Intermarriage Doesn’t Mean Assimilation

Back in February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech to the Jewish Agency, an organization which aims to strengthen ties between Jews and Jewish identity. During the speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that intermarriage and assimilation are the greatest threats to Jewish identity, implying the two are inextricably connected. In response, JOI’s associate executive director penned an opinion piece for the (New York) Jewish Week challenging the long held belief that intermarriage and assimilation are synonymous terms. He explains that such a comparison is not only inaccurate, but it is also “an affront to the literally hundreds of thousands of households where one parent happens to be Jewish that are currently raising Jewish children.”

Golin points out that historically, intermarriage has not always led to an “assimilationist trend.” From our earliest days, he writes, our story has been one of intermarriage. We need look no further than two of our greatest leaders. Abraham started alone, opening his tent to invite people into our religion. Moses intermarried and still managed to become our greatest leader. “And in modern times,” Golin says, “local Jewish communities like Boston, where a majority of intermarried families raise their children as Jews, have experienced growth and not ‘toll-taking.’”

Golin writes that using the terms intermarriage and assimilation together “provides useful cover for the real threat to Jewish identity: that many aspects of Judaism itself do not work for most Jews.” It’s too easy to use intermarriage as a scapegoat. Working towards a goal of stronger Jewish identity should focus on opening doors and helping people find “the wisdom in our traditions.”

Continuing to link intermarriage with assimilation “pushes away the intermarried families already among us.” It sends the message that both the intermarried couple and the Jewish community have given up on efforts of engagement. Nothing could be further from the truth. “If a net loss of Jewish identity continues, despite the broadening of how we define ‘Jewish identity,’” Golin writes at the end of his piece, “it will be because we’ve failed to open the doors for all who would join us in the many ways of expressing that identity.”

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