March 13, 2008
Intermarriage reports urge understanding and openness
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Titled "Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys in the United States," it was not a random study -- the respondents already were involved in Jewish or interfaith organizations from which researchers obtained their call lists. So with the Jewish partners having more Jewish background than the national samples used in other studies, the quantitative findings may not be widely applicable.
Still, researchers say it could prove useful to Jewish institutions and communal leaders seeking ways to engage the most Jewishly interested intermarried families in their midst, a good target audience in any case. The researchers plan to follow these families for years to see how their Jewish behaviors evolve.
Couples said their interest in Jewish participation was stymied in some cases by a less-than-welcoming community and the fact that a rabbi would not perform their wedding ceremony.
At a time when the Reform movement in particular is deeply divided between those rabbis and cantors who perform intermarriages and those who do not, the study found a statistically significant correlation between intermarriages performed by Jewish clergy and the later involvement of the couples in Jewish life.
It marked the first such study to do so explicitly, say researchers who worked on this and the other two studies.
The study found that 87 percent of those intermarried couples who were married by Jewish clergy later raised their children as "Jewish only," compared to 63 percent of the couples married by co-officiants, non-Jewish clergy or in secular ceremonies.
Also, 50 percent said it was very important that their grandchildren be Jewish, compared to 18 percent of the second group.
Even more striking is the correlation between rabbinic officiation and later avoidance of Christian behaviors.
Just 2 percent of those married only by a rabbi now belong to a church, compared to 26 percent of those married in other ways; just 2 percent of the first group attend church on Easter Sunday, compared to 21 percent of the second group; and 46 percent of the first group put up a Christmas tree, vs. 65 percent of the latter group.
The researchers were quick to explain that the study is not suggesting that rabbinic officiation itself has any influence on a couple's future behavior.
"The findings do not indicate causality," Dashefsky cautioned.
Rather, he stresses, it is "a marker on a pathway, on a couple's Jewish journey. These people were looking to involve themselves in Jewish life; this is part of the whole package."
That is not how the couples themselves saw it, however.
Among those couples in which a rabbi refused to perform their intermarriage, one-third -- 30 percent of the Jews and 36 percent of the non-Jewish spouses -- claimed that the refusal distanced them from any form of institutionalized Judaism. Conversely, nearly half (46 percent) of Jewish spouses who were married by a rabbi claimed that rabbinic participation in their wedding ceremony "had some influence" on their lives.
These results were only obtained in cases when a rabbi was the sole officiant, not when a rabbi co-officiated with non-Jewish clergy.
Researchers say an interfaith couple that opts to have only Jewish clergy officiate at their wedding ceremony indicates a level of interest in and commitment to Judaism that does not pertain when a rabbi and a minister officiate together.
"It's a symbol of the direction this couple wants to go," Dashefsky said.
As in the other two intermarriage studies, the Hebrew College study found that even the most Jewishly engaged intermarried families are more prone to do things that inmarried Jewish families "don't feel comfortable with," Dashefsky said, like put up a Christmas tree.
That should not be seen as making them less Jewish.
"It doesn't stop them from fasting on Yom Kippur, lighting Chanukah candles or joining synagogues," he said.
The challenge is for Jewish institutions and leaders to approach such families in a more nuanced, less all-or-nothing fashion, he said, allowing them to move at their own pace toward, or away from, greater Jewish engagement.
"I hope our study opens a discussion about how the organized Jewish community should think about engaging people who are not following all the norms of Jewish life," Dashefsky said. "Guess what? Most Jews don't follow all the norms of Jewish life."
For more information, visit "It's Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah": http://www.brandeis.edu/ssri;
2005 Greater Boston Community Study of Intermarried Families and Their Children: http://www.cjp.org/communitystudy
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