The terms intermarriage and mixed marriage are used interchangeably. Intermarriage in the present context is defined as a marriage where one partner professes a religion different from that of his spouse. Marriages in which a partner has converted to the faith of the other are not considered intermarriages. Therefore, marriages between converts to Judaism and born Jews are not treated here.
Source: Institute for Jewish Policy Research (2023)
Intermarriage Rates & Problem of Jewish Survival
There is a widespread belief that a high rate of Jewish intermarriage in a given locality leads to the disappearance of the Jewish community there. How high is high? The answer will be found in a comparison of what the intermarriage rate might be if a random selection of partners would occur (expected random rate) with the actual (observed) intermarriage rate. A 1957 sample survey in the United States revealed that, compared to Catholics and Protestants, Jews are least likely to intermarry.
Formation Data vs. Status Data
Statistical data on the frequency of religious intermarriage are obtained from marriage licenses on which the groom and bride state their religions and from questionnaires connected with censuses or community surveys. Questionnaires reveal the religious composition of married couples and the status of heterogamy within a population. It is of the utmost importance to distinguish between intermarriage formation and heterogamy status data.
Individual Rates vs Couple Rates
Several methodological problems complicate the computation of intermarriage rates. Some researchers base their rates on the number of individuals who marry out. However, since the couple is the basic unit in the marriage relationship and since the couple is expected to be homogamous, intermarriage rates are most meaningfully computed by determining the ratio of intermarried couples to the total number of couples in which one or both partners are Jewish.
Surveys of Organized Jewish Communities vs. Comprehensive Surveys
Surveys that produce intermarriage data should indicate whether the survey was limited to the organized Jewish community or encompassed the total population of a locality. As might be expected, the former type yields a significantly lower rate of intermarriage than the latter. Surveys of the former type sponsored by local Jewish organizations in the United States between 1930 and 1970 yielded an intermarriage status rate of about 6%. By contrast, the Greater Washington survey, which sampled the total population, yielded a rate of 13%, more than double that of the organized Jewish community.
Romantic Love vs. Group Cohesion
In the Western world, the selection of marital partners is governed by two considerations. One is the romantic love ideal, which tends to override considerations of race, creed, cultural origin, or social class. The other consideration is group survival, the pressure to marry a member of one’s own race, religion, or cultural group.
The effectiveness of this pressure is directly related to the value that adults place upon the survival of their group. Elopements can be considered an extreme case of romantic love, producing a maximum rate of intermarriage, while arranged marriages can be viewed as a most conscious effort to foster group survival, generating a minimum of such marriages.
Density and Concentration
It has been repeatedly observed that the rate of intermarriage is the result of density, the proportion that a subgroup constitutes of the total population in a given locality. However, density becomes relevant only when the will for group survival has been weakened or abandoned. Once group cohesion is weakened, however, the factor of density operates in the expected manner: the smaller the proportion that Jews constitute of the total population in a given locality, the larger the intermarriage rate becomes. This relationship has been observed in Canada, the United States, and Australia. For example, in the United States, the intermarriage formation rate in the state of Indiana between 1960 and 1963 was 39% for the five large Jewish settlements and 64% for those counties where there was only a scattering of Jewish families. Jews are well aware of the fact that the dispersal of Jewish families over a rural or urban area increases the likelihood of intermarriage. Therefore, in urban areas, they have been eager to concentrate their residence in specific neighborhoods and to locate their institutions within them.
Age of Jewish Settlement & Democratic Social Processes
Jews, more than any other religious-ethnic group, have been involved in migrations from one country to another. As immigrants, they have encountered economic, cultural, and social barriers. However, in democratic societies where equalizing processes between immigrants and older settlers and between different racial, ethnic, and religious groups are at least not discouraged and, at best, consciously fostered, these barriers will be lowered with the increasing length of settlement. In time, then, Jews will become “acculturated,” i.e., less distinguishable from older settlers and other immigrant groups.
The most significant break in cultural continuity, social distance, and personal identity occurs with the birth of each new generation. Therefore, intermarriage is likely to increase with increased length of Jewish settlement, as measured by generations, and in the absence of continued Jewish immigration. The Greater Washington survey found that intermarried families increased from 1% among the foreign-born, the first generation, to 10% among the native-born of foreign parentage, the second generation, to 18% among the native-born of native parentage, the third generation. The readiness of Jewish individuals to intermarry is met by a corresponding frame of mind on the part of non-Jews, who, as members of the upper classes, are no longer conscious of previous status differentials or who, as members of other immigrant groups, have also been “acculturated.” The fact that a new wave of immigrants can effectively lower earlier upward trends of intermarriage can best be demonstrated by Australia and, to a lesser extent, by Canada. In Australia, mainly because of the immigration of refugees from Nazi Europe, the Jewish population nearly doubled between 1933 and 1954. At the same time, the percentage of intermarried families dropped drastically from a high of 29% for Jewish husbands and 16% for Jewish wives in 1921 to a low of 12% for Jewish husbands and 6% for Jewish wives in 1961.
Occupation & Employment Status
Occupation and employment status (independent owner versus employee) are factors significantly related to intermarriage. As long as the occupational choice was limited by discriminatory practices, occupational homogeneity discouraged intermarriage. With virtually unlimited freedom of occupational choice in the United States, individuals who break away from traditional occupations are likely to have a higher intermarriage rate. The growth of corporate capitalism is also likely to generate a higher rate of intermarriage. Since large corporations demand from their executives considerable geographic and social mobility, local ties to the organized Jewish communities become attenuated. Surveys in the mid-50s revealed that roughly 80% of the heads of Jewish households in the United States were engaged in white-collar occupations, while only 20% did blue-collar work. Within the white-collar group, managers, proprietors, and officials constituted the largest concentration, with 36% of all heads of Jewish households. It comes as no surprise, then, that the intermarriage formation rate for the latter group amounted to only 10% (for first marriages) in the state of Iowa. For the total white-collar group, the rate was 27%, and for blue-collar workers 47%. Thus, the expectation that Jews who adhere to the traditional occupational pattern are less likely to intermarry was borne out.
Secular education in the Western world has two major functions. One is to ensure the continuity of cultural tradition and values, the acquisition of basic skills, and of occupational training. The other is to provide for cultural change, the production of new ideas, and technical innovation. Students who are oriented to or exposed to the first type of schooling should be less inclined to intermarry than students enrolled in the second type. The Greater Washington survey supports the expectation for the native-born of native parentage. The intermarriage rate of those who had enrolled in the first type was nearly one-third lower than that of those who had attended the second type.
