools. The former’s chief virtue lies in its correct and well-placed alarmism, the latter’s in its recognition that any policy approach must be compatible with the culture and ethos of our time and place. Neither has yet devised a successful package of policies. Why not combine the best elements of both, and move on from there?


Steven M. Cohen is a research professor at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.


  • cfeinson

    The only one of Steve Cohen’s “purple solutions” that makes any sense is the fourth one, a more family-friendly society. Now that is something everyone can get behind. And it solves so many problems, too, although I am not sure it would have any effect on intermarriage. All the other so-called solutions are complete non-starters.

  • Phil Cohen

    I notice throughout the length and breadth of this conversation there is a continuing refrain, like a chorus from a folk song. Here are the problems we face; here are their solutions. And here is the refrain: the non-Orthodox community behaves this way and the non-Orthodox community behaves that way. La-la-la.

    Somehow Orthodox Jews are immune to the sociological forces that bear down upon all the rest of us, or at least sufficiently immune to resist intermarriage.

    I’m sure that sociologists who study Orthodoxy have found the proper labels and so forth to describe this distinguishing behavior. But it’s odd to me that these writings take for granted this significantly different behavior, and assume that those forces are inapplicable to that large segment of the non-Orthodox community that prefers marriage to non-Jews.

    Now I am being more than a bit disingenuous here, for we all have some basic intuitions as to the key differences that distinguish Orthodoxy from non: a belief in Torah mi’Sinai, commitment to mitzvot, and the generally tighter communities these commitments engender. These apparently have the capacity to resist the forces of modernity. Add to this the generally poor education the nons receive, and the formula for disinterest in a strong commitment to Jewish life is evident.

    I’m a pessimist, and the solutions proffered in these articles do not fill me with confidence that we can reduce, much less eliminate, the trend. I suppose this does not exonerate us from trying, but I am not confident that we can maintain the same presence in America in the 21st century as marked the 20th.

  • Lee Ratner

    How do you encourage early marriage among non-Orthodox Jews? The reason that you can achieve early marriage among the Orthodox is because all the social norms lead towards early marriage. This is especially true among the ultra-Orthodox, where dating and any sort of physical contact before marriage basically doesn’t exist.

    Most young or youngish non-Orthodox Jews, even those committedly Jewish, are at least one or two generations into a situation where the norm is later marriage. They expect to have a couple of romantic partners before marriage rather than to date only with an eye for marriage, let alone accept an arranged marriage. Besides their social expectations, most of them are not in an economic situation where early marriage is acceptable because they are either in school or trying to building a career. If you want to encourage early marriage, your going to need to have a lot of economic support for the young couples. Somehow, I doubt that’s going to happen.

  • allyson gall

    I grew up Roman Catholic, married a Jew ( thus, an intermarriage), converted before kids were born (thus, now an in-marriage) and can not stress enough that we cannot stop our kids from falling in love with non-Jews. We can, however, talk to them constantly about how complicated life is and how much better it is for kids to be brought up by parents with a set of shared traditions. So, ask your partner in life to become Jewish!

  • Samuel Heilman

    Steve Cohen has the data right, but most of his purple recommendations rest on propositions that do not seem to rest on data. The data shows that educated Jews (a large proportion of whom intermarry) marry later, and there’s no evidence that encouraging them to marry earlier will bear fruit. What exactly would be the encouragement? Evidence demonstrates that there are few if any incentives to marry earlier among those who are non-Orthodox if they can live together without doing so without any negative consequences. The second argument that favors conversion does not propose any mechanism for bringing it about, nor does it address the acceptability of those conversions. Yes conversion would help but only if it allowed the immigrant to Judaism to be fully accepted, and that’s not happening, especially for those who want to retain their ties to their religions of origin as so many do. This also suggests that getting converts or even the intermarried to raise their children as exclusively Jewish is somehow just a question of attitude. In the post-modern reality, many people have given up the either/or option and choose the both/and. If anything the Clinton/Mezvinsky wedding and lifestyle that allows both members to continue to be both Jewish and Christian is the more likely scenario than what Cohen suggests. Finally, a family-friendly society would not necessarily counteract those families that want to be both Jewish and something else. In contemporary western post-modern society, the idea that a family can have only one religion and ethnic heritage — or even one racial identity — is a relic of the past. Wishing it weren’t won’t change a thing. In the end, this is a problem that is not going away very easily.

