- Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood by Keren R. McGinity
In Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage and Fatherhood, historian Keren R. McGinity uses qualitative research to dismantle assumptions about the lives and attitudes of intermarried Jewish men. Both Marrying Out and her first book, Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America, respond to scholarly and popular discourses about intermarriage in American Judaism that rely heavily on quantitative studies and long-standing communal assumptions about why Jews intermarry. In both books, McGinity argues that contrary to conventional assumptions, Jewishness remains important to the identities and lives of intermarrying Jews. Further, she argues, they experience intermarriage differently depending on their gender.
The book draws on forty-one interviews with intermarried Jewish men born between 1922 and 1945, and 1946 to1964, and thirteen interviews with women married to some of these men. (10, 28–29) McGinity uses the lens of “gendered ethnicity” to explain how the men’s understandings of themselves as Jews changed over time, specifically with regard to the intersection of Jewishness, masculinity, and fatherhood. (7, 14) The study location—Ann Arbor, Michigan—also shapes the men’s experiences. This small, transient university city hosts a disproportionately large Jewish population in which “[e]verybody knows each other” (18), intermarriage is considered common, and diversity and ecumenism are valued (16–22).
The book’s first two chapters survey the men’s evolving relationships to Judaism, masculinity, and family life. Chapter 1, “Professional Men,” documents the men’s pursuit of American and Jewish notions of successful masculinity by supporting their families, particularly in demanding professions requiring advanced degrees. (36–39) While these cultural ideals affected both generations of interviewees, the younger generation experienced greater conflict between work and their desire to spend time with their families. (87f) Both generations strongly wished to maintain their own Jewish identities and establish such in their children, though they were less concerned about the religious choices of their wives. They switched to Jewish denominations that accepted patrilineal descent (47) in their quest for “communal and familial validation” for their families. They found it in congregations that accepted their children as Jews (57) and that were led by “welcoming” rabbis. (48–49). McGinity points out that intermarried Jewish men find fewer opportunities for such familial validation than do intermarried Jewish women because fewer Jewish denominations accept the men’s children as Jews. Jewish women’s children, in contrast, are considered Jewish automatically under Jewish law. To the extent that men participated in Jewish institutions less than women, McGinity argues that it was partly because of their frustration with these institutions’ views of legitimate Jewishness. (76–80; 83–84) The men reserved the right to determine their Jewishness, and that of their families, for themselves. [End Page 206]
Chapter 3, “Shiksappeal,” features interviews with thirteen women, born between 1935 and 1978, who were married to some of the male interviewees (113). The women’s interviews undercut popular assumptions that non-Jews weaken Jewish households and continuity. Nineteen women married to the forty-one male interviewees converted to Judaism. This chapter demonstrates differences over time in how conversion takes place as women’s roles in American society changed. Women who married in the 1960s and 1970s converted before marriage, with no rabbinic objections to conversion for the sake of marriage, because women were expected to adopt their husbands’ religion. After the rise of second-wave feminism, women converted at their own pace (120), with rabbis who resisted conversion for the sake of marriage.
Chapter 4, “The Heartbreak Kid,” also treats change over time. Portrayals of intermarriage in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary, television, and film works created by intermarried Jewish men provided another set of discourses about intermarriage. Works from the 1920s to 1940s depicted intermarriage as a desirable path for the assimilation of immigrants in America. (169) Later works assumed a critical stance toward this melting pot theme, instead embracing pluralism. (177) McGinity argues that these works portrayed intermarriage as...