Why marry Jewish?

Although the inter-marriage rate is so high – 52 percent – I don’t think most Jews plan to join the statistics. I believe the majority of Jewish singles sincerely prefer to marry Jewish but simply give up.

After all, Jews are only 2 percent of the U.S. population so the chances of “accidentally” running into other Jews in everyday life – whether at work or in a bookstore – are slim. In Phoenix, you really have to go out of your way to meet other Jewish singles.

If Judaism is only a small part of your identity, and your lifestyle is more similar to your non-Jewish co-workers or friends than it is to observant Jews, you may even feel more comfortable dating non-Jews than going to Jewish singles events.

You’ve heard many of the arguments against inter-marriage: What about your children? What about the future of the Jewish people?

There’s so much to say about the subject, you could write a book about it.

Which is just what Rabbi Doron Kornbluth of Jerusalem did in his new book “Why Marry Jewish: Surprising Reasons for Jews to Marry Jews” (Feldheim Publishers, $15.99 paper-back), which he spoke about at a recent lecture sponsored by Aish Hatorah Scottsdale.

In his book, Kornbluth sums it all up in his introduction: “If you are Jewish, your chances of having a happy marriage, of your kids feeling rooted and stable and of having Jewish descendants are all significantly higher if you marry another Jew – whether a sincere convert or someone born Jewish.”

He backs up his theory with statistics and interviews with intermarried couples.

But even though Jewish singles theoretically know that it may be better to marry someone Jewish, the reality is that it’s not easy. It’s much easier to date whoever you feel a connection with, regardless of his or her religious background. It’s easier to rationalize the differences – “He’s not religious in his own religion” or “She said she’d be willing to raise the children Jewish” – than to walk away from a possibly wonderful relation-ship.

But then someone like Kornbluth comes along and, in a polite way, slams you with reality. For instance, he mentions findings of the 2001 “Jewish and Something Else: A Study of Mixed-Married Families” by Sylvia Barack Fishman of Brandeis University.

“Many non-Jewish parents eventually grew to resent their children’s Jewish upbringing, though they initially had agreed to the concept. The resentment stemmed from a feeling of exclusion – particularly when the child learned unfamiliar rituals and language.”

So even though the non-Jewish spouses may agree to continue to raise their children Jewish – they may come to resent it. After all, how would you feel if your spouse asked you never to bring any Jewish traditions into your home, and that he or she would be uncom-fortable celebrating Jewish holidays with your family?

The study also showed that the Jewish spouse often eventually compromises to be fair to their spouse – such as celebrating Christmas in some way in their home. The same study found that 82 percent of mixed-married households celebrate Christ-mas in some form, whether with trees, lights, presents, family celebrations or even going to church.

In Greater Phoenix, 50 percent of children in intermarried households are not raised Jewish, 26 percent are being raised Jewish; 18 percent are raised “Jewish and Something Else” and 6 percent are undecided, according to the 2002 Greater Phoenix Jewish Community Study.

What happens if the intermarried couple falls into the statistic that half of marriages end up in divorce? If a non-Jewish spouse isn’t interested in Judaism before marriage, what are the chances that they’ll be interested in it after divorce? And what happens to the children’s Judaism then?

Another sobering bit of discouragement Kornbluth brings up is the finding from the 1990 Council of Jewish Federations’ National Jewish Population Survey that more than 90 percent of the children of intermarriage themselves marry non-Jews.

When you imagine your future family, do you envision sitting at a Passover seder with your grandchildren or around a Christmas tree?

As much as it’s each person’s choice to make his or her own decisions, it’s also the responsibility of the Jewish community to help. If the future of Judaism is so important to synagogues and other Jewish organizations, they need to do everything they can do to assist Jewish singles in following their first impulse to marry Jewish. Programs sporadically turn up, but there’s still not enough.

Of course, it’s not just up to the institutions. Small turnout to some singles events lead to cancellations and a lack of future programming. Some individuals have formed singles groups on their own, but it seems like it’s usually the same small number of people that attend all of the events.

If Jewish singles are truly interested in meeting other Jews, they at least have to show up.

This article first appeared in the May 9, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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