  • Mom-of-four

    What does that third point even mean? And how could it possibly be acceptable to the “normative,” often halakhically oriented camp? I wholeheartedly endorse the others, but you’ll have to explain #3 better.

  • Helene Meyers

    Just want to recommend some additional reading for those interested in this issue:
    1) Keren McGinity’s Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America
    2) Helene Meyers, “Intermarriage–Jewish Betrayal or Loving Coalitions?”, epilogue to Identity Papers: Contemporary Narratives of American Jewishness

  • Barbara Radunsky

    I guess I am part of the 30%. I was a non-religious non-Jew who married a fairly non-observant Jew. I am now almost 40 years into a very happy marriage that produced 3 Jewish children, and, so far, 4 Jewish grandchildren. Out of admiration for Judaism, I committed to Day School Education for our kids, even though I had not converted at the time. If the Orthodox Community in our city, and the Day School in particular, had not been so welcoming, so inclusive, things might have turned out very differently. My husband gradually became Orthodox, and after 25 years, I went through formal Orthodox conversion, after learning to feel like a member of the group, and loving it. No one could have forced either of us. It had to occur organically, but having fertile soil in which to grow our roots deep made it happen. We are so happy with the choices we have made, and with the way our children have enthusiastically taken on their own observances. My grandchildren now attend the same Day School their parents did. It costs an absolute fortune, but I am convinced it is the essential part of the picture.

  • Daniel

    I would like to know if Mr. Cohen is brave enough to advise potential non-Orthodox converts: despite your (the converts’ and the non-Orthodox rabbis’) best intentions and despite the stubborn Orthodox view on the legality of sort of conversion, your children may one day be subjected to the non-admittance policy of an Orthodox institution.

    Surely, one can advise them that there are plenty non-Orthodox institutions so “who needs these archaic thinking schools to begin with”.

    But having encountered many of such converts and heartbreaking stories it is “mentchlich” to advise them of the remote possibility such a scenario in the future.

    Mr. Cohen—I would like to hear from you on this topic.

  • Yosef

    I was wondering the same thing as Phil Cohen. Would it be possible to integrate some of the qualities that make Orthodoxy successful without diluting the unique qualities of the Non? Perhaps the intuitions Phil mentions that give Orthodoxy its strength can be, so to speak, converted. Maybe the Nons need to emphasize a belief in the unique character of the Jewish nation/religion and its special relationship with God. This in addition to specific religious requirements might help engender a stronger sense of community.

  • Lee Ratner

    Phil Cohen, the Orthodox are immunized to the sociological forces that prevent intermarriage but there is one fatal flaw to the Orthodox method. A lot of Jews in the Orthodox community find the restrictions of Orthodoxy chafing and restrictive. There are active communities of ex-Orthodox and ex-Haredi Jews and an active community that wants to leave but stays out of fear.

    The millions of Jews that immigrated from Eastern Europe during the late 19th and early 20th century were at least nominally if not fervently Orthodox. In fact, many of the Central European Jews that preceded them were Orthodox before they came to the United States. Most of them quit being Orthodox as soon as they came to this country because they wanted to fit in even though the intermarriage rates were obviously much lower at the time. Non-Orthodox Judaism allowed that. If there was no non-Orthodox option that millions might have simply stopped being Jews.

  • Daniel
  • Cathy Schechter

    There can be no doubt that Prof. Cohen has an expert command of his data. The problem with both his and Jack Wertheimer’s analysis of the problem lies within the limits of quantitative data to offer creative direction into potential policies that might promote solutions, purple or otherwise. The Jewish population studies are traditionally woefully lacking strong qualitative data to flesh out and enrich our understanding of what is really happening, or to expand our segmentation of “in-marrieds” and “intermarrieds” to understand what effects geographic location, community size, educational approaches, etc. could have.

