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

American Jewish Committee Launches Controversial Campaign Against Intermarriage

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 2001

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has launched a campaign to oppose religious intermarriage and has convened a group of rabbis, scholars and Jewish community leaders to discuss what can be done to change increasingly tolerant Jewish attitudes. This action was precipitated by the results of a recent AJC survey, which found about fifty percent of those polled agreed with the statement "it is racist to oppose Jewish-gentile marriages" and the same number said rabbis should co-officiate with non-Jewish clergy at such marriages.  

Stephen Bayme, director of the AJC's contemporary Jewish life department, says he was stunned at how "benignly" Jews had accepted co-officiation, which he said indicated a "collapse of norms in the Jewish community." His goal, he declared, is "to guide the climate of opinion" on the importance of marrying within the Jewish faith.  

A study done by Steven N. Cohen, associate professor at the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Arnold Eisen, professor of religious studies at Stanford University, found that among moderately affiliated American Jews, "virtually none of our respondents articulated an unambiguous commitment to endogamy."  

Tracy Salkowitz, a former Jewish communal worker, including six years with the AJC, wrote an article asking, "Is Shouting `Marry a Jew?' Most Effective?" (Washington Jewish Week, March 22, 2001). She writes: "The AJC announcement took me back almost 20 years, when as a new Jewish communal worker I heard, `We should be campaigning against intermarriage,' to which I replied, `What should we do, hang out on street corners with signs reading `Marry a Jew today!'...We can't force people to do things...When rabbis won't officiate at interfaith ceremonies, not only do we lose the Jewish member of the couple, we lose their children and even the hope of the non-Jewish spouse deciding to convert. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but has anyone ever decided not to marry because they couldn't find a rabbi to marry them? I think not...I think we just alienate them and their families."  

Petter H. Schweitzer, a longtime AJC supporter and the great-grandson of its early leader, Louis Marshall, wrote in The Forward (March 30, 2001) that he was "pained" by the AJC campaign against intermarriage: "The AJC has expressed great disregard for the majority of its members who have shown their responsible tolerance of intermarriage. By launching its `Jews should marry Jews' drive, the leaders of AJC have ignored the voice of its membership and, moreover, have missed an opportunity to reach out to intermarried couples, who, in effect, they condemn instead...Louis Marshall defended and championed the rights of all minorities...It is time to show the same respect and tolerance to those Jews who intermarry, including some of Marshall's own descendants."  

Mr. Schweitzer concludes: "Intermarriage is not a curse. It can be a wonderful thing for many people and their families. In the congregation to which I belong, we do not shun these families or make them pass any litmus tests. Rather, we greet them with open arms...For us, the higher value is inclusiveness and respect, not chauvinism and bigotry."

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