Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Majority Of Jews Accept Intermarriage; Half Say It Is "Racist" To Oppose Such Marriages

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November-December 2000

Most American Jews accept marriage between Jews and non-Jews, a national survey by the American Jewish Committee has found.  

The New York Times (October 31, 2000) reports, "The results of the survey contrast with the positions held by most rabbis, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, who oppose interfaith marriage as being against Jewish tradition and a threat to the future of a distinct Jewish community. The issue has become increasingly important and controversial within many Jewish organizations as the numbers of such marriages has risen sharply in the last three decades. Some estimates suggest that as many as half of the marriages by Jews in recent years have been to non-Jews."  

In the survey, a majority of respondents said they did not oppose interfaith marriage. Forty percent said they were neutral about such unions, and 16 percent said they regarded interfaith marriage as "a positive good." Twelve percent said they strongly disapproved of interfaith marriages.  

In a further measure of opinions on the issue, 56 percent said they disagreed with the statement, "It would pain me if my child married a gentile," and 80 percent said they agreed that"intermarriage is inevitable in an open society." Fifty percent said it was "racist" to oppose marriages between Jews and non-Jews, while 47 percent disagreed.  

The questions were posed in the 2000 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. The American Jewish Committee undertakes the survey every year and this year decided to include questions about interfaith marriage. David Singer, director of research for the committee, said, "I think in the wake of widespread intermarriage, you see a shift in attitudes. The taboo is broken. The result is that you see a process of accommodation coming to the fore."  

The Times reports that, "Jewish opinion is not uniform on the subject, but shows a sharp division between Orthodox Jews...whose members are a small minority of the American Jewish population—and non-Orthodox. For example, 64 percent of Orthodox Jews surveyed said they strongly disapproved of interfaith marriages, as opposed to 15 percent of Conservative Jews, 3 percent of Reform Jews and 2 percent of those who identified themselves as `just Jewish.' Fewer than one in four respondents said a rabbi should refuse to officiate at such marriages, and more than 40 percent said a rabbi should officiate `even if a gentile clergyman is involved in the ceremony."'  

Egon Mayer, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York's Graduate Center and director of research for the Jewish Outreach Institute, called the survey results "stunning," particularly those about whether rabbis should officiate at interfaith marriages.  

He recalled that in 1990 the institute did a mail survey of 2,179 rabbis, synagogue presidents, Jewish agency officials and Jewish lay people, asking what they would do if they were a rabbi who had been asked to marry an interfaith couple. Sixty-two percent said they would not officiate.  

Asked about the findings, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which represents 902 Reform temples, said: "Like it or not, intermarriage is a reality in our society. We need to stop the hand-wringing. We have to work very hard to reach out to couples who intermarry. They need not distance themselves from the Jewish community."  

The American Jewish Committee's David Singer declares: "If you look at the data in realistic terms, those people who see mixed marriages as a threat to Jewish continuity and want to maintain the traditional battle against intermarriage, clearly have an uphill fight."

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.