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  • The Facts about Intermarriage
  • Ira M. Sheskin (bio) and Harriet Hartman (bio)

Intermarriage has developed into one of the most important issues for the Jewish community and has clearly reached significant percentages nationally and in most American Jewish communities. It has been linked, among other indicators of Jewishness, to lower levels of synagogue participation and affiliation, less participation in Jewish organizations, less performance of Jewish ritual, lower levels of philanthropy in Jewish causes, lower levels of Jewish education, and lower attachment to and fewer visits to Israel.1 Of further concern for the American Jewish community is that a much lower percentage of Jews with a non-Jewish spouse say they are raising their children as Jews, whether by religion or by any other form of Jewish identification.2

The precise intermarriage rate is a matter of some controversy, as it is dependent on definitions of who is considered an “authentic” Jew, what is considered an intermarriage, who is included in the sample from which the rate is calculated, and other methodological and substantive considerations.3 The recently released Pew Research Center report (“A Portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews”) suggests that the intermarriage rate (examining intermarriage rates by year of marriage) has increased over the past five decades (although not over the past two decades), with the overall rate (the percentage of married Jews married to a non-Jew) at 44 percent in 2013.4 The Pew study is unable to analyze these rates by community, however. As Leonard Saxe et al.5 and Ira M. Sheskin6 note, significant variation exists across Jewish communities in intermarriage rates and in the percentage of intermarried parents who are raising their children as Jews.

In previous decades, the majority of documented intermarriages were between Jewish men and non-Jewish women.7 Though Sergio DellaPergola8 suggests that this trend is not strictly linear, recent results produced by Steven Cohen from the 2013 Pew study9 found that before 1970, three times as many Jewish men intermarried as women, but that between 2000 and 2013, slightly more Jewish women intermarried than men.10 When the Jewish spouse is a woman, Keren R. McGinity11 contends, there is an increasing tendency for their Jewish identity to remain intact or strengthen, and their children are more likely to be raised as Jews.12 Furthermore, Naomi Schaefer Riley13 finds that children of interfaith couples (not only intermarried Jews) are twice as [End Page 149] likely to be raised in the religion of their mother as their father, reinforcing findings of Linda Sax14 and Christian Smith and Melina Lindquist Denton.15 Jennifer Thompson16 explains the historical and cultural reasons for this tendency. Harriet Hartman and Moshe Hartman’s17 analysis of the National Jewish Population Survey 2000–01 (NJPS 2000–01),18 supports this contention by showing that for the majority of dimensions of Jewish identity, intermarried Jewish women have stronger Jewish identity than intermarried Jewish men. Furthermore, their Jewish identity has more of a relationship to their secular behaviors (such as age at first marriage, fertility, employment status, and occupational status) than does the Jewish identity of intermarried Jewish men.

In this paper, we pursue the following topics:

  1. •. Geographic variations in intermarriage rates among local American Jewish communities; by seeking to understand the reasons for the variation, we touch on the issue of how different communities define “authentic” Jews and embrace them in the Jewish community;

  2. •. Temporal changes in intermarriage rates among local American Jewish communities; we consider the characteristics of communities that have seen an increase in intermarriage rates;

  3. •. Intermarriage, in-marriage, conversion, and Jewish engagement;

  4. •. Differences in Jewishness between intermarrieds when the male is Jewish and when the female is Jewish;

  5. •. Raising children as Jews;

  6. •. Changes between younger/older heads of households comparing Jewish husbands and wives in intermarried households; and

  7. •. Explaining the likelihood that a child of intermarriage will be raised Jewish; in this analysis, and the following conclusions to the paper, we consider the manner in which our data shed light on issues of authenticity and intermarriage, as well as suggest questions for additional research.

Data Sets and Definitions...


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pp. 149-178
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