Interfaith Marriage is Not the End

Often times, the most effective way to make an argument is to frame it as a piece of fiction. For instance, millions of children have learned over the years that “slow and steady wins the race” because of Aesop’s story of the tortoise and the hare. Whether that’s true or not, the message is easily received and understood.

This is how author Reuben Bibi, who has just published a book called The Decision, approaches the subject of intermarriage. The novel, according to Rabbi I. Nathan Bamberger of The Jewish Press, debunks “the fallacy that intermarriage can work.”

I have not read the book, but Rabbi Bamberger’s synopsis and review tells me enough to know that the novel takes a decidedly anachronistic view of interfaith marriage. In a nutshell, an unengaged Reform Jewish man, Michael, marries a Catholic woman, Susan, and they have a family. When one of their children gets sick and has to go to the hospital, she concludes the illness is a result of the child never being baptized. The husband, who had met an Orthodox Jewish man in the hospital, decides that baptism is too much and reaches out to his new friend “and their subsequent meeting and conversation result in Michael’s momentous decision.”

Though I don’t know what his “decision” is, the message of the book is quite clear – marry outside of Judaism, and you are putting another nail in the coffin. This is one of Michael’s quotes in the book:

“I did not want to give up my Jewish heritage…Hitler tried to destroy the Jews and failed, but here I am allowing my Jewish identity to die in a different way. I was losing no matter which way I turned.”

Clearly there is no way to salvage your Jewish identity if you marry someone of another faith!

We know from the countless people JOI has worked with over the years that this kind of thinking is remarkably backwards. This book seems to care nothing for nuance or the realities of living in a modern society. Intermarriage is less about rejecting faith than it is about living in a mixed culture. With the growing diversity of Jewish families, it’s better to welcome and engage interfaith families and try to answer the question of “Why be Jewish.” We suggest you read Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s book Making a Successful Jewish Interfaith Marriage to see how interfaith families can indeed lead a rewarding and meaningful Jewish life.

Rabbi Bamberger ends his review by saying that “with proper education the scourge of intermarriage will become a thing of the past.” I hate to break it to him, but there is no way to stop intermarriage. That’s why we have created The Mothers Circle, The Grandparents Circle and Big Tent Judaism. Around here, we believe that “intermarriage does not end Jewish continuity; not raising Jewish children ends Jewish continuity.” The hard line approach – shaming families by equating intermarriage with the Holocaust – only pushes people away, and that’s a message worth fighting.

1 Comment

  1. fictional accounts don’t always reflect real-life relationships. there are intermarriages that work and others that don’t both in the media (tv, books, films, etc.) and in real life. in other words, we can’t always rely on fiction to portray these relationships accurately.

    where Rabbi Bamberger is concerned, the trend of intermarriage has slowed down but still exists. even if we all married Jews, we’d still have a lot of catching up to do as far as increasing our population. in fact, there was a recent article that stated women are having less children. it doesn’t single out Jewish women, but it doesn’t directly mention them either. basically, ALL women are reproducing less. i do think education is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t completely prevent intermarriage as demonstrated by the fact that 22% of Jews from in-married backgrounds marry non-Jews. true, this is a lower rate compared to those from interfaith backgrounds (75%). but it can and does happen no matter how many years of Jewish education are under their belts. in instances like those, education can still be effective even if intermarriage occurs.

    as far as equating intermarriage to the Holocaust, that continues to be a negative message regardless of whether we choose Jewish partners or not.

    Comment by h. — August 20, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

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