There is a widespread belief that Jewish education, including a bar mitzvah ceremony, helps to keep young men from marrying outside the Jewish faith. The Greater Washington survey showed that this belief is well founded as far as the native-born of native parentage (the third and subsequent generation) is concerned. Religious education cut the intermarriage status rate in half. It was 16.4% for those husbands who had been exposed to religious school as compared to 30.2% who had not had such instruction. Since the ethnic bond – expressed in secular activities and in a common language – has been virtually dissolved in the third generation, exposure to religious instruction, which usually includes some learning of Jewish history and some identification with Israel, serves as a check to intermarriage.
At the beginning of the last quarter of the 20th century, Jewish men were more likely to intermarry than Jewish women. One reason for this difference was that men take the initiative in proposing marriage. This was especially significant in localities where Jewish families are sparsely settled. Jewish parents allowed their sons more freedom in dating across religious lines. However, the following years witnessed an increase in the proportion of Jewish women who intermarry, and it is likely that the sex differential will diminish in the future. The proportion of Jewish men who intermarry varied from country to country and within a country from place to place. In Canada, only 10% of all bridegrooms intermarried between 1955 and 1960, as compared with 27% in Iowa between 1953 and 1959. In the Netherlands, the percentage of such bridegrooms rose from 36% in 1946 to 44% in 1958. In Indiana, only about half as many Jewish bridegrooms intermarried in the five relatively large Jewish communities of the state (30% versus 55.8%). Jewish brides exhibit similar variations in their propensity to intermarry.
Previous Marital Status
Data available for the United States and the Netherlands demonstrate that the previous marital status of a person affects his decision to intermarry. Previously widowed persons, upon remarriage, have a lower intermarriage rate than persons never before married. By contrast, persons who were previously divorced have a considerably higher intermarriage rate than the never married. For example, in Indiana, one group of previously divorced couples had an intermarriage formation rate of 65% as compared with 33% for the never married before and 20% for the previously widowed.
Daniel Staetsky noted, “in many instances the actual act of intermarriage is the final or penultimate station: people with a relatively weak connection to Jewish culture and religion may not hold marriage to a Jewish spouse as a top priority to start with. For them, intermarriage is a concluding, or advanced stage of assimilation into the wider non-Jewish environment.”
In societies where democracy and individualism are dominant values, intermarriage is bound to occur. Empirical observations have revealed that Jewish communities are trying to keep the frequency low with the help of a “survival” formula consisting of voluntary segregation, residence in a high-status area, a modicum of Jewish education, and Jewish group consciousness in the form of Zionism which is defined as supporting the State of Israel.
A mixed marriage is a marriage of a non-Jew to a Jew, i.e., one born of Jewish parents, whose mother alone was Jewish, or who has become a proselyte in accordance with Jewish law. Conversion from the Jewish religion, both in the case of a Jew by birth and of a proselyte who reverts to his “evil” ways, has no halakhic significance in respect of the law on mixed marriages. For “an Israelite, even if he has sinned, is still an Israelite.”
From the biblical passage (Deut. 7:3), “neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son,” the sages inferred that marriage with a non-Jew is forbidden as a negative precept by the Torah (Av. Zar. 36b; Yad, Issurei Bi’ah 12:1–2; Sh. Ar., EH 16:1). As the passage cited refers to the “seven nations” (“The Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite,” Deut. 7:1), according to one opinion, the prohibition applies only to intermarriage with those seven nations. Others maintain, however, that the prohibition applies to all gentiles because after the prohibition, “neither shalt thou make marriages,” the biblical passage continues: “For he will turn away thy son from following after Me” (Deut. 7:4) which serves “to include all who would turn [their children] away” (Av. Zar. 36b; Yev. 77a; and codes). The prohibition against marrying a gentile is also explicitly stated in the period of the return to Zion: “And that we would not give our daughters unto the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons” (Neh. 10:31; see Maim., ibid.). It was also inferred from the passage in Deuteronomy that in a mixed marriage, there is “no institution of marriage,” i.e., mixed marriages are not legally valid and cause no change in personal status (Kid. 68b; Yev. 45a; and codes). Hence if the Jewish partner of such a marriage subsequently wishes to marry a Jew, there is no need, according to the halakhah, for divorce from the previous “marriage.” However, where one or even both of the parties to a marriage are apostate Jews who have married in a halakhically binding manner, neither can marry a Jew as long as the first marriage is not terminated by death or divorce since a purported change of religion does not affect personal status (Yev. 47b; Bek. 30b; Sh. Ar., EH 44:9). Similarly if both parties (or only one of them) apostatize after a halakhically valid marriage and are then divorced by way of a civil divorce, neither party can marry a Jew until the previous marriage is terminated as above (Yad, Ishut 4:15; Rema, EH 154:23).
Similarly, the wife has no halakhic right to be maintained by her “husband,” since this right arises only if a valid marriage exists between them. For the same reason, in a mixed marriage, none of the inheritance rights that flow from a valid marriage, such as the husband’s right to inherit his wife’s estate, come into effect.
It is impossible to contract a mixed marriage in the State of Israel since, according to section 2 of the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, 5713 – 1953, no marriages of Jews in Israel are valid unless contracted in accordance with the law of the Torah. However, the criminal code does not provide criminal punishment for contracting a mixed marriage in Israel. Where a mixed marriage is contracted in the Diaspora, proceedings regarding it cannot be brought directly before the Israel rabbinical courts inasmuch as such courts have jurisdiction only in the event of both parties being Jews. In 1969, however, a law was passed whereby such marriages could be dissolved at the discretion of the president of the Supreme Court. If a problem arises before the civil courts, such as a wife’s claim for maintenance, the civil courts will act according to the general principles of private international law, and where such a marriage cannot be denied validity according to those principles, it will be sustained. The Succession Law, 5725 – 1965, provides that differences of religion do not affect rights of inheritance.
Through to the 1970s, most Conservative and Reform rabbis requested conversion from the non-Jewish spouse before undertaking any action as regards marriage, although a small, though a growing minority of Reform rabbis were prepared to officiate at mixed marriages (N. Mirsky, in Midstream, 16 (Jan. 1970), 40–46). The practice of almost all Conservative rabbis was not to perform a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. Indeed those rabbis who do perform such marriages do so only in emergency cases. Another question that was debated by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly was the status of an intermarried Jew as regards membership in a Conservative congregation. The practice until 1963 had been to exclude such an intermarried Jew from synagogue membership. In 1963 the law committee of the Rabbinical Assembly adopted a modified view of the former position and, while affirming their opposition to mixed marriages, allowed the Jewish partner of a non-Jewish marriage to become a member of their congregation, provided that there was a definite agreement to raise the children of the marriage as Jews. The privileges of membership did not extend to the non-Jewish spouse, and the Jewish partner was restricted from holding office in the synagogue. All restrictions were to be lifted when the non-Jewish partner accepted Judaism.
