Interfaith Families

With intermarriage an acknowledged part of the American landscape, the only remaining debate is how to respond to interfaith unions.

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"From the perspective of America, intermarriage is a wonderful union," says Steve Bayme, national director of the Contemporary Jewish Life department for the American Jewish Committee. "It's a triumph of American tolerance and equality. Those are wonderful values but they contradict fundamental Jewish values to marry within the faith, build a Jewish family and raise Jewish children." 

With half of Jews in the United States believing it is "racist" to promote marriage within the faith and only one-fifth of the Jewish population opposing mixed marriage, it's no surprise that interfaith unions are at an all-time high. So how, in an age of political correctness, can parents explain to their children that choosing to only date and marry a fellow Jew is not discrimination? 

"It's racist only when you believe that gentiles are inferior to Jews," says Bayme. "It is not racist for Jews, a tiny minority, to want to preserve distinctiveness that is imperiled by mixed marriage."

Preventing Intermarriage

Judaism has to be taught as something relevant so that kids can never imagine it sharing a level of importance with any other faith, say Orthodox leaders. With 98 percent of National Conference of Synagogue Youth graduates marrying Jews ("Only God is perfect," offers one rabbi), the Orthodox Union's emphasis on education and community seems to be working. 

"Continuity and the threat of intermarriage has been on the priority list of every generation of traditional Jews since the day the Torah was given on Sinai," says Rabbi Moshe D. Krupka, executive director of programs at the OU. "We strive to find a Torah way of life that is palatable, exciting and interesting to teenagers ?so that Judaism isn't some ancient tome on a shelf only for the great bearded rabbis." 

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's United Synagogue Youth and the Reform movement's North American Federation of Temple Youth have similar philosophies. Both organizations run an array of teenage programming--everything from post-Shabbat dances to summer trips to Israel. 

"The best methodology to prevent intermarriage is to provide the most solid types of all-around educational experiences that will motivate a person to live and identify Jewishly," says Jules Gutin, director of the Department of Youth Activities for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. 

Unlike USY, which forbids high school-age officers to date non-Jews, leaders of NFTY and other arms of the Reform movement cringe at the thought of educational programming and policies promoting "prevention." 

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Amy Blumenfeld is a freelance writer and a former editor of George magazine. Her articles have appeared in various magazines, including People, Self, and Fitness.