70% of secular Jews in the US, 50% in Europe married to non-Jews

The issue of intermarriage, viewed as a complex reality of Jewish life, prompts questions about how communities should treat the resulting children.

 There is less holding a second marriage together (Illustrative photo of a wedding). (photo credit: Shardayyy Photography/Unsplash)
There is less holding a second marriage together (Illustrative photo of a wedding).
(photo credit: Shardayyy Photography/Unsplash)

A dramatic new report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) has delved into the world of Jewish intermarriage rates, shedding light on a key concern among Jewish leaders and policymakers worldwide. The report, titled "Intermarriage of Jews and non-Jews: the global situation and its meaning," examines intermarriage prevalence across countries covering over 95% of the global Jewish population. Moreover, it contextualizes the data with Jewish fertility rates to gauge the threat of intermarriage to Jewish community sustainability around the globe.

Dr. Daniel Staetsky, Senior Research Fellow and Director of JPR's European Demography Unit, authored the comprehensive report, bringing to the forefront some compelling insights about intermarriage in Jewish communities. Among the key findings are:

1. Global intermarriage prevalence: The report reveals that the overall prevalence of intermarriage stands at 26% worldwide. However, a stark distinction emerges between Israel, where intermarriage is relatively low at 5%, and the Jewish Diaspora, where it reaches 42%.

2. Impact of traditionalism: The report establishes that Jewish populations with the lowest intermarriage levels exhibit the highest levels of traditionalism. Religiosity and strong connections to Jewish heritage seem to serve as powerful deterrents to intermarriage.

3. Intermarriage in Europe and the US: Secular or 'Just Jewish' Jews in Europe and the US show the highest prevalence of intermarriage. Nearly 70% of secular Jews in the US and almost 50% in Europe are married to non-Jews.

 Wedding (Illustrative). (credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Wedding (Illustrative). (credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)

4. Factors influencing intermarriage: The report suggests that factors like the availability of suitable Jewish partners play a relatively smaller role compared to traditionalism when comparing intermarriage rates across different countries.

5. Diverse patterns in Europe: Contrary to a single European pattern, the report reveals that the highest (Poland) and lowest (Belgium) intermarriage rates among Diaspora communities are found in Europe.

6. American Jews and intermarriage: Although often associated with high intermarriage rates, American Jews actually occupy a middle position in the global spectrum of intermarriage prevalence.

7. Interplay of intermarriage and fertility: While intermarriage rates have increased over time in the US, the report observes that this trend is somewhat offset by the growing Haredi and Orthodox populations. In Europe, the situation appears more stable over time.

8. Fertility: The report highlights that the impact of intermarriage on Jewish population trends today is overshadowed by the significance of fertility rates. Low fertility is a major concern for Jewish communities in the Diaspora, while Israel remains an exception with relatively high fertility rates.

Understanding demographic processes and trends in community development 

Dr. Jonathan Boyd, JPR's Executive Director, emphasized the importance of this report's findings: "Understanding demographic processes and trends is an essential component of community development work, and is all-too-often overlooked when planning for our shared future."

The report paints a nuanced picture of intermarriage, indicating that it is not a monolithic phenomenon. Instead, it varies significantly across regions and is strongly influenced by traditionalism and religiosity within Jewish communities. While intermarriage is often perceived as a potential threat to the sustainability of Jewish communities, the report highlights that low fertility rates represent a more pressing challenge.

By placing intermarriage in the context of fertility, the report calls for a more comprehensive approach to address demographic concerns. Policymakers and community leaders are urged to consider the impact of both intermarriage and fertility rates when devising strategies for community development and engagement.

For Jewish communities, the report's findings serve as reference material for critical policy discussions. The issue of intermarriage, viewed as a complex reality of Jewish life, prompts questions about how communities should treat the consequences of intermarriage, including incorporating the offspring and spouses of intermarried Jews into communal activities.

Moreover, a policy scenario emphasizing the revival of traditionalism and increasing the volume of traditional practices warrants exploration. Jewish communities can look to the example of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities, which foster in-marriage through international matchmaking and migration, and consider how such methods can be adapted to enhance the availability of Jewish partners.

Additionally, fostering inclusivity and exploring the role of Jewish institutions in supporting and encouraging fertility in the Diaspora are essential components of community development. Acknowledging demographic realities and trends is crucial for ensuring a vibrant and sustainable Jewish future.