Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Intermarriage is a big problem in the Jewish community, especially the non-Torah observant part. No one can deny this as statistics show more than 50% of Jews marry out nowadays (it's much higher when you remove the Orthodox component). For years, non-religious Jewish organizations have been scrambling to deal with this crisis but with one caveat: they will reject any solution that makes Judaism more authoritative in one's life. In other words, let's build up Jewish identity but without anything that can be seen as traditional Jewish behaviour, eg. kashrus, Shabbos, etc.

Having failed at that, these organizations now seem intent on reiinterpreting the numbers in such a way as to minimize the problem. For example, instead of seeing a greater than 50% intermarriage rate as a problem, we are now told, in an article from JTA, that the number has leveled off since the early 1990's. Yes, it's not that big a problem because it's not getting worse. Okay, that's one way of looking at it.

But the article goes further, looking at the percentage of children in intermarried homes who are raised Jewish. They note that the number of children raised with Jewish identity is far higher than might otherwise have been supposed. Yes, far from dropping all sense of Jewish identity, intermarried Jewish parents are maintaining their children's Jewish identity in increasing number.

Huh? You're marriage to a non-Jew, an arrangement that Torah law does not recognize as valid. You don't keep kosher, or Shabbos. You don't wear tefillin or attend shul except for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. And you're providing a Jewish environment for your kids, a sense of Jewish identity? Having taken all the specifically Jewish things out of one's life, how exactly does that happen? Let's see:

It comes down to what individuals believe will help them lead better, richer lives.
“When you’re a parent," Olitzky said, "you make decision on the basis of what’s good for you and your family, not what’s good for the Jewish community.”

Could there be a more un-Jewish statement? In Judaism, the community is the centre of one's life and all Jews relate to one another through that community. To state that everything is individual only proves the contention that these people, despite their proclivities for hamataschen and latkes, have no real sense of a valid Jewish identity.

Jewish organizations that wish to stem the tide of intermarriage must ultimately accept that only traditional Jewish observance will do that. Otherwise, they are wasting time and money justifying behaviour that has never been Jewishly acceptable. No poorly done surveys will ever change that.


Nishma said...

It really gets down to defining what we mean by "Jewish". Your definition clearly is not the definition of those intermarrying or those in the secular Jewish world that state that "Jewish" identity is still strong in the intermarried home. They don't want a traditional Jewish lifestyle because that is not what Jewishness means to them. What they want it their form of Jewishness and for it to continue. The problem is that this form of Jewishness does not have the lasting power to continue for it does not give the necessary meaning for it to continue through the generations.

It is time that we began to phrase the whole situation a bit differently. There are many different definitions of Jewishness out there and its time we started to recognize this reality. The fact is, though, that there are some definitions of Jewishness that have lasting power and some that do not. The argument for following Torah and mitzvot as per Orthodoxy cannot be that it is a form of Jewishness that will survive. Why should someone live this way just for Jewishness to survive? The argument why someone adopts this lifestyle is that it is the command of God. But people should still recognize, though, that one cannot have their cake and eat it to. You may wish to adopt another form of Jewishness that allows you to maintain some expression of Jewishness without infringing on the rest of your life. But that Jewishness generally does not survive. That is your choice. But the real issue is not figuring out how to get Jewishness to survive but why it is important for Jewishness to survive -- and that takes you back to the reason for being Jewish -- which in Orthodoxy takes you back to God.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Nishma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Golem said...

Was the child's mother Jewish? If not, the identity conversation is meaningless. The child is not Jewish, and we do not seek converts. Most of these people, however, sincerely believe they are Jewish or "part Jewish."

We have a problem.