The Kiruv world has mekareved significant numbers of people. Yet, not only have we not acted to reduce the intermarriage rate; we have not even managed to stabilize it. In part, this is because our vision has been too limited and our goals (for many of us) have been elsewhere (facilitating Shomrei Shabbos Jews). Yet, we ought to at least take a look at what a plan to reverse the assimilation rate might look like.
I have never seen such a plan.
We cannot prevent intermarriages with negative information: Intermarried couples have lower rates of marital satisfaction than inmarried couples; the children of interfaith couples also tend to grow up to be less religious than inmarried couples. For intermarrying couples told this information invariably feel that they will be the exceptions to this. Nor are we giving them anything more valuable than their potential spouse in return.
Intermarriage is a result – often of a process. What are its causes? The presumption is that people are so far away from Yiddishkeit that they don’t care about marrying Jewish. But the reasons are far more complex than that.
Most Jews who intermarry say:
- They would have preferred to marry a Jew, but they didn’t find the right one. Some say that they looked for many years.
- They intend to run a Jewish home (not necessarily an exclusively Jewish home), which includes some celebration of Shabbat, the festivals and a Jewish education (Sunday school) for their children.
- Their non-Jewish spouses support their position on this and are often the ones who are more interested in Judaism.
Why is Jewish intermarriage the highest among all US faiths?
Intermarriage has become increasingly common in the United States among all religions – but among Jews it occurs at the highest rate. There are many reasons for this:
- The older people get, the more likely they are to intermarry — and Jews tend to marry older than Americans generally. (By the same token, Mormons, who encourage early nuptials, are the least likely faith to outmarry.) The obvious solution to this would be to encourage Jews to marry at a younger age. I haven’t seen any attempt to do this.
- Americans like Jews, at least the ones who are most likely to marry Jews. (Yes, there is an increase in anti-Semitism, but this is coming predominantly from a sector of the population that does not intermarry with Jews.)
- Some non-Jewish Americans are looking for Jewish mates, though most say they were not exclusively seeking Jews. Approximately 5 percent of JDate are non-Jewish. Jewish men are seen to be very smart, successful, gentlemanly and less sexist. They are seen as a safer choice. Jewish women are seen as more grounded and a lot more passionate than non-Jewish women.
- On the Jewish side, an increasing number will say that they care about intermarriage, but it is lower on their list of priorities than love, character, and numerous other traits.
- There are also an increasing number of Jews who feel so not Jewish that they won’t even call themselves Jewish. Currently, the global number expected to give up Judaism, i.e. to state that they are no longer Jews, runs at around 20,000 per annum, mainly in the States. (By contrast, half that number are expected to convert to Judaism.)
The Beginnings of a To Do List
- Change the Model: The argument from traditional Kiruv reads like this: These people intermarry because they don’t care to be Jewish. The only way to change that is by introducing them to Torah, Shabbos, and traditional Kiruv elements. Indeed, guilt-trips don’t work, because we still haven’t told them why – what the value is – in being Jewish.
The problem with this is that the current Kiruv model rarely attracts this group. Moreover, the two fastest growing groups in America are the Orthodox and the unaffiliated. And this has led the Kiruv movement to say that Kiruv has simply gotten harder with less low hanging fruit and most Jews out of reach.
But how could we know that this is true if we have been using the same model for at least 20 years, and, during that time, we have a radically new generation (Millennials, and now Gen Z) who require a totally new approach? The Conservative Movement is collapsing; Reform will see this happening within the decade. We had better understand how to mekarev the unaffiliateds and the intermarrieds (or intermarryings), or find something else to do with our lives.
In a previous blog, The Future of Community Building, I identified some of the elements that a new model of just one area of Kiruv should look like. I intend to address different aspects of our need to update our Kiruv over time.
- Change of Environment: The vast majority of those who broke up with their non-Jewish boy/girl-friends was while they were on an Israel/Poland trip. Away from their partner and surrounded by an uplifting Jewish environment, they often realize on their own accord that this is the right thing to do.
So, here is a radical suggestion: Target specifically those who are going out with non-Jews for Israel and Poland trips.
- Those already Intermarried: There are two possibilities in dealing with an intermarried couple: a. Counsel divorce. b. Mekarev the non-Jew to Geirus and the Jewish spouse to Shemiras Hamitzvos. The former is impractical. That leaves the Kiruv option. Non-Jewish partners are often easier to engage than their Jewish spouses. (In fact, one non-Orthodox group reported, “An explosion in the popularity of Shabbat dinners among non-Jewish attendees.”)
- Change the Message: We need to show intermarrieds that we recognize that they did not intend to reject their Judaism by intermarrying.
- Involve Dedicated Resources: Increase dialogue with people like Rabbi Doron Kornbluth who have looked closely at this issue.
 Rabbi Naftali Schiff does have credible figures to show that Aish England reduced the intermarriage rate in that country (over a ten-year period?) by 2%. Still, the intermarriage rate increased in England during that period.
 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey
 Robert Putnam and David Campbell, who measured the popularity of various religious groups with extensive surveys for their 2010 book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.”
 According to JDate spokeswoman Arielle Schechtman
 Naomi Schaefer Riley: “’Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America,” (Oxford University Press).
 Pew study, 2018
 Rav Moshe Shapiro ZATZL and Yibodel LeChaim, Rav Asher Weiss.
Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on OlamiResources.com: Series on Kiruv and Chinuch, Commentary on Chumash and Yom Tovim, The Laws of Outreach, as well as contributing articles.