Interfaith Families

Recent research on the formation of religious identity in interfaith families.

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Not surprisingly perhaps, the surveys by the two organizations reached divergent conclusions about the ability of interfaith marriages to produce children with strong Jewish identities.

The AJCommittee study of religious identity formation in interfaith families was conducted by social scientist Sylvia Barack Fishman of Brandeis University and included interviews with 254 people in mixed­ married, inmarried and conversionary households. The study, conducted between the spring and fall of 2000, also included four focus groups of teenagers growing up in interfaith families in northern New Jersey and in Denver, Colo.

The upshot of the AJCommittee study, according to Barack Fishman, is that "we really don't know what the impact of this proportion of kids being clearly given dual religious identities will be on the larger American Jewish community."

Despite "all of our previous hope and speculation that there was a significant proportion of children in mixed‑married households with an exclusively Jewish identity, this research demonstrates that this is not the case," she said.


Some key findings of the AJCommittee study:

jewish world today quiz· 63 percent of children in mixed‑married homes are being raised Jewish; 4 percent are being raised as Christian; 19 percent in two religions; 9 percent divide the children, raising some as Jews and others as Christians; 5 percent raise children in neither parents' religion.

· Mixed‑married households that initially try to create exclusively Jewish observances often drift increasingly into Christian activities and can end up with a kind of syncretistic blend.

· Jewish mothers, in general, create much more Jewishly identified mixed‑married households than do Jewish fathers. Seventy‑two percent of children being raised as Jewish have a Jewish mother.

· Many Jewish partners in mixed marriages report feelings of personal conflict between their desire to raise Jewish children and their desire to be fair to their spouses.

·Non‑Jewish spouses raising Jewish children often later found themselves resenting the fact that they had given up Christmas and other Christian celebrations.

· Both Jews and non‑Jews in mixed marriages tend to describe Jewish activities as "different" or "religious" while they call Christian activities "just cultural" and "fun."

· The religion of the current spouse is related to the friends one chose in college.

· Parental messages count. Most of the Jews who married other Jews had parents who communicated an expectation that their dates be Jewish. Most of those in the study who intermarried received little or no guidance from their parents. Few respondents reported any backlash of resentment against parents who encouraged dating and marrying only Jews.

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.