    There needs to be fresh thinking about this problem, and it needs to come not only from the east coast, but the west coast, the third coast and the heartlands, where a variety of popular communities like Austin, Texas, are growing by leaps and bounds, and where Jewish life is flourishing despite all the gloom. We also need to look beyond Orthodox and non-Orthodox (i.e. “Movement” Judaism), at alternate communities like Israeli-Americans, who have begun to take their place at the American Jewish table.

    Another example: In his recent book “Jewish Megatrends,” Rabbi Sid Schwarz discusses differences between “Tribal” and “Covenental” Jews. Imagine what new insights could be gathered in simply changing the cross-tabs …

    My call to action would be to better integrate these data with alternate research methodologies, specifically, more extensive qualitative research in particular, that can flesh out, better inform and enrich this same old tired discussion, and offer potential policies and plans that will excite, incite and ignite action. I’m sorry but in my opinion, the discussion between Wertheimer and Cohen offers little new food for thought.

  • Marvin Israel

    Secularization has been increasing in all Western societies. This is an unstoppable trend which I welcome since I am now and always have been an atheist despite having attended Hebrew School for many years and having been Bar Mitzvahed. I value Yiddishkeit but that pretty much died with the immigrants who brought it. I know that there are a few exceptions (The National Yiddish Book Center, the Yiddish Farm in Goshen, NY, Yiddish immersion courses in Oxford and in Vilna) but they represent a miniscule segment of Jews. Every religion I know of is irrational and is responsible for perpetrating evil along with whatever good it might do. Buddhists in Burma killing Muslims, Hindus in India killing Muslims, Muslims killing one another, haredim in Israel attacking a little girl not dressed “modestly” enough to satisfy their fanaticism, Christians and the Crusades and the Inquisition, etc.

  • Samuel Z. Klausner

    I commend Steve for his succinct summary of the intermarriage literature. The categorization would also hold for the popular discussion on the topic. However, the literature review is that of those who advocate doing something about intermarriage. I advocate neglecting the investment of community resources in the mission project. As you know from my 1997 article in Contemporary Jewry I hypothesized a three-generational process leading to Christianization. I believe the variables that account for most of the variance is political not familial. I do not mean the formal politics of elections and governance but polices of social relations and culture, soft power. The proposals for reducing intermarriage remind of the conflict resolution literature of half a century ago that consider social conflict as a result fo defective communication. Good quantitative study of the conversion of Iran to Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries illustrates the process over a few generations.. Personally, I do not attend intermarriage ceremonies, even for the closest family members, because I believe that those attending are witnesses socially confirming the event. I censure rabbis who officiate either because the Christian partner cannot pledge k’dat Moshe v’ Yisrael or because the formula is omitted in a pseudo-Jewish ceremony. Nevertheless, on subsequent occasions I accept the participants with and appreciation for Christianity for the spiritual inspiration it provides individuals and its cultural contributions to mankind and even to the development of Judaism. Of course, we should welcome the Christian spouse to the synagogue and to all forms of participation which the rabbis might consider appropriate.

  • Marcia Middleton-Kaplan

    My initiation into knowledge of both Orthodox and Non came about when I was a teenager and read Chaim Potok’s books “The Chosen” and “The Promise.” Clearly some of the current conflicts within the faith were out front and center even then. However, the pull to become Jewish never left me as I moved through adulthood with Jewish friends, somewhat distant observation of their Jewish rituals, and their ever present Jewish humor. Had I not met a warm, welcoming, rabbi who listened to me and opened the door for my consideration of conversion, I might never have found my way through it into a beautiful life with a Jewish husband, Jewish home, and an active life in the Jewish community. (I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to ask 3 times, still a common practice.) In my experience there haven’t been outreach efforts to attract others, and there is so much to learn before being able to fully appreciate and participate in the services. Consequently, the idea of conversion-dedicated rabbis makes a lot of sense to me, particularly if it was coupled with “Hebrew School from the basics” for potential converts. It takes children years of Hebrew School/camps/programs to be “knowledgeable enough,” and longer-term age-appropriate education programs for adults would do so much more than the “Learn to read Hebrew in a weekend” courses that are more typically offered. In addition to the basic religious beliefs and practices, we Jews by Choice need to know the history, the Hebrew language, and the culture that goes along with being Jewish. So often people identify me as being Jewish and are shocked to find out that I am a convert. They tell me I “look Jewish, sound Jewish, act Jewish,” to which I smile and reply, “that’s because I AM Jewish.” I traveled my own journey to get here, and I am sure there would be many others that would choose to do the same with encouragement, an invitation, and the availability of a clear process to gain the needed knowledge.

