Intermarriage tends to divorce young American Jews from Israel

Intermarriage in the news:

This morning on NPR, anthropologist Leo Chavez, author of a book on the Latino “threat,” spoke of the virtues of intermarriage for Latinos. He said that white Americans should not be afraid of Latinos because they intermarry in the 2nd or 3rd generation and are even willing to throw off their Catholic faith after another generation or so. So Latinos don’t live outside historical forces, he said, as some whites seem to fear.

I found it interesting that an anthropologist was praising intermarriage and assimilation, in the Hispanic context. I can’t remember NPR ever offering a platform for a Jew making such assertions.

Last week at J Street, sociologist Steven M. Cohen said that intermarriage plays a significant factor in the alienation of young American Jews from Israel.

What Ari Kelman and I found in our research is that, there is an overall decline in attachment to Israel among younger people (and it’s not just younger, it’s middle aged versus older [Jews]) and that all of the decline statistically can be traced to the increasing number of people who are Jewish and the children of non-Jewish parents or who are Jewish and are married to non-Jews. If you remove those people from the analysis [leaving single Jews whose parents are Jewish and married Jews whose spouses are Jews] it turns out that attachment to Israel is quite stable if not actually increasing.

Cohen said that intermarried Jews actually hang on to a lot of Jewish life, seder attendance, synagogue attendance, and faith, but that “Israel and ethnic aspects of being Jewish” have no counterpart in Christianity– they don’t “make sense to Americans,” and so intermarriage has a “quite profound” effect on intermarried Jews’ attitudes toward Israel.

Like me. When I was getting into these issues, I was heavily influenced by the fact that my Christian mother-in-law, whose ancestors were against slavery, smuggled sheets into a Bethlehem hospital in the occupied West Bank. My Christian mother-in-law helped me overcome the resistance in my own family and community to seeing Palestinians as fellow human beings. 

And meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg, who married another Jew, is a zealot about supporting a militaristic state.

I have seen this pattern among many Jews who are involved in Palestinian solidarity; many of them are intermarried. 

Let me be clear, marriage is hard enough without some authority figure telling you who you should be married to or not married to; I think people should marry whoever they want, it’s none of my business– and Jews who want to marry Jews, great, and the same for Jews who want to marry out. Yet I must admit that I see some virtues in intermarriage in turning Jews to the outside world and making them more sensitive to universalist values. Though here too I would emphasize that many Jews who are married to Jews have also reached that awareness, against greater obstacles than the ones I’ve had to overcome.

Finally, despite all the hysteria about intermarriage, I don’t see intermarriage as nearly the threat to Jewish life and “continuity” that Israel-bondage is. In some ways, the intermarried are making the Jewish brand better.

About Philip Weiss

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Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 42 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. eee says:

    Intermarriage is neither good nor bad, it is a fact that has to be accepted in an open society like the US. Another fact that has to be accepted is that intermarriage lowers significantly the chance that the offspring of the intermarriage will self identify as Jews or will be associated with Jewish institutions. That is not good or bad either, just a fact to be reckoned with.

    • Mooser says:

      Gosh, “eee”, that’s like, so generous of you. I am sure millions of intermarried couples will breath a concerted sigh of relief. But now for the big question! Do you think they should have children? Remember, the happiness of mil;lions depends on your answer!

      And BTW, what the hell does a self professed “atheist-Jew” (which as far as I can see, translates to “a wanna-be-Israeli-thug” but YMMV) care if the offsprings of the misalliances will “identify as Jews” (gosh, the racial indicators aren’t clear enough?) or “will be associated with Jewish institutions”?

      • eee says:


        Israel is where the future of Judaism is. Get used to it. You are howling at the moon and think you are making any progress. Reality is reality. Judaism and Israel are one and the same for all practical purposes. Judaism has no future without Israel. And that is just a fact you will have to get used to.

        • Philip Weiss says:

          you seem to be howling eee

        • annie says:

          Judaism and Israel are one and the same

          i’m sorry you think that eee.

        • eee says:


          It is clear that in a few years, the majority of Jews in the world will be living in Israel. That is a undeniable fact. And in two generations, 80%+ of Jews will be living in Israel. So what are you going to do about it? For all practical purposes, Judaism and Israel are one and the same. There is nothing to be sorry about, it is just a fact of life.

        • eee says:

          If pointing out irrefutable facts is “howling” so be it.

        • Philip Weiss says:

          i just sense some stridency and desperation

        • eee says:

          Well, you are sensing wrong. Each day Israel is growing stronger. The numbers do not lie. Nay sayers such as you have been around for the last 100 years and Zionism has proved them wrong again and again. So keep howling at the moon.

        • andrew r says:

          I love how you talk as if you’ve got some noble endeavor holding out against all opposition. Zionism will only last so long as it doesn’t run out of menial workers to exploit and has the guts to massacre civilians.

