For the week ending 4 March 2006 / 4 Adar I 5766

Intermarriage: A Jewish Obsession

by Yankl Botwinik
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Ever do a Google search on the word “intermarriage”? Nine of the top ten results are Jewish sites. It’s amazing that although Jews constitute one quarter of one percent of humanity, it seems intermarriage is exclusively a Jewish concern. Whether it’s a new book about intermarriage, an upcoming conference or a resource center, you can bet that it has to do with Jews marrying Gentiles. Most cultures exert pressure to marry one’s own kind, but for Jews it seems to be an obsession.

This should not be surprising considering that we Jews have lived as a minority in foreign, and often hostile, environments for most of our history. If it weren’t for our steadfast desire to continue our progeny as Jews, we would have disappeared as a people long ago.

On the other hand, if you look at today’s intermarriage figures, you’d think we’re anything but obsessed with “Jewish continuity”; in fact, you’d think we’ve abandoned ship.

One in every two North American Jews marries out.

So, while intermarriage is a Jewish obsession, most Jews don’t seem to be obsessed about it. I was no different and dated a Chinese woman.

Let’s be honest. Judaism is much more than a religion. Judaism is culture and ethnicity. It is language and geography. It is a collective mindset forged by a particular set of historical experiences. One can quite easily live one’s entire life as a Jew guided by these influences. But, if one were to strip away these layers, one would discover the core essence of Judaism: our Torah.

While Jewish culture, Jewish languages, Jewish geography, Jewish mindset have evolved and changed, the Torah has remained unchanged. If there is one factor that is of ultimate value, infinitely profound, and uniquely Jewish, it is the Torah. It is the one ingredient without which Judaism could easily, in a matter of a few generations, become unrecognizably transformed or diluted, and eventually vanish in the sea of competing social norms.

While community leaders of all denominations are battling the intermarriage crisis, statistics show that marrying out is lowest among Orthodox Jews who truly believe the Torah to be the immutable Word of G-d and their decisive guide in life.

Believing that the Torah is of Divine origin has most significant implications for how our daily existence is to be consummated, and for our purpose in life. In the absence of this belief, there is no sustainable argument why one (or one’s children) should not intermarry.

As was my case, many secular Jews who struggle with intermarriage are walking on thin ice. Their motives for marrying Jewish are tenuous, such as family expectations, which often are overridden once “love” is found. Or, it could be a clannish mindset bordering on racism: “We must not marry Gentiles because they, their culture or religion are different or inferior.” Among often-heard arguments are, “It would kill my parents,” “Because of the Holocaust,” “Because of anti-Semitism.” These reasons are tainted with guilt and prompt the question, Why be Jewish? What is so important about our heritage that we must sacrifice our happiness — refrain from marrying the person we love — for its sake?

All ethnic groups, in trying to curb intermarriage, attempt to instill in their children a greater appreciation of the richness of their heritage. In an increasingly multi-cultural society, this is proving more and more challenging.

For us, such an approach is essential, and we must get to the core. What has preserved our people through the ages is a deep appreciation of Torah combined with an unfaltering conviction that G-d authored it.

Now, we just need to get more Jews obsessed about Torah.

  • Yaakov Botwinik is the author of Chicken Soup with Chopsticks: A Jew’s Struggle for Truth in an Interfaith Relationship

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