JWN workshops at Limmud 2001: 2

The Family & Intermarriage:
Inclusion or Exclusion

presenters: Ruth Bean and Vicky Grosser

A number of workshops at Limmud looked at inter-marriage. Some debated specific issues, others saw intermarriage as a threat to the future of the Jewish community. JWN's was a little different: in line with our aim of dialogue across the spectrum, we set out to listen to one another's experiences and views.

The presenters began with some background and statistics on intermarriage, which is on the increase within the Jewish community. Both presenters are married to non-Jews and gave their own - very different - personal perspectives on the issue of intermarriage.

They covered the thought and discussion which goes on at the beginning of an 'interfaith' relationship; what each had looked for and wanted from their lives together, given the differing backgrounds and which had formed a firm and lasting basis for marriage. They also spoke of the responses of others to their intermarrying.

Ruth, an Israeli married to an Englishman, said "I was standing on the Mount of Olives with a close Israeli friend whose roots lay in the Old Jewish Quarter and who was talking to me about my intention to marry a non-Jew. She said: 'Don't change him, he is a wonderful man; just remember that you are the daughter of a great people' - and that's what I have always done".

Vicky talked about impressions and the responses of others. "My husband looks more Jewish than I do according to the usual stereotype of 'Jewish' appearance. On occasion non-Jews will tell him '…but you look more Jewish than Vicky' and he tends to say 'Oh really - what does a Jew look like?' This can often lead on to interesting and awareness-raising debate".

This event which was open to women and men attracted around 35 participants and included two non-Jews. All had much to say about interfaith relationships.

Some of the commentary:

· "We need a new language to describe these relationships - not all involve marriage, they include lesbian and gay relationships, for example"

· "People will want to make different choices about how children are raised - how can all this be supported by the Jewish community?"

· "It is important to take away any stigma from intermarriage"

· (from a non-Jew) "I want to be welcomed into and become part of the Jewish community, even if I don't convert when I marry my Jewish partner"

· "Matrilinearity doesn't make sense any more: children of a Jewish father should equally be welcomed into the community"

· "The Jewish people have always intermarried -
that's how we built the community. It widens and benefits the gene pool"

· "Non-Jewish family members make important contributions, and can be very good allies to us as Jews"

· "How can we discuss this issue within the community without creating rifts?"

· "I don't want to leave Orthodoxy - I want my grandchildren to be accepted"

A mother talked with genuine deep anguish of her son's love for a black non-Jewish girl whom he intends to marry. The mother is extremely fond of this girl..."but I want Jewish grandchildren".

We talked after the workshop, and it was clear that although this woman and her family are Orthodox, she will accept any kind of conversion to Judaism - even if the non-Jewish girl is not particularly committed - as a legitimate device for achieving Jewish grandchildren.

The conclusions drawn from this workshop were perhaps unsurprising, but it is important that we should continue to recognise and pursue these aims.

In essence these conclusions seemed to be:

  • We must learn to handle the different life choices made by inter-faith couples, and always respect one another's life-styles
  • If we can become more secure within our Jewish communities, intermarriage will not feel so much of a threat
  • Openness and talking are the keys to this issue
  • Tolerance and education are all-important.


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