  • Myron Bassman

    As far as I can see, the blue, red, and purple are about the needs and desires of Jewish organizations. The actual needs of young Jews, especially those with children, are not addressed. Most of the needs of people with young children revolve around their care and education. Non-Orthodox groups should imitate Chabad. Low-cost daycare and low-cost schooling. We should be taking all those resources spent on Israel and Israel trips and put them to taking care of our own. My local Federation (Philadelphia) is giving $400,000 to an Israeli group for “Youth at Risk.” At the same time they have drastically reduced school funding (including children with special needs). Our children are at risk. Where is the sense of urgency?

    • YM Goldstein

      I just had the most wonderful Sukkot so far. Great friends, kids, delicious meals, davening, the whole nine yards. It is so great to be part of the Orthodox community. I wish every Jewish person would have the chance to celebrate Sukkot and Jewish life that I have. It is so delicious.

  • Marlene Langert

    Back when I was eighteen years old, in 1954, I wanted to marry a non-Jewish young man. I went to talk with a Conservative rabbi in Washington, D.C., where I lived. I can still feel the sting, slap in the face of the words he uttered, which were, “It will never work. It never has. It never will!” What I want to say is, please make sure no one ever utters those words again. I still hate that rabbi. He was narrow, cold, inhuman! He made me even more determined to marry my love because, even then, I knew he was uttering a bunch of trash that was not true. If he he said that it would be very difficult to make it work, that would have been fine. However, he did not. Please be careful at how objections are stated. We did not marry not because of the rabbi, but because this young man listened to his priest.

    I would up marrying a Jewish young man in 1958 and I loved him dearly and vice versa. He was secularly Jewish, but changed from atheist to agnostic because he was married to me. Our children were raised Jewish, going to Hebrew School, having bar mitzvahs, etc. My daughter married a non-Jew. They have been married for 27 years quite successfully. Their children consider themselves Jewish and mixed, but not Christian. My older son married a girl when both of them were New Age. Now they have become Evangelical Christians who go to a church where the roots of Christianity are honored with deep roots in Judaism. We celebrate the Jewish Holidays. My youngest son definitely wanted the mother of his children to be Jewish. So he had two children with a Jewish woman, but they never married! These children are definitely being raised Jewish by both parents although the parents are not together anymore.

    Our family is wide open, accepting of all, very close, and very happy. Why can’t everyone be that way? I went to a Conservative Shul once that considered their intermarried Jewish parents to be single, even when they had kids in the Hebrew School. The non-Jewish parent was not allowed to be a member, not allowed to go on the bimah. I never went back. I do believe that rule has changed in recent years.

    Why are so many Jews so narrow-minded? The same Jews would not want Christians to be narrow-minded about Jews.

  • Shoshanna

    I don’t have answers – only a sad tale to relate. I am born Jewish and was raised in a secular Jewish home where no mitzvot were observed and “Hebrew School” was a joke where I learned nothing. Like so many, I left Judaism and explored other religions. In middle age (long after child-bearing was even a possibility) I married a non-Jew.

    A few years later, I decided to re-explore Judaism. I became an Orthodox baalat teshuvah. My husband was not interested in converting, but was supportive of my involvement. Unfortunately, the community was not. I was shunned and excluded by everyone. In over ten years, the rabbi never once invited me for Shabbat. At holidays, I was seated at the children’s table – and I dislike children. I overheard snide comments from the rabbi about not being a “real Jew”. One rabbi worked very hard to break up my marriage. He was also a terrible gossip. Other rabbis with whom I interacted were no better – and certainly not role models in any sense I can imagine.

    So I tried to go it alone, without a shul, without a community, without a rabbi, without any support of any kind. A shul a full day away demanded thousands of dollars in membership fees just so we could attend High Holiday services which we couldn’t begin to afford even if we didn’t have to pay for transportation, hotels and meals. While there is a Reform temple here that might well welcome me, Reform Judaism holds no appeal for either me or my husband. (I live in an area with very few Jews, so I don’t have many options.) After fifteen years of this, I finally gave up and once again have abandoned trying to live as a Jew.

