Intermarriage between Jews and people of other backgrounds has long been construed by scholars, religious and communal leaders in negative terms such as “problem,” “dilemma,” “threat,” “disease,” and “sin.” The main concern with regard to intermarriage and Jewish continuity, aside from the Biblical prohibition, is loss of identification with the Jewish people, religion, culture, and connection to the State of Israel. Recent scholarship, however, suggests that marriage outside of the Jewish fold does not automatically portend disaffection from Jewish identity or community. Indeed intermarriage has begun to be understood as an opportunity to draw both the Jew and their non-Jewish partner closer, inspiring them to raise Jewish children, thereby augmenting rather than attenuating Jewish life.
Wedding “intermarriage” to “authenticity” was born out of the idea that Jewish communities have struggled to determine who is a Jew and what qualifies as living a Jewish life, which continues today. The challenge is amplified by the many authorities who claim that they are the ones to affirm who is “in” and who is “out,” to decide what is “kosher” to do on the bimah and what is “tref.” Simultaneously, Judaism as a response to the Holocaust and to Christianity has colored the experiences of many who grew up in their shadows. As an intermarried man I interviewed lamented: “I just get the sense that our Judaism is not about us. It’s a reaction to those around us. And that bothers me. It bothers me a lot, because I’d like to know what authentic Jewish life is like.” Antagonisms between branches of Judaism have created competition for authenticity among adherents of each, resulting in an unfortunate and demeaning Jewish hierarchy. The resulting Jew-o-meter effect creates factiousness; pitting people against each other, labeling some Jews “good,” others “bad,” some “real,” some not Jewish “enough.” Only when we see the battle for authenticity for what it is—the alchemy of fear, ignorance, and arrogance—will it finally be possible to focus on acceptance and inclusion rather than disdain and alienation. When K’lal Yisrael learns to celebrate Jewish pluralism as well as it lambasts antisemitism, it will become whole and self-assured.
This special issue of the Journal of Jewish Identities brings together emerging and established voices on the social phenomenon of intermarriage and those who intermarry, creating in the process a kind of dialogue about what really matters and to whom. It acknowledges the foundation of knowledge built [End Page 1] by preceding generations of scholars while also expanding the concepts of Jewish identity and peoplehood by interrogating the meaning of authenticity. It challenges closely held beliefs about descent, about why Jews marry non-Jews and what happens when they do, and about the relationship between intermarriage and the future of Judaism. This collection of articles unites a wealth of disciplines and methodologies to advance our understanding of intermarriage and authenticity. It includes American history, French studies, Middle Eastern studies, Yiddish studies, sociology, demography, philosophy, psychology, and ethics. The comingling of qualitative and quantitative data successfully demonstrates how different approaches can inform each other in productive ways. The quantitative work illuminates the what, while the qualitative unveils the why. Literary criticism adds yet another dimension. I am especially pleased that the majority of articles conscientiously employ gender analysis because, aside from my two historical monographs on Jews, gender and intermarriage, scant previous scholarship on intermarriage has used gender as a primary lens and what little did treated gender as immutable. Taken as a whole, this collaborative work shows how complex issues such as Jewish identity and intermarriage require multi-lens analyses to expose truth and meaning. Scholars of intermarriage routinely face a tangled web of facts culled by experts, contradictory discourse by elites, and interpretations by the media; hence the combination in this issue is purposeful as well as ironical.
The contributors to this volume differ in their analyses yet are united by their abiding desire to expand the scholarly discussion on intermarriage and authenticity that is hindered by two tenacious assumptions: first, that intermarriage threatens Jewish life; second, that liberal Judaism is to blame. Phoebe Maltz Bovy offers a refreshing interpretation of how intermarriage embodied...