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In a recent article in the Republican, of Springfield, MA, Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City where Conservative Rabbis are ordained, is quoted as saying, “The more disturbing statistic is that only 8 percent of the children of the intermarried couples identify as Jews…. That small percentage indicates the hemorrhaging.”

We don’t know where Rabbi Schorsch got that statistic but we would be happy to debunk the research for him if he’d provide the source. More important than the statistic, however, is the attitude he expresses when he says, “The results of intermarriage are very detrimental to the transmission of Judaism in America.” Our question to him is, why does that have to be the case?

By finding no hope in the literally hundreds of thousands of intermarried couples who have created Jewish households, Chacellor Schorsch does a disservice to the Conservative Movement. Such blanket statements about intermarried couples and their children coming from the very top rungs of the movement presents an unwelcoming face, which makes it unsurprising that so few intermarried families have found a warm and welcoming home within the Conservative Movement. He makes the job of his rabbinic students that much more difficult once they leave the ivory tower and begin working in the field, where the neat theory of “just say no” to intermarriage doesn’t quite hold up in practice.



5 Comments

  1. I think it’s really great that you say this here. But has anyone from JOI expressed this to the Chancellor? Just curious…

    Comment by Esther — April 26, 2005 @ 11:31 pm

  2. What? You think he’s not reading our blog?! Actually, we express this general sentiment regularly to leaders of the Conservative movement. While we are open to dialogue, we don’t want to seem attacking since we are genuinely trying to work with all of the denominations.

    Comment by Paul Golin, JOI Assistant Executive Director — April 27, 2005 @ 11:27 am

  3. I think he did mis-speak. I believe the correct stat is that only 8-10% of GRANDCHILDREN from interfaith relationships identify as Jewish. I am sure I have seen this printed elsewhere…there are many studies cited in Korthbluth’s “Why Marry Jewish.” Perhaps it was in there.

    Comment by marc — May 4, 2005 @ 12:34 pm

  4. I am actively involved with getting an outreach program off of the ground in a Conservative synagogue. We have a diversity of viewpoints among the members on the committee, and many of us, particularly myself, do not feel that Mr. Schorsch speaks for us. Additionally, I have heard speakers who have been involved with the National Jewish Population study speak just as pessimistically as Schorsch about the Jewish future. Rather than write off other Jews and their offspring as forever lost from the community, perhaps it would be worthwhile for them to think more creatively about showing the same hospitality and kindness that is foundational to what it means to be a Jew. So, while I do understand the frustration you feel relating to Schorsch’s comments, understand that others within this movement feel it as well. If the Conservative leadership does not find a way to relate to and welcome all Jews it will cease to be a relevant institution.

    Comment by Elaine — July 9, 2005 @ 9:35 am

  5. Thanks Elaine! I’m glad to hear about your synagoge (and please let us know how we can help). I totally understand that there are a number of welcoming places within the Conservative Movement. Here in Manhattan, B’nai Jeshurun is constantly being pointed to as an example of how synagogues IN GENERAL can revive themselves into warm spiritual communities. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years at JOI, it’s that being welcoming has absolutely nothing to do with the “rules and regs” of an institution. There are welcoming institutions in every movement, and unwelcoming institutions in every movement.

    It would certainly make our lives easier if we could say, “Oh, you’re intermarried? Just go to the nearest Reform synagogue,” but that is no guarantee for a warm welcome. Likewise, there are some amazing Orthodox rabbis out there, primarily in the Chabad movement, who understand, “first let me welcome them and bring them in; then I’ll deal with any outstanding issues of halacha (Jewish law).”

    Among the many challenges for the Conservative Movement is that for years, the seminary has been ignoring the issue of intermarriage completely, or denegrating it as the now-retiring chancellor did in the above-quoted article. We have heard from recently ordained Conservative rabbis that this leaves them feeling unprepared to deal with the issue in the “real world” once they get out there. I hope that whoever replaces Chancellor Schorsch has a better sense of what’s happening on the congregational level.

    Comment by Paul Golin, Associate Executive Director — July 9, 2005 @ 11:08 am

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