        • eee says:

          Yes, Zionism is a noble endeavor. What “menial workers” are you talking about? You mean the 5 million Zionists in Israel? And of course will will not survive if we don’t defend ourselves, what you call to “massacre civilians”. Take the blinkers off your eyes. What Israel has achieved in 62 years is a miracle especially in our neighborhood.

        • fuster says:

          it’s probably just that you had radishes.

        • annie says:

          It is clear that in a few years, the majority of Jews in the world will be living in Israel. That is a undeniable fact. And in two generations, 80%+ of Jews will be living in Israel.

          where do you get these statistics?

        • Potsherd2 says:

          eee gets those statistics by deciding that Jews outside Israel aren’t really Jews.

        • andrew r says:

          What exactly have you achieved? A capitalist nation-state? It’s been done hundreds of times over. Most states are capitalist, hard-pressed to name any that aren’t. You’ve really achieved mediocrity.

        • eee says:

          “You’ve really achieved mediocrity.”

          Gaining access to the OECD is not mediocrity. Having a university in the top 100 in the world is not mediocrity. Being a leading technological innovator is not mediocrity. Being one of the world leaders in publications per capita is not mediocrity. All this while having to devote a large percentage of GDP to defense. Just compare us to any of our neighbors.

        • Avi says:


          With attitudes like yours, you’re going to be scaring away, alienating and repelling non-Israeli Jews. But, keep pandering, no skin off my back.

        • andrew r says:

          That’s exactly what I’m talking about. All those accomplishments are for a select few people. You haven’t mentioned that 1/3 of Israeli Holocaust survivors have to get in line for food.

          link to

          Or, “In 2009, there were 435,100 families living below the poverty line, with 850,300 children among them, an increase from the 783,600 children living below the poverty line in 2008. ”
          link to

          So it’s just snake oil that Israeli Jews are doing just fine off the backs of Palestinians. Zionism is institutionalized inequality. Israeli Jews aren’t spared that mechanism, even if they aren’t regularly bombed from the sky.

        • Shingo says:

          It sounds more like panick Phil.

        • Shingo says:

          Gaining access to the OECD is not mediocrity. Having a university in the top 100 in the world is not mediocrity. Being a leading technological innovator is not mediocrity. Being one of the world leaders in publications per capita is not mediocrity.

          And all of that is going to be lost as Israel becomes the land of the Jewish Taliban.

        • pjdude says:

          Israel and judiasm are not one and the same. pushing such a view hurts jews every where by making them responsible for Israel’s crimes.

        • pjdude says:

          the theft of another people’s property and rights is a noble endeavor? that kind of messed up. there is nothing good about zionism because there is nothing good with war crimes

    • Sumud says:

      Another fact that has to be accepted is that intermarriage lowers significantly the chance that the offspring of the intermarriage will self identify as Jews or will be associated with Jewish institutions.

      Perhaps if Israel were a little – correction: a lot – less evil and/or stopped conflating judaism (a religion) and zionism (a land grab), then the children of one or more jewish parents might not be so turned off judaism.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Phil/all Cokie Roberts and her husband were on Morning Joe yesterday talking about their latest book their Catholic/Jewish marriage of I believe 45 years. How they dealt etc. Cokie said there was far more resistance to the marriage coming from the Jewish side

  3. Mooser says:

    In my own case, the fact that the maternal great-great grandmother of my wife’s family left Germany for America after being impregnated by an itinerant Jewish peddlar eased things considerably, once this repressed memory was excavated.
    Of course, any time one marries someone from a different species there can be problems. But it’s only recently, with the change in marriage laws that the more sensible and safer course is becoming open to all. Me, I’ll just keep on sleeping with one eye open, and try to learn to duck.

  4. Mooser says:

    “Let me be clear, marriage is hard enough without some authority figure telling you who you should be married to or not married to…”

    Exactly! That’s my mother-in-law’s job!

  5. annie says:

    author of a book on the Latino “threat,”

    hahahalolo..ok..i only got that far and i cracked up. i can’t help it. where do these people come from?

    sorry for the OT. i will go back and finish reading now. wiping grin off face.

  6. jon s says:

    Purim is approaching. The Jews were saved thanks to an intermarriage.

  7. MarkF says:

    Too bad Kristol, Podhoritz, Krauthammer, Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Ledeen & Abrams didn’t intermarry.

    I’m just sayin’…..

  8. Bill NYC says:

    I’m Jewish, and my wife is Catholic. We love each other very much. Both of us are secular and quite happy with our lives together. Fortunately, I don’t often encounter any scorn from my fellow Jews as a result of my intermarriage (although, admittedly, this is attributable to the fact that I don’t move in circles where I’d be likely to come face to face with many intermarriage-haters).

    As far as my marriage alienating me from any attachment to Israel goes, I grew alienated from Israel a long time ago, and long before I got married. Israel itself alienated me from Israel. Marrying a Catholic and living a secular life had nothing to do with that.