    I realize this is entirely irrelevant to the main topic of the future of the Jewish people since I have no children. I’m sharing it in the hope that those who deal with intermarried people who have a sincere desire to live as Jews will be treated better in the future.

  • rosenberg

    I would like to add my thoughts to the debate Jack Wertheimer, professor of American-Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, has sparked regarding intermarriage and inmarriage and his assertion that welcoming intermarried families into the Jewish community has been a failure (Editor’s note: Gary Rosenblatt guest column Sept. 19, full article Mosaic online magazine — In a perfect world, I would agree that more Jewish education and creative positive Jewish experiences would stem the trend of intermarriage. Logically this sounds right, but I can tell you with 40 years’ experience in Conservative synagogues, that the reality is that even the children with positive experiences who excelled in Hebrew school, intermarry. Some come from traditional homes. Many intermarry simply because they attend college away from home, fall in love and believe love will conquer all. A rabbi can speak himself blue in the face about the non-Jewish partner converting, but usually it makes no difference. The non-Jewish partner does not wish to convert and the Jewish partner feels compromise and accommodation will work things out. The pain and anguish occurs when the intermarried couple has children and there is a baptism. This tears the hearts out of the grandparents who have no choice; they do not want to lose their children or grandchildren.

    The children of a non-Jewish mother are not Jewish. We have now lost them forever. I have heard it suggested that Conservative Judaism accept patrilineal descent with provisions encouraging Jewish education. I believe this will happen in the future, but I have problems accepting this solution.

    I do not have the answer, and I believe no one does, but I do know that if one does not believe they are halakhically Jewish, they will not seek Judaism but will follow the non-Jewish mother’s religion.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  • Gene

    For the third suggestion see Shachter-Shalomi’s reinterpretation of the Ger Toshev concept, as written about by Maggid in American Post-Judaism

  • J Leland Kupferberg

    To a traditionally observant Jew – and I’m not one – the obvious question would be: “What does it mean to be raised ‘exclusively Jewish?’”

    When a non-Orthodox inter-faith couple raises their child to be a vaguely defined adjective – “Jewish” – it looks a lot like the child is being raised to have a subjectively defined identity.

    If a half-Irish woman assures me that she exclusively identifies as “Jewish”, yet does not actually practice the kind of Judaism that my ancestors did for thousands of years, on what actual religious or ethnic grounds can I perceive a commonality between us other than a commonly held adjective – “Jewish”?

    Well, one might argue that the commonality is “Judaism” – or the common celebration of Jewish holidays.

    But to an Orthodox Jew, “Judaism” encompasses far more than “celebrating” certain infrequent calendar events or identifying with an adjective. It entails the daily practice and stringent observance of the Oral Law.

    And if you’re converting to a “faith” that does not require the stringent observance of Oral Law, then what exactly are you converting to? An adjective? A brand name?

    The brutal fact is that, not only have non-Orthodox Jews already lost a common religious bond with their Orthodox brethren, but when they no longer even share common ethnic bonds – as is increasingly the case where 70% of the non-Orthodox contingent are currently intermarried – the conversation is essentially over.

    But even among non-Orthodox Jews, let’s be brutally frank with ourselves: on what basis does a non-observant Jew of Scots-Irish ancestry feel compelled to marry a non-observant Jew of Jamaican-German descent?

    Is it the fact that both individuals feel the same subjectively held allegiance to an adjective (“Jewish”)? Can you really build a viable community on the pedestal of an adjective?

    Meanwhile, the Orthodox Jewish contingent largely consists of Jews who still stringently practice the Oral Law of their ancestors and who likewise share common ancestry.

    Bottom line: Nothing more can be done. THe non-Orthodox are increasingly an ethnic hodge-podge of different peoples, some with varying degrees of Jewish descent, and almost none of whom practice the Oral Law that at least some of their grandparents did. No amount of think-tanking or organized action will change that.

    For those masses, the game is already lost, and now it is time to focus on the saving remnant – the Orthodox Jews – who remain cohesive by way of ethnicity and by religious practice.


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