Children of US intermarriages increasingly identify as Jewish

Pew study supports both sides of debate, researchers claim.

November 18, 2013 04:25
2 minute read.
A wedding (Illustrative photo)

A MASORTI wedding 311. (photo credit: Illustrative photo: Courtesy)


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NEW YORK – A recent study highlighting high levels of intermarriage among American Jews provides proof for arguments of both advocates and opponents of exogamy, two of its authors argued last week.

While intermarriage may be seen as “weakening the religious identity of Jews in America,” Greg Smith and Alan Cooperman of the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project wrote in an analysis of their study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” published last Tuesday, increasing numbers of offspring of mixed marriages are identifying as Jewish.

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Acknowledging that the children of marriages in which only one partner is Jewish are “much more likely” to describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, Smith and Cooperman noted that their survey suggested that “a rising percentage of the children of intermarriages are [identifying as] Jewish in adulthood.

“Among Americans age 65 and older who say they had one Jewish parent, 25% are Jewish today,” the researchers wrote, contrasting this figure to 59% for single-Jewish parent children under 30.

“In this sense, intermarriage may be transmitting Jewish identity to a growing number of Americans,” they asserted.

Despite the rise in self-identification, however, US Orthodox Jews, who maintain the lowest intermarriage rate at around 2%, may not consider many of the progeny of exogamous marriages Jewish, as traditional Jewish law determines religious status through matrilineal descent.

The Pew Report’s news that “intermarriage rates seem to have risen substantially over the last five decades” has lead to introspection among much of the North American Jewish establishment and was a central topic at last week’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Jerusalem.

“We’ve been studying the report in depth,” JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman told The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago. While nothing in the report was truly shocking, he added, it had “shaken up the GA.”

Speaking during a panel on the Pew report last week, Barry Shrage, president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies, said “the Pew study says that we are doing very badly on many things.”

However, Smith and Cooperman wrote, the trend toward intermarriage seems to have leveled off and have been “relatively stable since the mid-1990s.”

Overturning one widely held belief about intermarriage, the pair said that women are more likely to marry outside the tribe than their male counterparts.

“Among the married Jewish women surveyed, 47% say they have a non-Jewish spouse. Among the married Jewish men, 41% say they have a non-Jewish spouse,” they wrote.

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