    • Philip Weiss says:

      But Bill, I dont think that Cohen is saying the marriage causes it. Maybe I made that mistake in my headline, but he’s saying the two are associated. Maybe it was the you who was alienated from Israel who was the you that married your wife.
      Mazel Tov!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. annie says:

    yesterday on the peter king thread somebody mentioned the demographics of his district and as i was googling around i landed on A Profile of The Jewish Community of Long Island, a project by the CGS IUPUI. lots of thoughts crossed my mind reviewing it, topics i’ve heard discussed on these threads..most of that (like, there’s probably been more polls done of the jewish community than any other people on the face of the planet!) is neither here nor there but one result that stood out for me was ‘the % of kids being raised jewish in inmarried households vs intermarried’. the answer being 99% vs 30%. i thought that seemed rather odd considering the percentage of jews who were either secular/no religion, non demoninational/’just jewish’ or ‘miscellaneous’. i recalled what eee or somebody said about either being part of (involved) the (organized) jewish community or losing ones jewishness or something…unless one lived in israel. i thought to come just by virtue of having both jewish parents is a child considered jewish (even if both parents are secular and maybe not involved at all..which does happen..only a 1% loss?) whereby having one jewish parent has such a drastic reduction. i thought 99% must mean something else than the standard eee had for it.

    out of curiosity i googled CGS IUPUI and one thing led to another and i landed at the Berman jewish policy archive and more polls than anyone could ever wish to encounter. i didn’t read them all but i did open Bad Things Happen to Good Numbers Publication Date: October 2010 Author(s): Steven M. Cohen. imagine the coincidence of reading this just yesterday.

    Sometimes, “good” numbers get bad receptions. Some years ago, working on a Jewish population survey for a local federation, my re- search team reported a huge increase in Jewish households over previous estimates. Our counting of the many marginally identified Jews in the outer reaches of the community helped increase the overall Jewish population (presumably a good thing), but in doing so, we diminished the average gift per household, tarnishing the luster of the federation’s well- celebrated campaign.


    Similar examples abound today. Major donors today want to fund programs that “reach the unaffiliated.” Consequently, in order to attract funding, directors of such projects are much more eager to find unaffiliated participants than participants who are ‘alumni’ of day schools, Jewish camps, youth groups, or Israel travel. I’m often asked, when I evaluate such programs, whether day school alumni are too numerous, or the intermarried too absent. No one ever asks if I missed those with stronger Jewish backgrounds.

    hmm. is he saying people funding these studies seek ‘at risk’ demographics? are people in intermarriages really less ‘jewish’ or just less jewish the way organized jewry wants a jew to be? (iow connected and involved w/organized jewry). are jews in hillel more jewish than jews in jvp? whatb about jews who identify judaism as “israel”. are they really more “jewish”. can someone or some group stake out a claim on the identification of world jewry?

    In the debate over whether American Jews are growing more distant from Israel, Ari Kelman and I — advocates of “the distancing hypothesis” — are working with two advantages. As with the case of inflated intermarriage rates, the public “likes” our bad news, provided Israel isn’t blamed. Most Jewish leaders, it seems, are prone to believe that young Jews are increasingly distant from Israel, agreeing with our analysis. The sole exceptions are devotees of Israel advocacy, who want to believe and project the claim that Jews today support Israel as much as ever.


    For years, I’ve been trying to advance the idea that intermarried parents produce very few children who identify as Jews, and that in- termarriage per se is at the heart of the matter, not the weaker Jewish identities that many intermarried parents bring to their marriages……… With children of the intermarried entering the ranks of committed Jewish leadership, it’s hard to remember the tens of thousands of other children of the intermarried who are not visible because they have assimilated. We know about them only through Jewish population studies.

    i’m not so sure i wholeheartedly agree with mr cohen. i think more of them are visible than the jewish community wants to acknowledge. i just don’t think it bodes well for results in terms of how they think and what their attachments are. like that population survey he did earlier , the one with the “huge increase in Jewish households over previous estimates”..those people are still jewish and didn’t disappear, they just might not be convenient for the purpose of the survey..or for supporting judaism= israel. so they are perhaps being ignored until they are ‘back in the fold’ or funds are being allocated to bring them back. it is just a theory of course. what would happen if those tens of thousands of other children started speaking out..about israel?

  10. I think that for most Americans the prevalent question concerning Jewish intermarriage is this: Does it tend, all things considered, to increase or diminish the power of the Israel Lobby?

    Before you rush to say that intermarriage has the overall effect of reducing Lobby influence, consider this: Over the last half-century, Jewish intermarriage in America has steadily increased. During this same period the Lobby’s power also has grown – by all appearances, markedly so.

    If you believe that intermarriage is not good for the Lobby, how long will it take for this adverse effect to manifest itself?