Why Marry Jewish?
Dating, Family Life and Jewish Survival
Studies have shown that most Jewish people today would like to marry other Jews. Yet studies have also shown that most Jewish people today do not end up marrying other Jews!
After many years of research in the field, I’ve come to the conclusion that it boils down to one thing: many people see marrying another Jew as something “nice.” They don’t realize how important it is. Once they see it as important, they’ll do a few easy things that will make it happen.
So why is it important to marry other Jews? Obviously the ultimate reason is the Torah itself. The best way to ‘stop intermarriage’ is to turn Jews on to Jewish ideas and life– and visiting this site is a wonderful way to do it.
However, we also need to think short-term. With thousands of Jews marrying out of the faith each week, we need to explain why marrying other Jews is important for everyone, now, irrespective of Jewish knowledge and practice.
Researchers report that two-religion marriages have more tension and disagreements than comparable in-marriages. The causes for this tensions range from disagreements about which holidays to observe, which religious tradition to bring the kids up in, different embedded religious and cultural attitudes towards money and a host of other connected factors, and more. These “time bombs,” lead to significantly higher divorce rates (sometimes twice as high!) and lower “marital happiness” rates. With far fewer long-term problems to deal with, same-faith marriages have a much higher chance of being happy and successful than comparable intermarriages.
This is not surprising since practical issues can seriously affect a couple, despite their feelings for each other. Consider that, presumably, 99.99% of couples who get married are “in love.” Yet most of these couples get divorced, often quickly. Proof enough that love is not enough to overcome practical obstacles. And in intermarriages, the practical obstacles are often insurmountable.
Effects on Kids
Children look to parents as their bedrock of love, support, and care. In intermarriages, children sense – and see – a lack of unity between parents and it often hurts them deeply. When asked which she liked better, Christmas or Chanukah, one little girl responded, “Christmas – but you promise you won’t tell my daddy?” Think about it: what are the chances that this little girl will develop into a strong, self-confident young woman? It is not surprising that children of same-faith marriages are more likely to feel secure in their identities, and therefore exhibit higher self-esteem and confidence.
These two great dangers of intermarriage – lack of happiness and problematic environment for children - have been proven consistently over time and happen to be true for all religious intermarriages, whether Hindu-Muslim, Catholic-Protestant, or Christian-Jewish. They also happen to be true even if the non-Jewish spouse agrees to raise the kids Jewish, as time and time again earlier agreements are put back on the table as people get older. Whatever they agreed to previously, within 4-5 years of marriage, people often realize that they also value the traditions they were brought up with. Then all the problems start.
In intermarriages involving one Jew and one non-Jew, the sad reality is that study after study confirms that the vast, vast majority of intermarried families, Jewishness simply doesn’t last. Even amongst families where the kids are being raised as “Jews only,” 79% celebrate Christmas in some form. Only 11% of the children of intermarriage would be “very upset” if their kids did not regard themselves as Jews. Less than 10% of the children of intermarriage themselves marry Jews. When asked what one calls the grandchildren of intermarriage, Milton Himmelfarb is said to have answered, “Christians.”
Of course there are exceptions. However, in the vast, vast majority of cases intermarriages are seriously affected by some or all of these three factors: in the vast majority of cases your happiness and your kids’ stability and self-confidence depend on you marrying someone from the same religious background. Furthermore, when one marries another Jewish person, the chances of a family’s Jewishness lasting increase exponentially.
What about dating non-Jews?
For many people, especially in their late teens and early twenties, dating and marriage seem quite disconnected. It then seems quite reasonable to date non-Jews while still planning to marry Jewish in the end. “I’ll probably go out with many different people,” the person tells him or herself, “I have no intention of getting married now. When I’m ready to settle down, I’ll look for a nice Jewish person.”
Emotions are stronger than you think
Time and time again, the ‘it’s just a date’ approach has proven itself to be shortsighted. What I will call ‘interdating’ (Jews dating non-Jews) leads to intermarriage in two ways. Firstly, as you may have guessed, you may end up marrying the person you are “just dating” at the present time.