Reform practice, on the other hand, was to accept both members of the marriage as members of the congregation and to urge that any children of the marriage be brought to the Jewish religious school so that they could have Jewish training. They felt that this lifted when the non-Jewish partner accepted Judaism.
Intermarriage has always been a danger to the Jewish People. Any group that lives as a minority has the potential to be absorbed by its host society. Some contact among the groups within a society is inevitable, but that contact can take many forms as relations among groups are played out – not always in consistent patterns – along several dimensions: cultural, institutional, residential, social, and familial. Because these dimensions can be independent of one another, acculturation, for example, need not lead to residential integration, nor does residential integration necessarily bring about socializing across group lines. Almost all kinds of acculturation and integration are compatible with continued group identity, at least theoretically. Integration at the familial level, on the other hand, is a sufficient condition for total assimilation by a subgroup into the larger society and its eventual disappearance as an identifiable group. Although most social identities are transmitted through families, Jewishness, going much further, explicitly defines itself in familial terms. Intermarriage thus is seen as the very antithesis of Jewish continuity. From the time that Abraham sent his servant to choose a wife for Isaac from among his own people through Ezra’s expulsion of the non-Jewish wives of the Jews who returned to establish the Second Commonwealth to the recent practice of severing all ties with and sitting shivah for intermarried children, exogamy was one of the most energetically discouraged and forcefully condemned acts that a Jew could perform.
Most of the research on intermarriage has been done on American Jewry, which serves as the focus of this section, but much of the analysis can mutatis mutandis be extended to other Diaspora communities. Since the early 1960s, intermarriage has changed dramatically in the United States – not only in quantity but also in its meaning and in the reactions it engenders. Although a number of books and articles on intermarriage written before the 1960s viewed it with alarm as “an epidemic,” intermarriage was not then generally seen as a serious communal threat, and the data on which those works rested pale in the perspective of the 1990s. Widespread communal concern with intermarriage followed the publication of Erich Rosenthal’s “Studies of Jewish Intermarriage in the United States” in the 1963 American Jewish Year Book and a cover story on the “Vanishing American Jew” in Look magazine. These two articles left the Jews of the time shaken and less assured about the future of the American Jewish community. They had come to believe that, while the Jewishness of their children would not be the same as that of earlier generations, the changes that they had made in order to “modernize” Judaism would guarantee that future generations would maintain their Jewishness even as they acquired full economic, political, civic, and cultural equality as American citizens. They knew that some would intermarry and be lost, but not enough, they were convinced, to seriously weaken American Jewish life. Most Jews entering the 1960s felt themselves part of what had become the world’s premier Jewish community, at least in the Diaspora, and, for all its problems, they felt secure in its future.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many committees, commissions, and task forces were established by Jewish organizations to propose ways of reducing what was viewed as a dangerously high intermarriage rate. Despite those efforts, in the intervening years, the rate increased.
The national study undertaken by the Council of Jewish Federations in 1990 reported that 52% of the Jews who married between 1985 and 1990 married non-Jews (and another 5% married converts to Judaism). The exogamy rate climbed dramatically from decade to decade from the comparatively low and stable level characteristic of the periods before the 1960s. Another study by the Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University also reported intermarriage rates for successive decades in eight communities in various parts of the country. Although the figures are somewhat lower than in the CJF study, the increase over time is equally steep. (The overall lower rates may be due to a combination of factors: the communities chosen, the decade breakpoints, and the way Jews become eligible for the sample.) Whatever the precise figures may be, it is clear that at this point, exogamy is as common as endogamy among American Jews.
Characteristics of Those Most Likely to Intermarry
Which Jews are most likely to intermarry? Until the 1980s, men were twice as likely as women to marry non-Jews. In later years, however, the gap has narrowed considerably. It also used to be the case that intermarriage was most frequent among Jews with the highest educational and income levels, but recent studies call this pattern into question. Now, when such variables as age are controlled, Jews at the top of the socioeconomic scale turn out to be less likely to intermarry than those toward the middle, but the differences are small. It is also found that the older Jews are at the time of their first marriage, the more likely they are to be exogamous. This is probably due to the fact that older people are more independent, have a wider network of professional and business contacts, including non-Jews, and face a shrinking pool of potential partners. Second marriages after divorce are also much more likely than first marriages to involve a non-Jewish partner. The higher tendency to exogamy among the divorced may be strengthened by their desire for a second spouse “different” from the first and by their greater independence from ties to family and community. Geographic variations are important. Generally, areas of high Jewish concentration have less intermarriage, but some cities with large Jewish populations have very high intermarriage rates (San Francisco, Denver, and Washington, DC, are examples). The less traditional the religious “movement” with which a Jew identifies, the more likely that Jew is to intermarry, with the highest rates of intermarriage among those who identify with no religious movement at all and claim to be “just Jewish.”
During most of the 1980s, it was generally believed that in about one-third of the marriages between Jews and partners born non-Jews, the originally non-Jewish partner converted to Judaism according to the norms and practices of one or another of American Judaism’s religious movements, either before or after the marriage. (The phenomena led to the adoption of a more elaborate terminology in which “intermarriage” is often used to refer to any marriage between a Jew and someone born not Jewish, and “conversionary marriage” refers to a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew who converts to Judaism, and “mixed marriage” is the term reserved for marriages in which one partner is Jewish and the other is not.) The most recent studies show that a much smaller proportion of intermarriages is conversionary than had previously been thought to be the case.
Another terminological development is the use of the phrase “Jews-by-choice” instead of “convert.” Many feel that the former term is more positive. It is also seen as a way, at least partly, to get around some of the problems that arise from the different definitions of conversion held by various segments of the Jewish community. The latest statistical projection estimates that there are now approximately 185,000 “Jews-by-choice” in North America.
Trying to assess the demographic impact of intermarriage, optimistic analysts used to point out that if half of the children of intermarried couples are Jewish, there should be no net loss in the size of the Jewish community. Recent studies show, however, that far fewer than half of the children of intermarriage identify as Jews, even by the most liberal criteria. Moreover, those who do consider themselves Jews have a weaker Jewish identity on the whole than do born Jews, and they are far more likely to intermarry in turn. The 1990 CJF study projects that there are about 415,000 adults in North America who are descended from Jews but were raised from birth in another religion and another 700,000 children under 18 years of age who are not identified as Jews but have a Jewish parent or grandparent.
