The Challenge Underlying the Challenge of Intermarriage

Here at JOI we’ve long said that the challenge of intermarriage is not really about the marriage at all. It’s about much bigger issues. Whether you share JOI’s optimism in the ability of intermarried families to raise Jewish children, or whether you take the pessimistic view that intermarriage is eating away at the size and cohesion of the Jewish people, either way, if the bigger issues are not being addressed, then we’re all doing a disservice to the Jewish future. So what are these bigger issues?

A recent New York Times article about the ongoing research on American religion by the Pew Foundation raises one such issue:

70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that “many religions can lead to eternal life,” including majorities among Protestants and Catholics…. Among minority faiths, more than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did….“It’s not that Americans don’t believe in anything,” said Michael Lindsay, assistant director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. “It’s that we believe in everything. We aren’t religious purists or dogmatists.”

So if most Jews believe that their religion is not the only path to eternal life, it begs the question: Why be Jewish at all? If there are multiple paths to salvation, why take the Jewish one? For today’s younger generations, the fact that this is the path their parents took, and their parents before them, is not an automatic sell. (Especially if their other parent was on a different path, or if there are people in the Jewish community who tell them they have no right considering themselves on the Jewish path to begin with because of their lineage.)

When looking at the trend of massive intermarriage, the big question isn’t about how we can get more Jews to marry other Jews. It’s about how we can get more people on the Jewish path, whether they are single, in-married or intermarried, children or grandchildren of intermarriage. Are we ready, as a community, to say that Judaism is not just one of many possible paths, but that it is the best path? And why is it the best path? Most Jews would be uncomfortable saying so, even if they believe it. Maybe our work is really about becoming more comfortable saying Judaism has the most to offer those who are looking for a “here-and-now” religion more than a “hereafter” religion, so please join us. And then making it a meaningful and accepting community to enter.


  1. Paul, the end of your blog sounds like you are making the case that Judaism is somehow superior to Christianity in modern times, so that nonJews (esp. Christians) should consider converting.

    I’m sure you didn’t mean it to come across this way. What did you mean?

    Comment by marc — July 24, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  2. Hi Marc. I was referring to “those who are looking”, a key phrase there. The main point I was trying to make is that it’s sometimes (often?) difficult for Jews to explain clearly why they’re Jewish (especially strongly-identified non-religious Jews), even though the levels of Jewish pride in the US are at an all-time high. If we refine those answers (without putting down anyone else’s culture or religion), it will provide more clarity for “those who are looking,” whether they are Jews or our non-Jewish relatives. Hope that makes sense.

    Comment by Paul Golin — July 27, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

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