Study: Conversion rate less than 20% for non-Jewish spouses

Converts' attitudes toward religion are passed down to their children, despite most intermarriages producing Jewish homes.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
April 10, 2006 22:36
1 minute read.
Study: Conversion rate less than 20% for non-Jewish spouses

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Fewer than one-fifth of gentiles who marry Jews convert, according to a new study by the American Jewish Committee. The research also noted that more than one-third of all Jews have intermarried, producing 1.5 million children in mixed-faith homes. Other research has shown that the current rate of intermarriage is about fifty percent. Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman of Brandeis University conducted interviews with intermarried couples in Boston and Atlanta. "When rabbis and Jewish communal professionals make conversion enough of a priority, it seems likely the levels of conversion will rise and, with them, the levels of Jewish connectedness," she concluded. She found that children of mixed marriages are still brought up in homes with identifiably Jewish characteristics, such as holiday celebration and Jewish education. But she also found that for those spouses who have doubts about their conversion - some 30% - that ambivalence is passed on to children who also have mixed feelings about the faith. Another 30% of converts end up being "activist Jews" and often are more committed to Jewish practice than many who are born Jewish, including deep identification with Jewish peoplehood and Israel. Fishman characterized the remaining 40% as "accommodating Jews" who resemble other moderately affiliated Jews. The American Jewish Committee, who sponsored the report, used its publication to urge spiritual and community leaders to promote conversion. "Well-intentioned rabbis who downplay conversion, out of fear of offending their congregants or undermining outreach efforts, may be actually discouraging a potential convert," said Steven Bayme, AJC's director of Contemporary Jewish Life. "Outreach advocates should keep their eyes on the prize - namely, the creation of unambiguously Jewish homes, in which children are raised exclusively as Jews." He concluded, "This goal is best secured through the conversion of the non-Jewish spouse."

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