The organized Jewish community in North America is now expressing renewed alarm over intermarriage. Not only has the rate risen dramatically over the last couple of decades, but the demographic impact is seen as more threatening than had been hoped. Many federations and other Jewish organizations have begun to address what they articulate as the problem in “Jewish continuity.” Several inquiries have been undertaken into what can be done to bolster Jewish identity, Jewish organizations and agencies have been encouraged in several number of communities to strengthen those aspects of their programs that are seen as contributing to Jewish identity, and some funds are being allocated for activities designed to enhance Jewish continuity.
Meaning of Intermarriage in the Contemporary Jewish Community
To understand intermarriage in the contemporary Jewish community, it is essential to recognize that its very meaning has changed. In earlier periods, intermarriage was often a rebellion against Jewishness or a quiet renunciation of Jewish identity – if not for oneself, then for one’s children. There were several variations on that theme. Intermarriage could be a way of breaking free from what was felt as the constraints of Jewish life and the discrimination to which Jews were subjected. It could be an extreme means to declare independence from, perhaps even to punish, parents. For the upwardly mobile, it could provide entry into desired social circles. Whatever the motives, however, intermarriage was understood as sufficiently incompatible with Jewish identity to constitute a decisive break with Jewishness. It was in that context that Jewish parents and, reflecting their sentiments, Jewish organizations reacted so forcefully when the intermarriage statistics of the 1960s were published.
Jewish identity had been re-shaped in America in the 20th century, but most Jews were not assimilationists. The dominant belief in American Jewry in the first two-thirds of the 20th century was that while Jewishness should undergo some acculturation in order to fit comfortably into modern Western culture, it should survive as a separate identity. Indeed, most Jews believed that acculturation was precisely what would guarantee Jewish continuity. If Jewishness were not adjusted according to the norms of the larger society, they were convinced it would be too culturally deviant for coming generations, which would consequently reject it altogether. Most American Jews understood, however, that intermarriage was the ultimate vehicle of assimilation. They could accept, if with some regret, whatever other changes their children made in Jewish self-expression. Exogamy, by contrast, was the decisive indicator of a failure to perpetuate Jewishness. Ironically, the changes in Jewish identity that were made in order to preserve Jewishness can now be seen as having engendered the kind of Jewish identity that is not inconsistent with intermarriage. It is for that reason that many young Jews came to view intermarriage as compatible with continued Jewish identity and as an essentially unremarkable act.
The Jewish identity of 20th-century American Jewry can best be understood as an outgrowth of “Emancipation.” The fundamental change in the Jews’ status that is denoted by the term “Emancipation” occurred in central and Western Europe at the turn of the 19th century. The French Revolution was, of course, the threshold event that offered Jews citizenship as individuals. For the preceding two millennia, Jews had had corporate status as part of the Jewish community. The shift to individual political status, generally and for the Jews, made its way across Europe unevenly during the 19th and 20th centuries.
To appreciate the cultural dynamics of Jews in contemporary America, however, it is necessary to remember that about nine-tenths of American Jewry is descended from the major wave of Jewish immigration to the United States from Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1924. In other words, most American Jews are only two or three generations removed from the kind of intensive and enclosed Jewish life that prevailed in the Pale of Settlement and other Jewish areas of Eastern Europe. For the Jew who came to America the 40 years around the turn of the 20th century, the trip was not a journey for political freedom and economic opportunity alone. It was, rather, a fundamental transition to a “new world” in every sense. For them, their voyage was the “Emancipation.”
The marginal generation, those who carved out a new American identity (specifically, the children of older immigrants and the younger immigrants themselves), made two basic changes in Jewish identity. One concerned its scope; the other its content. The marginal generation, welcoming America’s offer of equal status, sought to specify the part of behavior that should appropriately be molded by Jewishness, leaving the rest to other elements in each person’s overall identity. The most frequent position was that Jewishness was religion, defined narrowly as including some theological assertions, ethical injunctions, and ritual observances, none of which was thought (by most American Jews) to interfere with the larger society’s normative expectations regarding occupational, political, recreational, social, or even familial patterns of behavior. For other Jews, Jewishness was manifested in a special enjoyment of Hebrew and/or Yiddish literature. Still, others expressed Jewishness through philanthropic activity, giving their largest financial contributions to Jewish causes and devoting significant portions of their volunteer time to service in those causes. In another alternative, the focus of Jewish activity was participation in efforts to enhance intergroup amity and diminish prejudice and discrimination. Finally, there were Jews whose Jewishness found expression in their choice of other Jews as friends but whose activities with those friends had no particular Jewish content.
These five general approaches to the limitation of the scope of Jewishness were reflected in the organizations of American Jewry. Most Jewish organizations in the earlier part of the 20th century had closely defined purposes, and activity outside of an organization’s prescribed scope was usually discouraged. Moreover, while Jews could and did belong to organizations in more than one category of Jewish self-expression, most Jews tended to express themselves primarily in one or another mode.
Distinctiveness of Jewish Identity
The second fundamental change that the marginal generation made in Jewish identity concerned the extent to which Jewishness is distinctive. During virtually all of Jewish history, Jews were different from their non-Jewish neighbors in ideologically important and personally profound ways. American Jews in the early 20th century tried to convey the idea that being Jewish did not make them different from non-Jews in any significant way. There were several reasons for their effort. They wanted to reassure other Americans that the offer of equal status for the Jews was appropriate. More generally, the underlying ideology of intergroup relations activities during that period was that emphasis on the commonness of all humanity would encourage tolerance. It was believed that if people could accept that all human beings are fundamentally the same, then mutual respect and amity would grow. The basis of the approach was the combination of individualism and universalism that reached its apex at that time and which also found expression in a downplaying of other dimensions of identity such as race, ethnicity, and even family. (Now, the emphasis is on cultural differences and the need to recognize and respect them, but that approach began to gain strength only in the 1960s.)
In the context of the early 20th century, then, it is not surprising that American Jews tended to articulate a Jewishness whose differentiating impact was restricted to detail. Most Jews preferred to emphasize what they had in common with non-Jews and to insist that what they had in common mattered much more than what set them apart. It is hard to assess the extent to which they believed their own claim, but the fact that they made it had its impact.
The children of the marginal generation were effectively the first “post-Emancipation” generation, and their Jewish identity differed in a number of far-reaching ways from that of previous generations of Jews. First, while all identities have both individual and collective aspects, the relationship between those two aspects varies. Before Emancipation, a person’s Jewishness was derived from his/her being part of the Jewish people. “Jewish” was understood primarily as the designation of a group and a “Jew” was someone who belonged to that group. For American Jews of the mid-20th century, “Jewish” described an individual first. Its application to organizations and communities was derived from the Jewishness of its members. In America’s political ideology, Jewishness was the private business of individuals and of no official public relevance. Jewish organizations were understood as nothing more than voluntary associations of Jews who made them and could use them for whatever ends they wished. During this time, the phrase “Jewish people” was almost always used as the plural of Jewish person rather than to denote an entity with its own inherent meaning.