Consider the following statements:
“For the first six months I enjoyed going out with her, but had no serious intentions of getting involved…”
“I didn’t think it would become serious. At the time I was just going out and enjoying myself”
The quotes you just read are from real people, recounted in John Mayer’s book Jewish-Gentile Courtships. It was published in 1961, but the quotes could have been from any time or place. Simply put, we never know what will happen with a relationship. What can start out as an innocent summer romance might last much longer than expected and turn into a lifelong commitment. The first reason to date Jewish people is then clear – you never know when you’ll fall in love.
It’s all in the attitude
In order to understand the second reason to date Jewish people, let us shift our focus for a moment to the act of giving tzedakkah (charity). The great medieval Jewish sage known as Maimonides explained that it is better to give one dollar one hundred times than to give one hundred dollars all at one time. At first glance, this idea is surprising. After all, the same amount of money is being given. The explanation forms the basis for much of Jewish religious thought. External actions affect us internally. By giving charity one hundred times, we will slowly become more generous people. Giving once, even a lot of money, will not have the same effect.
I once tested it out. I kept a lot of small change on me and for a month whoever asked was given at least a small coin. At the beginning of the month, I felt quite proud of myself. Within a couple of weeks, it became normal - ‘of course I’ll try and help someone out,’ I thought to myself, ‘anyone would.’ Then I spent the next month without giving a dime, no matter how pathetic and needy the person was. At first I felt guilty. Those feelings didn’t last too long. By the end of the month, I resented every beggar I saw. ‘Why don’t they get a job? Why should my money go to them?’ I thought to myself.
What a radical change in attitude! By doing something on a regular basis, it becomes part of you. If you neglect it, it becomes less and less a part of you.
The interdating attitude
Our subject is similar. Even if you are not presently ready to get married, if you want to marry Jewish, dating non-Jews is still a bad idea because the more you date non-Jews, the more the idea of intermarriage seems normal. Over the long-term priorities change.
Already in the 1971 National Jewish Population Survey, researchers discovered the important but often overlooked statistic that Jews who intermarried were about four times more likely to have dated non-Jews during their late adolescent period than were those who did not intermarry. It is reasonable to assume that most did not marry their high school sweethearts - they simply fell into patterns of dating.
Let us consider an example of how this change in attitudes can work. Consider a college freshman from the New York named Scott, with relatively strong Jewish feelings. He wants to marry someone Jewish, and is 90% convinced that he will. Nevertheless, he continues dating non-Jews in the meantime. It is hard to blame him for thinking that it probably won’t do any harm - after all, he doesn’t plan on getting married for a decade, or more.
But four years of interdating and deepening relationships will inevitably change his perspectives and the 90% marrying-Jewish conviction may only be 50% by senior year. Why? At this point in Scott’s life the most profound relationships he has had have been with non-Jews. His models for relationships are non-Jewish models. He’s never had any religious problems with his non-Jewish partners. Even Scott’s taste in members of the opposite sex has been subtly changed - non-Jewish habits and a non-Jewish look, if they exist, seem normal to him now, not any less familiar than people from the Jewish community that Scott grew up with. He doesn’t even remember being convinced that marrying Jewish was so important.
When Scott gets a job in a city with few single Jews whom he can socialize with, his marry-Jewish conviction drops even lower. He spends two more years getting more and more comfortable with colleagues’ Christmas and Easter celebrations. His Jewish education, identity and feelings recede further and further into the background. Office romance has bloomed on more than one occasion and he finds that there is little that he doesn’t have in common with the attractive person in question. By the time he is ready to get married, marrying Jewish seems unrealistic and unnecessary. He intermarries.
You are what you do
The more people date non-Jews, the more likely they are to marry out. Because even if they don’t marry the person they are dating now, their own attitudes on the subject change with time. The idea of marrying a non-Jew becomes more and more acceptable at both a conscious and subconscious level, and what seemed very important to them ten years ago – marrying someone Jewish – has largely been forgotten.
MAIN PAGE: Intermarriage…Why Not?
This article was written by Doron Kornbluth, the author of the acclaimed Why Marry Jewish? Surprising Reasons for Jews to Marry Jews.