“Intermarriage” and a Rabbi Roundtable

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I could not resist responding to a piece posted today in The Forward, as part of a new regular feature called the Rabbi Roundtable.

The topic: “Is Intermarriage a Problem or an Opportunity?”

Where to start? Let’s start with the sample. The Forward published answers from 22 rabbis, and half of them are Orthodox. Only two are Reform. According to Pew Research (2013), 10% of American Jews claim Orthodox affiliation, and 35% Reform (by far the largest denomination). As I read through the first five rabbinic responses, all of them Orthodox or Conservative, my mind was blown as I noted each rabbinic affiliation. Why would The Forward skew the sample so radically away from the reality of the American Jewish landscape?

Next, there’s that word, intermarriage. This is not a word used by most people in interfaith families to describe themselves. Among the 72% of American Jews who are neither Orthodox nor Conservative, you are rarely going to hear anyone call themselves “intermarried.” Less than a year ago, The Forward published my piece, “Four Reasons We Should Stop Calling People Intermarried.” I hope more of the rabbis in this Roundtable will read it, and talk with real life interfaith families about how they feel about this term.

Also problematic: giving the rabbis a stark choice of “problem, or opportunity.” I don’t experience my family as a problem, or as an opportunity for the Jewish community (or any other community). Interfaith family members are taking leadership roles in religious communities across the spectrum, and we may be your best hope for understanding and engaging with the unaffiliated. But we don’t experience our families from the perspective of Jewish market share. We see our interfaith families as embodying and celebrating boundary-busting ritual and liturgical creativity, and spiritual inspiration, and interfaith bridge-building, and cross-cultural peacemaking.

And finally, I must speak to the corrosive content of many of the rabbinic responses. In today’s Roundtable, rabbis call interfaith marriage “a sin,” “tragic,” a way “for Jews who are not interested in Judaism to leave,” something we “must work harder to combat,” and the “high price for acceptance” that is leading to Judaism being “hugged and kissed to death.” Of course, many of these rabbis, even some of the Conservative and Orthodox ones, also spoke to the importance of trying to be more welcoming and inclusive. Unfortunately, the extreme bias in the survey sample in this case means that interfaith families will feel neither welcome nor included after browsing through these Roundtable opinions. Today’s piece in The Forward badly misrepresents the experiences of interfaith families, and minimizes the important reality of shifting rabbinic opinions on our existence.

 

Journalist Susan Katz Miller is a speaker and consultant on interfaith families, interfaith education, and interfaith peacemaking. Her book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available from Beacon Press.

 

 

 

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6 Replies to ““Intermarriage” and a Rabbi Roundtable”

  1. I wish I could sit and have a cup of coffee with you because there is so much to say. I have been with my born-Protestant, agnostic husband for over 50 years, for 48 of which we have been married. I came from conservative, two generations from Orthodox, families. My marriage verged on being a shanda. When I say verged, at least my family recognized that my husband was a kind, generous, smart, hardworking person and were grateful for that. Our three grown children are generous of spirit, goodhearted, justice-pursuing members of the community, exemplary in every way of the best Jewish values. It took me a number of years to find my way back to a welcoming and embracing congregation. Within that congregation, Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY, (Reform), I see my values mirrored and find opportunities to align my Jewish identity with a humanistic action plan, among like-minded individuals who seek to unite with other faith communities to lift up the vulnerable. My husband is a welcome member. Nonetheless, some very basic ties were broken for me early on that kept me out of mainstream Judaism for long enough that my children did not experience a sense of being part of a warm and loving Jewish community, with the exception of course of extended family. Why do we keep in inflicting this same damage on our community by erecting so many barriers rather than creating strong foundations for the future by embracing the spirit that you articulate so beautifully at the end of your response?

    1. Marjorie, Mazel tov on your long and beautiful marriage! And I am glad you finally found a welcoming home. I remain optimistic that there will be a profusion of welcoming new communities, of all types, for the interfaith families of the future. We are building them! –Susan

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