Jewishness in mid-20th century America was most often conceptualized as one role among the many roles that every person plays. A typical man would see himself in many roles – husband, father, son, brother, neighbor, friend, lawyer, golfer, Democrat, Jew, Chicogoan, tenant, investor, contributor, and so forth. Each role had its own institutionalized set of relationships, its own mandated behaviors, and, consequently, its own well-delineated sphere of relevance. Pre-Emancipation Jews also had multiple roles, of course, even though they were less likely to say it that way. The difference is that Jewishness cannot properly be viewed as one of their roles. It would be more correct to see it as the substance with which all role behaviors were specified and evaluated. Another way of saying the same thing is that, for most Jews, Jewishness was transformed from a diffuse characteristic into a very specific one.
Something can be of specific relevance yet still be very important. However, most post-emancipation American Jews not only restricted the scope of Jewishness; they also greatly diminished its power. For the typical pre-Emancipation Jew, the fact that s/he was Jewish took priority over virtually every competing claim to time, energy, or normative prescription. By contrast, most American Jews in the mid-20th century made Jewish self-expression fit into the time, energy, and options left by almost the entire range of other claims – occupational, educational, recreational, civic, and social.
The Jews growing up as a post-Emancipation generation heard from their parents that Jewishness did not make a Jew different in any major way. Young Jews learned that Judaism was one of the world’s great monotheistic religions, and if there was pride to be found in the fact that it was the first, that, after all, was a matter of history and of little consequence. In Will Herberg’s well-known formulation, a person could be a good American in any one of three ways, by being a Protestant, a Catholic, or a Jew. All were seen as acceptable variations on a common theme, and what mattered was the basic set of values and styles that constituted the American way of life, not the specific literature and symbolism with which the three religions were supposed to convey that way of life. In earlier periods, of course, Jewishness had made Jews different in many far-reaching and fundamental ways, as was fully recognized by Jews and non-Jews.
Because Jewishness was so narrowly restricted and made subordinate to external contexts of interpretation, most post-Emancipation Jews lost the kind of familiarity with Jewish behavior that people have with their own culture. It is probably a fair rule of thumb that the more internationalized an item of culture is, the fewer directions a person needs when performing it. Thus, the inability of post-Emancipation Jews to carry out Jewish acts without guidance says much about their level of estrangement from the content of Jewishness.
This description does not apply to all Jews in the mid-1900s. Some purposely assimilated altogether; others maintained Jewish identities that were far more comprehensive, primary, distinguishing, internalized, and rooted in Jewish peoplehood past and present. The vast middle group, however, molded a Jewish identity that, though generally positive, was not compelling. Although the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel certainly affected Jewish identity, they did not alter its basic structure of place in the lives of most American Jews.
The key point is that the kind of Jewish identity described here is not a barrier to intermarriage, nor is intermarriage incompatible with that kind of Jewish identity. America is an open society, and the American ethos places overwhelming importance on individual choice in most things. While some group-based hurdles to individual choice remain, marriage across religious and ethnic lines is not discouraged. Rather, even in a period that has for the last two or three decades seen an increasing emphasis placed on religion and on ethnic identity, interreligious and interethnic marriages are likely to be viewed as helping to demonstrate the compatibility of disparate traditions and the possibility of amity, even of love, across lines. Other factors encouraging intermarriage are improvement in the socioeconomic standing of Jews and increased acceptance of Jews as friends and potential marriage partners. As a result, most Jews have circles of colleagues, classmates, and friends that include non-Jewish peers. Inevitably, these relationships often lead to romance.
When subjective feelings of romance begin to grow between two people, they make judgments about whether their differences are numerous enough, large enough, or profound enough to be a barrier to marriage. If not, then the differences become the issues over which the compromises that are part of any marriage are worked out. Otherwise, one party or the other will end the relationship.
If Jewishness is seen to consist of some vague ideas about God’s existence and providence, a number of almost universally endorsed ethical principles, two or three holiday dinners a year, a Chanukah lamp in the house in December, brief attendance at synagogue services once or twice a year, the obligation to give some emphasis to Jewish causes among one’s charitable donations, a somewhat higher and more consistent level of political support for Israel than other pro-Israel Americans offer, a political stance generally in the “liberal” camp, and pride in the Jewish achievements of the past, then Jewishness is compatible with intermarriage. No loving non-Jewish spouse is likely to find these behaviors and attitudes objectionable, and none of them requires the kind of joint participation by a spouse that a non-Jew cannot easily and readily provide. If we add some Jewish art and artifacts to the decorations of the home, a few hours of Jewish education for one’s children for a few years, and some ceremonial recognition that those children are (at least “partly”) Jewish, which is how ritual circumcision and Bar and Bat Mitzvah are sometimes conceptualized, exogamy still need not be an impediment to continued Jewishness. It is possible for a Jew to be proud of his/her Jewishness, enjoy it, consider it “important,” and yet give it a form that is not pervasive enough and a content that is not distinguishing enough to interfere with a satisfying intermarriage. By contrast, when Jewishness orders one’s priorities, locates a person in history and society, provides basic goals and norms, furnishes the cultural material for the expression of “self,” and marks out life’s rhythm, then marriage to a non-Jewish spouse is inconceivable without either a total transformation of self or a severe narrowing of the normal marital relationship.
The intermarriage rate has risen as it has, not because Jews want to escape their Jewishness, but because they see intermarriage as quite compatible with their Jewishness. As Marshall Sklare explained, young Jews who marry non-Jews are likely to see themselves not as intermarrying but merely as marrying.
Responses to Intermarriage
In another sense, however, intermarriage is not that simple. Resistance is likely to arise from several quarters. Parents and other relatives, synagogues and rabbis, and Jewish communal institutions can all be expected to express some level of opposition to intermarriage. The desire to include Jewish elements in the wedding ceremony or to raise children as Jews can elicit concern from the non-Jewish partner and/or his/her family. The many compromises that need to be made can be harder to work out than was anticipated. Normally suppressed stereotypes and resentments can emerge. Perhaps most indicative of the current mood regarding exogamy is the appearance in the last decade of several books of advice on how to carry out a successful intermarriage. These books usually deal with the reactions of parents and other relatives, planning the wedding ceremony, raising the children, and ways of handling Jewish and Christian institutions. While some set forth the advantage of religious homogeneity and clarity in the home, others offer guidance on how to maintain active links to both traditions.
