Intermarriage in Judaism

Intermarriage, or what anthropologists term exogamy, occurs when individuals from two different religious, ethnic, or racial groups marry. The relationships between love, intermarriage, and religion have a long and complicated history, especially in the case of Jews and Judaism. Air jordan 12 for sale. The classic Biblical prohibition of Jewish– Gentile intermarriage is Deuteronomy 7:3–4, which reads, “You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your children away from me to worship other gods, and the Lord’s anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out.” After what was actually a partial ban against marriage with members of the seven larger non-Israelite nations, Jews were warned against marriage with people of all lands and nations, and urged by Nehemiah to marry only fellow Jews.

Ezra took the decree further in the fifth century BCE, aiming to expel “foreign” wives and their children from the Jewish community. This ancient writer extended the requirement of genealogical purity, formerly required only of Israelite priests, to lay Israelites. According to Ezra and Nehemiah, the distinction between Israelites and Gentiles was genealogical, not moral or ritual; Air Jordan 3 Powder Blue 131007-103; hence intermarriage and conversion became impossible on the basis that the holy seed of the Israelite could not be joined with the profane seed of the Gentile. Jewish marriage was between two Jews, period. The intense religious objections to intermarriage held by today’s traditional halakhic Jews reinvigorate the ancient discourse by Ezra and Nehemiah regarding tribal boundaries and by subsequent Talmudic rabbis who devised the principle of matrilineal descent. The issue of genealogical purity was not gender-based; although descent was formerly inherited from the father, and correspondingly the children of an Israelite man and a non-Israelite woman were considered to be Israelites, the idea of Israel as a holy seed excluded Gentile females and males such that only children of two Israelite parents could be Israelites.

In the words of one scholar, the idea for the matrilineal principle first appears in the Mishnah “like a bolt out of the blue,” and may date from the end of the middle of the second century CE or the late fourth century. Although there was dissent among some rabbis who considered the child of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother Jewish, and rabbis who considered the child of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father Gentile, the matrilineal descent prin ciple became nearly universally accepted until the late twentieth century when the Reform Movement accepted the principle of patrilineal descent. Although the issue of intermarriage has intrigued scholars and concerned members of the organized Jewish community since permanent Jewish settlers arrived on America’s shores in 1654, sociologists became fascinated by the topic in the twentieth century. Two major debates now engage scholars of Judaic Studies and activists in the organized Jewish communities.

One is academic and the other regards policy decisions and programming; both are political and influence each other. The academic debate is between assimilationists and transformationists. Assimilationists believe that intermarriage will eventually eliminate the Jewish people. Transformationists see intermarriage as an aspect of ongoing change, one part of the expression of commitment to Jewish life in modern America. For them, change means transformation, not necessarily crisis, as it does for assimilationists. The two groups differ over several key issues. Those include the definition of Jewish continuity, the import of modernity, and assessments of American life in terms of its allowance for ethnic and religious subcultures. The debate within the organized Jewish communities is how to handle intermarriage as an issue of Jewish survival. One camp promotes outreach to inter married Jews and their Gentile spouses, conversion if possible, and Jewish learning for Jews who are uneducated about their heritage. The other camp encourages “in-reach,” otherwise known as prevention.

Next to the fate of Israel, continuity is the number one concern in the organized American Jewish community, and has been for at least the past two decades. The rising rates of intermarriage over the twentieth century in America seem, on the surface, to illustrate that total assimilation draws nearer with every passing decade: Fewer and fewer Jews are marrying fellow Jews, resulting in fewer Jewish offspring. Before 1940, the rate of Jews married to non-Jews was estimated to be between 2 and 3.2 percent. That rate doubled—to about 6 percent—between 1941 and 1960. Of those people who were Jewish by birth and remained Jewish, but married non-Jews, the latest national research by sociologists yielded the following percentages: 13 percent or less before 1970; 28 percent between 1970 and 1979; 38 percent between 1980 and 1984; 43 percent between 1985 and 1995; and 47 percent between 1996 and 2001, an all-time high (Kotler- Berkowitz 2003, 16–17). The numbers alone suggest that concern about the future of American Jewry is highly warranted. The grave alarm over intermarriage is based on the assumption promulgated by religious and academic authorities alike that once the American Jew intermarries, she or he becomes fully assimilated into the majority Christian population, religion, and culture. Throughout the twentieth century, it was commonly believed that Jews who intermarried were “lost” to the Jewish community. The assumption by some Jewish advocates was that those who intermarried had essentially forsaken their Jewishness; their Jewish identity was no longer important to them and would never be so. The assumption that an intermarried person ceases to identify as a Jew is exacerbated by the assumption that a Jew who marries a non-Jew does not raise Jewish children. Gender must be fully taken into account to accommodate the fluidity of intermarried identities, influenced as they are by the changing relationship between women and men. Like all marriage, intermarriage is a relationship of power, and gender is a primary way of signifying this relationship. Gender politics in intermarried women’s and men’s lives impacts their experiences, playing a significant role in religious and ethnic survival. The latest research suggests that the inherent tension between the selection of a Gentile husband and the maintenance of a Jewish self evolved over the twentieth century as American women gained more political rights and personal power within their most intimate relationships. While the demo – cratic culture enables Jewish women to blend into the mainstream—and some do when they intermarry—it also increasingly encourages them to assert their Jewishness and, as the primary caregivers and domestic overseers, to raise Jewish children.

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