Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Intermarriage and Orthodoxy

The topic of intermarriage might very well be the most important public policy question facing the Jewish people. At an intermarriage rate of almost fifty percent, in two-three generations, there will essentially be no one left but the Orthodox. The reason similar intermarriage rates are not occurring in Israel is, because they don’t have the opportunity. The descendants of Israelis who immigrate to America approach over time the same rates of intermarriage as everyone else. Even in Israel with the arrival of 400,000 non-Jewish Russians there is a fair amount of intermarriage. The problem is alleviated because conversions in the army are relatively quick and painless.

The topic has been openly discussed and analyzed for at least twenty years. There is not a national Federation meeting where there isn’t a talk or a seminar on this topic. Major initiatives have been launched more than once; most notably recent projects of Steinhardt and Bronfman. So far there has been no dent in the rate of intermarriage. The question is why? There are only two ways to go. The first is that there is a tidal wave of assimilation that will overwhelm all initiatives. The second possibility is that there have been conceptual and moral failures all along the way, and it is these errors that are preventing the problem from being solved. I want to approach this problem first by discussing some possible errors and then by presenting a straightforward and relatively easy solution.

I begin with the Orthodox. I believe they make three mistakes. First of all, they don’t believe in their hearts that there could possibly be a 50% intermarriage rate. After all, it is impossible to get an apartment in Borough Park or a house in Monsey. Everyone is having so many children. What can be the problem? They don’t feel the importance of the problem because they don’t see it with their own eyes. At most they read about it. I SEE INTERMARRIAGE EVERYWHERE. In my immediate neighborhood most every Jew is already intermarried. Most of their children will marry non-Jews. The Orthodox say “It’s not OUR fault that liberal Jews are leaving the fold. We have been saying for the last two hundred years that Reform Judaism will destroy the Jewish people, and we’ve proven right.” The problem with this comment is that “I told you so” is not a public policy, not even the beginning of such a policy. It is little solace if the Jewish people fade away to have had the satisfaction of having predicted the demise in advance.

The second error is that it is true but irrelevant that Orthodox Jews don’t intermarry. Orthodox Jews not intermarrying might be an argument for Orthodoxy, but it too is not even the beginning of a public policy. American Jews are not, I repeat NOT going to become Orthodox with or without proselytizing (kiruv). Currently, there might be a small net inflow into Orthodoxy. It is also true that the retention rates of Orthodoxy are somewhat higher than in the fifties and sixties. Even ten thousand net Jewish repentant annually, which is above what’s actually happening, is too small a number to prevent the decimation of American Jewish life. If Jews are not going to become religious then it is irrelevant that if they became religious the problem would be solved. If my grandmother had…she would be…but she doesn’t…so she isn’t.

The Orthodox don’t take a non-sectarian attitude towards the Jewish people. It is not their children so why should they worry. There are 2 responses. The correct way of creating a proper Jewish public policy is to look at all problems from the perspective of the Jewish people as a whole. For the Jewish Volk intermarriage is a great tragedy. Second, an American Jewry that is mostly Orthodox will be smaller in number, weaker in political and economic power and significantly poorer. Such a state would bring the anti-Semites out of the woodwork all over the world. Israel will no longer be able to count on the political and economic clout of the Jews of America. Everyone including the Orthodox would be worse off.

The third error is somewhat tangential, but forms an important part of the Orthodox Jewish worldview. In Hebrew the concept is called ''tinok shenishbah bein hagoyim'', a child that was kidnapped at a young age and raised by gentiles. Such events did occur in the middle ages, and halacha had to decide on their legal status. The general intuition was that such persons are innocents, and even if they were raised as Christians or Muslims are to be treated much more leniently than apostates or heretics. In modern times Orthodoxy has gotten into its head the peculiar idea that Jews raised as Conservative or Reform are ''tinok shenishbahs'', children that were captured by goyim, as it were, namely the liberal Jewish clergy The children, now grown up, are not at fault for being who they are. The false and pernicious doctrines of liberal Judaism as taught by the Reform and Conservative rabbis are to blame. My objections to this thesis, its implications for intermarriage plus the errors of Jewish liberals can be found in my next blog.


At 8:32 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

In smaller communities, the Orthodox have intermarriage problems too.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Prisstopolis said...

The trend seems to be that the Orthodox plan to stop recognizing members of other Jewish movements as fellow Jews.

A person may self-identify as Jewish, they may have practice and faith and a Jewish spouse, but because the Orthodox are uncertain about whether any grandparents might have converted, and if so, what school of rabbis were involved, the assumption is that someone who is Conservative or Reform, or unaffliliated will be not be considered to be Jewish.

So in addition to an attrition through intermarriage, I see a forced division into old and new, or real and fake categories of Judaism. Counting Orthodoxy as the only authntic path results in an incredible loss of people and their talents.

I look forward to your future posts on this topic.

At 11:11 AM, Blogger Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I think we should all rejoice knowing that Reform and Conservative Judaism will be destroyed by intermarriage. I truly hope that I live to see the day that only Authentic Judaism will exist without any cheap imitations.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Tam said...

I think that making conversion so difficult, both for non-Jewish spouses and children of intermarried couples is also an issue.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

It's supposed to be difficult; it weeds out the fakers.

At 10:14 PM, Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

My gut reaction to the entire discussion amongst non-observant Jews is: "So what?" Why is it so important to preserve the Jewish People if you don't believe in something "beyond" the material?

More over I'd like to ask - if all the Japanese "converted" tomorrow (started calling themselves Jews), would that guarantee the preservation of the Jewish People? Is there no "essence" of Jewishness that is derived from living and absorbing "Jewishness" generation after generation? Why does calling some well intended non-Jew a "Jew" without that individual steeping themselves in three millenum of Jewish tradition and custom and observance advance the raison d'etre of the Jewish People?

At 11:58 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

yoel ben avraham...I would think love of Jews requires allowing each and every Jew to decide for himself what are his values and ideals,just as you would not appreciate anyone dictating to you how to order your values. A Jew is an end in himself and not a vehicle or means to instantiate a particular religious vision,yours or any other rabbi's. You cannot possibly believe a non-observant Jew has no worth and has no nekudath eloki,divine spark.

Your Japanese example is confusing.There may not be an essence of Jewishness as you put it that is unchanging from time immermorial. It may very well change slowly over time depending on the spiritual level of the generations.Who would ever believe Jews who are compassionate and merciful, the children of compassionate and merciful ancestors, would run an occupation for so many years or contemplate ethnic cleansing? I am teasing you in a way. My pt. is essences can go against your views as much as it be used as a cudgel against non-observant Jews.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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