The responses of the organized Jewish community to intermarriage fall into two broad categories – opposition and outreach. As the 1990 CJF study shows, many Jews do not oppose intermarriage at all. Only 22% of the respondents who were born Jews and listed Judaism as their religion said that they would oppose the marriage of their child to a non-Jew. The corresponding statistic for secular Jews is 4%. Among those Jews who do oppose intermarriage, either in general or in specific cases when they arise, there are several positions about what form opposition should take. Some Jews, though decreasing in number, still break all relationships with relatives and friends who marry non-Jews. Others reduce their relationships with people in mixed marriages but do not sever them altogether. Yet others express opposition to intermarriage and try, with varying degrees of determination, to urge the Jewish partner to withdraw from the planned marriage or to bring about the conversion of the non-Jewish partner but accept the marriage once it is a fait accompli.
Most Jewish institutions take the position that intermarriage should be discouraged, but the intermarried should not be rejected. While that position has a tone that seems resonant with both Jewish principles and the ideology of individual choice and universal human concern, it is hard to specify what coherent attitudes or concrete behaviors it implies.
Just as opposition takes many forms, so does outreach, and the two modes of response are usually in interplay with each other. Sometimes the effort to bring the non-Jewish partner to convert is explicit. Sometimes it is offered as one option. A frequently expressed view is that, where conversion does not seem immediately likely, it is important to maintain linkage to and positive feelings about the Jewish community in the hope that conversion may eventually ensue and that, even if it does not, there will be more readiness to transmit some Jewish identity to the children and a positive feeling toward the Jewish community by the children. In general, the more liberal the religious movement, the greater its emphasis on outreach relative to the opposition as the proper response to intermarriage.
The religious movements deal with intermarriage and its consequences at four specific points. First, rabbis are often asked to officiate or co-officiate intermarriages. The Orthodox and Conservative rabbinates refuse to participate in intermarriages. The Reform movement officially leaves the decision about participating in intermarriages to its individual rabbis, who are divided on this issue. Many liberal rabbis who will not take part in intermarriages themselves will, nevertheless, counsel interreligious couples or refer them to colleagues willing to be available.
The second issue that arises concerns the status of the children of intermarriage and of converts. Orthodoxy, following halakhah, defines Jewishness as being acquired by being born to a Jewish mother or through conversion that meets the standards of traditional Jewish law. Since the Reform movement does not adhere to traditional Jewish law in conversion and Conservative rabbis are not uniformly careful in applying Jewish law, Orthodoxy generally does not accept conversions under non-Orthodox auspices. Those Conservative rabbis who do adhere to traditional law have similar problems with Reform conversions, but the Conservative movement’s emphasis on pluralism makes it harder for them to be publicly explicit on this matter. The Reform movement’s formal adoption of the principle of patrilineal descent, which it had practiced quietly for decades before declaring it officially, complicated the issue. By defining Jews differently from traditional Jewish law, it created a category of people who are Jewish by the standards of some Jews and not Jewish by the standards of others. Although there have long been such people, their number is growing, and the resolution on patrilineality made the controversy over their status and the potential difficulty of their situation more severe. The reform rabbinate decided that its action was justified, nonetheless, as a way to compensate for demographic decline by broadening the definition of Jewry and by extending a welcome and a sense of legitimacy to people who, it felt, would otherwise most likely be lost to the Jewish community. The traditional view is that, since those people are not Jews, they are lost in any case.
The third specific issue with which synagogues must deal is the participation of non-Jewish spouses in synagogue activities. Membership in synagogues is normally a family matter, and members can, of course, hold positions of leadership and play a number of roles in the ritual. Many intermarried Jews wish to join synagogues, and many synagogues, for outreach and other reasons, are willing, even eager, to welcome interreligious families. The consequence is that synagogues, especially but not only the more liberal ones, must make decisions about which roles can be played in leadership [and in ritual] by intermarried members and by their non-Jewish spouses.
Admission of children of intermarried couples to religious schools, especially when those children are not Jewish, also poses difficulties. Their parents may want to enroll them in order to make Jewishness an option or simply to give them some information about part of their family background. However, the curricular challenges of simultaneously teaching children from Jewish homes and from mixed homes are formidable.
Other organizations in the Jewish community must also delineate which roles, as participants and as leaders, can appropriately be played by intermarried Jews and, what is more difficult, by their non-Jewish spouses. Jewish organizations that cut across “movement” lines also have the problem that their members do not agree on which other members are Jewish.
Beyond the concerns about the status and roles of individual members, there is the issue of the program. It cannot be entirely comfortable for a Jewish organization to deliberate about and then adopt a program whose goal is to discourage intermarriage when a not insubstantial proportion of its members and leaders are themselves intermarried or have accepted intermarriage among their children.
There is controversy over the proper balance between opposition and outreach as responses to intermarriage. Advocates of opposition argue that efforts must be made to strengthen a more comprehensive, distinctive, and rewarding Jewish identity in Jews and that, in the meantime, Jewish institutions and organizations should unambiguously convey Judaism’s position that only that kind of identity in individuals and embodied in family life, is authentic and viable. Their acceptance of outreach is limited to attempts to bring non-Jewish spouses and prospective spouses to conversion. Advocates of outreach, by contrast, usually despair of changing the overall character of Jewish identity in America and predict that the intermarriage rate will not decline significantly as a result of any Jewish policy or program. Their approach to assuring Jewish continuity, therefore, rests on encouraging intermarried families to maintain positive links to the Jewish community and on increasing the number of people who are considered Jewish by expanding the lines of Jewish descent and broadening the criteria and methods by which people can be treated as Jews-by-choice. What balance between these two modes of response will ultimately be struck, and with what consequences, remains to be seen.
The frequency, determinants, and consequences of marriages between Jews and non-Jews have long been a central topic of social-scientific research and community debate. Many observers consider the recent trends in Jewish family formation with great concern and a leading factor in the quantitative and identificational erosion of the Jewish population. Others view the same trends as an opportunity for community growth and expansion. Both approaches may use sophisticated theories, concepts, and analyses, and interestingly, the same data. The main debate revolves around the paradigms of Jewish assimilation and erosion versus resilience and revival. The main trends call for examination in a broad comparative context, outlining the specifics of local situations.
From a long-term historical perspective, Jewish marriage patterns underwent different stages. During the early formative periods, the ancient Hebrew tribes were small and geographically mobile and may have frequently incorporated individuals from the proximate surrounding. With the codification of Jewish identification in late antiquity, Jewish society entered a long period of prevalent segregation – initially self-imposed and much later forcefully imposed by others. Contemporary studies of population genetics point to the overall similar origins of Jews from disparate continents and countries, thus testifying to very limited marital interaction between Jews and others throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period.
