This week’s episode is brought to you by the marriages of Mark Zuckerberg, Drew Barrymore and Ashley (daughter of Joe) Biden, all of whom are now one half of an intermarriage. Mazel tov?
When we see a nice Jewish boy or girl marrying out of the fold, it sets off our Jewish continuity alarm. What will become of the Jewish people if we keep this up? It seems to foretell a dire situation.
But I wonder what the true threat to our people is—intermarriage or assimilation? Because one does not necessarily mean the other.
There are plenty of intermarried couples raising their children with a strong Jewish identity. The children grow up knowing about their Jewish faith, identifying as Jewish and perhaps observing certain practices (Shabbat dinner, Chanukah, Passover seder). Perhaps they are also growing up celebrating Christmas and Easter, but Judaism is an unmistakable part of their lives. And isn’t Easter egg hunt + seder better than no seder at all?
On the other side, we often see a 100 percent Jewish couple who is also 100 percent unaffiliated. Their Jewish identity ends with checking off “Jewish” in the ethnicity box; there is no outward expression of their Judaism in their lives.
So, here is the hypothetical theological scenario: If we were to ask Jewish Continuity which ensures a better fate for the Jewish people, what would she say? The intermarried couple to whom Judaism, in some form or another, is important in their lives? Or the Jewish couple who chooses not to practice or observe at all?
The question can be boiled down to Jewish theology versus Jewish expression. A Jewish non-practicing couple still retains the essence of our theology—that Jews should marry other Jews. An intermarried couple, while outwardly Jewish, has strayed from one of the most basic tenets of our religion.
At first, I believed that I was strongly on the side of Jewish expression, even if it came with marrying out of the fold. But then, I thought about my own children. What would I “prefer,” if it came down to it—my child announcing he or she was marrying a non-Jew, but would raise their children with Judaism in their lives, or my child marrying a Jew but no longer being observant?
I realized that for me, staying true to our theology was more important, and I would value “marrying Jewish” more than “practicing Judaism.”
However we choose to live our lives and raise our families, we need to engage with the idea of “What does it mean to be Jewish?” What values do we pass down to our children? How do we—or do we at all—teach and instill in them the importance of building a Jewish future?