The usually conservative Jerusalem Post ran a fairly neutral piece on intermarriage last week, on the potentially positive effects of intermarriage on the number of people attending Passover seders. Uriel Heilman writes, “One little-noted consequence of the high intermarriage rate in the United States is that more non-Jewish Americans than ever are living with a Jew in their household.” Of course, he had to then add that it “may portend dire consequences for the numerical future of American Jewry,” but that it probably means that more Americans are celebrating Passover Seders then during any time in history. His conclusion even sounds downright positive:
It also means that it’s possible that the number of US Jews observing Pessah [Passover] in future years may rise, or at least hold steady. Because chances are that Jews reticent to go to a Seder will be asked to do so by a non-Jewish spouse, relative or friend interested in experiencing one. It’s not your typical tale of Jewish return, but it sounds better than an exodus from Judaism.”
While he writes with an ironic twist, we at JOI agree with his assessment wholeheartedly, because we’ve seen firsthand how it is often the non-Jewish spouse in an intermarriage that pushes the Jewish spouse to deeper Jewish engagement!
One point not mentioned in the article but that I’ve often thought about is the inverse relationship between intermarriage and anti-Semitism over the past few decades. Just as there are non-Jews at more Passover Seders each year, there are also Jews at more non-Jewish American’s Thanksgivings every year. A higher percentage of non-Jewish Americans are related to Jews today than at any time in history. Declining anti-Semitism may have lead to more intermarriage, but more intermarriage may also have lead to declining anti-Semitism, as “the Jew” becomes demystified for an increasing number of American households.
In other words, it makes it harder to smear everyone from a particular religious or ethnic group when, say, you’re sister happens to be married to one and it turns out he’s a pretty nice guy!