From the 19th century but especially since the second half of the 20th, Jewish society underwent transformations that completely revolutionized cultural identities and socioeconomic structures. International migration, extensive urbanization, occupational mobility, and secularization were some of the main agents of change, generally evolving from traditionalism to modernity and from segregation to openness, though counter-streams of the search for more traditional cultural and social behaviors also appeared occasionally.
The transition, among many, of Jewish identity from mainly religious to ethnic-national was one of the main consequences of social change in the context of the political emancipation of the Jews and general modernization. In the Europe of the 19th century, the quest for integration into general society led at least 200,000 Jews to opt out of Judaism into the prevalent Christian denominations. More recently, the rites de passage inherent in changing one’s own religious allegiance ceased to be a prerequisite for acceptance by the public at large, and moving out of Jewishness tended to become an expression of the freedom of choice in growingly individualistic societies.
Since 1948, the composition of world Jewry was crucially altered with the establishment of the state of Israel and the rapid growth of its large and densely interacting Jewish population, which constituted a majority of total society. In contrast, Diaspora communities typically comprised smaller Jewish minorities, well integrated into a non-Jewish societal context, and eventually shrinking. Historically and in contemporary times, the Israel and Diaspora contexts generated entirely different opportunities for Jewish community life and identity. The low frequency of out-marriage in Israel had a counterbalancing effect on the leading global trend to greater integration and assimilation among Jews and non-Jews. More recently, the increasing globalization of society created growing opportunities for interaction among different social and cultural groups, including Jews in Israel.
Determinants: Marriage and out-marriage in particular, reflect three basic factors, each widely varying over time and across individuals and sub-groups within the same Jewish community: (a) Desirability: the normative centrality of the act of marrying, and the choice of a partner from within or outside the group of origin. (b) Feasibility: the economic means and resources available to form a new family, and more specifically, an in-marriage or an out-marriage. (c) Availability of appropriate marital partners, where age, sex, and marital status composition determine the choice of relevant partners to choose from within and outside the group.
Terminology: Intermarriage is a broadly used term, but a number of distinctions should be kept in mind. Out-marriage refers to marrying someone who was born in a different group; conversionary out-marriage and conversionary in-marriage apply if the conversion happens out of or into the group studied. In case each partner keeps to his/her original group identity, mixed marriage applies. In more technical language, we speak of homogamy (sameness) versus heterogamy (otherness). Endogamy and exogamy, respectively, indicate the same concepts but in a normative, ideal rather than descriptive sense.
Sources: Retrospective information often stems from general sources such as population censuses and general surveys that were not designed specifically for the purpose of investigating out-marriage. Vital statistics provide information on current marriages. Specialized surveys may provide a richer array of variables on existing households. Each of these sources has advantages and disadvantages regarding representation, coverage, and depth of questioning. Sources tend to be different in each country when they exist at all.
Measurement: One should distinguish between individual versus couple measurements. If there are three Jews, two married among themselves, and one married a non-Jew, we have one individual Jewish among three that out-married (33%), and one Jewish couple out of two that is a mixed marriage (50%). These are both valid statistics, but they are often mistakenly mixed up. Another problem is that measurement may refer to all existing couples in a certain population, regardless of age, or only to the younger couples married in recent years. In the 20th century, since the trend to out-marry has been on the increase, later rates of out-marriage are significantly higher than the former. Finally, measurements may focus on the current or past marital status of people who were born Jewish or on those who are Jewish now, and the results may vary accordingly. This distinction was at the core of an intense discussion about the results and interpretation of the 1990 U.S. National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS).
At the beginning of the 20th century, rates of Jewish out-marriage were generally low or very low. In many countries with large Jewish communities, out-marriage still was nearly nonexistent, portraying nearly complete socio-cultural segregation between Jews and the majority of society. Few exceptions appeared in highly acculturated and veteran communities such as Italy, Germany, or the Netherlands, or even more so in distant and relatively isolated outposts with small Jewish populations such as Australia and New Zealand.
Over time, growing differentiation in the propensity to out-marry emerged across Jewish communities. Countries tend to concentrate at certain levels based on the respective histories and general levels of modernization, and different types of legal regimes in the respective countries allow or do not the opportunity for marriage across religious lines. A steady trend appears, outlining a move from lower to higher rates of out-marriage.
In 1930, most Jews in the world lived in countries where the rate of out-marriage was below 5% of individuals. These included most of the large communities in Eastern Europe, most communities in the Middle East and North Africa, including Palestine, but also large and modern communities in the United States, the U.K., Latin America, and South Africa. Jewish communities with an out-marriage rate between 5% and 15% included France and the other large communities in Eastern Europe, such as the Soviet Union. No community stood above an out-marriage rate of 35%.
In 2000, a majority of world Jewry lived in countries where the out-marriage rate was higher than the 35% threshold. Jews in Israel were virtually alone, still below a 5% out-marriage rate. Jews living in the Judea, Samaria, and Gaza territories were probably the only group with less than 1% out-marriage. The out-marriage rate of the main part of Israel within the pre-1967 “green line,” approaching 5%, reflected the presence and social absorption of new immigrants, mostly from the FSU lacking a formal Jewish status. Many of these actually performed their marriage ceremonies abroad. Mexico was the largest Diaspora Jewish community, with an out-marriage rate estimated at less than 15%. Communities in Australia, Canada, and Turkey had an out-marriage rate of 25% to 35%. A rather large share of world Jewry, including France, the U.K., and the main Latin American countries, experienced out-marriage rates between 35% and 45%. The Jewish community in the U.S., still the largest in the world, had moved to above 50%. Out-marriage rates for Jews in the European parts of the FSU were above 65%.
As a consequence of these trends, the worldwide average level out-marriage rate passed from 5% around 1930 to 31% around 2000. The same average computed for Jews in the Diaspora only, without Palestine/Israel, passed from 5% in 1930 to 48% in 2000. While this quite dramatic increase underscores the nearly irreversible trend toward social integration and acceptance of Jews among general society, it should be stressed that the rising share of Israel and the parallel shrinking of the Diaspora in the world Jewish population tends to reduce significantly the world out-marriage average.
Correlates, Determinants & Consequences
Societal models: At least in the past, ethnocentric and pluralistic societies coped quite differently with the issue of cultural and religious diversity, which in turn affected the amount of pressure to conform exerted on Jewish minorities. Out-marriage trends, in general, and within Jewish society, were significantly associated with these different types of societal configurations.
