iPhone App Features Talking Points on Intermarriage
08/01/2010 - 21:48
Rabbi Jason Miller
Application Presents Resource for Parents Who Don't Want Their Children to Intermarry
Application Presents Resource for Parents Who Don't Want Their Children to Intermarry

NOTE: The following is a post about an iPhone application that provides suggestions for what parents should say to their children to prevent them from intermarrying. It is not a product review of the application, but rather a news story. Neither the blogger nor The New York Jewish Week endorses this iPhone application. We realize the controversial nature of this application and hope you will leave your opinion in the comments section. Intermarriage is a touchy subject and the fact that it's found its way into an iPhone application is newsworthy for the subject of this blog -- Judaism and technology.


Intermarriage, specifically interfaith weddings between Christians and Jews, has been in the news quite a bit lately. With the high profile, celebrity wedding of former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky last night, many bloggers have weighed in on the controversial topic of interfaith weddings. Some saw the wedding of Chelsea, raised as a Protestant by her political parents Bill and Hillary, to a Conservative Jew as shameful, while others wished the couple the congratulatory "mazel tov" wish. The wedding was co-officiated by Rabbi James Ponet and Reverend William Shillady.

Recognizing the complications involved in interfaith dating and ultimately in interfaith marriages, Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, a Conservative rabbi who has been producing a number of applications for the iPhone lately, has created "When They Say: Intermarriage."

He explains that this app is a "resource for Jewish parents who want their children to understand how important it is to marry another Jew. In our free, democratic society, many people find the Jewish ban on intermarriage to be silly, alien, or even racist. This app gives parents a collection of talking points in response to many of the arguments that people bring in defense of intermarriage."


If you find it odd to hear of an iPhone app that simply contains talking points to aid in a discussion or debate, think again. A recent New York Times article ("You Say God Is Dead? There’s an App for That") reports that "an explosion of smart-phone software has placed an arsenal of trivia at the fingertips of every corner-bar debater, with talking points on sports, politics and how to kill a zombie. Now it is taking on the least trivial topic of all: God." If there are iPhone apps to help atheists defend their position, then Garfinkel reasoned, why not create an app to help Jewish parents make their anti-interfaith marriage message to their children more coherent and convincing?

Some may find this app offensive or antagonistic, but Garfinkel believes that "the Jewish people has to reach out to intermarried couples and give them as much love and acceptance as possible. Having said that, Jews have a responsibility to prevent intermarriage when possible. The ideal Jewish marriage is between two Jews. Because there are so many intermarrieds in our community, a lot of Jewish leaders and parents are afraid to talk about the beauty of marrying another Jew. The purpose of this app is to help parents talk about intermarriage and thereby give the next generation of Jews a chance to thrive."

I'm sure it's only a matter of time until some crafty college kids release an iPhone app that helps Jewish young adults explain why it's okay they're dating outside the faith. After all, there's an app for everything these days!


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Eli, I'm confident that was the right decision. Interfaith weddings and intermarriage are complicated, nuanced subjects that have to be handled delicately. The way in which we, as rabbis, respond on this subject is very much in flux right now. I'd like to encourage you to create a new app with resources for the interfaith couple (at the dating, engagement, wedding, and parenthood stages) that includes contact information for people like Kerry at JOI and Ed Case at Interfaith Family. The Federation of Jewish Mens Clubs also has good material that should be included. And it looks like JOI needs to expand its operations to Saudi Arabia and Taiwan! Jason
Rabbi Garfinkel, On behalf of all of the people with whom we work, particularly those from interfaith families, i thank you for taking the application out of service, particularly notewothy in this upcoming season of Elul. Kerry Olitzky
Dear readers, Yesterday, I removed the app "When They Say: Intermarriage" from the App Store, and it is no longer available for download anywhere. Though the app was well-intentioned, I removed it because the Jewish Outreach Institute showed me how off-base it was. Like any product that is found to be seriously defective, it had to be recalled. The good news is that only 40 people or so downloaded it. (One was in Saudi Arabia and one was in Taiwan!) I am still interested in the topic, so perhaps JOI and I can cooperate to make an app that addresses intermarriage in the proper way. Shannah tovah, EG
Dear Paul, Thank you for your reply and review in iTunes. I take your comments seriously, and I think you make some good points. I have great respect for Rabbi Olitzky and the JOI, so I will deactivate this app today if Apple allows developers to do so. Warm regards, Eli Garfinkel
Thanks, Rabbi Miller, for adding that disclaimer at the top of this blog, and for bringing up this issue, which is indeed a touchy subject -- and why I welcome a further conversation about intermarriage sensitivities with anyone who might be interested.
Maybe someone can create an app demonstrating how the Conservative movement has lost so many Jews from the 1990s to today...oh wait, same app! This approach is antiquated and the responses in this app offensive. Did you actually download and read this before endorsing it with a review, Rabbi Miller? I was surprised to see your name attached to this article. For example, this app denies that interfaith couples can feel "real love." It says: "I'm sure you do love him/her. I'm just saying that real love, the kind of love that lasts forever, has to be based on shared values and traditions and not just the initial feelings of love you feel now. I don't want you to wake up one day and realize, 'I don't know this person next to me in bed.' That happens when you get married without sharing a solid foundation...." He then cites a higher divorce rate among intermarried Jews based on a study from -- wait for it -- 1989!! (Which actually makes sense considering how antiquated this app is.) Rabbi Garfinkel, both my parents were Jews and my intermarriage has already outlasted their marriage. The divorce rate in this country among all marriages, including Jews, is far too high, but nobody is choosing a life partner out of fear of divorce. And personally, while I hope that you have experienced real love, who are you to tell me that I haven't? Here's some more goodness from the app: "Yes, some mixed couples manage to raise Jewish kids successfully. That's true. But that doesn't give you permission to intermarry. The fact of the matter is that you're talking about the lucky ones, the small minority of cases." Why no statistics, Rabbi Garfinkel? In 1990, the NJPS said it was only 18% of intermarried households raising Jewish kids; by the 2001 NJPS, it said 33%. To me, one-in-three is not a "small minority." And what has been in the past doesn't mean it has to be in the future. The canard about your grandchildren not being Jewish is based again on old studies conducted when the intermarriage phenomenon was just starting; it's been 25 years! At this point, with the "free market" of religious identification that our country offers, the main thing keeping more of the children and grandchildren of intermarried Jews from also identifying as Jews is unwelcoming (yet apparently ad-supported) messages from the Jewish community like this offensive iPhone app. As someone who has spoken with literally hundreds of parents of intermarried Jews, and co-authored a book on it, I can promise you that the time to disuade your child from intermarrying is long over when they are announcing wedding plans or telling you they are pregnant (as this app actually has an answer for!). Trying to break up your child's serious relationship is something out of Fiddler on the Roof and all it will accomplish is putting a strain on your own relationship with your child and future child-in-law. Do the right thing: Welcome your new child-in-law with open arms, speak openly but respectfully about the importance of Judaism in your own life, and offer whatever help the couple might need. Because welcoming newcomers into our Jewish family is the best way to ensure that our grandchildren will also be Jewish. I invite any parents of intermarrying Jews to learn more through a free program of the Jewish Outreach Institute at http://GrandparentsCircle.org.