From Ha’aretz. Is it surprising, encouraging, or sad?
It is much more complicated than what the headline says, but the new study says this: Most intermarried families in Boston raise Jewish children. In many ways, but not all ways, those families practice Judaism similarly to inmarried Reform Jews.
Jewish ritual practices, inmarried families with Jewish children are generally as observant as intermarried Jewish families, especially Reform families, concluded a new study, focusing on intermarried families in Boston. This study follows the 2005 Boston Community Survey: Preliminary Findings, a report prepared by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute of Brandeis University for Combined Jewish Philanthropies. I wrote about this preliminary study ? the attention-grabbing headline was that 60 percent of the children born to intermarried families in the Boston area are being raised Jewish, the higher percentage in the country – in the first part of The Changing Face of American Judaism series.
Here is the paragraph ending the feature I wrote last fall:
The opposing sides invoke floods of studies and data to prove their arguments. One side looks at the statistics and moans “gevalt;” the other side sees the same figures as an opportunity to win over these couples’ hearts and minds.
One way or another, a great experiment has started – perhaps the most daring in Jewish history. Communities like Boston declared years ago that they want to draw mixed couples closer. Others, slowly but surely, are joining in, forever changing the face of American Jewry.
And now comes this second report and validates many of the optimistic comments made back then by the members of the Boston team (Katherine N. Gan and Christopher Winship of Harvard University worked on this study). Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, concluded then as he has now that “creating an inclusive community of meaning and purpose attracts intermarried families and strengthens Jewish life.”
In other words: Giving up on the intermarried, as some have suggested in the past does not seem the right option. Not in light of this study. “In a time of choice”, the study says, “participation for all Jews, whether single, inmarried or intermarried, depends on how compelling and accessible the opportunities are.”
And now, let’s delve deeper into the numbers in this new study:
In some traditional Jewish ritual practices, “intermarried families with Jewish children are generally as observant as inmarried Jewish families, especially Reform families”, the study states. This is how this study was done: four types of families were compared: Intermarried with Jewish children, inmarried Reform, inmarried Conservative, intermarried non-Jewish children.
And in these instances the intermarried families practice similarly to the inmarried Reform:
Lighting Shabbat and Chanukah candles; keeping kosher (both groups around 20 percent; celebrating Bar/Bat Mitzvah (68 percent intermarried, 70 percent Reform); feeling comfortable in the synagogue; and feeling that supporting Israel is central to their faith (the intermarried are stronger on this one than the reform, and closer to the Conservative).
Interestingly, when it comes to attitude the intermarried tend to feel even stronger that celebrating holy days is central to their Judaism.
However, this is just the full-half of the glass, because the study also describes many “differences in behavior.”
Take for example the Brit Milah (Circumcision) ceremony (or naming ceremony for girls): 50 percent for intermarried with Jewish children practice this ceremony compared to a much higher rate among inmarried Reform (86 percent) and Conservative (92 percent) families.
And how about attending a Passover Seder? The inmarried Conservative and Reform are close to 100 percent in practicing a Seder always or usually. The intermarried much less: 65-67 percent, with 34 percent practicing “some of the time.”
Significantly (and not very surprising): “The differences in Seder participation” disappears “when considering synagogue members only.” Meaning: get them to join a synagogue and they will practice. However, intermarried tend to join synagogues later in life than inmarried and fewer belong to Jewish institutions other than a synagogue (5 percent belong to a JCC compared to 21 percent Reform and 34 percent Conservative). The percentage of Jewish teens in intermarried families who continue their formal Jewish education after Bar/Bat Mitzvah is smaller.
And also: Even while saying that they feel a connection to Israel is important, the chance that they will travel to Israel is slim (1 percent compared to 15 percent Reform, 24 percent conservative.)
Is the Bar/Bat Mitzva the ultimate test, or the fact that most intermarried families (82 percent of those raising Jewish children) sometimes or always have Christmas trees in their homes?
What Shrage does in the forward he wrote for this study in to ignore this question, while recognizing the “more nuanced” identity of the intermarried. And I think his logic is quite clear: if intermarriage is an unstoppable fact of American Jewish life, there is no point in emphasizing the difference and looking at reasons for despair. The authors of this study are clearly in the camp of let’s-fight-for-every-family. And the point they are making here is also clear: results will be coming.
In one very important way, the whole concept of “intermarried families” is misleading. A different definition should be applied to the intermarried men and the intermarried women – as previous studies showed, but also this one: “Jewish women who intermarry are much more likely to raise their children as Jews (82 percent) than Jewish men who intermarry (32 percent).”
And in practice: There’s no need to keep telling your daughters to find a nice Jewish boy, because their children will most likely be Jewish anyhow. Just focus on the boys.