Jewish community models: Some of these are more central and more comprehensive, while some others are quite dispersed. The amount of participation of Jews in Jewish community life is usually different across countries. This may reflect certain general assumptions in society but also reflects the specificities of the history of particular Jewish communities.
Sameness and otherness: Out-marriage in terms of religion or ethnic identity is also associated with other elements of otherness among the partners. Heterogeneous couples in terms of Jewish identification tend also to be more different in terms of other aspects of their socio-demographic profile, such as education or age.
Gender: Women in the past had lower rates of out-marriage, due probably to the more limited set of opportunities they had – less education, less participation in the labor force, and a more limited and confined leisure life. However, through the emancipation of women and their achieving education and jobs, the differentials narrowed very significantly. By the 1980s-1990s, the gender gap was disappearing, and the previously lower out-marriage rates of Jewish women converged with the higher rates of men.
Age: The structure of the marriage market – that is, how many available mates there may be – may sometimes be unbalanced, to the point that people may be left with the alternative not to marry at all, or to out-marry. Out-marriage tends to occur at a later age than in the case of in-marriage.
Socioeconomic differentials: In the past, out-marriage was strongly related to upward social mobility and was more frequent among the better-educated, wealthier, and more socially mobile. More recent data suggest that, on the contrary, out-marriage seems to be related to lower education and lower social class – which indeed is quite infrequent among Jews. It is likely that the high cost of Jewish life causes some people to be marginalized vis-à-vis the opportunities for Jewish education, leisure, and culture. Those will consequently live mostly in a non-Jewish context.
Residence: The size and density of a Jewish community can be importantly correlated to marriage opportunities. The relationship of out-marriage to place of residence reflects both the cause and the consequence. Internet and distance connections may have an impact on these relations in the future.
Jewish identification: This is the most important predictor of in-versus out-marriage. We have good evidence that the Jewishness of the parental home is probably the most powerful factor, followed by the formal Jewish education received. Patterns of socialization that begin very early in life appear to have a crucial effect on subsequent patterns of affiliation, social networks, and the subsequent opportunities for marital choice.
Marital stability: Out-marriages are more unstable than in-marriages. The reasons may be complex. The couple’s assortment in re-marriages tends to be often of the opposite sign than in first marriages.
Acceptance: A circular relation emerges between frequencies of out-marriage and its social acceptance. Something that is more frequent is more acceptable, and something that is more acceptable becomes more frequent. Attitudes tend to be more open to intermarriage than actual behaviors.
Transmitted identity: Theoretically, if one-half of the children of out-marriages are affiliated with one side and one-half is affiliated with the other, there is no gain and no loss to either side. In reality, according to nearly all research evidence available, the Jewish side has received less than half of all the children of out-marriages. During the 1990s, less than 20% of the children of out-marriages were affiliated with the Jewish side both in the U.S. and in the Russian Republic. In the U.S., Canada, and other English-speaking countries, the mother is the dominant parent in transmitting a group identity to the children. If the mother is Jewish, the child tends to be Jewish, and if the mother is not Jewish, the child tends to be non-Jewish. This conforms to the Jewish halakhah. In other societies, such as Latin American or Southern, and Eastern European countries, where the father is the dominant parent in the allocation of the child’s public identity, children mostly follow the father’s identity.
Implications: Second and Third Generation. While the evidence is not massive, it points to a spectacular increase in the rate of out-marriage among the children of out-marriage, even if they have grown up as Jews. Possibly because of the model gauged from their parents, children may consider out-marriage a normal option. The children’s social networks, too, tend to be more open to people of different backgrounds. Out-marriage, in effect, becomes very high in the 2nd generation.
Collective consequences: Broader implications affect the Jewish collective beyond individual experiences. What out-marriage does to the Jewish people needs to be considered in terms of the major actors and processes such as Israel-Diaspora relations, consensus on core values, polarization among the Jewish polity, and even Jewish theology. Inasmuch as it is perceived as contradicting prevailing norms, besides its likely erosive effects on population size and composition, out-marriage is a factor of internal tension and stress. This is a fundamental question for Jewish policy making and one of the major challenges world Jewry faces at the beginning of the 21st century.
The Institute for Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) published a report in 2023 that found:
- The global prevalence of intermarriage is 26%, but there’s a huge distinction between the situation in Israel (5%) and the Diaspora (42%)
- Jewish populations with the lowest levels of intermarriage are those with the highest levels of traditionalism.
- In Europe and the USA, intermarriage is most prevalent among Jews identifying as secular or ‘Just Jewish’: nearly 70% of secular Jews in the USA and almost 50% in Europe are married to non-Jews.
- The impact of factors such as the availability of suitable Jewish partners is inferior to that of traditionalism when comparing intermarriage rates in different countries.
- There is no singular European pattern of intermarriage found across all countries. The highest (Poland) and lowest (Belgium) poles of intermarriage found in the Diaspora communities investigated are in Europe.
- American Jews, sometimes perceived as a community with high levels of intermarriage, actually occupy a place around the middle of the spectrum.
- The rising prevalence of intermarriage over time can be seen in the USA but is offset somewhat by the growing Haredi and Orthodox populations. Europe presents a more stable situation over time.
Perhaps the most important finding is that “intermarriage is less significant than fertility when considering Jewish population trends today.”
The study’s author concludes:
Due to the fertility rate of the Orthodox population compared to the non-Orthodox, the traditional community will likely become a greater percentage of the Jewish population. The Haredi population is growing by about 3.5% compared to 0.7% for the world Jewish population. Today the ultra-Orthodox comprise 14% of the total world population, and women have six to seven children compared to 1.6 per woman in Europe, 1.8 in the United States, and 3 in Israel. Haredi life expectancy is also 83 years for men and 86 for women compared to the non-Orthodox figures of 76 and 82. Based on these trends, the IJPR projected that by 2040, 23% of the world's Jewish population will be Orthodox.
Proportion of Adult Married Jewish with a non-Jewish Partner by Denomination, 2020s, %
Source: Institute for Jewish Policy Research (2023)
In Israel, the Ultra-Orthodox population is expected to grow from 13.5% of the total to 16% by the end of the 2020s. Other studies have projected the percentage to grow to 25 to 30% of all Israelis by 2065. This could have a profound impact on the society and politics of Israel.
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Judah Ari Gross, “Haredim are fastest-growing population, will be 16% of Israelis by decade’s end,” Times of Israel, (January 2, 2023).
Daniel Staetsky, “Intermarriage of Jews and non-Jews: the situation, the trends, and the meaning,” Institute for Jewish Policy Research, (March 2023).
Zvika Klein, “Which country has the highest rate of Jewish intermarriage in the world?” Jerusalem Post, (March 12, 2023).