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For Love or Judaism? New Books Discuss Motivations for Marriage

When I was much younger I wanted to ask someone who wasn’t Jewish to a dance. Now, I had been the recipient of a steady stream of anti-interdating lectures from my parents almost since the day I was born (we have the first one on video from when I was an infant )…so naturally, this went over poorly with them. My father forced me to read a book called The Grave Concern, which he had earlier insisted my mother read as part of his failed campaign to get her to agree to send my brother and me to Jewish day school. The book talks about the dangers of assimilation and intermarriage, and despite reading it, I promptly asked the boy to the dance anyway. Earlier that year I had read another lovely book on Jewish ethics, which compared sacrificing romantic feelings for those of other religious backgrounds to earlier times when young Jews were forced to martyr themselves for their faith. The message seemed to be, “You may not be allowed to interdate, but at least you won’t be burnt at the stake!” Needless to say, I did not find this message to be tremendously inspirational.

Recently, The Jewish Exponent published a review of two anti-intermarriage books, both of which the reviewer thinks are brilliant works that will help people understand why they need to end interfaith relationships or not enter into them in the first place. He lauds one book for talking about how frequently intermarriages go sour, and another one for discussing reasons based upon Jewish law and philosophy why intermarriage should be avoided.

First of all, most people probably don’t sit down and read books against intermarriage before asking people on dates—or falling for people they meet over the course of their everyday lives. Second of all, what about the intermarried families that are involved with the Jewish community and the 50% of Jewish teenagers and college students that come from intermarried homes? How will they feel to read that “by his own admission, Kornbluth [Doron Kornbluth, the author of one of the anti-intermarriage books, whose picture is above] did “hundreds of hours” of research to disprove the belief that intermarried families live ‘happily ever after,’ and that, if the parents want it, the kids stay Jewish.”

Not all families live happily ever after in any circumstances—but the fact that 50% of college students who identify themselves as Jewish come from intermarried families certainly shows that children in intermarriages quite frequently do grow up Jewish. Moralizing book reviews will do little to prevent intermarriage and will only serve to drive intermarried families farther away from the Jewish community.



7 Comments

  1. Hear, hear. Anyone can sit down and massage enough data to come up with a position that s/he wants to defend. It takes a much more open-minded and humble person to come to the table without a foregone conclusion or an axe to grind. Given the Jewish tradition of unbiased scholarly research, these books don’t seem particularly Jewish to me at all.

    Oh, and I’m one of that mythical tribe, the “semi-Semites” who identify as full Jews.

    Comment by Marissa — April 11, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  2. Hi, Marissa: I’m one too, and as you & I (and the statistics Amanda mentions above) know, there are plenty of us.

    I heard Kornbluth speak several years ago & told him about my own Jewish background* (with a Jewish mother, non-Jewish father, only one religion–Judaism–in the household). I expressed my concern that his question, “Why Marry Jewish?,” is being used as an inadequate substitute for the better question “Why Live Jewishly?”…and he mainly just seemed surprised that my parents haven’t divorced. People have their fixed ideas!

    Comment by BeccaB — April 11, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  3. I think both questions are important and, perhaps, related. If children are more likely to be Jewish and be raised Jewish when a Jew marries a Jew, then it seems we should encourage it. That said, once a Jew intermarries they remain a Jew, and should still live as Jewishly as they can. If their kids are Jewish, they should also be raised as such.

    For that matter, the question for Jews who DO marry Jews also doesn’t end at marrying Jewish…they too should be encouraged to live more Jewishly than perhaps they would do w/o the encouragement.

    Comment by marc — April 11, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  4. As you mentioned, it seems that the books are highly misleading.

    I personally do not wish to intermarry due to my interpretation of the Torah, but people need to be free to have their own interpretations of Jewish law and opinions on intermarriage without being harassed. And if all the intermarried couples with children were to break up, as one of the authors wants, the resulting situation would hardly be in the children’s best interests and would not lead to an improvement of the Jewishness of their lives.

    Comment by Daniel — April 11, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  5. Marc, you raise an interesting point: just because two Jews marry doesn’t mean they’ll have a Jewish household. My aunt, for instance, married a Jewish man, but besides the de rigueur Bar and Bat Mitzvah of their children, they did not have a Jewish home. It’s no surprise to me that neither of the children of that marriage are raising their own children Jewish. Who you marry is not the be-all, end-all, folks.

    Comment by Marissa — April 12, 2007 @ 6:11 am

  6. Marissa,

    I agree that who you marry is not the be-all, end-all, but I did not mean to insinuate that it was not a weighty factor. Empirically, when a Jew marries another Jew there is a much greater chance that they will have a more Jewish home and raise kids with a stronger Jewish identity, than if there is a non-Jewish spouse. I only meant to say that every Jew, regardless of who they marry, should be encouraged to live more Jewishly. I see no contradiction between encouraging in-marriage to the unmarried, on the one hand, and trying to draw the intermarried Jew closer to his or her heritage, on the other hand. Both are necessary today.

    Comment by marc — April 23, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  7. Funny that not one person - neither who wrote the piece on this blog nor any that commented on it - actually READ Kornbluth’s book! Aren’t you all kind of embarrassed to be talking about it?!

    Pt#1 Kornbluth doesn’t argue that ALL intermarriages end in divorce. He brings an array of very strong secular sources to say that the divorce rates are much higher, whether it is a Catholic marrying a Protestant or any difference in religion. I have never seen any study indicate otherwise. Have you? Looked online and it doesn’t seem there are ANY studies that disagree.

    Pt#2: why is the man’s pic up here?! To point out he is Orthodox? SO WHAT? you’d never know that from the book. This is a form of anti-religious-ism. Kind of like if someone with a big Jewish nose wrote a book about how Israel is right and the Palestinians are wrong and then a Palestinian blog criticized the book and ‘just happened’ to put up a pic of a Jewish-looking writer. That is terrible!!!

    Pt#3 Of course everyone if every situation needs to give their kids a strong Jewish education etc. But you cannot deny that when there are two Jews as parents the chances of Jewishness staying alive is much higher. You can say TOO BAD or SO WHAT or IF YOU WANT TO MAKE ITHAPPEN IT CAN but you can’t deny the chances. Why be ostriches

    On the whole, this was a terrible article to put up

    Sarah

    Comment by Sarah Siegel — July 17, 2007 @ 7:29 am

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