For too long, the subject of intermarriage has been dealt with in an unproductive manner. Arguments have typically been ruled by fear (it’s the greatest threat to the Jewish community, some often say), and millions of dollars are spent on convincing Jews to only marry other Jews. But, Yair S, a blogger for the website JewsbyChoice.org, believes that by approaching and talking about intermarriage in this way, we are missing the bigger picture: intermarried couples are just as capable of raising Jewish children and living a Jewish life. We simply need to create a community where they are supported and allowed to do so.
Why should we strive to create such a community?
Many detractors still believe that intermarriage automatically leads to “a rejection of Jewishness by the couple and their (future) children.” The best hope we have for a strong Jewish future is for Jews to marry other Jews, since that is a surefire way to establish a strong Jewish identity in children. The only way to make this a reality, writes Yair, is to live in “self-imposed ghettos.” But we live in a free and open society, so that option will always be rejected. Knowing this to be true, “it is important to consider how we might more practically approach the real issue of intermarriage.”
Often forgotten in the discussion about intermarriage is the supportive, non-Jewish spouse. There are many intermarried families who are devoutly Jewish, who light candles on Shabbat and send their children to Hebrew school. Our Mothers Circle program, for women of other backgrounds raising Jewish children, is one concrete example. Thousands of women have partaken in the program and are now better equipped to raise Jewish children. Anecdotally, the numbers are much higher. Many of these children, due to the support of their non-Jewish children, “will have more familiarity with Judaism, Jewish texts, and a closer connection to being Jewish than will many kids raised in homes where both parents are Jewish.”
Yair also points to a barrier we have been trying to eliminate for decades. He asks:
How many intermarried couples would get involved with Jewish community institutions and would raise their children as Jews if they weren’t made to feel that the non-Jewish spouse is a barnacle on the posterior of Am Yisrael?
The negative association with intermarriage is a domino affect. Traditionally, when someone intermarried, the mainstream Jewish community would write them off. Even if the intention of the couple was to participate in Jewish life, they find nothing but roadblocks. So instead of engaging with the community, these couples turn elsewhere. We need to go back to step number one. When someone intermarries, let’s not assume they are rejecting Judaism. Let’s assume they want to keep Judaism as a part of their life. Let’s open our doors, welcome them in, and stop the dominos from falling.
In the biblical story of our exodus, when the Jews left Egypt, many non-Jews joined us on our journey and became members of our community. “It would be a shame if our hysteria about intermarriage prevented such an occurrence from happening in the future,” writes Yair. “Rather, we should open a welcoming door to those who will happily support our journey or maybe, with time, become part of our People.”