Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Intermarriage

Intermarriage is probably most serious issue facing the continuation of Judaism in some areas of the world and for some of the Jewish movements. In the NJPS 2000 survey conducted in the USA, the Orthodox movements seemed to be avoiding this to a large extent- both showing large family sizes and an under 6% rate. However, for the liberal movements these rates were dramatically higher- from 32% in Conservative, to 49% in the unaffiliated community (only slightly lower at 46% in Reform). (Figures taken from here: http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/WillYourGrandchildrenBeJews.htm )

Recently I have seen a discussion of this on another blog (http://factualbasis.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/intermarriage-out-of-judaism/ ). Then today I came across a question on Yahoo! Answers- a mother trying to work out how to keep her children happy with not going to Church with their friends from school. (See the question here http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AgznOqLlXpjSHDIkirClAVUjzKIX;_ylv=3?qid=20080719202541AArdQQ9 )

I read this question and immediately thought of the figures around intermarriage and how this is a problem for many movements in Judaism (and probably more so in South African Orthodox than in Orthodox in the USA since the Conservative/Reform movement is very small here and thus you have the strange phenomenon of non-Observant Orthodox Jews in many Orthodox communities!) Immediately the obvious question arose: If the parent is so worried about the peer pressure and desire of her children to be like their friends form school, why isn’t the first step to socialize with more Jews and to create a circle of friends for them that are Jewish and thus remove the pressure to conform to a Christian society?

If the spiritual health of our children is important to us (and it should- as much as their physical health is), then why do so many avoid taking the tough decisions to ensure it? If we knew that we were living in the midst of a polluted area and that our children’s health was at risk, how many of us would be reluctant to move to make sure they would be healthy? Yet when it comes to spiritual health, the obvious solution of moving to a place where you would be surrounded by Jews, associate with Jews and be immersed in a Jewish environment is resisted and seen as a radical and fanatical.

In my mind this is just a symptom of the modern malaise of wanting to fit in- nobody wants to be too far from what is considered “normal”. We judge ourselves, our homes, our children, jobs etc by the standards of what society expects. We go on about how we must respect individuality, how uniqueness is desired and welcomed, yet we rush to conform and to not make waves or appear strange to neighbors. Unfortunately, for many this malaise seems to include making sure they conform to a specific societal ideal- being “radical” and associating with a minority group, moving house or school so children will associate with Jewish peers rather than being immersed in the majority culture is not acceptable.

Considering that, are we really surprised at such high assimilation rates? If our children grow up immersed in a society where Judaism isn’t the norm, where the desire to conform is a push to other religions (or to no religion), then why are we surprised when they absorb that and treat Judaism and marrying a Jew as nothing more than an option that is the same as any other option? It’s what they’ve been taught- all options are fine, all options are good, there is no definite right or wrong (and this comes through in the question- the parent is happy to have them choose religion in their teens).

So, as I answered in that question (yep- Allonyoav on Yahoo! Answers is me…) I see only one lasting and real solution- Jews need to acknowledge that if they want Jewish children, and Jewish children that marry other Jews, they need to structure their lives in such a way that Judaism and other Jews are a significant part of it.

July 20, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah | , , , | 7 Comments