Seeing a Silver Lining?

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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!


  1. Paul, you write:

    “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.”

    I used to think the same thing and agree that, on paper, this sounds nice and should work. Unfortunately, anti-Semitic incidents have risen dramatically in the past few years, despite there being a greater number of intermarried households than ever in the U.S.

    As I wrote in a previous posting, we should not forget, that the most liberal and advanced society of the early 1900s (Germany)was the one that turned on us more viciously any we had known before. It also happened to be the one where Jews had intermarried at higher rates than our history had ever known, to that point. Intermarriage is certainly no cure for anti-Semitism.

    This is merely history speaking, and those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

    Comment by marc — May 9, 2005 @ 10:20 am

  2. I’m not saying intermarriage is a cure for anti-Semitism. If there is a cure at all, it’s education. But I think the levels of anti-Semitism in this country OVER DECADES since the rise in intermarriage have also correspondingly dropped, and I’m postulating that intermarriage was a contributing factor. (Again, it’s something that nobody can prove as a CAUSAL effect, so I will avoid the inevitably circular argument about it with you because neither of us can prove our positions.)

    And while I’m not going to do the research for you, I feel pretty safe in saying that at the beginning of the 1960s—before intermarriage rates spiked—and also before two other impactful events, the Six Day War (i.e., Jewish power) and the victory of the Civil Rights Movement—a sizable MAJORITY of Americans held anti-Semitic beliefs. Now that rate is consistently below 20%. See this report from last month:

    ADL Survey: Anti-Semitism Declines Slightly in America; 14 Percent of Americans Hold ‘Strong’ Anti-Semitic Beliefs
    Washington, D.C., April 4, 2005 — A nationwide survey released today by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows a slight decline in the number of Americans who hold anti-Semitic attitudes, from its 2002 findings, demonstrating once again that “anti-Semitic beliefs endure in America.”
    The 2005 Survey of American Attitudes Towards Jews in America, a national poll of 1,600 American adults conducted March 18 through March 25, found that 14 % of Americans - or nearly 35 million adults - hold views about Jews that are “unquestionably anti-Semitic,” compared to 17% in 2002, Previous ADL surveys over the last decade had indicated that anti-Semitism was in decline. Seven years ago, in 1998, the number of Americans with hardcore anti-Semitic beliefs had dropped to 12% from 20 % in 1992.

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 9, 2005 @ 5:50 pm

  3. Paul, I agree that the Civil Rights movement benefitted Jews just as it benefited racial minorities, in terms of the attitudes toward those groups. As you readily admit, though, there is no proof that intermarriage was a contributing factor.
    Jewish integration into the workforce, political correctness and Holocaust guilt may have more to do with this than anything else.

    I wanted to point out, however, that your thesis, as nice as it sounds, seems to have been disproven by the WWII generation’s experiences in Germany. Besides, the increasing anti-Israel sentiment in the world today (even among Jews), which is totally out of proportion given both the number and quality of horrible regimes in the world that oppress their own people and others, seems to have taken on the character of the New Anti-Semitism. Israel is the new “Jew” in the world and disproportionate dislike or outright hostility toward it has become the politically correct way to hate the Jews today. By that measure anti-Semitism, I will posit, is actually on the rise (on both the Left and the Right). Less affiliated Jews who are more likely to intermarry are also more likely to hold these out-of-proportion anti-Israel views and be part of anti-Israel organizations.

    Comment by marc — May 10, 2005 @ 8:27 am

  4. clarification re: my last sentence above…I have no study to show this and am only going by self-identifying Jews who are the heads of organizations which vilify Israel, and who choose to identify with the Arabs. Certainly there are the Neturei Karta among affiliated Jews who hold these positions as well, though they are small and are considered a paraiah amongst religious Jews.

    Comment by marc — May 10, 2005 @ 8:30 am

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