Q: What’s the big deal with Jewish people about marrying “in the faith”? Furthermore, why does being born into a particular faith impose a duty to preserve the faith and traditions of the religion in which a person is raised? I was raised as a Methodist but feel no obligation to advance the mythologies on which Methodism is based. I’ve known Jews I could love without caring about their religion or ethnicity.
Being from the South, “interracial” marriage to me brings to mind unions between members of the Caucasian and black races. Are my perceptions incorrect? Within the Jewish community, is there not a sort of rejection of everyone who’s not Jewish that runs perfectly in tandem with the demand that Jews themselves not be rejected? I don’t get it.
– F., Beaufort, N.C.
A: Intermarriage is, indeed, a huge deal in the Jewish community, but not for the reasons that irritate you.
Judaism accepts all other religions and, in fact, rabbinic teachings from the last two millenniums assert, “The righteous of all peoples will inherit the World to Come.” The Talmud states: “A gentile who studies Torah is akin to a High Priest.”
Rabbis of the formative period of Judaism in the first two centuries of the Common Era even taught that the Torah contains certain Laws of Noah that contain the basic moral code applicable to non-Jews that qualifies them, like Jews, to inherit the precious beauty of eternal life for the soul with God. Judaism is completely committed to the spiritual equality of all people made in the image of God.
In Judaism, there’s nothing even remotely like the Christian teaching that “the only way to the Father is through me.” I hope that addresses your theological concerns.
The concern about intermarriage is sociological, not theological. The issue of intermarriage is really the most visible manifestation of the concern that the Jewish people might not continue to exist. Low birthrate among Jews (except for Orthodox); assimilation into secular culture; lack of synagogue membership or the practice of Jewish rituals in the home; the Holocaust, which saw the murder of a third of the Jewish people during World War II; and, yes, intermarriage have led to a demographic catastrophe in the Jewish world.
There were roughly 18 million Jews alive on planet Earth in 1933, when the world’s population was about 2 billion. In 1945, there were only about 12 million Jews still left alive.
Today, there are still only about 12 million Jews, but the world’s population is 7 billion!
So, not only has the Jewish population not increased by even a single Jewish soul in the last 70 years, but the percentage of Jews in the world has dropped precipitously to under 1 percent as the global population has almost tripled since World War II. By contrast, 1 in 3 people in the world is Christian.
The intermarriage statistics are also concerning. Well over half the marriages in America involving one Jewish person are marriages to a non-Jewish person. Only about a third of the children of such intermarriages are raised as Jews, and less than 10 percent of the grandchildren of intermarriages are raised as Jews.
Therefore, what looks to you like xenophobia and Jewish prejudice is, in fact, a deep terror in the hearts of every Jewish person aware of these numbers that Jews are not long for this world.
The tragic irony does not escape me that a 4,000-year-old religion and people who survived exile and persecution might not be able to survive tolerance and freedom. God promised Abraham, the first Jewish person, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the shores of the sea.
The way things look now, it’s a very small beach with very little sand, and I can’t see the stars through my tears.