Parents of Intermarrieds Want Jewish Grandchildren
of "who is a Jew?" has been one of the most animated debates
in the Jewish community. The answer has depended upon
whether the children of intermarriages in which only the
father is Jewish should be regarded as Jewish.
The Reform movement's 1983 decision to regard children
as Jewish so long as they are raised Jewish, has been
a source of considerable friction in the community.
In an effort to address the issue constructively, JOI
included a question in its series of public opinion
surveys between 1990 and 1993 which asked "Would you
consider your own grandchildren Jewish if only the father
is Jewish and the mother is not, if the children were
in fact raised Jewish?" This question was posed to three
different samples of the North American Jewish Population.
In 1990, that question was asked of a crossection
of rabbis, synagogue presidents, UJA Federation leadership
groups and executive directors of Jewish agencies. The
same question was published in the US and Canada in
the spring and fall of 1993. The purpose of asking the
question in that fashion was to get people to focus
on the issue of Jewish identity and continuity less
in ideological terms and more in terms of their family
To our surprise we discovered that while there remain
considerable ideological differences, particularly among
Conservative and Reform Jews on the issue of patrilineal
descent, in fact, there is very little difference of
opinion when the question is posed in terms of people's
own grandchildren or potential grandchildren. In the
1990 survey, with over 2,000 responses, we found that
95% of those who identified themselves as being of Reform
background, would consider their own grandchildren Jewish
even if those children were "patrilineal." The Reform
responses were not surprising. More surprising, however,
was the fact that 65% of respondents who identified
themselves as Conservative, would also consider their
own grandchildren Jewish even if those grandchildren
were technically speaking patrilineal.
In the 1993 survey of Jewish philanthropists, we found
that 96% of those who identify themselves as Reform
would regard their own grandchildren as Jewish even
if their source of Jewish identity was patrilineal descent.
On the other hand, only 18% of Orthodox would do so.
Again, no great surprise here. However, what was surprising
is that fully 72% of the respondents who are of Conservative
background would consider their own grandchildren Jewish
even if the basis of Jewish identity was patrilineal
These findings suggest that among the two largest
denominational groupings of American Jewry, namely,
the Conservative and Reform, an increasing majority
of people who consider their own grandchildren Jewish
even if those childrens' claim to Jewish identity was
based on patrilineal rather than the more traditional
matrilineal descent. What this further suggests is that
when it comes to Jewish continuity in the family context,
the desire for Jewish grandchildren takes precedence
over whatever ideological constraints a movement might
place on the formality of Jewish status. Ultimately,
the question of "who is a Jew" is likely to be answered
by the decision of Jewish grandparents who are asked,
"Which of your grandchildren do you regard as Jewish?"
In the face of the rising rate of intermarriage, the
more likely answer is "all of our grandchildren."